This thesis places the work of the contemporary American writer David Foster Wallace alongside that of the nineteenth century Danish philosopher-poet Seren Kierkegaard in order to foreground the similarities in their approaches to the problem of irony, and their strategies for overcoming the cynicism they believe it often produces. Wallace, like Kierkegaard, has written inventive and sophisticated texts, has theorized on Irony and its limitations and sought ways beyond it; yet, like Kierkegaard, he has continually used irony with great skill in his own works. Wallace' s fiction is, I believe, an attempt to offer a perspective on contemporary American culture that is both a relentlessly accurate critique, yet also a compassionate attempt to construct something useful and redemptive to replace the cultural emptiness it so deftly describes. His persistent use of irony may be surprising, however, as his 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and American Fiction" presents a strong critique of the cynical irony of Image-Fiction writer Mark Leyner.
Since the publication of "E Unibus Pluram" Wallace has written a novel, Infinite Jest, and two collections of short fiction- Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and Oblivion - all of which I will examine in this thesis in order to show how his work has followed a similar path to Kierkegaard 's and how he has used irony to critique cynicism. Another purpose of my research is to investigate the charge that certain theoretical notions and literary uses of irony either lead to or flow from a nihilistic worldview. I will dispute this and show that although there maybe a relationship between irony, cynicism, and nihilism, irony is synonymous with neither. Cynicism results from an irony that lacks the type of commitments that can moderate its infinite potential for destruction; and nihilism-if it actually exists-is a form of radical cynicism. I will argue that Wallace, using strategies similar to those used by Kierkegaard, offers an insightful critique of cynicism Kierkegaard 's thesis, The Concept of Irony: With Continual Reference to Socrates, marked the beginning of his interest in this matter and will be the focal point for discussion of his idea of mastered irony. ………