I am often slow of study. Only today did it occur to me that it's entirely appropriate to publish on April 15th a novel that's set in an IRS facility. Moreover, it's very appropriate this tax season due to the fact that, though the 15th fell on a Friday this year, this year's deadline is the 18th due to the Washington, D.C. holiday. For weirdness within an allegedly coherent, even boring system is, apparently, one of this unfinished work's big subjects.
I've not read this yet (that will have to wait a little while) and I've certainly not read all the reviews, but while all sorts of modern and contemporary "systems-novelists" (think Pynchon, DeLillo, Gaddis) have been named-checked in those reviews, the link I'm surprised no one has made is with Hamlet--which, of course, is also the origin of the phrase "infinite jest." The phrase "pale king" does not appear in Shakespeare's play, but a pale king certainly does (as does a dead father in The Pale King)--and, moreover, to reveal that the outwardly-tranquil (read: boring, bureaucratic) world of Elsinore is, in fact, as corrupt as Hamlet's image of the unweeded garden hints that it is. And, as in Hamlet, a big theme of The Pale King is delayed action: this review of the novel quotes from Wallace's notes identifying its "central deal": “Realism. Monotony. Plot a series of set-ups for stuff happening, but nothing actually happens.”
I've probably over-speculated on this novel that I have yet to read a page of, so I'll stop here for now. But by way of parting (and in celebration of tax season), I'll leave you with this pondering of an existential dilemma:
“Our tax system, as it currently exists, faces challenges,” [Evanston, Ill., accountant Stephen] Lacy wrote [to Wallace], before offering a “philosophical analogy”: “Imagine someone who wants to have a purely realistic and Aristotelian outlook and metaphysic and wants to avoid thinking of how some of the radical insights of Gödel, Wittgenstein, Davidson, Derrida and Deleuze might chip away at his system. The complexity of language and its nature of being contradictory and deconstructing are there all the time. . . . Sooner or later this person’s world view will have major problems. Our tax system wants to be a ‘modernist’ enterprise in an increasingly ‘postmodernist’ world.”