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Abstract

In exploring what was “philosophical” about David Foster Wallace’s fiction, “Different Therapies” attempts both to offer a new interpretation of what unifies the American author’s various novels and stories, and to contribute to the growing scholarship on the intersection between literature and philosophy. In my Introduction, I lay out what I take to be the central convictions behind Wallace’s “therapeutic” fiction. Although many commentators have noted Wallace’s allusions to Wittgensteinian language and themes, I argue that Wallace’s mature novels and stories can be most profitably viewed as a “series of examples” in the Wittgensteinian sense, meant to expose not only a set of problems but also a point of view or what Wittgenstein would have called a “picture.” Later in the chapter, I discuss who Wallace perceived himself to be writing for, and how his fiction marked out the various features of the mindset it intended to philosophically “treat.” In my first chapter, I try to justify what I call philosophically therapeutic criticism as a mode for engaging with imaginative texts like Wallace’s. In chapters two through four, I offer readings of three of Wallace’s works of fiction—Infinite Jest, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and Pale King—all viewed in terms of the “different therapies” they offer their readers. In my chapter on Jest, I focus on the Wittgensteinian challenge (especially evident in the AA sections) that is posed to the Cartesian picture (especially evident in the opening scene) of what Robert Pippin has called “modern and postmodern self-consciousness.” In the chapter on Brief Interviews, I home in on Wallace’s treatment of a particular way of speaking about other people—which has consequences for the relationships we attempt to form both in everyday social life and through literary fiction. In the chapter on Pale King, I emphasize the distinction Wallace draws between his own (philosophical) therapy and more conventional therapeutic techniques. In the conclusion, I offer some thoughts on what it means to conceive of Wallace as a philosophical artist—and if we might not do better to think of him as an artistic philosopher.

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