Copyright Notice (translated from Dutch):


Although this dissertation was never officially published, the Ghent University Press, Belgium and the author of the dissertation Toon Theuwis own the copyrights, by permission of KB 1-128 of 1991. No part of this dissertation may be reproduced by means of print, photocopy, microfilm or any other way, without prior permission from the Ghent University Press and Toon Theuwis. The copyright has been asserted on 7 May 1999.


Catalogus Referentie: Theuwis, Toon. "The Quest for Infinite Jest: An Inquiry into the Encyclopedic and Postmodernist Nature of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest." GUP 1999. Nr. 722.


Trefwoorden: Literatuurwetenshap: Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest.




























Universiteit Gent













The Quest for Infinite Jest


An Inquiry into the Encyclopedic and Postmodernist Nature of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest



























Promotor : Prof. Dr. Kristiaan Versluys

Scriptie voorgelegd aan de

Faculteit der Letteren en Wijsbegeerte,

Taal en Letterkunde: Germaanse Talen

voor het verkrijgen van

de graad van licentiaat

door Toon Theuwis












I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Kristiaan Versluys for helping me to decide on a topic. His guidance and constructive criticism have made my work on this thesis more comfortable than it would have been without his professional help. He has inspired me in many ways, especially through his lectures which to me often seemed to be about how much stories and literature can make certain things in life simply more understandable and more bearable. I couldn’t agree more.

Luc Herman from the University of Antwerp has been very helpful on the subject of encyclopedism and Professor Nicole Rowan made interesting suggestions concerning Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I would like to thank them both for their time.

For about two years now, Dr. Bart Keunen has been helping me to better understand postmodernism in literature. I am indebted to him for drawing my attention to a wide range of reference sources, too numerous to mention here, and for his way of explaining a complex matter in a plain and understandable (very un-postmodernist) language.

I am grateful to Nicolas Marichal who renewed my courage in troublesome moments more than once. I would also like to thank Trevor Dodge for some insightful suggestions.

A little further away from home, I would like to thank William "Captain" Schiavo, a wonderful teacher of literature. The far too few hours I spent in his classroom have been more important to me than he could possibly imagine.

I make a grateful acknowledgement to Mel, Diane and Brooke Kalman who not only provided me with the necessary software, but who have been a wonderful hostfamily and continue to be.

Finally, without the continuing support and efforts from my parents, brother and friends, I never would have been able to summon up enough courage to write a thesis about, what I think, one of the most challenging books to come along in a long time.




Table of Contents




Table of Contents


1 Encyclopedism in Infinite Jest

1.1 Transfinite Hopelessness: Knowledge and Science in Infinite Jest

1.1.1 On Infinity

1.1.2 On Knowledge and Science

1.2 Insubstantial Country: The Setting of Infinite Jest

1.2.1 Go Places

1.2.2 The Imagined World, Another Country?

1.3 Other Encyclopedic Characteristics

1.3.1 Encyclopedia of Narratives and Lack of Single Plotline

1.3.2 The New Dispensation and the Complexity of Statecraft

1.3.3 Encyclopedia of Literary Styles

1.3.4 Giants and Gigantism

1.3.5 Love and Sex

1.3.6 Exile and Illegality

2 Postmodernism in Infinite Jest

2.1 Modernism and Postmodernism, a Shift from Epistemology to Ontology

2.1.1 Brian McHale about Postmodernism

2.1.2 Epistemology and Ontology in Infinite Jest

2.1.3 Heterotopias, Zones or Paraspaces

2.2 Paranoid Reading

2.2.1 Paranoid Characters

2.2.2 Paranoid Reader

2.3 Chinese-Box Worlds

2.4 Language and Meaning

3 Conclusion: Infinite Jest, a Postmodernist Encyclopedic Novel













Encyclopedism in literature deters and attracts at the same time. Encyclopedic novels are enormous in size and in the last decades they encompass complex or even confusing philosophical ideas. They dive into conundrums of epistemology and ontology and thus also join in with the postmodernist vogue in literature. Such encyclopedic postmodernist novels have a great attraction for a certain group of readers, mainly because of their ambitious design, their construction as a system and their display of verbal virtuosity.

The object of this thesis is to demonstrate that David Foster Wallace’s second novel Infinite Jest belongs to the tradition of encyclopedic postmodernist narratives. I will show that the novel is not simply the expression of an individual’s psychology but that it fits in a contemporary interpretation of postmodern society and the literature it produces. Some literary critics and writers have become dissatisfied with the term "postmodernism". There is some uneasiness to use the term "postmodernism" in literary criticism and there is also a tendency with most young authors to recoil from this term. This is definitely the case with David Foster Wallace, who argues that postmodernism has more or less run its course and serves only as a catch-all term which causes everybody to nod when hearing it, without even knowing what we are talking about [1]. Since Wallace has been compared to Thomas Pynchon more often than he wishes, it has become clear that Wallace has a preference for a different kind of postmodernism, that he sees himself as more than just a satellite launched into orbit around Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I doubt not that Wallace's notion of postmodernism differs from the generation of writers before him, but he is still so strongly influenced by that previous generation [2] that digressions into shades of differences would merely foreground a generational gap in postmodernist literature that I think is ultimately irrelevant. As I hope to demonstrate in the light of Brian McHale’s writings about postmodernism, Wallace’s 1079-page postmodern project is not fundamentally different from that previous generation's achievements. It seems, however, that Infinite Jest is an up-to-date postmodern definition of the 1990s’ drug and media culture.

Infinite Jest has received little critical attention. This thesis is an attempt to fill that gap in literary criticism. The few reviews and essays devoted to Infinite Jest all focus on the central themes of solipsism, addiction, recovery and the potential annihilation of the consumer-oriented society in the imaginary setting of the O.N.A.N. (Organisation of North American Nations). For that reason, I will discuss Infinite Jest’s encyclopedic and its postmodernist characteristics. None of the resources that have appeared until today have paid particular attention to this. Part one of this thesis surveys encyclopedic elements in Infinite Jest while part two deals with the novel’s postmodernist characteristics. In both parts, I shall be drawing particular attention to the novel’s preoccupation with comprehensive knowledge, systematic perception and the problematic nature of these two concepts. Infinite Jest is as story about our less confident, but perhaps more intellectually curious, times. When reading Infinite Jest one is totally overwhelmed by so much information that reading the novel becomes a kind of downloading. It is a novel about addiction that one does not really read as much as inhale. It is a disorient express of verbal extravagance that teaches to be satisfied with not understanding the world.



