Searching for the Author: A performative reading of legal subjection in David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King
David Foster Wallace died before the publication of his novel The Pale King, which complicates and is, indeed, important to this novel. This article argues that law – as a broadly construed concept – is a character and subject of The Pale King. Many of the characters enact a form of legal subjection, by becoming agents of U.S. tax law, which construes them as agents of the law while providing them with their sense of self. Major themes of the novel revolve around tax law, which constitutes individualized legal subjects and political bodies. However, the legal performative interpretation provided here is not a simple or straightforward analysis. Because Wallace died before the novel was published, but then appears within the text as the author who is subject to the law, The Pale King plays with and reflects on the multiple conditions of legal subjection, that which constructs and deconstructs the conditions that allow one to be both subject and free, false and real, fiction and nonfiction. Because we cannot know if Wallace is actually the author of the text, The Pale King reveals processes of legal subjection by providing readers with the opportunity to performatively subject oneself to that text, which they exhibit by attributing authority to Wallace.
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: doi: 10.1080/17521483.2019.1676530
Rights Statement: They own copy rights of the article for the full term of copyright
Keywords: legal subject; subjection; author; authority; performativity; David Foster Wallace; The Pale King; law and literature; law and humanities
Research Type: Journal Article