David Foster Wallace and Sentimentality

What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.”

I’ve been reading a lot of David Foster Wallace’s works lately and came across an interview (which of course I can’t find right now) where he mentions he’s afraid of sentimentality. I recall the interviewer trying to get him to be more specific about what he meant and the question still kind of hanging in the air. He talks about how in postmodern society—an ironic society—being overtly sweet or sentimental is thought of as cheesy and something to be scoffed at; that the sentimentality has to be veiled in a sort of cynical gauze.

I remember hearing this and wondering why. I immediately thought of my favorite “sentimental” works: Anna Karenina, Brothers Karamazov, East of Eden, Journey to the End of the Night, all of which are pre-postmodern, yet are still classics and don’t shy away from a bit of cheese.

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