Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The philosophical underpinnings of David Foster Wallace's fiction. - By James Ryerson - Slate Magazine

David Foster Wallace reads David Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress
"I am my world" is what Wallace had in mind when he spoke of "the loss of the whole external world" in the Tractatus. There is no difference, ultimately, for Wittgenstein between solipsism and realism (solipsism "coincides with pure realism," he writes). For Wallace, this was a harrowing equation, the dark emotional takeaway of the Tractatus's severe anti-metaphysics. This was also, for Wallace, what Markson had rendered imaginatively in his novel. Without ever raising these ideas explicitly, Markson had conveyed them with a special kind of clarity. Wittgenstein's Mistress, by echoing the Tractatus's brusque, dreamlike sentences and placing Kate in a cold, lonely, self-as-world cosmos, had managed, as Wallace put it, to "capture the flavor both of solipsism and of Wittgenstein." What's more, Wallace felt Markson had done something that even Wittgenstein hadn't been able to do: he humanized the intellectual problem, communicating "the consequences, for persons, of the practice of theory; the difference, say, between espousing 'solipsism' as a metaphysical 'position' & waking up one fine morning after a personal loss to find your grief apocalyptic, literally millennial, leaving you the last and only living thing on earth." That was something only fiction, not philosophy, could do.
Here Wallace not only finds the essence of storytelling but discovers the limits of logic. If you can explore your premise through example you rescue logic from inertness and humanize the narrative. The novel of ideas requires an energizing force - an emotional wallop - to make itself live in the imagination.