'Throw Your Head to the World': Inner Emptiness and 'The Open Road' in the Work of Dave Eggers

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Underland, Will
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Middle Tennessee State University
Despite being overshadowed by David Foster Wallace and therefore only cursorily understood, the work of Dave Eggers is deserving of more critical attention. Eggers’s work is unified in its tendency to depict a uniquely American philosophical emptiness and the subsequent attempt to escape it. This emptiness is related almost exclusively to inwardness, to the philosophy that affirms the myth of a “true self” which exists internally and necessarily apart from the material world—a philosophy perpetuated especially by our largely digital and vicarious culture. Eggers’s novels and short stories are the dramatization of the attempt to escape this emptiness by way of travel and therefore, along with such predecessors as Huckleberry Finn, Moby-Dick, and On the Road, fit into a distinctly American tradition which D.H. Lawrence has called “the Open Road.” But Eggers also problematizes “the Open Road.” He shows how international travel can often function as a sort of first world emotional therapy. True to his often-ambivalent style, though, Eggers affirms “the Open Road” tradition by showing its alternative to be a sedentary life of disengagement and narcissism. He suggests that “the Open Road” be traveled, but with sociopolitical awareness and a more clear-eyed empathy. Ultimately, Eggers’s work is a rejection of abstraction in its many forms and an invitation to a life more pragmatic and action-oriented.
American literature, Contemporary literature, Dave Eggers