Collections > UNC Chapel Hill Undergraduate Honors Theses Collection > "Pain is a Requirement, Not a Curse": Vulnerability as a Sentimental Security in Post-9/11 Literature

In his 1993 essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction”, David Foster Wallace asserts that TV was deeply threatening the contemporary novelist; by appropriating novelist’s very tools for criticism, TV had left authors bereft of their agency to critique and alter culture. Such criticism of TV’s “vapidity, shallowness, and irrealism” was widespread and even trendy at the time, and yet Americans continued to religiously watch an average six hours per day (Foster Wallace 156). Foster Wallace explains this simultaneous loving and loathing of televisual culture: it had become “its own most profitable critic” in its celebration of the very elements—cynicism, narcissism, emptiness—that its critics sought to expose (Foster Wallace 157). This renders postmodern fiction’s attempts to alter the world of “appearance, mass appeal, and television” via its usual tool of self-­‐ conscious irony obsolete (Foster Wallace 171). In the world of TV “everything presents itself as familiar.” TV “teaches us to see real-­‐life personal up-­‐close stuff the same way we relate to the distant and exotic,” thereby endorsing and perpetuating a culture of cynicism and indifference—moods that postmodern fiction once effectively critiqued (Foster Wallace 181). Thus Foster Wallace posits that the contemporary novel’s greatest challenge in its next phase will be “trying to make the familiar strange” by transcending the onslaught of media images to find a “real” human subject independent of images (Foster Wallace 172). In doing so, the novelist might wrest contemporary Americans from TV’s cultural bondage. He concludes his essay with a vision for the next phase of contemporary literature: “’anti-­‐rebels’ […] Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction,” willing to risk “accusations of sentimentality, melodrama” (Foster Wallace 192-­‐ 193).