“What Follows Is Substantially True and Accurate”: Autobiographical Subjectivity in David Foster Wallace’s – The Pale King


Matthew Darling

pages: 36-53
First published online: 09 November 2017
Version: 09 November 2017

This paper analyzes the “Author here” sections of David Foster Wallace’s posthumously-published novel The Pale King. According to most readings of the novel, these textual incursions by a “David Foster Wallace”—the supposed “real” author of the text—are a fictional technique that helps reinforce many of Wallace’s long-held ideas about the uses and value of fiction. In this paper, which puts forward the idea that, to some extent, these sections are, as they purport to be, autobiographical; as such, the “Author here” sections help readers to better understand some of Wallace’s beliefs about the value of non-fiction. By contextualizing the “Author here” sections of The Pale King within a larger discussion of his many statements about non-fiction writing—including those made in “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” “The Nature of the Fun,” and (perhaps most importantly) his introduction to The Best American Essays 2007—this paper reveals the “autobiographical subjectivity” (the phrase is from Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson) that occasionally emerges from the novel. Drawing on Wallace’s statements about the differences between writing fiction and writing non-fiction, the paper concludes that the “Author here” sections not only reveal Wallace’s attempt to escape from the “nada” he sees confronting fiction writers; they also show that he, like other autobiographical subjects, used his non-fiction writing as a way to find clarity amid what Wallace calls the “Total Noise” of modern life.

Key words: The Pale King, Autobiography, Subjectivity, The Autobiographical Pact.

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