Writing From Below | David Foster Wallace’s Disappearance - Kate Rose Hanzalik
Writing From Below

David Foster Wallace’s Disappearance

An Interesting Drama of “Coercion over Bodies, Gestures, and Behaviors” (Based on a Series of True Events)

Kate Rose Hanzalik


What would you say, if by the gradual adoption and diversified application of this single principle, you should see a new scene of things spread itself over the face of civilized society?—morals reformed, health preserved, industry invigorated, instruction diffused, public burthens lightened, economy seated as it were upon a rock, the gordian knot of the poor-laws not cut but untied—all by a simple idea in architecture?

                            —Jeremy Bentham, Panopticon, or The Inspection House



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,” “David Foster Wallace’s Disappearance” maps the agency of one of the most inciting and prolific authors of the contemporary (Foucault 1984a, 19). 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.” (Foucault 1984b, 180). This essay demonstrates how his third novel, The Pale King, becomes a subversive prop against the “political anatomy” (Foucault 1984b, 182) that writes a docile body into the human condition—but is the prop strong enough to take over the “whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures” of the disciplinary power that has confined him (Foucault 1984c, 206)? The answers are in what Foucault sees as a “question of creating space into which the writing subject constantly disappears” (Foucault 1984d, 102): “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.” (Foucault 1984d, 112).  This essay sets out to accomplish just that.


1. The Cell


Before you look at the plan, take in words the general idea of it. The building is circular. The apartments of the prisoners occupy the circumference. You may call them, if you please, the Cells. (Bentham 1791, 5)


David Foster Wallace (DFW) writes alone in a small theater at a dimly lit desk in a shadow. He’s stooped in a straight-back chair; he’s embodied in a prison suit that is black and white; his hair splays forward from his shoulders like a shadow past his glasses as he inks the word “dedication” in the margin of a page in an old moleskin notebook (Wallace 1990-2007, 1). The 46-year old is drafting the first draft of the Author’s Foreword to his third novel, what he calls both The Long Thing and The Pale King, a survival story about Internal Revenue Service (IRS) examiners gripped by the hands of boredom. The problem is he’s been drafting for seven years, and only a third of the novel is finished. Now in September 2007, his readers are impatient, investments have already been made, but there have been architectural problems: how to make a story about surviving boredom dramatic, interesting, important, publishable? How to resolve the impediment that readers will not pay attention to dull fiction? How when he hasn’t even given the narrator a name?


The air in the Panopticon is hot, thick, and climbing into him. He sighs, gazes up at the tall outline of a central tower—the Inspector’s Lodge—the “heart which gives life and motion to [the prison’s] artificial body” (Bentham 1791, 75). It is set in a rotunda past the ironic arched grating he’s locked behind. His eyes meet the Inspector’s window as the curtains shift and open and give rise to golden light that looks like the lit lanterns on either side (Bentham 1791, 75).


He has always been afraid of being "obliterated or something,” (Max 2012, 240). “The fear,” he says,  “most closely resembles some kind of fear of death or annihilation, the kind of fear that strikes one on the High Dive or if one has to walk a high tightrope or something” (Max 2012, 240).  Now forty-eight other inmates surround him, and he is horrified. They are all docile bodies; they are all constrained, prohibited, obliged, used; they are all dispersed in Cells, blocked from the sight and sound of each other by protracted partitions, two stories, passageways, and rickety timber stairs—and they are all always visible to the Inspector.


The visibility inmates are subjected to in the panopticon is much like the visibility authors subject themselves to in the process of publishing. DFW once said, there is “a whole set of readers’ values and tolerances and capacities and patience-levels to take into account when the gritty business of writing stuff for others to read is undertaken” (Max 2012, 240). That gritty business means what his editor expects: a story that is “dramatic, funny, and deeply moving” with  “a remarkable set of [comprehensive] characters . . . doing battle . . . against the hulking, terrorizing demons of ordinary life” (Wallace 2011, xiii, xiv). But writing The Pale King feels, to DFW, like “trying to carry a sheet of plywood in a windstorm” (Max 2009).


