David Foster Wallace and Music: New Sincerity, (Post) Modern Lovers and the Grunge of Signifying Rappers
Tony McMahon (RMIT University, Australia)
Abstract: David Foster Wallace is rightly considered one of the twentieth and twenty-first century’s most media-immersed of writers. Yet despite his being the co-author of a book on rap, little academic attention has been paid to the potentially rich scholastic area of Wallace and music. It is my contention that Wallace scholarship would benefit immeasurably from exploring more closely the author’s relationship to this media. I begin this process by interrogating Wallace’s problematic status as a ‘grunge’ writer. Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century provides a matrix for an examination of the relationships between avant-garde movements such as Dada, Situationism, punk and grunge, and how these relate to Wallace’s overall project. I also attempt to reinvigorate one of the author’s lesser known and extraordinarily under-theorised texts, Signifying Rappers, and present it as one of the keys to understanding Wallace’s work, as well as his development as a writer famed for the idiosyncratic use of language. In endeavouring to begin this revitalisation, I continue and develop arguments made by Tara Morrissey and Lucas Thompson in their paper ‘“The Rare White at the Window”: A Reappraisal of Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace’s Signifying Rappers’. Finally, I conclude that this potentially fruitful new area of Wallace Studies will not only provide fresh insights into the author’s work, but also have significant ramifications for the study of literature more widely.
Download Tony McMahon's talk here: t_mcmahon_talk.docx
Download Tony McMahon's slides here: t_mcmahon_slides.pptx