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David Foster Wallace's Balancing BooksFictions of Value$
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Jeffrey Severs

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780231179447

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231179447.001.0001

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Other Math

Other Math

Human Costs, Fractional Selves, and Neoliberal Crisis in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Chapter:
(p.135) 4 Other Math
Source:
David Foster Wallace's Balancing Books
Author(s):

Jeffrey Severs

Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231179447.003.0005

In Brief Interviews, Wallace’s most mathematically driven work of fiction, the central lesson is how to value the other in such a way that she is not killed off – not mown down by being remade as a number in the punning meaning behind the Wallace story that gives this chapter its title, “Other Math.” I place this crucial dynamic of combining selves in the context of the many systems of human and economic valuation – from coins, gifts, and contracts to viewing a spouse as “my other half” – that knit together a collection too often read as a disparate assortment of stories. In Brief Interviews Wallace makes his fullest use of paratextual features of story-numbering, series, and page numbers to arrange for the reader an encounter with the stochastic mathematics that drives “Adult World,” which I regard as a take-down of Plato, a watershed in Wallace’s history of unbridled markets and neoliberalism, and the collection’s centerpiece (over the many who have focused on “Octet”). As in chapter 2, a crisis in the value of currency fires Wallace’s imagination, here in a response to the so-called Asian Flu of the late 1990s. Interweaving a genealogy of Wallace’s probability-driven formal experimentation with a history of stochastic math’s importance to modern finance, I describe the dialectic of computerized complexity and balance-scale simplicity that underlies this book’s moral vision.

Keywords:   Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, Asian currency crisis, Neoliberalism, stochastic mathematics, finance

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