1 Encyclopedism in Infinite Jest





Books of immense size can hold a lot of information, but they also have a reputation of serving merely as decoration on a bookshelf. It can be the Encyclopaedia Britannica, or The Oxford English Dictionary, or mammoth novels one can cut one’s teeth on like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow, or David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

One consults an encyclopedia to learn or to verify a definition, an exact date, a name, etc . . . . These data banks only provide us with information that has no value in and of itself. It can only be understood in connection with other information and overarching structures, or maybe even the ultimate overarching structure, a cosmic totality every person, whether he be a scientist or not, is trying to find. Not a single encyclopedia pretends to provide coherence to all the information that is to be found in it. The order in an encyclopedia is an alphabetical one and does not lead to the acquisition of insight, in the sense of structured knowledge.

Recent fiction in general has been highly self-conscious; self-conscious of itself as text, self-conscious about the use of language, self-conscious of the writer as persona, self-conscious about the effects that narrative has on its readers. This awareness has had as one of its consequences that in many modernist, and even more so in postmodernist texts, the problematic nature of objective and structured knowledge is being foregrounded and that, quite paradoxically, it became difficult to grasp the full meaning and the full structure of these texts. It is clear that perception and passing on of knowledge is not a theme reserved for encyclopedic narratives. It is a common theme in contemporary literature. But how then distinguish encyclopedic narrative from any other kind of fiction?

Edward Mendelson introduced the term "encyclopedic narrative" in 1976 in a terribly structured essay [3] that had as one of its objectives to give Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which was initially not well received and dismissed as just a very obscure book, a revaluation by referring to the literary history and the tradition Pynchon’s novel belongs to. The CPR Mendelson performed on Gravity's Rainbow was so successful that the encyclopedic novel in general has today become a remarkable success story and the appreciation for and interest in these encyclopedic works is growing rapidly till this very day. Mendelson’s attempt in 1976 to define the term "encyclopedic narrative" has been the most successful one so far. He argues that the encyclopedic narrative is "a genre that is of central importance in Western literature, but one that has not yet fully been recognized." [4] This popular genre, he continues, caught the attention of neither historical nor formal criticism "partly because it can only be identified in terms that are both historical and formal." [5] Mendelson’s self-imposed task then is to define these cultural and formal requirements.

Mendelson knows of seven members of the genre, not doubting there must still be others: Dante’s Commedia, Rabelais’ five books of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Goethe’s Faust, Melville’s Moby-Dick , Joyce’s Ulysses and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. All these works occupy comparable positions in their national culture and they allow Mendelson to come up with a definition of the genre and to indicate some of the special problems that it raises for criticism. From his essay I was able to extract 8 major characteristics of encyclopedic narrative: (1) It attempts to render the full range of knowledge of a national culture by making use of a synecdoche. (2) It often uses epic structure as its organising skeleton and like epics it treats its own culture allusively or analogically. (3) Because of its indeterminacy of form it is also an encyclopedia of narratives and lacks single plotline or structure. (4) It attends to the complexities of statecraft and proclaims a new dispensation on earth. (5) It is an encyclopedia of literary styles. (6) It often makes use of giants or gigantism. (7) None of the narratives culminates in a completed relation of sexual love. (8) It usually enters its culture from a position of exile or illegality.

We have to observe that any one of these characteristics can also occur in other literary genres, but it is the occurrence of a substantial number of the above characteristics in one work that sets encyclopedic narrative apart from other genres. We can therefore say there are "degrees of encyclopedism" in certain novels.

My objective in this first chapter is to show to what extent Wallace’s Infinite Jest belongs to this tradition of encyclopedic narrative as defined by Edward Mendelson.


1.1 Transfinite Hopelessness: Knowledge and Science in Infinite Jest


1.1.1 On Infinity



We are told on good authority that heaven and earth and their respective inhabitants are held together by the bonds of society and love and order and discipline and righteousness, and that is why the universe is called an ordered whole or cosmos and not a state of disorder and licence.

(Plato, Gorgias) [6]



The common symbol that is used to denote "infinity" is a loop in the shape of a horizontal numeral eight: . This symbol is actually very appropriate because one can perpetually move around in such a loop. The Greek word for "infinity" is "apeiron". For Pythagoras and Plato this word had a negative connotation because it also referred to the original chaos prior to creation [7]. "Apeiron" is a rather general term which represents chaos and boundless complexity. For Aristotle, "infinity" or "apeiron" was an imperfection because of the absence of boundary [8]. The reader of Infinite Jest will notice that Wallace feels like a fish in the water with the concept "infinity".

The Greek word "cosmos" stands for both "order" and "ornament". Pythagoreans first used it as a term for the universe, conceived as harmoniously shaped and bounded, in opposition to the shapeless and boundless chaos of "apeiron" [9]. The traditional Greek cosmology, emphasising order, finiteness and constancy of the cosmos dominated Western thought for almost 2000 years until the advent of the Copernican revolution.

Dante’s encyclopedic work, the Commedia, meticulously reflects this ordered Greek cosmology. In Dante’s time, the cosmos was thought of as a perfect, finite sphere enclosing within itself a number of other concentric transparent spheres, each with its particular motion. At the centre of the earth is Dante’s Inferno, the Christian Hell. The Commedia has a complex numerical structure, the most important numbers being three and nine. The tight structure of the work serves to visualise the perfect order in the afterlife. The numerical structure, though difficult to unravel, is not secret or obscure. It serves to make Dante’s methods comparable to divine creation and to give his work the status of ultimate truth.