Of course, he submits to becoming a different, less effulgent writer: “The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting—which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff—can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can’t, that seems to me to be important” (Max 2009). But he also refuses to submit: what is expected is a rich sense of place, important drama, action, emotive compression, clear motivations, verisimilitude, closure—in a word, realism, of which DFW viewed as “too familiar and anesthetic” (Max 2009). Instead, he saw that “really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way to both depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it” (Max 2012, 178). Yet he fears that any “magic” others saw in his previous novels would be gone in The Pale King (Max 2012, 240).


DFW tells his agent: “The individual parts of this book would not be all that hard to read. It’s more the juxtaposition of them, the number of separate characters, etc.” (Max 2012, 295). He tells his friend and colleague, Jonathan Franzen: “The whole thing is a tornado and won’t hold still long enough for me to see what’s useful and what isn’t” (Max 2012, 289). DFW’s usable material, two stories amidst 150 pages, had been recently funneled to The New Yorker and Harper’s for publication. The problem: the stories hadn’t conformed to a “central narrative,” says his editor (Wallace 2011, xi). Therefore the author celebrated by trashing his anti-depressant Nardil in the hopes that doing so would rid him of this ironic writer’s block for good. Now he sees that he must draft a “5000-page manuscript and then winnow it by 90 percent . . . the very idea of which makes something in me wither” (Max 2011, 289).


He wants to be a different person, too, more useful and obliging—if going off Nardil means more creativity, more feeling, then it could mean more fear, but is it worth the risk? He’d been on it for twenty-two years. He’d already quit smoking cigarettes and pot, quit drinking alcohol, all after drug and alcohol rehabilitation, after sharing a house with a former addict, after a quarterway house, after a halfway house, after a psychiatric hospital, a suicide attempt, an attempt at pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard, after electroconvulsive therapy, a psychiatric hospital, a suicide attempt, a midlife crisis at age twenty. Of the midlife crisis he says, it “probably doesn’t augur well for my longevity” (Max 2012, 32). He remains a docile body, a paranoid individual surviving with the characters he creates, all of them "used, transformed, improved" in the name of the discipline (Foucault 1984b, 180).  


He finds himself more interested in his cuticle (Max 2012, 289). Maybe he’s distracting himself from the sheer banality of his work (he’s been studying the tax code since 1997) (Max 2009). Maybe he’s undisciplined from going off the meds that he had been on for years. He drops his pen, lifts upright, sneaks a pinch of snuff concealed beneath a pile of papers tracing the etymology of the word “boredom,” and spits. He reaches for a pack of smiley-face stickers beside a stack of accounting books, takes a pink one that reads “WOWI!”, sticks it on the margin, reaches for his pen and writes at the top of the page: “ULTIMATE FICTION: / FAKE MEMOIR OF JOB AT IRS / by Fake Name” (Wallace 1990-2007, 1).  A pale white light gazes past him to the end of the stone structure, through a window as tall as he, and into the dark and stormy night. He turns to find the curtains to the central tower now half-open; he sees the Inspector slink past like a fading shadow.  Beside the window, a tunnel precedes an earthen pipe that leads directly out of the Panopticon. To his left, a ventilation pipe groans.


He writes: “Regular Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to actual people, institutions, ad agencies is coincidence” (Wallace 1990-2007, 1). He sees a guard emerge with a rope from her partition in the Lodge. He writes: there’s “a man holding an angry crowd at bay. A large crowd, and a lone man, with only one gun. What holds the crowd at bay is not force but psychology. – no one starts to rush the man, because the first couple who do will be shot.” (Wallace 1990-2007, 1).



2. The Tin Tube


To save the troublesome exertion of voice that might otherwise be necessary, and to prevent one prisoner from knowing that the inspector was occupied by another prisoner at a distance, a small tin tube might reach from each Cell to the Inspector’s lodge, passing across the Area, and so in, at the side of the correspondent window of the Lodge. By means of this implement, the slightest whisper of the one might be heard by the other, especially if he had proper notice to apply his ear to the [tin] tube. (Bentham 1791, 8)


