The Composition of 'The Depressed Person'

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Elliott Morsia


Despite moving away from a predominant focus upon his most renowned novel Infinite Jest (1996) in recent years, David Foster Wallace studies has yet to broach more far-reaching questions regarding the textual status of Wallace’s work. This essay introduces the methodology of genetic criticism to Wallace studies, studying the composition of the short story ‘The Depressed Person’ in order to provide a template for much further genetic enquiry into Wallace’s canon. Genetic criticism involves the study of manuscripts and rough drafts with the aim of describing a process of writing. By treating text as process rather than as product, genetic criticism critiques the traditional notion of “the text itself.” Wallace’s writing shares a resistance to “finished products,” particularly after the publication of Infinite Jest, beginning with the volume of short stories Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (1999), in which the ‘The Depressed Person’ is collected; this is most emphatically the case for Wallace’s “unfinished” and posthumously published final novel The Pale King (2011), “the text” of which exists only in draft form. While reflecting on the relationship between the eponymous depressed person’s predicament and the story’s mode of composition, this essay moves on to consider the context for Wallace’s writing process in relation to influential modes of revision in modernism.


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