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Title: Idiopathy: a novel ; and, 'A failed entertainment': the process of paying attention in and to infinite jest
Author: Byers, Sam
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2013
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My PhD thesis combines a novel, Idiopathy, and a critical essay, ‘A Failed Entertainment:’ The Process of Paying Attention In and To Infinite Jest. Idiopathy examines the inner lives of three friends and their experiences of both separation and a reunion. By emphasising internality over externality it seeks to examine the notion that how we feel about our lives may be more important, indeed, more ‘real,’ than what takes place around us. Idiopathy is overtly concerned with the extent to which interaction with others is problematic, and pays particular attention to the emotional complexities of friendships, relationships and family dynamics. Through these pained and frequently unsatisfactory interactions the novel seeks to satirise broader social phenomena, such as media panics, health epidemics, ideological protest movements and the rise of what might be termed a ‘pathologised’ culture, in which all the characters are continually concerned that something is ‘wrong’ with them. Illness is a metaphor throughout, and is explored not only through the characters’ sense of personal malaise, but also through the device of a fictional cattle epidemic that forms a media backdrop to unfolding events. Throughout the novel I am particularly concerned with empathy: its limits, its problems, its importance. This manifests not only as a difficulty experienced by the characters, but also, I hope, for the reader herself, since empathy with the central characters is something I have deliberately problematized. ‘A Failed Entertainment . . .’ looks at the work of a writer I regard as being not only a key influence but a vital figure in the contemporary literary landscape: David Foster Wallace. Specifically, it focuses on his novel Infinite Jest and explores the way in which the novel is designed to encourage a certain kind of attention, which Wallace overtly stated was something he felt was important in contemporary life. In my essay I examine the idea that Infinite Jest not only concerns itself with attention at a thematic level, emphasising the importance of a certain kind of active, engaged relationship with art and entertainment through a satirical negative image: a video ‘Entertainment’ so successful it kills anyone who watches it, but also, through certain stylistic and structural devices, heightens and demands the self-same attention that Wallace is concerned with. Note: Due to word limit constraints I have included the final section of Idiopathy as an appendix. Examiners may read this section at their own discretion. Publication History: Idiopathy was published by Fourth Estate (London) in April 2013 and by Faber and Faber inc. (New York) in August 2013. It has been translated into nine languages.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available