Elsa Court at the TLS:
Interpreting Wallace’s work is not an easy task. His novels and short stories use many voices; they insert dense analytical jargon into passages of lyrical prose; and they invite readers to go back and forth between the small print of the main text and the smaller print of footnotes: yet Wallace also warned young writers that “The reader cannot read your mind”. What are we to make of the formal obstacles his own writing poses, bearing in mind his claim that good writing always actively attempts communication – and his broader injunction to open up and communicate sincerely?
In The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace, Clare Hayes-Brady suggests that Wallace dramatizes the inward entrapment of consciousness, and invites the reader to struggle against it. Hayes-Brady’s title is playfully deceptive: she suggests that Wallace’s “failures” are also at the crux of his greatest achievement – namely, his re-enactment of our failure to communicate.
For Hayes-Brady, “commitment to the process of communication (rather than its outcome) is the driving force of [Wallace’s] writing”. The difficulties he seems to pose derive from his deeper sense of communication as a continuing dialogical process. The “failure” of communication, in this context, is to be understood as “generative”: not so much a defeat as an invitation, after Beckett, to use the certainty of failure as a reason to keep trying.