Quite the opposite happens in Infinite Jest. Wallace occasionally makes use of numerology, but it never creates order. It functions more as a gimmick. Wallace opted to connect the idea of "infinity" with the infinity symbol, the numeral eight (or ). James Incandenza, director of anti-confluential films, including the infamous film entitled "Infinite Jest" [10], made use of super-8 mm film for most of his projects, and some of his movies last exactly 88 minutes. Wallace lets some of his characters walk around in boots with size 8.8. One of James Incandenza's sons, Orin Incandenza (a suspect who might be in possession of a master copy of the lethal movie "Infinite Jest") is a professional football player (a punter) and carries the number 71 on his team's jersey, which is an unusual number for a punter, but add up 7 and 1, and the result is the infinity symbol eight. Orin is also a real playboy and at a certain point in the novel, when in bed with one of his "subjects", "she thought the figure he'd trace without thinking on the bare flank after sex was the numeral 8" (47) [11]. This seems to be Orin’s habit. He has "already drawn idle little sideways 8’s [i.e. ] on the postcoital flanks of a dozen B.U. coeds" (289). In addition, when we witness the first victims of the killer movie "Infinite Jest", the scene describes exactly eight people in one room in front of the "TelePuter" (Television-Computer). References to the numeral eight, symbol of infinity, occur at regular intervals in the novel, [12] but the whole idea does not seem to add up to anything. It makes the reader feel rather paranoid. Infinite Jest seems to suggest its narrative is like a safe to which there is a combination, but the combination is locked up in the safe. One thing is certain: "infinity" is a concept one could easily get lost in. No matter how intelligent, all that one can ever comprehend of the universe (or reality) must of necessity always dwell within one’s mind. This means, of course, that one’s model of the universe is smaller – lesser, in some sense – than that reality. That is the human condition. "Infinity" is a concept that goes way beyond the capabilities of human knowledge. "Infinity" is the textbook example of something we simply cannot comprehend.



1.1.2 On Knowledge and Science



Knowledge and the enlargement of intellect, are poor, when unmixed with sentiments of benevolence and sympathy.

(William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice) [13]



The last person who could still claim he mastered the full range of the sciences and who had a thorough knowledge of nearly everything there was to know in his time was probably Leonardo Da Vinci. This last specimen of the "Uomo Universale" was a painter, architect, sculptor, musician, inventor, engineer, geologist, biologist, mathematician, physicist and polyglot. He was probably the greatest mind in human history, a true "Renaissance man". I don't want to enfeeble my admiration for such a phenomenon, but I wish to point out that Da Vinci lived in a time when it was still possible to be a "Uomo Universale", and that today, when the term is applied to one of us, it is merely to be ironic. There are no more Renaissance men in our time. This world’s knowledge has become greater than any one person can encompass.

Dante Alighieri’s Magnum Opus, the Commedia is a synthesis of the medieval worldview. This work does not always make easy reading because it contains numerous catalogue passages that deal with several aspects of theology, philosophy and astrology. A complete map of knowledge can be reconstructed from the text. It reviews a medieval landscape of order and geocentric cosmology. Dante attempts to summarise the knowledge of the Western world around 1300. We find elaborations on classical philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, classical authors like Vergil and Ovid. Dante cites from the bible. The Commedia also contains a summary of the sciences. We can learn for instance that the circumference of the earth is 20,400 miles (in actuality it is 25,000 miles). Dante also displays a thorough knowledge of history and the scholastic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas in his attempt to harmonise Aristotelian philosophy and Christianity.

After Dante’s time, writers of encyclopedic novels are faced with the impossibility of rendering the full range of knowledge of their time so that the only way to describe the whole range of physical science is to make use of synecdoche: one or maybe two sciences are selected to represent the entire scientific sector of human knowledge [14]. Yet even Dante’s attempt to create an encyclopedic work must be seen as only a partial success, because it is common sense that a single work cannot contain "everything".

Thomas Pynchon’s extensive use of science in his novels are subject of many essays and books and is always linked to his scientific training at Cornell University, but since he is gradually becoming a literary grandfather, a certain group of young writers, all admitting their debt to Pynchon, are taking over. As we are heading towards the end of the millennium, Richard Powers, born in 1957, William T. Vollmann, born in 1959, and David Foster Wallace, born in 1962, are our new prodigies [15].

Wallace did not receive an academic training in science the way Pynchon did. Wallace studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Amherst, and entered a PhD. program at Harvard University. The knowledge expressed in Infinite Jest is rarely that of the theoretical sciences. Wallace does, however, refer to certain scientific theories that deal with the concept of, again, "infinity". Gerhardt Schtitt, German Headcoach and Athletic Director at the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) in Massachusetts, "whose knowledge of formal math is probably about equivalent to that of a Taiwanese kindergartner" (82) none the less (and quite paradoxically) "approaches competitive tennis more like a pure mathematician than a technician" (81). When Schtitt is conversing with the violently deformed E.T.A. student Mario Incandenza, who stands no higher than a fire hydrant, Schtitt explains his vision on tennis. It is closely related to chaos- and quantum theory.


This myth: they assume here always the efficient way is to plow straight ahead, go! The story that the shortest way between two places is the straight line, yes? . . . . But what then when something is in the way when you go between places, no? Plow ahead: go: collide: kabong. (80)


Tennis, in Schtitt's opinion is


not the blend of statistical order and expansive potential that the game's technicians revered, but in fact the opposite — not-order, limit, the places where things broke down, fragmented into beauty. (81)



and furthermore, tennis is


not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern . . . a matter not of reduction at all but — perversely — of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic growth — each well-shot ball admitting of n possible responses, 2n possible responses to those responses, and on into . . . a Cantorian35 continuum of infinities of possible moves and responses, Cantorian and beautiful infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained. (82)



Quite impressive for a mathematically challenged coach one would say. Schtitt is not the only remarkable and contradictory character in the novel.

In the quote above, the numeral 35 refers to one of the 388 "endnotes and errata" at the end of the novel. Cantor, as we read in endnote 35, was the founder of transfinite mathematics and the man who proved some infinities were bigger than other infinities (994). These endnotes illustrate the obsessiveness of informational reference but at the same time they serve to create an "illusion" of encyclopedic knowledge, for some of the endnotes simply state "no clue" or "don't ask".

