Tag Archives: non-fiction

Fiction and Non-Fiction and The Death of the Author

After reading “Greatly Exaggerated,” I decided to look back at my first post of the semester when I wrote about “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” and the intentional fallacy (http://machines.kfitz.info/166-2009/2009/02/01/the-intentional-necessity/). In that post, I claimed that “in the age of self-referencing and meta-fiction, the intentional fallacy is essentially already committed by the authors themselves. The author has already done the probing for the reader, so the reader doesn’t necessarily have to do any extra work.”

But, at that point in the semester, we hadn’t really started reading Wallace’s fiction quite yet, only a few of his non-fiction essays. Now having read a pretty substantial amount of both, I’m having trouble completely agreeing with my earlier comments. My issue with my previous post arises in the fact that making such a statement as “the necessary fallacy is built right into Wallace’s own text,” seems to completely conflate all of Wallace’s writings, fiction and non-. But can we? When we talk of the Intentional Fallacy and the death of the author, is there a different in terms of Wallace’s (or anybody’s) fiction or nonfiction?

At first glance it sure seems like it to me. My previous comments were based on Wallace’s non-fiction pieces, and after reading more of his non-fiction I do still stand by the assertion that in his non-fiction essays, Wallace writes himself right into the text. Therefore, no probing beyond the text is even necessary, meaning no commitment of the intentional fallacy is possible and “the whole question seems sort of arcane” (GE, 144). Wallace’s footnotes in his non-fiction are like T.S. Eliot’s notes as mentioned in “The Intentional Fallacy” (16). Because they are a part of the text itself, the information they provide is not considered “external” (IF, 10) evidence.

But, what can we say about his fiction? Just because DFW is not writing about himself, we don’t have to immediately claim that the work has no author. But I’m not sure we can claim that the self-referencing and meta-fiction that occurs in the Wallace’s fiction allows us to gain insight into Wallace’s intention in the same way the self-referencing in his non-fiction clearly illuminates all of his inner thoughts. Yes, the narrator in “Westward” talks to the reader just as Wallace talks to the reader in “A Supposedly Fun Thing,” but analyzing the intention of the narrator in the fiction and DFW in the non-fiction will be two completely different things. Might we need to, as Wimsatt and Beardsley say, separate the narrator of “Westward” from DFW himself?

All this being said, though it doesn’t seem like it, I still don’t completely agree with “The Intentional Fallacy” or the idea of the death of the author. I am definitely one of those “civilians who [knows] in [my] gut that writing is an act of communication between one human being and another” (GE, 144). I guess my point is that by reading “Greatly Exaggerated” in the midst of several hundreds of pages of non-fiction where DFW talks directly to the reader, it is easy to be convinced that, of course, the author is not dead; he is on this page talking to me about this time he went on a cruise. But, I do think it’s important to remember that the issue maybe different regarding fiction. And I say “maybe” because I don’t really know. That’s why I wanted to bring this up. Is there a difference? What do you think?