Volume 71, Issue 4, Fall 2019
David Foster Wallace’s Catholic Imagination
“The Depressed Person” and Orthodoxy
Although scholars have read “The Depressed Person” in relation to questions of the self and problems of communication and self-expression, this paper reads the story as an entry point for examining the religious dimensions of Wallace’s work. Comparing Wallace with G.K. Chesterton, the paper argues that if we can accept that the depressed person’s condition is not a biologically grounded clinical depression but an exaggerated personification of a common ailment—a particular brand of loneliness—then we can see that we each have a stake in the search for a way to break the dehumanizing pull of our own egos. Wallace and Chesterton point to submission and attention as potential means of escape, even if they disagree about how to do this. When confronted with the challenge of finding happiness, joy, and connection in a world that encourages introspection, explanatory mastery, and mechanistic views of the self—of finding meaning in the face of forces of meaninglessness, nihilism, and self-centeredness—both draw on imaginative literature as a source of knowledge. Wallace stops just short of orthodoxy, but his works stand as courageous defenses of the human person against the strange but dangerous foes of modern American life.