Wallace's preoccupation with theories of expansion, growth and infinity is not only reflected in text fragments like these or the novel's title, but also in his maximalist writing style and his plot development. There is so much lapidary detail that at certain points in the novel there hardly seems to be any evolution in the plot. "Plot" might not even be the correct word here. Not only is the narrative non-linear, but the heavily fragmented countless plotlines do not seem to have a definite coherence. Infinity as a term then is, as Pythagoras said, also closely related to "indeterminacy", or "indefiniteness". By page 900, the reader, whose fundamental objective still is to identify unambiguous literal meaning instead of a diverse interpretative meaning, expects a 100 Watt epiphany, only to find out, at the end, he has to start reading the novel over again from the very beginning (the first chapter is chronologically the last event of the novel) knowing he will not be any wiser after a second or third time through the novel.

How then should the reader make sense of all the information and suggested coherence he finds in Infinite Jest? He might identify with one of its main characters, Hal Incandenza, a tennis and lexical prodigy at Enfield Tennis Academy. At the age of ten, he has memorised the first half of the Oxford English Dictionary and he can quote from it with great ease:


Implore’s a regular verb, transitive: to call upon, or for, in supplication; to pray to, or for, earnestly; to beseech; to entreat. Weak synonym: urge, Strong synonym: beg. Etymology unmixed: from Latin implorare, im meaning in, plorare meaning in this context to cry aloud. O.E.D. Condensed Volume Six Page 1387 column twelve and a little bit of thirteen. (28)



Hal Incandenza is just a genius. His last name intrigues: incandescence means "brilliance" or "illumination". His first name might be a reference to the computer HAL in 2001, A Space Odyssey. Despite Hal’s many talents he keeps having depressive moods and becomes more and more solipsistic. After his father killed himself by putting his head in a microwave in a Sylvia Plath-like suicide, Hal has to go in "concentrated grief and trauma-therapy, four days a week for over a month." Hal doesn't even know how to feel when he meets the therapist. He seems not to be making any progress in the sessions. He does not know how to respond to the therapist's bookish questions: "How did it feel, how does it feel, how do you feel when I ask you how it feels" (252). Hal starts feeling very insecure and is afraid he is "going to end up in a soft quiet room somewhere" (254). He then decides to prepare himself for the therapy sessions as if for a final exam.


The whole thing was nightmarish. I just could not figure out what the guy wanted. I went down and chewed through the Copley Square library's grief section . . . . I read Kübler-Ross, Hinton. I slogged through Kastenbaum and Kastenbaum. I read things like Elizabeth Harper Neeld's Seven Choices: Taking the Steps to New Life After Losing Someone You Love, which was 352 pages of sheer goo. I went in and presented with textbook-perfect symptoms of denial, bargaining, anger, still more denial, depression . . . . I provided etymological data on the word acceptance all the way back to Wyclyf and the 14th-century langue-d'oc French. The grief-therapist was having none of it. (253)



It is not so that Hal does not have any feelings. He just does not know what to do with them, how to find order, make sense of his emotions. Hal is totally confused and turns to his late father's close friend Lyle, a "sweat-licking guru" who is always down in the Academy's weight room, literally living off the sweat of others. It is said that "if you let him [Lyle] lick your arms and forehead, he'll pass on to you some little nugget of fitness-guru wisdom" (128). Hal finds Lyle in the weight room, reading Leaves of Grass [16]. Hal wants some advice from him, so he "assumed the position and let him at the old forehead and explained what had been happening" (254). Lyle's advice is that Hal has been too much a student of grief. What he needs to chew through is the section for grief-professionals themselves. He needs to prepare from the grief-professional's own perspective.

Hal runs out of the weight room and jumps into a taxi before it even comes to a full stop, yelling "The nearest library with cutting-edge professional grief- and trauma-therapy section, and step on it" (255). During the next therapy session Hal can grief to the therapist's satisfaction.


I went in there and presented with anger at the grief therapist . . . . I used foul language and slang . . . . I called him a shithead . . . . I told him I'd told him that I didn't feel anything, which was the truth. I said it seemed like he wanted me to feel toxically guilty for not feeling anything. Notice I was subtly inserting loaded professional-grief-therapy terms like validate, process as a transitive verb, and toxic guilt. These were library-derived. (255)



The grief therapist is ecstatic at Hal’s "grief-therapist-textbook breakdown into genuine affect and trauma and guilt and textbook earsplitting grief, then absolution" (256). After this session, Hal’s traumatic grief is "professionally pronounced uncovered and countenanced and processed" (257).

At first sight this section about the grief therapy might suggest that Hal thinks he can solve his problems from pure theoretical learning, that he thinks he has to pass an exam in order to be emotionally cured. It seems as if Hal is not being fair to the therapist and to himself. But there is of course a flip side to this coin. The grief therapist thinks Hal is cured only because his patient finally matches a prototypical patient. Hal reached out for library books with knowledge about grief partly because the therapist does not understand Hal’s situation. Hal’s reaction is the result of the inadequacy of his therapist who fails to see the particularity of Hal’s tragic case. Hal is truly looking for a way out because he is afraid "he is going to end up in a soft quiet room somewhere" (254) and when he finds out the therapist cannot be a little bit more flexible with the knowledge of his own professional training, Hal decides to just give the therapist what he was looking for. But Hal remains uncured. Hal's encyclopedic knowledge of the O.E.D. and the therapist's bookish learning both fall short when deeper human feelings are involved.

This causes the reader to wonder about what all this knowledge leads to. The size of the novel is a clear manifestation of this problem. The incredibly detailed descriptions, the occasional chaos of print, the innumerable suggested but unclear correspondences between innumerable plotlines serve to confuse the reader and make him feel the same way certain characters in the novel do. The reader cannot absorb and process all the incoherent information and only sees a weak indefinite cohesion between plotlines in this novel without a resolution. The only alternative for the reader is to reconstruct, from the data in the novel, his own "plot", his own sensible universe, a self-constructed alternative universe, which in a way could be dangerous and result in solipsism as is the case with Hal Incandenza who at the end becomes totally mute.