Disciplinary power maintains itself through training, through normalizing judgments and the enforcement of them; re-appropriation is possible, only by force or coercion of docile bodies (Foucault 1984d, 188). However, “writing evades the docile body like a game,” Foucault says; it “invariably goes beyond rules and transgresses limits” (Foucault 1984d, 102). In the Panopticon, DFW’s writing is the only instrument of counter-power.  The sound of his voice is scrutinized. The tin tube that is bolted from in the gallery before his Cell funneling all noise to and from the Lodge through the roof ensures compliance as if it were an aesthetic normalizer. Bentham says: “Noise, the only offence by which a man thus engaged could render himself troublesome (an offence, by the bye, against which irons themselves afford no security) might, if found otherwise incorrigible, be subdued by gagging—a most natural and efficacious mode of prevention, as well as punishment, the prospect of which would probably be for ever sufficient to render the infliction of it unnecessary (1791, 37). When speech is overtaken, writing, DFW once believed, has the capacity to give “CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness” (Max 2009).


But it’s August 2007. In order to publish, his writing must conform; his editor says the author “posed himself the task that is almost the opposite of how fiction works,” which is “leaving out the things that are not of much interest” (Max 2009). His editor sees him as a “perfectionist of the highest order.” (Wallace 2011, xiii).  DFW punishes himself for what he believes is his lack of discipline. He writes to Franzen: “I’ve been blowing stuff off and then having it slip my mind. This is the harshest phase of the ‘washout process’ so far . . . [I’m] fairly confident it will pass in time” (Max 2009).


The guard rises up to the second floor for her rounds like an editor preparing to retract any expression, normalize any deviation from fiction’s proper aesthetics. (Should she, after all? DFW used hundreds of endnotes in his 1000-page, best-selling novel, Infinite Jest.  His editor, first refusing to let Wallace use them, argued that the endnotes would be too tedious for the readers. After DFW’s insistence, the editor finally obliged (Max 2009).) “Discipline fixes,” Foucault says; “it arrests or regulates movements; it clears up confusion . . . it must neutralize the effects of counter-power . . . and form a resistance to the power that wishes to dominate it.” (Foucault 1984e, 194). Aesthetic non-conformity results not only in subtle punishment—“a certain coldness, a certain indifference, a question, a humiliation, a removal from the office”—but also in the outright rejection or correction of part or all of the manuscript (Foucault 1984e, 194).


Of course, DFW is motivated to finish said “2nd try” for the Author Foreword, so he scribbles: “David Wallace, SWM [Single White Male], age 40”—named and “forever mark[ed] . . . numerically” with a TIN (Tax Identification Number)—“947-04-2012”—the Social Security number designated to IRS employees” (Wallace 1990-2007, 17).“Too dull,” DFW says as he sighs, turning to a mirror bolted above a bureau beside him to find a plain, pale body, propped atop a marvelous tightrope toward the tip of the nine-foot high Cell.


“Author here,” David Wallace says, handing DFW a file from his world. “By that I mean this is the real, living, human sitting here holding the pen” (Wallace 1990-2007, 17). DFW writes David Wallace as David Wallace struggles to continue:  “Not any abstract narrative persona, there is, in fact, such an abstract narrative persona / As it happens, There sometimes is such a narrative persona narrating certain stuff in the text to follow, but that narrator will be mainly primarily a protective construction legal construct, an entity that exists . . . to displace liability and to facilitate commerce” (Wallace 1990-2007, 17).


DFW panics, locks eyes with his threat of obliteration now laughing like rattling glass as he leaps into the mouthpiece of the tin tube. Of the TIN, David Wallace says, “it marks you forever part of the system . . . It is another reason not to fuck with them annoy do anything to betray or anger or tick off the service without having exquisitely careful protections in place” (Wallace 1990-2007, 17). DFW hears the clank of the guard’s boots loudening.


Within a scission is a key to escape: the partnership between DFW and David Wallace is a counter-power that reorders the “ordering of human multiplicities,” the docile bodies writing within the discipline of fiction (Foucault 1984d, 209). The two authors are not one; they are individuals performing two author functions. “It would be ... wrong to equate the author with the real writer as to equate him with the fictitious speaker,” Foucault says: “The author function is carried out and operates in the scission itself, in this division and distance” (Foucault 1984d, 112). According to Bentham’s design, “Overpowering the guard requires a union of hands, and a concert among minds, but what union, or what concert, can there be among persons, no one of whom will have set eyes on any other from the first moment of his entrance?” (Bentham 1971, 35). David Wallace suspends disbelief. DFW stifles the Inspector’s words sounding from the tin tube.


