David Foster Wallace: The Pale King

‘Hot narrow imperatives’

Owen Richardson


The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel
by David Foster Wallace
Hamish Hamilton, $39.95 hb, 560 pp, 9781926428178


In David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, set half at a tennis academy and half at a rehab centre, one of the characters says that junior athletics is about sacrificing the ‘hot narrow imperatives of the Self’ to ‘the larger imperatives of the team (OK, the State) and a set of delimiting rules (OK, the Law)’. Meanwhile, the rehab inmates are learning, with the help of the twelve-step program, to overcome the narrow imperatives of their addicted selves. In The Pale King, the academy and the rehab centre have been replaced by an IRS tax-return processing centre in the mid-1980s. The book is similarly concerned with submitting to the law and surrendering to a higher power.

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Owen Richardson

Owen Richardson

Owen Richardson studied philosophy at the University of Melbourne and has been writing about books, film, and theatre since the early 1990s. Besides Australian Book Review, he has been published in The Age, The Sunday Age, The Australian, The Australian Literary Review, Sydney Morning Herald, The Monthly, Scripsi, and Meanjin.

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