1.2 Insubstantial Country: The Setting of Infinite Jest


1.2.1 Go Places



Edward Mendelson recognises another interesting recurring characteristic of what he calls encyclopedic narrative, one that has to do with time setting. The events in Dante’s Commedia occurred around Easter 1300, but Dante began writing his work in 1307. Similarly, Pynchon chose the nine months around the end of the Second World War as the setting in his Gravity's Rainbow. Thus, argues Mendelson, encyclopedic narratives "are set near the immediate present . . . not in it. The main action of most of them occurs some 20 years before the time of writing, allowing the book to maintain a mimetic or satiric relation to the world of its readers."[17]

The two novels Wallace has written so far are all set near the immediate present. His first novel The Broom of the System appeared in 1987. The setting for most of the story is Cleveland in 1990, some three years after the time of writing, not before. But The Broom of the System, although it is a very ambitious work for a 26 year-old whiz kid, does not fit the description of Mendelson’s encyclopedic narrative.

The main action in Infinite Jest is set some 15 years in the future, not "some twenty years before the time of writing," like Mendelson’s definition seems to require. Does this mean that this novel cannot be seen in the light of the above description by Mendelson? I believe it can be. Its setting is still near the immediate present, and the novel does not miss its effect on the reader because the two worlds, the reader's everyday world and the novel's, are closely linked together. The world in Infinite Jest is a future world, but not a "world-to-come", characteristic of science fiction. Infinite Jest does not have a prophetic quality to it. Its aim is not to compare the hypothetical future state of affairs with our own, in order to show the reader what might happen to our world and to ourselves if we let things go the way they are going at this moment, the moment of reading. Rather, the world represented in Infinite Jest is nothing else than an analogy of the state of affairs in our own present-day world. It has a similar function as that of the beast epic, which in actuality represents the human world. Infinite Jest deals with our own time and setting: the Western consumer-oriented world around the turn of the century.

The novel maintains a mimetic relation to the world of its reader. In this way Wallace’s second novel Infinite Jest resembles the other encyclopedic works cited by Mendelson in that it is an analogy of the time and place in which it was written. Paradoxically, leaving behind the present world in encyclopedic works does not heighten the feeling of alienation. It rather intensifies the identification because encyclopedic narratives observe the world from a distance. The reader is able to look at his own world while standing in the imagined other.



1.2.2 The Imagined World, Another Country?



In Infinite Jest the country formerly known as the United States of America is now a part of the Organization of North American Nations (ONAN) to which also Canada and Mexico belong. The reconfiguration of the former U.S.A. creates one of the major plot lines in the novel. Most of northern New England has been transformed into a huge toxic waste dump and handed over to the Canadians by president Gentle of the ONAN. If one puts Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Michael Jackson, and Frank Sinatra in one character, the result will be close to Wallace’s presidential Johnny Gentle, the first U.S. president ever to swing his microphone around by the cord during his inauguration speech. Gentle prefers to breathe pure oxygen at conferences. On inauguration day he calls out "Look into my eyes: no new enhancements." He is probably the most disorganised American president ever to appear in a work of fiction. His name is not without significance, for the top priority in his policy is a "tight tidier nation".

Gentle has more or less forced Canada to annex toxic northern New England, called the Concavity or Convexity, depending in which country one lives. Huge catapults launch U.S. waste miles high towards New England. Quebec's Anti-ONAN terrorist cells are violently trying to get the ONAN "de-reconfigured". Wallace at a certain point even gives us a list of the terrorists in another attempt to provide encyclopedic knowledge [18]. Yet, so far none of the terrorist actions look like any kind of serious threat to the three-country continental Anschluss. Quebec's most dangerous terrorist group are the "Wheelchair Assassins", a fanatic group of Quebecers who lost their legs in an obscure Canadian game in which one has to jump from one side of the railroad tracks to the other, as close to oncoming trains as possible. The Wheelchair Assassins are now looking for the master copy of the film "Infinite Jest", a movie that is said to be so entertaining that its viewers become entranced and die in a state of catatonic bliss, which makes it a perfect weapon for terrorists. At the same time, the "Office of Unspecified Services" (the CIA of the 21st century) is trying to prevent that the movie ends up in the hands of the wrong people. As a result, the Wheelchair Assassins and the Office of Unspecified Services are each other's rivals in their attempt to lay hands on this samizdat.

As a revenue-response to the heady costs of the U.S.'s reconfigurative give-aways, the U.S. had to come up with the concept of "Subsidized Time". Consequently, we get, among others, the Year of the Whopper, the Year of the Trial-Size-Dove Bar, the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, and everybody's favourite: the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic -Resolution - Cartridge - View - Motherboard - Easy - To - Install - Upgrade For Infernatron/Interlace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile (sic). Time is commercially exploited and totally out of control in this novel. The Statue of Liberty serves as a giant advertisement, one year holding aloft a five-ton cast iron burger and during another, wearing depend adult undergarment.

The above is the "novel's actual world". This world stands apart from "the reader's actual world", but is still very recognisable. The novel thus treats its own culture allusively or analogically like Mendelson’s definition of "encyclopedic narrative" required. At times, despite of the fact that the setting and situations in the novel are comically mutilated, the descriptions in the novel, especially the ones about addiction and recovery, come terrifyingly close to a description of our own present-day Western world. The realism in this novel depends not on what is described but on how it is described.


1.3 Other Encyclopedic Characteristics 



The above two characteristics of encyclopedic narrative are the most obvious ones present in Infinite Jest. Wallace's elaborations on knowledge and science, together with the novel's particular setting, already sets the narrative apart from many other genres. In order to show that Infinite Jest does most definitely belong to the category of encyclopedic narrative, it is now necessary to shed light on the presence of the other typically encyclopedic characteristics that Mendelson makes mention of in his essay. In what follows I will discuss these features, though be it less extensively than I did for the two previous ones.



1.3.1 Encyclopedia of Narratives and Lack of Single Plotline



There are several reasons why it is difficult to grasp the full structure of Infinite Jest. First, there is the information overflow the reader has to deal with: an incredible amount of informational reference to molecular structures of drugs, references to scientific theories (quantum theory), technology (optical physics) and art (film theory). Second, there is the fact that Wallace offers us a heterogeneous canvas of experiential and experimental width.

