Intentionality and the Author’s Foreword

The one thing that stood out to me in our discussions of The Pale King was the amount of intentionality that we attributed to the text e.g. “What is David Foster Wallace saying about boredom?” “How is David Foster Wallace using memory?” etc. What I was wondering is how much intentionality we should attribute to this as a posthumously published text, especially given our discussions about truth in the narrative and the way in which DFW inserts himself into the novel. For example, within the first two pages of the Author’s Foreword, great pains are taken to present real, factual information like the social security number and street address. However, DFW gestures at a disclaimer that would not have been written at the time and the “publisher” in vague terms. In the footnote at the bottom of the page, page 69, David Wallace discusses the foreword “having now been moved seventy-nine pages into the text”(69). But it hasn’t. It’s been moved sixty-eight pages in, and you can’t get to that seventy-nine number if you include the Editor’s Note and assorted pages. So what does this do to the conception of truth that we have discussed?

There are certainly sections like Chris Fogle’s Chapter 22, which can stand more or less on their own, in which discussions of intentionality would follow a traditional line. And, as has been mentioned, due to the fractured nature of the subject matter it might not matter that we have an unfinished work: in his note, the editor Michael Pietsch concludes “Everyone who worked with David knows well how he resisted letting the world see work that was not refined to his exacting standard. But an unfinished novel is what we have, and how can we not look?”(xiv) However, the way in which to novel is edited together and way in which the chapters are meant to work alone and together makes the question of intentionality interesting, at least to me personally.

We could start by looking at form, which is used consciously to induce an effect. Chapter 10, following the Author’s Foreword, is one paragraph long. Chapter 11 is literally a list of claimable medical symptoms. Chapter 25 is laid out in two columns per page.

The same conscious use of form is present in the footnotes, so it would be interesting to know to what extent the way they are place on the page is intentional. For example, footnote 3 of Chapter 9 runs from page 70, includes a footnote nested within at the bottom, to the end of page 71, ending on “You sort of have to pick your battles, as far as nonfiction goes.” This is followed by footnote 4, “(excepting the ‘All rights reserved’ part, of course),” which refers to “The reason why such protections are especially required here … is the same reason the disclaimer is, when you come right down to it, a lie”(70). Now, footnote 4 explicitly refers to the disclaimer. However, one could easily move to that line from footnote 3, in which case the condition that is placed through footnote 4 could be slyly referring to the veracity of nonfiction mentioned at the end of footnote 3. It is also interesting to consider the way in which that might be read, a long dense footnote spanning two pages followed by the second footnote, which isn’t even a complete sentence. Something similar might be read into the footnotes on page 87:

26 (which is, after all, memoir’s specialty)

27 (whether or not we’re consciously aware of it)

28 (again, whether consciously or not)

These footnotes, placed together like this, seem to be more in dialogue with each other than with the main body of the text, so the degree of control that DFW had over their placement on the page seems important to both the way in which the real David Foster Wallace has written the novel and the way in which the fictional David Wallace is represented and the “contract” that is created with the reader.


On a somewhat completely unrelated tangential aside, Chris Fogle, influenced by his psychology classes, is constantly referring to things that occur in something along the lines of “that’s the normal thing, right?” Thinking about psychology and normality, with intentionality thrown in to boot, I came serendipitously across this article, which reads the DSM-V as a dystopian novel:

1 thought on “Intentionality and the Author’s Foreword

  1. I’ve kind of been thinking about the nature of the book as a posthumous text too. I was reading on Wikipedia that his wife saw The Pale King as a sort of narrative about corruption within the IRS and computers taking over, and the back of my edition prompts questions for discussion, one of which is, “Wallace seems to be setting the stage for a battle between computers and human examiners, but it never occurs. Where do you imagine the plot of The Pale King going?”
    This I find very bizarre and somewhat untrue to the nature of the book…but perhaps also because we didn’t read it in its entirety. I definitely think that the themes of truth, law, and the importance of drawing meaning from banality are more important than an invasion of sentient computers, but am definitely biased by the passages we’ve read. At the same time though I sort of think it’s impossible to grasp the full meaning of the text as one would with another finished novel, because there were countless notes and unordered chapters that did and didn’t make it into the book. I think the way that we need to address questions about The Pale King inherently needs to change because it is unfinished, so we can’t necessarily ask “What is he trying to say? What is the overall theme and message?” like we would with any story, but perhaps, “What might he have been trying to say, and what is the most important theme?”

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