David Foster Wallace, Philosopher

David Foster Wallace gave a reading for Booksm...
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Since we’re expanding of the mission of this blog a bit, I want to take some time to introduce one of my favorite non-academic philosophers, and probably one of my greatest influences as a writer: David Foster Wallace.

Wallace is, of course, most well-known as a novelist (Infinite Jest being his crowning achievement) and an essayist who wrote lengthy, footnote-laden reflections on everything from John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign to a lobster festival in Maine to the Academy Awards of hardcore pornography. But he was also, as this New York Times piece points out, a talented philosophy student as an undergrad, and even pursued a PhD in Philosophy at Harvard before dropping out.

I think it’s fair to say that even if Wallace never became a philosopher in the accredited, academic sense, his writing would not have been the same without that rigorous formal training in the field. Undoubtedly this is most obvious in his debut novel, The Broom of the System, which I haven’t read (and which Wallace himself dismisses); apparently the plot of the book is directly related to concepts about meaning borrowed from Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language.

But I think careful readings of Infinite Jest and Wallace’s essays on John McCain, pornography, cruise ships, talk radio and Dostoevsky reveal some sophisticated philosophical content that is both carefully thought out and incredibly significant in its implications. When I get around to articulating some of my own thoughts in the near future, fans of Wallace will likely be able to see his fingerprints all over them.

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