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2 The New Sincerity
Is a person sincere? This question can be asked several times in every part of the life. It is always hard to find out, if a person tells the truth and has honourable intentions. This question can be asked for literature as well. The reader has to enter the world of the author or narrator and it is unsure what happens. The author could be sincere and can be trusted. It might be also possible that author is a liar. This leads to the consequence that it is unsure what happens with the reader. The reader could become a perpetrator. It is also possible that the reader could be a victim or perceives the story silent. Lots of different scenarios are possible. It is a matter of perception of the reader as well. Every person has a different background and varying expectations, too. This leads to the consequence that the way of perception is subjective and could lead to different solutions. Finally, this can influence the impact whether the author is sincere or not.
This paper wants to analyse, if the Good Old Neon of David Foster Wallace can be characterised as a short story of the New Sincerity. It is about a guy named Neal. He explains on which way he manipulates people and decides to kill himself. An analysis of that text requires elements that can be analysed. The second chapter should ensure this demand because a definition of the New Sincerity should be found there. The Good Old Neon is analysed in the next chapter with the target to verify, if the Good Old Neon can be seen as a short story of the New Sincerity.
2 The New Sincerity
The concept of Sincerity exists since the sixteenth century and is not an invention of the Postmodernism. Sincerity is not just an important element of literature. The concept of Sincerity can be found in other fields like radio or television as well (van Alphen and Bal 2 f.). The New Sincerity criticizes irony (Kelly 131). This does not mean that irony is not allowed. Irony is seen negatively by authors of the New Sincerity because irony is an indirect way of saying something and that is criticised by authors like David Foster Wallace (Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram” 183). Another important aspect that is relevant for The New Sincerity is hospitality. Hospitality has a close connection to security. Hospitality always implies insecurity because it is necessary to open things up. That could be the case for a house, a heart and literature as well. This aspect makes literature unpredictable and in consequence interesting because it is not sure whether an author is sincere or not (Voelz 209). Literature provides an exchange between the author and the reader. The author can be seen as a host because insights in the minds and lives of others are given and the reader can percept them. On the other hand this leads to the consequence that the author is vulnerable (Voelz 210). This is an important aspect for the New Sincerity. Even more, the reader is vulnerable as well. It is not possible for the reader to understand the motivation of the author and this is also a question of the perception of the reader. It might be possible that the author wants to turn the reader to a victim or a perpetrator. This is unsure in the beginning and can be solved by reading the literature, but this makes the reader vulnerable as well. Shame is an important element for this (Voelz 2012). In this way Sincerity is a matter of authenticity (van Alphen and Bal 1). This paper follows the argumentation of van Alphen, Bal and Smith that a general definition of Sincerity cannot be made in academic fields. There is no doubt that Sincerity has another role in psychology or in law, but in literature it is impossible to find a definition that works for every piece of literature (van Alphen and Bal 2). Sincerity is a matter of perception and perception is an individual aspect of the reader.
Before the analysis can be made, it is necessary to point out that this short story has a firstperson narrator and that means he shares information of his world (Meyer 71). This fact gets an important relevance because later he mentions the author as well and that shows that the author is not the narrator.
In the beginning he mentions that he is a fraud. His argumentation is based on the fact that he gets good grades in school and he performs well everywhere. He does not do that for himself because he has another purpose. His target is the big impression on other people and that is his motivation on one hand and on the other hand the explanation why he is a fraud. This shows that he is really dependent on other people and this shows the doubts of him and that makes him vulnerable. The way he talks seems that he has no emotions and he seems to be sincere in the beginning of the short story (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 141).
The realisation of goals is the main focus for him and this is also relevant for love. He gives an overview of his relationship with Angela. He points out that he pretended that he wanted to know how she is inside (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 142). It is not clear, if he is honest at that point. He does not show many emotions. This makes him sincere, but this leads to the consequence that he is really unable to have emotional things like love. In that point it makes sense that he does not really wants to know something about her. On the other hand, he plays his role and for this role he needs information about a person. He needs to know her preferences and that means he should be interested in her interests just for the fact that he can play his role and that is his main target. There is no doubt that he gives many details and that he is reflective, but he does not mention this point and that is a bit insincere because it is unclear, if he does that unconscious or not. It is possible that he does not see this point and is also possible that he does that to manipulate the reader. The second point would be an argument for the New Sincerity because the New Sincerity is characterised by an interaction between reader and narrator. Then he talks about the analysis and he remarks that he is not happy and he feels anything (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 142). This can be seen as a widespread because he tells his story really detailed. He points out that he is a fraud and he manipulates people, but the way he explains that, by giving many details, seems that he is also proud and that speaks clearly against this point and makes him insincere.
