(The) Depression and Devaluation in the Early Stories
This chapter demonstrates the deep importance of Wallace’s collegiate study of U.S. economic policy, especially in the Great Depression, to his early short stories. What if, I ask, we locate Wallace’s “origins” not in the post-World War II moment or 1960s ironic postmodernism, but instead in the crash of 1929, a less predictable moment of cultural crisis in which he took a quieter but subsuming interest? Key elements that emerge in this chapter are the U.S. Treasury (surreally portrayed as the issuer of a post-gold-standard currency – and post-metaphysical meaning – in the uncollected gem “Crash of 69”) and, in “Westward,” the governmental remedies of social insurance and economic reconstruction in the New Deal. While attending more briefly to other stories in Girl With Curious Hair, this chapter also provides sustained readings of Dust-Bowl metaphysics in “John Billy” and Johnson’s Great Society in “Lyndon.”
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