Engaging with David Foster Wallace’s Hideous Men

Matthew Alexander


How is it that ‘rape culture’ is viewed as being so prevalent when for over three decades many feminist and queer academics have problematized notions of ‘difference’ based upon assumptions held around markers of biological sex and/or gender (Rubin, Butler, Sedgwick, et al)? Perhaps it is the perceived nature of discrimination implied by the terms associated with rape culture, where ‘woman’ is always placed as the ‘victim’, and ‘man’ identified always as the ‘perpetrator’ of such acts, that serves to reinforce such thinking. Equally, perhaps it is our own failure to engage with ideas that are anathematic to us simply because they speak of hate and intolerance. Consider David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999), a work that has received surprisingly little in the way of critical commentary, in spite of the fact that the self-titled stories within appear to give rise to extreme misogynistic thought. Indeed, whilst choosing not to engage with the more disturbing elements of this and other works by Wallace, many of his critics choose to focus on common, over-worked themes such as irony (Goerlandt, 2006; den Dulk, 2012), addiction (Freudenthal, 2010), freedom of choice (Jacobs, 2007), and philosophical arguments (Olsen, 1993). This paper will consider the ways in which Wallace's text problematizes notions of identity so routinely governed by seemingly un-problematized markers of sex and gender. Using close textual analysis of ‘Brief Interview #46’ it is argued that Wallace engages with the notion of rape culture in a manner that raises interesting if uncomfortable questions. Indeed, the protagonist/antagonist of ‘BI #46’ makes the reader hyper-aware of the prevalence of ‘knee-jerk’ reactions to content that is not easy to consider (98). By doing so, we may find that rape culture rhetoric needs to be broadened to accommodate ‘myriad possible forms of sexual violence’, and that rape culture is far more complex than we are led to believe (Malinen, 2013).


Rape Culture; Misogyny; Gender Discourse; Gender Studies; Interviews

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