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02/15/2010

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Chris

To insist upon a moral or ethical content to fiction all too often enables a reader to shunt aside contemporary fiction that, not coincidentally, emphasizes form, language, and technique. The basic "ethics" which seem to float to the surface of older works of innovative fiction once we've assimilated their innovations are usually garden variety truisms that don't require a great author, or great prose, for their expression.

As for Wallace, well, much as I've always vastly admired his prose, I've also always found his canny insistence in interviews and public utterances on writing that he was concerned with getting at the "human heart" or "treating troubles and emotions...with reverence and conviction" to be both grating and often completely at odds with his scrupulously cold-eyed, sometimes cruel, and often grotesquely solipsistic fictions. A wag might say that the only troubles and emotions Wallace was interested in exploring were his own -- absolutely nothing wrong with that, but to infer a kind of ethically useful universality from it strikes me as a cramped way of reading.

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