David Foster Wallace's Disappearance

Kate Rose Hanzalik


This essay is a drama about the takeover of disciplinary power. The metaphor is intended to examine how formal rules of genres, as analogues to codes of bureaucracies, function in what feels like the spaces of prison. This essay questions how or to what extent authoring might function as a means of escape or reclamation of power. Set within Michel Foucault’s revision of the Panopticon, an 18th century idea for a correctional facility imagined by Jeremy Bentham, wherein cells become “small theatres in which each actor is alone,”[i] “David Foster Wallace’s Disappearance” maps the agency of one of the most inciting and prolific authors of the contemporary. Wallace is forced to perform the role of a docile body—the “average” American excluded from real political agency; the agented author, beholden to his editor’s aesthetics and the market’s demands. His is “the body that is manipulated, shaped, trained; which obeys, responds, becomes skillful.”[ii] This essay demonstrates how his third novel, The Pale King, becomes a subversive prop against the “political anatomy”[iii] that writes a docile body into the human condition—but is the prop strong enough to takeover the “whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures”[iv] of the disciplinary power that has confined him? The answers are in what Foucault sees as the “question of creating space into which the writing subject constantly disappears”[v]: “We must locate the space left empty by the author’s disappearance, follow the distribution of gaps and breaches and watch for the openings that this disappearance uncovers.”[vi] This essay sets out to accomplish just that.


Gender, Sexuality, Power, Knowledge, Writing

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