DAVID FOSTER WALLACE AND DOSTOEVSKY: ON PARALLEL TRACKS?

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Abstract

The article discusses ways in which David Foster Wallace engages with Dostoevsky’s life and works. The article points out that Wallace’s commencement speech, “This Is Water,” makes no direct references to Dostoevsky, yet the moral and spiritual values that he enunciates share common ground with those of the Russian writer. The article then turns its attention to Wallace’s review of four of Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank’s five volumes devoted to Dostoevsky’s writings, life, and the historical, intellectual, and cultural contexts into which they fit. Wallace admires the way in which Dostoevsky’s novels address important issues, including isolation and nihilism, facing Russia in the 1860s. The American writer sees a similarity between that isolation of the 1860s and the isolation prevalent in the United States in the 1990s. The article then analyzes Wallace’s 1996 novel, Infinite Jest, and the ways in which he indirectly weaves into the text references to Dostoevsky’s fiction, primarily, but not exclusively, The Brothers Karamazov. Also discussed are a few parallels with Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and Demons. The article describes Wallace’s focus on the detrimental effects that isolation leads to in contemporary America. The article explains that Wallace declared that in Infinite Jest, he wanted to reflect the distracted, fractured way in which contemporary people think. The article states that given this goal, it makes sense that the references to Dostoevsky’s works in Infinite Jest are also fractured. They are in bits and pieces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-154
Number of pages21
JournalLiterature of the Americas
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory

Keywords

  • Crime and Punishment
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Demons
  • Dostoevsky
  • Infinite Jest
  • Notes from Underground
  • Russian-American literary connections
  • The Brothers Karamazov
  • The Idiot
  • This Is Water
  • Wallace review of Joseph Frank books

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