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Foster Wallace’s “The Empty Plenum” revisited : exploring the intersection of philosophic and literary inquiry

Tempone Wiltshire, JV ORCID: 0000-0001-6252-1790 2019 , 'Foster Wallace’s “The Empty Plenum” revisited : exploring the intersection of philosophic and literary inquiry', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

In a political moment characterised by post-truth ideologically generated misinformation and algorithmically propagated discourses, questions of fact, of inquiry, of perspective are paramount. This work examines what it means to write literature or to do philosophy while encountering a world of diffuse truths. It asks how can we retain clarity without erasing the fact that perspectival knowledge is always already embedded, piecemeal, contextual? To answer this question, I turn to a more foundational one, that has plagued philosophy since Plato proclaimed, “there is an old quarrel between philosophy and poetry” (Republic, 607b5–6). My thesis picks up on a central aspect of the quarrel, the claim that art doesn’t lead to truth. I ask: what is the nature of literary inquiry and how can literature distinguish itself as an autonomous form of intellectual inquiry, if it can at all? Beginning with David Foster Wallace’s “The Empty Plenum”, I argue for a novel ‘perspectival’ or ‘mystical’ interpretation of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logio-Philosophicus. Contrary to dominant literary scholarship, I claim that it is Wittgenstein’s Saying–Showing distinction that offers us a guide for conceiving of the true value of literary inquiry, and thereby provides us with a robust response to Plato. The ‘ancient quarrel’ can thus be addressed resolutely. What does literature offer? Literature is free to communicate where philosophy is unable—to show what philosophy cannot say. Using the examples of Davidson, Heidegger, Wallace, Wittgenstein, Borges and Lerner I flesh out the notion of showing in literature, and how it functions to induce a perspectival shift in order that the reader may see the world ‘aright’, whatever ‘aright’ may be. This dissertation may be best conceived as a contribution to the project of questioning inherent power-dynamics and ideological bias that inform the disciplinary separation of literature and philosophy.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Tempone Wiltshire, JV
Keywords: Literature, Philosophy, Creative Writing, Wittgenstein, Foster-Wallace, Plato, Auto-Theory Poetry, Literary Criticism
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Copyright 2020 the author

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