Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 143 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Paul Stasi

Committee Members

Lydia Davis, Lynne Tillman, Edward Schwarzchild


David Foster Wallace, Postmodernity, Postmodernism (Literature)

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


“Characterizing Postmodernity: Developing Ethical Paradigms in the Novels of David Foster Wallace” argues that the critical discourse on David Foster Wallace’s novels neglects the relationship between Wallace’s postmodern aesthetics and the historical period of postmodernity out of which Wallace’s novels emerged, contending that this relationship not only accounts for the form of Wallace’s novels and their protagonists, but also points toward new understandings of postmodernity’s relationship to history. Focusing on the dialectic between historical conditions of late capitalism and the agency and action of characters with respect to consumerism, Wallace uses social conditions themselves as the primary antagonists to his protagonists, rather than other characters, for instance. Wallace’s characters struggle to cope with, live within, and transcend their conditions, and the site of their struggles, as it reveals the irresolvable and dialectical relationship between postmodernity and the postmodern subject, suggests an ethical paradigm based on individual action. Today, as the conditions of postmodernity and our theorizing of them continue to evolve, a study such as this provides an opportunity for using the recent past as it is depicted in Wallace’s novels, to inform the present. “Characterizing Postmodernity: Developing Ethical Paradigms in the Novel of David Foster Wallace” argues that Wallace’s aesthetics, when understood in historical and ethical contexts, provide a model by which the fiction of today might continue to historicize the conditions of postmodernity in their present form.