Then he mentions that he has tried lots of things and different activities which are not satisfying for him. It could be seen as a compensation for the lack of relations in his life. He also mentions that he had chlamydia (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 143). This detail is embarrassing for the reader and it makes the narrator vulnerable. These are typical characteristics for the New Sincerity. Furthermore, the narrator wants to get in touch with the reader by mentioning him directly. The narrator assumes that the short story could be boring for the reader. It is unsure whether this behaviour is sincere or not. On one hand it is a direct communication between the narrator and the reader. This means the narrator opens his world and gives the reader the chance to participate and this is typical for the New Sincerity. On the other hand he plays his role. He does not mention it directly, but he points out that it will be more exciting when he talks about his suicide. This shows that he manipulates people and tries that with the reader as well and that makes his reflection insincere.
Another widespread could be seen in his attitude towards the office of the analyst. He points out that he likes the mess there (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 144). This could be seen as a contradiction. During the short story he points out that he is successful and that he puts lots of effort in playing his role. He manipulates people and that he needs to analyse them and this leads to the consequence that he has to be structured to realise his targets. On the other hand he says that he likes the mess of the office. In this point it is not sure, if that is true, but it leads to doubts of the reader. It is unsure, if the narrator is really sincere in this aspect. It could be also a tactic to manipulate the reader. He confesses that he is manipulative (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 145). He wants to manipulate Dr. Gustafson as well. Then it seems that he opens his heart to Dr. Gustafson, but he wants to impress him (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 146). It becomes clearer that the narrator does that to make him happy and not to show his real emotions. This aspect is not clear in the beginning of the short story, but it becomes clearer after a while. The fact that he does not directly mention it to the reader shows that he wants to manipulate the reader as well. This is insincere, but on the other hand it is a typical treat of the New Sincerity because it is hard to find out the motivation of the narrator. The reader has to become part of the world of the narrator to figure this out.
Then he explains the decor of the office wall which has a painting of Cezanne (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 146). This explanation shows his situation. This means on one hand he provides lots of information and it is not necessary for the reader to have this information because if the reader would not know that the painting was painted by Cezanne, it would not change the content of the short story. By giving lots of details about it, he makes himself sincere. On the other hand this shows that he depends on the mind of the others. He points out that he knows that and this means he wants to get recognition because that is important for him. He decides to mention it for that reason. Then he gives the information that is written in brackets. This has the function to point out that he does not play that role anymore and that the reader sees that he is sincere. There is no doubt that he is sincere, but he is also not honest at all times. The explanation with the suicide and the tension shows that he still plays the role and tries to persuade the reader.
Then he points out that he lies since he is four years old (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 148). This means he does that for a long a time and he still does it with the reader. He likes it that Fern gets punished and that made him powerful (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 149). On the other hand he points out that it is the worst feeling to be regarded as a fraud and that happened to Fern. It happens to the narrator as well because he calls himself a fraud in the short story and this means he is also regarded as a fraud by the reader. This can be seen as a tactic to create pity for him. This is manipulative, too. He tries to create feelings of the reader directly as well because he addresses the reader directly (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 150).
Then he provides some information about him and this seems to be reflective and sincere, but this is not completely true. He points out that it does not really matter what the reader thinks about him (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 150). This is not sincere because if would not care about it, he would not try to start an interaction with the reader. At first he apologizes for the story and that it could be more exciting and will be getting more exciting and then he says that he does not care about the opinion of the reader. This is not sincere.
He points out that he analysis Dr. Gustafson and plays with him (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 153). The information that is provided by the narrator is really detailed and sincere. He remarks that he plays with Dr. Gustafson and that the therapy is a waste of time. It is sincere as well because he still manipulates people and that includes Dr. Gustafson and the reader, too (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 154). This shows that he still plays that role. On the other hand it is unsure, if he has a good relation to Dr. Gustafson or not. In the beginning of the short story it seems that the narrator likes him. Later he does not speak positively about him. This shows that he is still manipulative and it is hard to find out, if he manipulates the reader as well and what interests he has. The narrator plays that game with Dr. Gustafson, too. He wants to analyse the analyst (Wallace, “Good Old Neon” 156).
- Quote paper
- Christian Schwambach (Author), 2019, A Short Story of New Sincerity. The Good Old Neon, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1007026