Yet, DFW fears the dangers of his character’s now underdeveloped voice and agency, and the expectations branded by his own name—but, if written correctly, David Wallace might be the counter-power DFW needs for his own. He takes the file like a pencil and proceeds to the privacy screen set beneath the window. Later he writes to Franzen: “I feel a bit ‘peculiar,’ which is the only way to describe it. All expected (22 years and all), and I’m not unduly alarmed” (Max 2012, 297). He hears nothing but the rattling windows; outside, the darkness has been punctured by hundreds of infinitesimal stars.




Stretching the tin tube with a voice that “must be” what DFW notes in the margin is “short, terse . . . brash + flat,” David Wallace dictates: “The truth is that such a bureaucracy is really much more a parallel world, both connected to and independent of this one”  (Wallace 1990-2007, 33). Disciplinary power maintains itself through training and the examinations that ensure them, so David Wallace’s writing of truth or fiction is a veritable threat. Like DFW’s readers, David Wallace’s are anxious—not because of any advances that have been paid to the author (there haven’t been any), but because he has his own architectural problems, wrought by legalities: how to tell the stories of IRS agents—that is, how to divulge candid recorded interviews and observations during a year-long “operational battle over human vs. digital enforcement of the tax code” or rather, how to decide “whether and to what extent the IRS should be operated like a for-profit business”—when a contract that protects the interests of both the IRS and the publisher force the author to write fiction instead of fact? (Wallace 2011, 85) How then to give the reader an honest memoir about “arguably the most important federal bureaucracy in American life” without violating the laws of fiction? (Wallace 2011, 72). How, when DFW can cut him at any moment?


The Author’s Foreword is predicated on a disclaimer that claims the genre is fiction; the foreword is predicated on a first draft that names the real editor and publisher (Wallace 1990-2007, 1). This trap trips the agency of the publisher’s Non-Disclosure Agreement and breaks David Wallace’s contract with the readers that stipulate expectations for non-fiction and fiction. He defies the unspoken laws of fiction and non-fiction once more. His creative space is not motivated by the aesthetic coercion of the, as he says, “unspoken contract between a book’s author and its readers”, its agreement upon “certain codes and gestures that the author deploys in order to signal the reader what kind of book it is, i.e. whether it’s made up vs. true”; rather, the creative space is a matter of law that, as he says, “lies within the area of special legal protection by the disclaimer”:  “You will regard features like shifting p.o.v.s, structural fragmentation, willed incongruities, & c. as simply the modern literary analogs of ‘Once upon a time . . .’ or ‘Far, far, away, there once dwelt . . .’ or any of the other traditional devices that signaled the reader that what was under way was fiction and should be processed accordingly” (Wallace 2011, 75).


The author’s name is an unprotected brand, Foucault writes—“It has no legal status, nor is it located within the fiction of the work; rather it is located in the break that founds a certain discursive construct and its very particular mode of being” —and this brand is precisely what David Wallace revolts against (Foucault 1984d, 107).  The extent to which this agency is a counter-power is a matter of the aesthetics of the break. “It is over life, throughout its unfolding, that power establishes its domination,” but what happens when a fictional life—one that is “real, living human . . . not any sort of abstract persona,” as David Wallace says, is made by a docile body? (Wallace 2011, 68). (DFW’s sister, Amy Wallace, once said: “We quietly agreed that [DFW’s] nonfiction was fanciful and his fiction was what you had to look out for” (Max 2009).)


By October 2007, DFW has made a docile body that he can manipulate and control. Each of his transgressions animates the takeover, the revolt against disciplinary power. He is propped the privacy screen along the grate and files as he works out the character and the anatomy of his world, only he hears the clank of the guard’s feet stop and he stops. He slides the file up his sleeve like a trick as David Wallace leaps invisibly from the bureau through the grate. When the rope magically disappears from the guard’s back pocket, she screams. The curtains on the window of the Lodge open and out of the shadow a hulky man appears. Time passes.