Wallace creates layer upon layer of fictionality, without seemingly letting the plotlines come together. Wallace devotes a lot of energy in creating expectations and then taking pleasure in disappointing the reader. Infinite Jest never so much progresses as creates an infinite series of entrances. This technique enables Wallace to pick up new plotlines again and again.

There are multiple entrances to Infinite Jest, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one. In theory one can start reading Infinite Jest at a random page. In the scene with the first victims of the movie "Infinite Jest", someone starts watching the film from the beginning, but the seven people who enter the room a bit later and start watching the movie also get killed. The problem with Infinite Jest (movie and novel) is not "finding the entrance" but rather the exit. By engaging in the reading process one ends up in a closed helix. As a reader we move around as if in a spiral, continuously moving around a central point and the great moment of truth, the end, the epiphany, the moment of insight never seems to arrive.

If indeed Infinite Jest comprises several plotlines that do not seem to be connected in any way, Wallace could just as well have written five, six, or ten separate novels. Wallace did not do this. One could argue, for instance, that the unifying thread that connects characters and plotlines is a thematic resemblance between the storylines. One thing the storylines have in common is that they explore the aspects of entertainment, addiction and recovery. An "overdose of fun" can be had with pharmaceuticals, film entertainment, competitive tennis and even intellectual activity. Drugs are in fact only a metaphor for other addictions we have in our society. The novel also explores the aspects of entertainment in general, the need for entertainment as a release, a relief, and a distraction from who we are and what we do.

Such a reading of the novel is possible, but not in any way necessary. The presence of so many plotlines in fact prevents the reader from interpreting the things that happen in the novel. Wallace is very vague about the connections between scenes and characters. There are of course suggested links between these multiple plotlines, but we are always invited to question the validity of these linkages. Granting significance to the things that happen in the novel is short-circuited, if not sabotaged, by Wallace. Not only is a character like Hal more and more prevented from communicating with the outside world, but also the reader, in turn, is prevented from interpreting the scenes. This is one of Wallace's authorial strategies.

Besides having the effect of confusing the reader, the use of multiple plotlines in Infinite Jest also results in the presence of multiple literary narratives. "An encyclopedic narrative is, among other things, an encyclopedia of narrative," says Edward Mendelson, "incorporating, but never limited to, the conventions of heroic epic, quest romance, symbolist poem, Bildungsroman, psychomachia, bourgois novel, lyric interlude, drama, eclogue and catalogue." [19]. In Infinite Jest we follow a large cast of characters for nine years in total [20]. Infinite Jest, with respect to Hal Incandenza, can indeed be called a Bildungsroman since the reader follows him through his high school years. Infinite Jest also shares the characteristics of a quest romance in that several parties are trying to lay hands, not on a Holy Grail, but on the infamous master copy of the film "Infinite Jest". The novel has at several moments the outlook of a heroic epic. Staff member of Ennet House Recovery Centre, Don Gately, evokes the image of a "suffering Christ" as he gets mortally wounded in protecting one of his patients from a gang of armed Canadians. Furthermore, the terrorist group The Wheelchair Assassins see themselves as patriotic heroes whose goal in life it is to protect Quebec. A poem or eclogue does not appear in Infinite Jest, but there are some lyrical passages. Especially the passages devoted to the heavily deformed Mario Incandenza have a lyrical quality.

David Foster Wallace has not limited himself to a single literary narrative. His novel is constructed around multiple plotlines and Wallace stylistically imitates several genres at once. This lack of belonging to a single genre is also one of postmodernist fiction's self-ascribed virtues. The presence of multiple narratives or genres in one and the same novel therefore has to be approached with much caution. Is it a manifestation of its postmodernity or its encyclopedism? The correct answer is "both", for it can be no coincidence that encyclopedic narrative is eagerly practised among postmodernist authors.



1.3.2 The New Dispensation and the Complexity of Statecraft



"All encyclopedias," writes Mendelson, "attend to the complexities of statecraft, and, like the New Testament which in many ways they imitate, they proclaim a new dispensation on earth." [21] Mendelson then goes on to describe those "new dispensations" in the Commedia, Ulysses, Faust, and in Gravity's Rainbow.

The "new dispensation" in the world of Infinite Jest is the ONAN as described in the paragraphs above (1.2. Insubstantial Country: The Setting of Infinite Jest), and actually very little needs to be added here, except that the "complexity of statecraft" is not to be taken too seriously. The reader is confronted with this supposedly complex statecraft in Mario Incandenza’s self-made four-hour movie, which is a sort of historical reconstruction of the rise of "ONANism" and "U.S. Experialism". Mario Incandenza's movie is shown annually in the E.T.A. dining hall on 8 November, Continental Interdependence Day. Wallace, through Mario’s movie, ironises statecraft in the U.S. because the movie is in fact the registration of a puppet show. The movie opens with a quote from president Johnny Gentle of the ONAN, famous crooner and former lounge singer: "Let the call go forth, to pretty much any nation we might feel like calling, that the past has been torched by a new and millennial generation of Americans" (381).

In what follows we witness a bunch of bureaucratic clowns deciding about the future of the entire continent. As the puppet movie progresses, the reader gets a picture of the changes that have taken place between the present and Wallace's "new dispensation", set some 15 years in the future. We observe, for example, that there has been the disarmament of NATO (385). The US cabinet, in this puppet movie, decides "to reinvent not just government, but history. Torch the past. Manifest a new destiny"(403). Gentle decides to give toxic New England away to Canada, saying to its prime minister: "Look, babe, take the territory or you're going to be really really sorry" (406). Later Gentle has to inform his cabinet that this inconsiderate reconfiguration has led to huge revenue-losses because of the loss of taxable territory. This announcement comically results in "sounds of jaws hitting the tabletop. A couple of moustaches fall of altogether" (440).

The puppet show ends without resolution and we have only been able to see parts of the cabinet meetings. But it will have become clear that David Foster Wallace devotes a considerable part of his novel to statecraft and his invented "new dispensation", although it is presented with a large amount of (postmodern) irony.



