Is David Foster Wallace the Increase Mather of postmodernity?


By Michael J. Altman

I don't know where I came across this on the tweeters and facebooks (or "the ebays" as Bobby Bowden would say) but over at In These Times Theo Anderson has a wonderful essay on the Puritan dimensions of David Foster Wallace. Here's a taste.

If rarely his explicit subjects, though, religion and politics were nearly always Wallace’s subtexts. He mostly ignored the hideous spectacle of electoral politics in the United States, and he had no time for the nonsense that pervades much of American religious life. But his work is obsessed with the roots of our religious and political poverty. It’s a sustained jeremiad aimed at America’s spiritual childishness, and it’s a plea for preserving what is most valuable in religious thought and practice. Wallace was a Puritan, not in theology, but in his sensitivity to a set of insoluble questions and tensions that are deeply rooted in the Calvinist tradition – most notably the tension between freedom and determinism.
I'm by no means an expert on Wallace and I found the piece doubly interesting when a friend commented on my Facebook page that Wallace was a devout Catholic and, while with Mary Karr, would attend mass regularly. Anyone else out there know more about Wallace's religious life and how it influenced his politics and writings?


Mike at: March 8, 2012 at 9:22 AM said...

This just in from the twitters courtesy of @danielsilliman:

@MichaelJAltman Wallace was not a devout Catholic. Said he tried to go thru. catechism twice, but failed. Once was asked to leave.

@MichaelJAltman More a case of someone who wants to be religious but doesn't know how. Kinda like Graham Green's Quiet American.

David Swartz at: March 8, 2012 at 12:53 PM said...

When he taught at Illinois State University in the 1990s, he attended the local Mennonite church.

Jen Graber at: March 9, 2012 at 1:41 PM said...

Stories of DFW attending various Illinois Mennonite congregations have been circulating for some time.


TGD at: July 12, 2012 at 2:09 AM said...

Give this article a read. I was researching the same thing and it answered my question rather nicely.

It seems that for most of his life he was a regular churchgoer, but from reading his stuff I always got the impression that he was too much of a natural cynic to, as he puts it, "take certain things on faith".

newer post older post