Engaging with David Foster Wallaces 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 Wallaces 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

Full Text:



Boswell, Marshall. Understanding David Foster Wallace. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. Print.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.

David Foster Wallace on Bookworm [1999]. Web.

rg7SqGwwOaiA> (06:30-10:24 min.). Web.

Diakoulakis, Christoforos. Quote Unquote Love a Type of Scotopia: David Foster Wallaces Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Consider David Foster Wallace: Critical Essays. Ed. David Hering. Los Angeles: Sideshow Media, 2010. 147-155. Print.

Fopp, Rodney. Herbert Marcuses Repressive Tolerance and His Critics. Borderlands E-Journal: New Spaces in the Humanities 6.1 (2007): 5-. Print.

Hayes-Brady, Clare. : Language, Gender, and Modes of Power in the Work of David Foster Wallace. A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies. Eds. Marshall Boswell and Stephen J. Burn. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 131-150. Print.

Himmelheber, Rachel Haley. I Believed She could Save Me: Rape Culture in David Foster Wallaces Brief Interviews with Hideous Men# 20. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 55.5 (2014): 522-35. Print.

Malinen, Kelley Anne. Thinking Woman-to-Woman Rape: A Critique of Marcuss Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention. Sexuality & Culture 17.2 (2013): 360-76. Print.

Marcus, Sharon. Fighting Bodies, Fighting Words: A Theory and Politics of Rape Prevention. Gender Struggles: Practical Approaches to Contemporary Feminism. Eds. Constance L. Mui and Julien S. Murphy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. 166-185. Print.

Marcuse, Herbert, Barrington Moore Jr., and Robert Paul Wolff. A Critique of Pure Tolerance. London: Jonathan Cape, 1969. Print.

Nixon, Charles Reginald. The Work of David Foster Wallace and Post-Postmodernism. University of Leeds, 2013. Print.

Sielke, Sabine. Reading Rape. [Electronic Book]: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in American Literature and Culture, 1790-1990. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. Print.

Smith, Zadie. Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2009. Print.

Wallace, David Foster. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. London: Abacus, 2001. Print


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c)

Postgraduate English is hosted by Durham University, Department of English Studies, UK. Unless otherwise specified, all articles published from 2000-2011 inclusive are copyright Durham University. All articles published from 2012 onwards are copyright of the author(s). All articles from 2012 onwards are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 licence.

Please view the privacy notice for details on how we process your personal data: Privacy Notice.

ISSN: 1756-9761

Durham University