1.3.3 Encyclopedia of Literary Styles



"Each encyclopedic narrative is an encyclopedia of literary styles, ranging from the most primitive and anonymous levels of proverb-lore to the most esoteric heights of euphuism" [22]. In Infinite Jest, Wallace includes numerous transcripts of newspaper articles, letters, dialogues, etc . . . of course all written in their specific style. What is even more important in the novel is that every character has his or her own voice. There is Hal whose voice, since he knows basically every word in the English language, is characterised by verbal dexterity. Also Hal's father is a lexical prodigy. Hence, the dictionary at the reader's disposal gets a workout. As a counterbalance to this wordiness throughout the book, there is a section in "Ebonics" (the term is a blend of "ebony" and "phonics") narrated by a character named Clenette. The voice of Clenette is as different as possible from the voices of Hal and the chatty omniscient narrator. Clenette’s story about rape and violence is compelling and emotionally wrenching.


Wardine be cry. Reginald say Wardine her momma aint treat her right. Say her momma beat Wardine with a hanger. Say Wardine momma man Roy Tony be want to lie down with Wardine . . . . My momma scared of Roy Tony . . . . And I am gone have a child. (37-38)


Because of this section, an extremely wide range of discourse is successfully established early on in the novel, and leaves room for many linguistic variations in-between. There are recognisable foreign accents like the ones of German tennis coach Gerhardt Schtitt:


Ah . . . and when is hot? Too pretty hot for the total self of the court. . . . Ach is always something that is too. Master Incandenza who cannot quickly get behind lob's descent so weight can move forvart into overhand. (author's emphasis, 458)


We are able to recognise an outspoken Brooklyn accent (181), a Southern American accent (181), and a Hispanic accent (178). Furthermore, Marathe from Quebec talks in English phrases which are too literal translations from French. The residents of the halfway house across from E.T.A. are basically only recognisable by the language they speak, and the AA meetings are very much characterised by often hilariously funny verbal meanderings:


I said Pepito I said I Pepito man you go on and do what you need to do man go on and shoot but man you better I mean fucking better kill me with the first shot man or you won't get another one I said. (553)


Wallace's extensive "wordrobe" explains part of the novel's popularity. Wallace successfully proves himself to be a literary DJ. The style of the novel could sometimes pass for academic writing, but at certain moments it just as well includes probably the most vulgar slang ever written down between two covers of a book. Infinite Jest draws as deeply on the vernacular as on high literary language, thus providing an encyclopedia of literary styles.



1.3.4 Giants and Gigantism



It would seem obvious that encyclopedic novels, typically of immense size, are preoccupied with giants or gigantism. Mendelson says encyclopedic narratives thus provide an image of their own scale. Giants guard the pit of hell in Dante's Commedia, Don Quixote mistakes windmills for giants, Moby-Dick is a giant, Joyce presents "Cyclops" in Ulysses, and in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow titans live under the earth and an angel descends over Lübeck whose eyes go "towering for miles" [23].

True, accidentally dropping Wallace's novel results in an estimate eight on the Richter scale, but giants hardly seem to be on the forefront here. I am even suspecting that Mendelson has interpreted the term "close reading" a bit too literally. The references to giants in some of the novels he mentions are clearly there, but the idea of "gigantism" usually remains somewhere in the background, much as it does in Infinite Jest. Sure, there are references to giants in Infinite Jest. Don Gately's name, for example, is never mentioned without a reference to his huge size. He has "the size of a young dinosaur" (55). "Gately looks less built then poured" and has "the smooth immovability of an Easter Island statue" (277), and so on. Besides references to Don Gately’s size, there are frequent references to "rapacial feral hamsters and insects of Volkswagen size" (573) sending up clouds of dust as they pass by in the Convexity, former New England, now part of Canada. Also certain newborn Quebecers are reported to be of Volkswagen size, and lobsters in the same region look like monsters from old Japanese films (1017).

It seems, however, that all these elements can hardly be called significant, with respect to "gigantism" in the novel. More important in encyclopedic narrative, I believe, is the fact that the text itself is too large to be grasped all at once, or to be held in the mind as a whole. So the most important giant in play here is the novel itself.



1.3.5 Love and Sex


Several times also Marathe called U.S.A. to Steeply ‘Your walled nation’ or ‘Your murated nation.’

(David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest)


The love of another will destroy the cause of my crimes . . . . My virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to the chain of existence, and events, from which I am now excluded.

(Mary Shelly, Frankenstein) [24]



Thus sounds the lament of the monster created by Victor Frankenstein. The creature considers himself "the fallen angel" become "a malignant devil . . . . I am alone" [25]. This outcast's foremost desire is happiness through the love of another. He is convinced that love will turn him into a better person.

The ideology of the Enfield Tennis Academy excludes romance and sexuality. The students at E.T.A. only think about achievement and eventually making it to "The Show" (i.e. The A.T.P. Tour). Dating is strongly discouraged, so as a result "E.T.A. is mostly a comparatively unsexual place" (636). For Hal Incandenza, lifetime virginity is even a conscious goal (636). Hal feels like his brother Orin is having enough acrobatic coitus to make up for the entire family. It is very ironic that from the air the E.T.A. building looks like "a Valentine’s heart" (983).

On the other side of the hill from E.T.A. is a halfway house for recovering addicts. It is a strict rule there that newcomers don't get romantically involved for the first year of sobriety (1054), the reason being that the sudden removal of substances leaves an enormous ragged hole in the psyche of the newcomer. The pain thus caused and which the newcomer is supposed to feel and be driven kneewards by is eventually supposed to be replaced with AA's ideology. "Celibacy's often, the issue that separates those who Hang from those who Go Back Out There" (1054). So both settings, between which most of the narrative in Infinite Jest alternates, are unsexual and unromantic places. Edward Mendelson's observation that none of the encyclopedic narratives culminate in the completed relation of sexual love is clearly and prominently present in Infinite Jest.