DFW writes a letter to Franzen: “I’ve brooded and brooded about all this till my brooder is sore. Maybe the answer is simply that to do what I want to do would take more effort than I am willing to put in. Which would be a bleak reality indeed, if that’s all it is.” (Max 2012, 289). He becomes both in and out of time, in fiction and in truth, disciplined and not, as if a pendulum swaying back and forth, breaching the small theatre only to return. “Writing fiction takes me out of time,” he says, “that’s probably as close to immortal as we’ll ever get”—beyond time, however, to be a writer with the agency he needs, he must see, as Foucault says, “the work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possess the right to kill” (Max 2009).




David Wallace, now lodged in the tin tube, writes with a red pen: “Maybe here is a place to attach a crude diagram of the part of the IRS structure that is involved in my memoir” (Wallace 1990-2007, 44).  He draws ten small square Cells in a hierarchy; one’s set at the top of two columns of three; two Cells are set off to the right-hand side of the top Cells. These constitute the Immersive Room, “a long room filled with IRS examiners”: “Long rows and columns of strange-looking tables or desks, each of which (desks) . . . each of the IRS examiners worked in a small tight circle of light at what appeared to be the bottom of a one-sided hole. Row after row, stretching to a kind of vanishing point near the room’s rear wall, in which there was incised another door” (Wallace 2011, 291-292).


Inside the door is a cleared card-storage room where David Wallace recounts individuals who are disembodied from their docile bodies. This map breaches the power that is maintained through examinations through an examination of examinations; the writing becomes a parody bound like a book, with each detail functioning as one hoist up the rope that David Wallace has propped to the top of the tin tube at the skylight.


Grappling still in mundane space, the examiners speak to a video camera with, as David Wallace writes, “pale and stunned, faces’ planes queerly shadowed . . . faces are a drained gray-white. Eyes are a problem.” (Wallace 2011, 104-05).  TIN # 917229047 talks about the play he imagined writing:


[The] rote examiner, is sitting poring over 1040s and attachments and cross-filed W-22s and 1099s and like that . . . I cut the clock. He sits there longer and longer until the audience gets more and more bored and restless, and finally they start leaving, first just a few and then the whole audience, whispering to each other how boring and terrible the play is . . . Then, once the audience have all left the real action of the play can start . . . Except I could never decide on the action, if there was any, it’s a realistic play. (Wallace 2011, 108)


TIN # 973876118 talks about kinds of power and authority:


[Type one] the rebel mentality whose whole bag or groove or what have you is going against power and the Establishment and what have you . . . type two . . . the soldier personality, the type that believes in order and power and respects authority and aligns themselves with power and authority and the side of order and the way the whole thing has got to work if the system is going to run smoothly . . . unavoidability—now that’s power man. Either be a mortician or join the Service, if you want to line yourself up with real power . . . have the window at your back. (Wallace 2011, 107)


David Wallace documents the symptoms of agents wrought by examinations—chronic paraplegia, temporary paralysis agitans, formication, spasmodic dyskinesia, paresis, hypertension, hypotension, Cantor’s sign (dextral), Cantor’s sign (sinistral), generalized anxiety, phobic anxiety (numerical), and a dozen more (Wallace 2011, 89-90). Why this detail? Because, as Foucault says, “discipline is a political anatomy of detail” (1984b, 183).  In truth, months have passed slowly, tediously; the examinations of the counter-power to the examinations David Wallace and DFW have been subjected to in the name of disciplinary power cannot function as a subversive prop unless the book is published. 



3. Sky Light


Space took the place of matter from the bottom of the building to the top; and thus a well was formed all the way up, crowned by an uninterrupted sky light as broad and opening in as many places as possible (Bentham 1791, 14).


Out of the tin tube David Wallace has cracked the Sky light that opens into the early morning only to enter a space that is blighted by the extricated, sick bodies of those trying to evade their docility. Wind howls. David Wallace pulls DFW up the rope. How is this possible?


