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Dissertationsprojekt von Laura Morris

Reading America. David Foster Wallace’s Aesthetics and Politics (Arbeitstitel)

Referred to alternatively as a “genius” (Grossman 2008) and a “prose magician” (Kakutani 2008), both critics and fans are effusive in their praise of a writer who, for them, provides the voice of a “new generation” (Kirsch 2011) as well as the “next step in fiction” (Birkerts 1996). In particular, it was David Foster Wallace’s second novel Infinite Jest that caused a literary sensation in 1996. Praised for heralding the end of postmodern fiction, his call for a return to sincerity made him stand out among his contemporary writers. At the same time, his idiosyncratic style and themes resisted classification. Following the success of his monumental novel, Wallace has become a strong literary presence throughout America; even after his suicide in 2008, interest has continued unabated, if not intensified, with several posthumous publications.
Notwithstanding such enthusiasm for Wallace and growing scholarly interest in his work, his complex legacy has not been fully examined. While early research mainly concentrated on his use of irony and his agenda of fictional authenticity in contemporary fiction (cf. Boswell 2003; Kelly 2010), an over-emphasis on his relationship with his postmodern literary ancestors has led critics to ignore the possibilities Wallace’s oeuvre offers for framing and understanding the prevailing cultural issues of today’s world. Departing from previous accounts, I argue that Wallace’s essays and fictions are more responsive to cultural and social change in contemporary American society than hitherto recognized, and thus need to be analyzed as a catalyst of these developments.
I start from the premise that three related phenomena are crucial to the understanding of Wallace’s work: (1) a trend towards a documentation of society and a restoration of mimetic practices and discourses, heralding a new connection between fiction and reality after postmodernism, and, (2) a new form of writing that moves beyond the postmodern rejection of absolute values in favor of a non-moralist form of counter-cultural expression that invokes Jacques Rancière’s theory of the politics of aesthetics, and, (3) a politics and aesthetics that goes beyond capturing a sense of his novelistic response to the 21st century with its concern for his function as a public intellectual as well as, in his non-fiction writing, his role as an exponent of a new type of literary journalism.
With my dissertation, I aim to provide an analysis of Wallace’s work in terms of its enactment of the political possibilities of fiction and non-fiction writing in a nihilistic and hedonistic American culture in the wake of postmodernism.



Laura Morris studied English, French and German Literature and Linguistics (Staatsexamen) at the University of Cologne, Germany. Since 2013, she has been a scholarship holder of the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities, where she is currently writing her dissertation under the supervision of Professor Hanjo Berressem. Additionally, she teaches courses on American fiction at the English Department of the University of Cologne. Her research interests center around critical theory and contemporary American fiction, with a particular focus on David Foster Wallace and the relationship between aesthetics and politics in literature after postmodernism.
As a member of the team of the former a.r.t.e.s. gallery, she co-curated the show “Das Büro. Interferenzen von Kunst- und Wissensraum” (Kanzlergalerie, University of Cologne, May – July 2014).

Kontakt: laura.morris(at)



"Post-Postmodern Politics: David Foster Wallace’s Radical Aesthet[h]ics"
14. November 2014: Vortrag im Rahmen der Konferenz “Negotiating Narratives in/for the Third Millennium”, Universität zu Köln

“The Emancipated Reader : The Radical Aesthet[h]ics in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men"
11. September 2014: Vortrag im Rahmen der Konferenz “Infinite Wallace - Wallace Infini”, Paris (Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle and Paris 7-Paris Diderot)



Sommersemester 2014

Übung: "American Realisms", Englisches Seminar I, Universität zu Köln

Wintersemester 2013/14

Hauptseminar (mit Prof. Dr. Hanjo Berressem und Prof. Dr. Wolfram Nitsch): "Ästhetik und Politik: Rancière Lektüren", Englisches Seminar I, Universität zu Köln

Sommersemester 2013

Übung: "American Fiction from the 1960s to 2010", Englisches Seminar I, Universität zu Köln


Titelbild: Infinite Jest (Grafik: // Portraitfoto: Roman Oranski