David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books: Fictions of Value

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David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books: Fictions of Value

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What do we value? Why do we value it? And in a neoliberal age, can morality ever displace money as the primary means of defining value? These are the questions that drove David Foster Wallace, a writer widely credited with changing the face of contemporary fiction and moving it beyond an emotionless postmodern irony. Jeffrey Severs argues in David Foster Wallace;s Balancing Books that Wallace was also deeply engaged with the social, political, and economic issues of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A rebellious economic thinker, Wallace satirized the deforming effects of money, questioned the logic of the monetary system, and saw the world through the lens of value;s many hidden and untapped meanings. In original readings of all of Wallace;s fiction, from The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest to his story collections and The Pale King, Severs reveals Wallace to be a thoroughly political writer whose works provide an often surreal history of financial crises and economic policies. As Severs demonstrates, the concept of value occupied the intersection of Wallace;s major interests: economics, work, metaphysics, mathematics, and morality. Severs ranges from the Great Depression and the New Deal to the realms of finance, insurance, and taxation to detail Wallace;s quest for balance and grace in a world of excess and entropy. Wallace showed characters struggling to place two feet on the ground and restlessly sought to “balance the books” of a chaotic culture. Explaining why Wallace;s work has galvanized a new phase in contemporary global literature, Severs draws connections to key Wallace forerunners Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis, as well as his successors-including Dave Eggers, Teddy Wayne, Jonathan Lethem, and Zadie Smith-interpreting Wallace;s legacy in terms of finance, the gift, and office life.

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