David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books: Fictions of Value by Jeffrey Severs

David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books: Fictions of Value

byJeffrey Severs

Hardcover | January 3, 2017

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What do we value? Why do we value it? And in a neoliberal age, can morality ever displace money as the primary means of defining value? These are the questions that drove David Foster Wallace, a writer widely credited with changing the face of contemporary fiction and moving it beyond an emotionless postmodern irony. Jeffrey Severs argues in David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books that Wallace was also deeply engaged with the social, political, and economic issues of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A rebellious economic thinker, Wallace satirized the deforming effects of money, questioned the logic of the monetary system, and saw the world through the lens of value's many hidden and untapped meanings. In original readings of all of Wallace's fiction, from The Broom of the System and Infinite Jest to his story collections and The Pale King, Severs reveals Wallace to be a thoroughly political writer whose works provide an often surreal history of financial crises and economic policies.

As Severs demonstrates, the concept of value occupied the intersection of Wallace's major interests: economics, work, metaphysics, mathematics, and morality. Severs ranges from the Great Depression and the New Deal to the realms of finance, insurance, and taxation to detail Wallace's quest for balance and grace in a world of excess and entropy. Wallace showed characters struggling to place two feet on the ground and restlessly sought to "balance the books" of a chaotic culture. Explaining why Wallace's work has galvanized a new phase in contemporary global literature, Severs draws connections to key Wallace forerunners Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis, as well as his successors-including Dave Eggers, Teddy Wayne, Jonathan Lethem, and Zadie Smith-interpreting Wallace's legacy in terms of finance, the gift, and office life.

About The Author

Jeffrey Severs is associate professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He is the coeditor of Pynchon's "Against the Day": A Corrupted Pilgrim's Guide (2011) and has published articles in Modern Fiction Studies, Critique, Twentieth-Century Literature, and the Austin American-Statesman.
Pynchon's Against the Day: A Corrupted Pilgrim's Guide
Pynchon's Against the Day: A Corrupted Pilgrim's Guide

by Jeffrey Severs

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Details & Specs

Title:David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books: Fictions of ValueFormat:HardcoverDimensions:328 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.03 inPublished:January 3, 2017Publisher:Columbia University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0231179448

ISBN - 13:9780231179447

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Table of Contents

Note on the TextsAcknowledgmentsIntroduction: A Living Transaction: Value, Ground, and Balancing Books1. Come to Work: Capitalist Fantasies and the Quest for Balance in The Broom of the System2. New Deals: (The) Depression and Devaluation in the Early Stories3. Dei Gratia: Work Ethic, Grace, and Giving in Infinite Jest4. Other Math: Human Costs, Fractional Selves, and Neoliberal Crisis in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men5. His Capital Flush: Despairing Over Work and Value in Oblivion6. E Pluribus Unum: Ritual, Currency, and the Embodied Values of The Pale KingConclusion: In Line for the Cash Register with WallaceNotesBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

Jeffrey Severs has an archivist's nose for the 'good stuff' from David Foster Wallace's papers at the Ransom Center; he has an eagle eye for motifs that circulate from one Wallace book to another; and he is uncannily skillful in making apposite connections between Wallace and his precursors, contemporaries, and successors. Only someone as widely and deeply read in late-twentieth and early-twenty-first century literature as Severs could have pulled this off.