Authoring is not “restricted to the confines of its interiority, writing is identified with its own unfolded exteriority,” Foucault writes: “Using all the contrivances that he sets up between himself and what he writes, the writing subject cancels out the signs of his particular individuality. As a result, the mark of the writer is reduced to nothing more than the singularity of his absence; he must assume the role of the dead man in the game of writing” (Foucault 1984d, 102). Now writing is costumed as less of a means of effacement than a performance of punishable, weak-minded movements and actions that bind the authors as a subordinate to the discipline (Foucault 1984b, 185). (In truth, DFW writes to his agent in December 2007: “Upside: I’ve lost 30 pounds. Downside: I haven’t even thought about work since like September. I’m figuring I get 90 more days before I even remotely expect anything of myself—the shrink/expert says that’s a fairly sane attitude” (Max 2012, 298). In truth, GQ asks him to write a piece about Obama and rhetoric in June 2008; a month later, he can’t keep his promise. In truth, DFW attempts to overdose on pills in a room at a nearby hotel; twelve rounds of electroconvulsive therapy follow. He writes in a gratitude journal, he documents his fears and ailments. His mind is preoccupied by television. He sees a chiropractor (Max 2009).)


4. The Belfry Tower


A bell appropriated exclusively to the purposes of alarm hangs in a belfry with which the building is crowned, communicating by a rope with the Inspector’s Lodge (Bentham 1791, 37).


DFW scales the Sky light to the crown of the Panopticon: forever below are the vast grounds beyond the edifice; the “heart which gives life and motion to [the prison’s] artificial body”;  the inmates, the Inspector and his guard, all blind to the escape (Bentham 1791, 75); forever overhead is what’s akin to his body that is now pale like breath upon skin. He twists the rope dangling from the cracked bell around his neck and leaps. Ironic noise resounds like a recitation of a catechism (Wallace 2011, 82). David Wallace has vanished. (In truth, on September 12, 2008, DFW hangs himself from a chair in the patio of his backyard. He left a two-page letter to his wife. He left an office that looked like the aftermath of a tornado—countless pages strewn in all directions and more stored in his desk, in files, on floppy disks; old moleskin notebooks, stacks of spiraled notebooks, binders, accounting books; he left a stack of 250 typescript pages and set the final draft of the Author’s Foreword on top [Max 209].)


5. Dead Part


There must therefore be some part of the building, over and above the central provided for the lodgment of these several sorts of Curators . . . The Dead part, viz. that part of the circuit. (Bentham 1791, 42, 2)


Can a corpse possess as much agency as a corpus of disciplinary power? That is, can a corpse coerce?  “It is over life, throughout its unfolding, that power establishes its domination,” and yet, Foucault says: “death is power’s limit” (Foucault 1984f, 261).  Conclusions were to DFW an unreal death—“geriatrics emerge, revelations revelationize, things are cleared up”—yet, for a time, he was beholden to them (Max 2012, 70). After the author’s death, his editor, Michael Pietsch, took to DFW’s office, a garage beside the backyard of his house, to recuperate the work. Pietsch stuffed hundreds of pages and more into a duffel bag; he edited what he saw as a manuscript “only lightly”—removing “dozens of repetitions” and “draft sloppinesses”; “sequencing . . . [disparate] sections . . . to place them so that the information they contain arrives in time to support the chronological story line.” (Wallace 2011, xii-xiii). iAfAmidst the imperfections, he found a “dramatic, funny, and deeply moving” work with  “a remarkable set of characters . . . doing battle . . . against the hulking, terrorizing demons of ordinary life,” and he transformed this into an “unfinished novel” that became a bestseller (Wallace 2011, xii, xiv).


The Pale King seemed to me as deep and brave as anything David had written,” he writes in his preface. “Working on it was the best act of loving remembrance I was capable of.” (Wallace 2011, xi). The disclaimer appears not in the Author’s Forward of The Pale King but rather in fine print on the copyright page. Piesch ultimately concedes to Wallace’s aesthetics: “I believe that David was still exploring the world that he made and had not yet given it a final form” (Wallace 2011, xiii). Pietsch ends the “unfinished novel” with a passage that suggests evading a docile body is possible by not evading it at all: Since we all breathe, all the time, it is amazing what happens when someone else directs you how and when to breathe. And how vividly someone with no imagination whatsoever can see what he’s told is right there, complete with banister and rubber runners, curving down and rightward into a darkness that recedes before you. It is nothing like sleeping (Wallace 2011, 540).


The Pale King shows us how to function in a structure without submitting to it, how to be an individual enduring one’s own anatomy. These are the aesthetics of the space left empty by David Foster Wallace’s disappearance.



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