In recent years, the American fiction writer David Foster Wallace has been treated as a symbol, as an icon, and even a film character. Ordinary Unhappiness returns us to the reason we all know about him in the first place: his fiction. By closely examining Infinite Jest, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and The Pale King, Jon Baskin points readers to the work at the center of Wallace’s oeuvre and places that writing in conversation with a philosophical tradition that includes Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, and Cavell, among others. What emerges is a Wallace who not only speaks to our postmodern addictions in the age of mass entertainment and McDonald’s but who seeks to address a quiet desperation at the heart of our modern lives. Freud said that the job of the therapeutic process was to turn “hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness.” Baskin’s book makes a case for how Wallace achieved this in his fiction.
“This is an original, fearless reading of Wallace that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to my students. Even if they disagreed with it, it would get them thinking—and I bet they’d learn something, as I did. Baskin’s readings are persuasive, bold, enterprising, and unafraid of disrupting conventional academic hermeneutics. We need books like this.”