“Tim Personn has written a very interesting book that finds new intellectual sources for contemporary fiction’s drive to bring self and other, and reader and writer, closer together – a movement of “heartcraft” often credited to Wallace but not, as Personn’s illuminating readings of Markson, Smith, and Ellis show, unique to him. Richly informed by philosophers, especially Cavell, Fictions of Proximity offers insight into romanticism’s crucial role in the effort to go beyond ironic detachment and austere positivism in the literature that defines our time.”

— JEFFREY SEVERS, University of British Columbia

Fictions of Proximity: Skepticism, Romanticism, and the Wallace Nexus tells the story of a nexus of contemporary novelists around David Foster Wallace who took up the legacy of logical positivism and reworked it between the 1980s and the 2000s in a way that has affinities with romanticism. This book shows how the writers of this “Wallace nexus” use fiction’s complexities to challenge the idea that in human interactions, only complete fusion and transparency may count as instances of knowing. In place of this positivistic ideal of absorption, the book offers the freshly defined concept of “proximity,” a closeness with separateness.

It reads key novels of contemporary Anglo-American literature as “fictions of proximity,” i.e., as texts that dramatize, problematize, and enact the movement into this position of proximity. To tell this story, the book draws on unpublished archival materials and understudied connections, advancing new interpretations of four novelists: David Foster Wallace, David Markson, Bret Easton Ellis, and Zadie Smith. Fictions of Proximity provides new readings of these writers, both of their canonical texts and of lesser-known works, and situates them with respect to prominent figures in contemporary post-positivist philosophy.

Here’s a recent conversation I had about my book with the literary podcast The Clearihue Corner:

OUT NOW with Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield: Fictions of Proximity: Skepticism, Romanticism, and the Wallace Nexus