ABSTRACT

The article reads David Foster Wallace’s short story “The Soul Is Not a Smithy” (2004) as a sample of covert multimodality—implementation of several sensorial and/or semiotic modes in an apparently monomodal medium. Unlike the thoroughly theorized genre of the multimodal novel, Wallace’s narrative does not materially incorporate any visual images, remaining “purely” verbal—even hyperverbal, considering the author’s reputation for supplemental detours and deferrals. In “The Soul Is Not a Smithy,” one narrative strand is a comic strip the schoolkid protagonist pictures entirely in his head, projecting it onto a classroom windowpane while other events transpire. Alternating between reports of imaginary comic panels and fragments from other subplots, Wallace stimulates the reader’s capacity to visualize layered literary storyworlds. Because our “sensations,” in Lars Elleström’s nomenclature, matter more than material “sense-data” in the establishment of a multimodal experience, the comic provides the narrative with a distinct visual interface.

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