“Whatever the explanation for his preoccupation with solipsism in Wittgenstein, Wallace never abandoned his fixation on sealed-off people. Few readers of Infinite Jest will forget the lonely fate of the Hal Incandenza, who becomes so alienated from the world that his speech becomes unintelligible to others, or the lifeless zombiehood that befalls anyone who watches the novel’s eponymous film, which is so entertaining that its viewer becomes incapable of doing anything other than watch it. But Mark Costello pointed out to me an important irony: for someone as obsessed with isolation as Wallace, he was “obviously a social novelist, a novelist of noticed details, on a near-encyclopedic scale.” Where other novelists dealing with solipsism, like Markson and Beckett, painted barren images with small compressed sentences, Costello observed, “Dave tackled the issue by massively overfilling his scenes and sentences to comic bursting”—indeed to the point of panicked overstimulation. There was a palpable strain for Wallace between engagement with the world, in all its overwhelming fullness, and withdrawal to one’s own head, in all its loneliness. The world was too much, the mind alone too little. “You can’t be anything but contemptible living for yourself,” Costello said, summing up the dilemma. “But letting the world in—that sucks too.”

– James Ryerson, in “The Philosophical Underpinnings of David Foster Wallace’s Fiction” (Slate.com)