When the judges of the 2011 Pulitzer prize read David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, they felt its first paragraph alone was more powerful than the whole of any other shortlisted book they’d read.1 This opening, originally published as a prose poem, offers a long and densely worded, second-person description of a mostly idealized rural landscape, listing the multitude of plants, insects, birds, and rocks that inhabit the scene, as well the imprint we make on the landscape as we watch it, the brand of our shoes “incised in the dew.”2 The section closes with an exhortation to “read these” things (4), which is, in effect, asking us to read the passage again. This command functions as a declaration of what any maximalist novel demonstrates as important-paying close attention to the world, listening carefully, getting everything and more down in prose that does justice to a sense of overflowing immediacy. It also tellingly maps changes in the scene of work in the age generally termed postindustrialism. The labor that we are to perform in this field is to read-to construct and manage the scene as information, rather than till its soil:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb’s quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nut-grass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spine-cabbage, goldenrod, creeping Charlie. (3)

This is Wallace trying out a new voice, perhaps grown tired of his old one: the litany of product names, pharmaceutical brands, acronyms, trilled conjunctions and other literary pyrotechnics typical of Infinite Jest are replaced by an agricultural vocabulary, the invocation of a pastoral sublime that seems a respectful imitation of passages from Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree.3