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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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I am pleased to announce that I will be speaking at the "What Happens Now" conference at the University of Lincoln on twenty-first century fiction.

David Foster Wallace

By the publication of Infinite Jest in 1996, it had long been David Foster Wallace's [1962-2008] ambition to move beyond the now “critical and destructive” postmodern irony that he claimed introduced “sarcasm, cynicism, a manic ennui, suspicion of all authority, suspicion of all constraints on conduct” into literature and culture. With the posthumous publication of The Pale King [2011], scholars can now begin to appraise Wallace's twenty-first-century writing against that ambition.

Meanwhile, a cursory glance at the twenty-first-century fiction of Thomas Pynchon [1937-], the most frequently-named influence upon Wallace, appears to reveal a similar shift. Both Against the Day [2006] and Inherent Vice [2010] seem to alternate between a playfulness and a mode that abandons many of the metafictive devices and tropes of indeterminacy exemplified in V. [1963], The Crying of Lot 49 [1966] and Gravity's Rainbow [1973], for which Pynchon is now typecast as the godfather of American postmodernity.

In this paper I will train a harsh critical gaze upon an emergent strain of post-postmodernism that purports to rethink these issues: “metamodernism”. Simultaneously, I will amalgamate Walllace's and Pynchon's often assumed, but never fully formulated, points of convergence while disturbing the concept of a millennial turning point for a revived, ethically-viable fiction. While Wallace worked to demonstrate “that cynicism and naievety are mutually compatible” (Boswell 2003) – an aim accurately described by “metamodernism” – much of Pynchon's fiction can also be so described; it appears that metamodernism's Vice could be Inherent within postmodern literature. Indeed, although it is accurate to describe both of these writers as metamodern, as a form of post-postmodernism, metamodernism cannot be used as a temporal specifier, but rather as an identifier of important shared thematic attributes; those aspects that point toward a regulative utopianism.

Featured image by Steve Rhodes under a CC-BY license.