Skip to Main Content

JOE NASH

How to Be: Unpacking Presence in David Foster Wallace’s Pale King
Joe Nash, Spring 2017

Directors: Jessica Berman and Raphael Falco
Committee Members: Jean Fernandez and Ryan Bloom

In this thesis, Nash argues that, while writing his third, unfinished novel, David Foster Wallace was heavily influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of mindfulness. Many sections in the book focus on the characters’ awareness and suffering with regard to their present-moment experiences. This theme is perhaps best understood through the lens of Buddhist meditation practice—an interpretation corroborated through material in Wallace’s archive at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. Through the lens of Buddhist meditation, critics can understand how Wallace uses the concept of mindfulness in The Pale King to explore the nature of suffering and to demonstrate how a practice of mindfulness can possibly assuage this suffering.