Title

Exhaustive Confusion and Problems with Prefixes: Reclaiming David Foster Wallace's "Octet"

Presenter Information

Stefan Milne

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Location

SURC 137A

Start Date

17-5-2012

End Date

17-5-2012

Abstract

Various critics have used David Foster Wallace’s short story “Octet” as an emblem of post-postmodern fiction writing. They find the story to be a univocal plea from its narrator for sincerity. My paper argues that this reading of the story oversimplifies the story and its relationship with postmodernism. The story, instead, works both as a postmodern piece of metafiction, one full of recursive paradoxes, and as a sincere plea, and neither reading can be easily extricated from the other. To accomplish this, I compare “Octet” with John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse,” which stands in for “traditional” postmodern metafiction and which I argue is often read too relativistically. I then compare both stories with the writing of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes, both of whose writing exemplifies the relativism that “Octet” and “Lost in the Funhouse” have a complicated relationship with. And because the paper argues that the meaning of “Octet” lies in its recursive paradoxes, the paper mimics the style of “Octet” and creates paradoxes out of the paper’s own argument, which become part of the support for the paper.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Laila Abdalla

Additional Mentoring Department

English

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May 17th, 12:40 PM May 17th, 1:00 PM

Exhaustive Confusion and Problems with Prefixes: Reclaiming David Foster Wallace's "Octet"

SURC 137A

Various critics have used David Foster Wallace’s short story “Octet” as an emblem of post-postmodern fiction writing. They find the story to be a univocal plea from its narrator for sincerity. My paper argues that this reading of the story oversimplifies the story and its relationship with postmodernism. The story, instead, works both as a postmodern piece of metafiction, one full of recursive paradoxes, and as a sincere plea, and neither reading can be easily extricated from the other. To accomplish this, I compare “Octet” with John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse,” which stands in for “traditional” postmodern metafiction and which I argue is often read too relativistically. I then compare both stories with the writing of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes, both of whose writing exemplifies the relativism that “Octet” and “Lost in the Funhouse” have a complicated relationship with. And because the paper argues that the meaning of “Octet” lies in its recursive paradoxes, the paper mimics the style of “Octet” and creates paradoxes out of the paper’s own argument, which become part of the support for the paper.