‘The great unequivocal International Gestures’: Benjaminian Gestus in Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man              Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man, a novel that is saturated in pop-cultural signifiers, has often been read as complicit with the system of commodity capitalism it seeks to oppose. The article responds to this charge by building on convergences between the debate over Smith’s novel and discussions among members of the early Frankfurt School to develop an alternative to the purist stance on popular culture by some of Smith’s critics. Taking a cue from Walter Benjamin, the article fills a gap in Smith scholarship by reading the ‘International Gestures’ that are strewn throughout the book as instances of gestus. Benjamin’s concept of gestus, which he developed in an analysis of Kafka’s stories, thus serves as a hermeneutic for The Autograph Man to indicate the revolutionary potential of Smith’s study of gestures, which the article associates with the revelation of an ‘optical unconscious’ that affords opportunities for wonder. Such wonder is a ‘saving power’ amidst the novel’s saturation in pop-culture that offers occasions for transcending our customs and habits. The article concludes by showing how the novel’s structural implementation of gestus is carried out in a tragi-comic voice familiar from Kafka, making it a ‘Frankfurt School comedy’ with a Kafkaesque spin.

READ MORE: Textual Practice (25 March 2022)

Heidegger’s Mistress? Meditations on Dasein in David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress In §43 of Being and Time, Heidegger attempts to demonstrate that external-
world scepticism, i.e., doubts about the objective existence of a world outside of human consciousness, is self-defeating. While even Kant, he notes, had made an ill-fated effort to overcome this “scandal of philosophy,” Heidegger scoffs at the long line of attempts at refutation, viewing “the fact that such proofs are expected and attempted again and again” as the real ‘scandal’ here. In turn, the section serves Heidegger as an opportunity to reiterate his key phenomenological claims: that Dasein is being-in-the-world [In-der-Welt-sein]; that we are always already involved with “external” things; and that the rationalist tradition, as represented by Descartes and his successors, goes wrong in shattering this “primordial phenomenon of being-in-the-world” when it asks, sceptically, how “the isolated subject” can be “joined together with a ‘world’.” In fact, the entire modern preoccupation with alienation and loneliness, Heidegger insinuates, can be traced back to this ‘original sin’ of rationalism. Several decades later, when the writer Ann Beattie read the manuscript of David Markson’s 1988 novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress, she was “floored” by Markson’s fictional exploration of precisely this kind of existential solitude, describing the text as “the most intense, really visceral, rendition of loneliness that I’ve ever encountered.” Beattie’s report of her reading experience, then, raises the question of Markson’s indebtedness to Heidegger. […]

READ MORE: Heidegger in the Literary World – Variations on Poetic Thinking (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021)

In 2009, an essay entitled “Death is not the End” appeared in the inaugural issue of The Point, a literary magazine that had been co-founded on the campus of the University of Chicago by the essay’s author, Jon Baskin. In keeping with its title, the essay was a statement on David Foster Wallace’s untimely death the year before, an early assessment of his legacy as more in line with the modernist task of attending to the problems of subjectivity than with postmodernist diagnoses of culture. Five years later, Baskin was named by the Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the “new intellectuals,” part of a group of young para-academics who prefer engagement in the public sphere to participation in an academic institutional landscape in crisis. Still, Baskin eventually joined academia in 2018 as associate director at the New School for Social Research. And the publication of his recent study Ordinary Unhappiness: The Therapeutic Fiction of David Foster Wallace by Stanford University Press as part of their Square One series is further evidence that academia could not ignore this exciting critical voice for long. […]

READ MORE: Review of Jon Baskin, Ordinary Unhappiness: The Therapeutic Fiction of David Foster Wallace (Orbit: A Journal of American Literature 9.1)

This article responds to a widely held presumption that ineffective student writing in Canadian classrooms can be resolved through technical solutions on the model of the popular Grammarly app. In contrast, this article suggests that a solution to the problem of writing instruction should focus on how to teach argument through rhetoric as a responsive, situated practice that occurs within different dynamic discourse communities. The article makes this case by recommending a renewed emphasis on the rhetorical concept of kairos, which provides students with an ethical comportment for decision-making in a pluralistic and uncertain world. This article concludes with a call for revitalized interdisciplinary attention to rhetoric in Canadian writing studies and programs. […]

READ MORE: Writing as Responsive, Situated Practice: The Case for Rhetoric in Canadian Writing Studies (Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie Vol. 29, 2019)

It is a truism that some books are long in the making. Think Joyce, think Proust. Think, for that matter, any of your cherished modernist masters. Contemporary biographies, however, often solicited with deadlines and marketing campaigns attached, tend not to grow so slowly. If they do,  as in the case of David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, readers can assume an extraordinary backstory. And, indeed, the story behind Lipsky’s account of the late David Foster Wallace is both interesting and illuminating. It provides an insightful angle onto the media phenomenon that Wallace, after his untimely death, has become. And it raises doubts about the book’s quality as a piece of literature; doubts that ultimately can be dispelled via a comparison with Wallace’s own work. So here it is, first of all – the backstory, in chronological order. […]

READ MORE: The Dave Show (Post 45: Contemporaries 10/2011)

HOW DAVID LIPSKY CAPTURES THE SPIRIT OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE  A few years ago, I wrote an essay about Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky’s unconventional “biography” of the late David Foster Wallace. The angle I chose at the time were professed doubts about the book’s quality as a piece of literature. Wasn’t Lipsky’s true-to-each-spoken-word coverage of Wallace, I wondered, rather self-indulgent — at best a reminder of the media phenomenon Wallace had become, at worst a cynical attempt to cash in on tragedy? With the release of The End of the Tour, based on Lipsky’s book, these questions have only become more pressing. In my earlier essay, republished here in truncated form, I concluded that Lipsky’s choice to print largely unedited transcripts, the raw material underlying what could have been a more focused prose piece, was not a case of hagiography-by-bootleg; rather, it was informed by assumptions about power in life-writing that he shared with Wallace. And I would argue that the creators of The End of the Tour were not ignorant to these considerations, either. […]

READ MORE: How David Lipsky Captures the Spirit of David Foster Wallace (Just Words 08/2015)