Vol 11, Issue 10
In an interview,1 David Foster Wallace2 decried the influence of postmodernism on his generation. As a method of analysis, postmodernism doesn't prescribe an overarching framework of understanding. Instead all knowledge3 is contextual and constructed. Thus proponents of postmodern art are self referential, ironic and cynical. When DFW gave this interview, the effects of 50 years of post-modernism were being felt across the art world. An idea that reconstructed colonialism and gave credence to subaltern studies4 for academics, post-modern art had become it's truest form, a dry joke. While David was famously elitist on the question of TV,5 one cannot avoid the idea that Seinfeld was indeed cynical. Nothing was taken seriously. No problems were ever solved. As Larry David6 said “No hugging, no learning.”7
To Wallace, TV's shift to cynical and ironic humour was corrosive to the soul and thus the culture reflected in the screen. People learn from television, but on television, nobody learns. Characters are mocked for their inability to read a situation.
They fail. That's it. Just failure. Punishment.
But how does this relate to law?8 The essential element of postmodern deconstruction is its contextual basis of thought. Within these microscopic contexts, the more knowledgeable reign supreme. Those that are less so are punished accordingly and without delay. The same can be said for law. In the context of each legal process, one party is punished, forced to pay up big and ground out by technicalities, with little thought to overarching principles of how our society should be. The end result being a disjointed and cruel legal system, with each developing in a maze of its own, requiring some stiff9 in a thousand dollar suit to navigate.
But is there a solution to all this?10
Any student of Hayne's ‘Joining the Dots’ class will know of his honour's conviction that law should not develop in silos. In saying this, the good Justice mirrors the argument of what is surely his favourite author.11 Wallace claims that to be “really human” we need to be “generally pathetic” and “unavoidably sentimental.” For those that tire of DFW's adverb-adjective style, look no further than Kirby J. Many of his decisions12 fight against this trend and implore his friends on the bench to adhere to principles he sees as core to our society: those of fairness, compassion and equality.
So next time you want to write a legal opinion essay on the black letter of the law, think of the world you build. Ask yourself WWDFWD?13
1 If you're on a computer, or an astute typist, find that here https://youtu.be/91ytSdSM-Kk
2 Author of Infinite Jest and bandanna aficionado.
3 And therefore, truth.
4 A field of historical discourse which focuses on the underclass as opposed to the rulers and recognised paragons of culture.
5 See: "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993).
6 Creator of Seinfeld and known post-modernist.
7 Francis Davis, “Recognition Humour,” The Atlantic Nov 1992.
8 I ask this as I assume this will be published in a law school weekly. Maybe you're reading this online, maybe you picked it off the floor to place it in a recycling bin. If the latter, then thank you for your service.
9 Hopefully from Melbourne Law School.
10 Yes, read on.
11 ...of The Pale King.
12 Largely dissents.
13 What Would David Foster Wallace Do?
Nick Parry-Jones is a third-year JD student
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