Cutting Consciousness Down to Size: David Foster Wallace, Exformation, and the Scale of Encyclopedic Fiction

Part of the Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies book series (GSLS)


David Foster Wallace, celebrated novelist and reader of neuroscientific literature, changed his definition of the encyclopedic novel at mid-career, based on his understanding of the cognitive concept of “exformation,” which suggests that human communication depends on the exclusion and discarding of massive amounts of information. Examining the relationship of varied examples of encyclopedic fiction to emotion, as well as conscious and unconscious perception, this chapter interprets issues of the types and scales of mental stimulus in Infinite Jest and The Pale King. The chapter concludes that in the unfinished Pale King Wallace builds a new form of novelistic encyclopedism that attempts to register the huge amount of psychic data available in a single second’s perception.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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