Individualism is prominently present in all of Wallace’s writings. In The Broom of the System, Wallace's first novel, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman is essentially a lonely character in search of a way of life amidst her friends and lovers, who are all unable to decently communicate with one another. The novel is written in the margins of Wittgenstein's Tractatus and on the surface deals with language philosophy and communication problems. But what it is really about is loneliness and lostness. The main character's name, LENORE, echoes "LONER", and that is exactly what she is.

Individualism in the novel is everything but an original theme in literature. "But what comes next?" wonders Hal Incandenza in his term paper in seventh grade about modernist and postmodernist heroes. Hal concludes: "We await, I predict the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulis [sic], carried here and there across sets by burly extra's whose blood sings with retrograde amines" (142). It is this kind of hero who is the focus of attention in Infinite Jest: the catatonic hero, the extremely isolated, solipsistic individual, the one "beyond calm", more alienated even than his romantic and modernist predecessors.

About Infinite Jest Wallace said in an interview:


I wanted to do something real American, about what it's like to live in America around the millennium . . . . There's something particularly sad about it, something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness [26]


In another interview Wallace said:


I think it is a very sad time in America and it has something to do with entertainment. It's not TV's fault, it's not [Hollywood's] fault, and it's not the Net's fault. It's our fault. We're choosing this [27].


The sadness Wallace talks about is solipsism, Hal Incandenza's biggest problem.

"I'd tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear" (9) says 18 year old Hal Incandenza in the opening scene of the novel. Hal is a competitive junior tennis player and ranked sixth in the continent. At this point in the novel, he is at the University of Arizona for an admission interview on the basis of his impressive athletic ability. The reader is can see what Hal wants to say, but in the pages that follow, the reader notices that Hal is unable to make himself understood to the interviewers.


My eyes are closed; the room is silent. I cannot make myself understood, now. I open my eyes . . . . Directed my way is horror. I rise from the chair. I see jowls sagging, eyebrows high on trembling foreheads, cheeks bright-white. The chair recedes below me. Sweet mother of Christ, the Director says . . . .What in God's name are those . . . one Dean cries shrilly, . . . those sounds? . . . . There is nothing wrong,' I say slowly to the floor. 'I'm in here.' . . . . I am not what you see and hear. (10-13)


Hal's inability to communicate, his solipsism does not come out of the blue. The boys at the E.T.A. are trained in the most horrible way. Dawn drills and resistance training are known to the kids simply as "Pukers". Somebody is always throwing up a little. The motto of the school is "transcendence through pain" (660). The students are being force-fed the ideology of competition and fame without understanding how lonely such a pursuit can be.

The coaches at the boarding school have their own name for professional competitive tennis: The Show. "They [the students]‘ll be entertainers . . . audiences will be the whole point" (661). Hal, like all the other students, is being brainwashed to the point where he himself advises other students to "please make no extramural friends. Discourage advances from outside the circuit. Turn down dates" (175). "E.T.A. is mostly a comparatively unsexual place" as for Hal "lifetime virginity is a conscious goal." Also Hal's friend "Troeltsch's never come close to dating anybody" (634-635).

In the shower, after drills, the students of the boarding school all think about their condition:

We're all on each other's food chain. All of us. It's an individual sport. Welcome to the meaning of individual. We're each deeply alone here. It's what we all have in common, this aloneness. E Unibus Pluram . . . . Existential individuality, frequently referred to in the West. Solipsism. (112-113)


"Why are they still here, then, if it's so awful every day?" asks Hal Incandenza. His friend Ingersoll answers:


They're here because they want the Show when they get out . . . . The show meaning the A.T.P. Tour, travel and cash prizes and endorsements and appearance fees, match-highlights in video mags, action photos on glossy print-mags. (111)


Because they are being force-fed this E.T.A. ideology, nearly all students erect a wall between the self and the outside world. Only one student has decided he wants no part of this kind of life. Ted Schacht stopped dreaming of getting to "The Show" after graduation and has his heart committed to a dental career because he is convinced that "there's like a psychic credit-card bill for Hal in the mail, somewhere, coming" (270).

What contributes even more to the feelings of sadness and loneliness in this boarding school is the student's unresponsible use of soft and hard drugs, a ritual they all wish to keep secret and during which they all insist on being alone. At the heart of all the character's actions is a void and emptiness. Competitive tennis, marihuana, are all insulation against existential loneliness and spiritual hollowness. The whole world seems to be drug dependent. The characters live in a world where everybody is trying to amuse himself or herself to death, looking for 100% pure entertainment. The film "Infinite Jest" is supposed to be such a pure entertainment, but one that eventually kills its viewers.

Infinite Jest, on the one hand, is a profoundly sad book, a study of addiction. But it is also, and more importantly about recovery. Right up the hill from the E.T.A. grounds is Ennet House, a halfway house for recovering addicts. In this setting, former Demerol addict Don Gately is the focus of attention. The narrative of Infinite Jest alternates mainly between these two settings. These two story lines are never quite synthesised, but as the novel progresses, our attention leads us gradually away from the tennis courts towards the recovery house where we see people trying to pick up every day life again. One could say that Infinite Jest is a sad book, but it ultimately suggests a belief in recovery from the present condition of the Western world.



1.3.6 Exile and Illegality




James Joyce spent nearly his entire adult life in Trieste, Zurich and Paris. Dante was exiled from Florence and Pynchon has his self-imposed exile. Wallace, however, still lives in The United States and does not hide himself from the media. But like all other encyclopedic narrative, Infinite Jest "originate[d] in opposition to the culture [it] later come[s] to symbolise" [28]. The author observes his culture from a position which enables him to comment on it.

Mendelson further observes that such encyclopedic narratives "begin their career in charismatic illegality" and the "organized critical industries built upon the exile, obscurity or illegality . . . provide food and shelter for many hundreds of scholars and critics" [29]. Mendelson thinks that an encyclopedic novel generates an underground industry.

One has to conclude, however, that this characteristic of exile and illegality does not apply to David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest. The novel does deal with illegal practices like drug use and terrorism, but that is not what Mendelson has in mind. Mendelson talks about the genesis of these novels and the political circumstances that caused their writers (Joyce, Dante) to live in exile. This even applies to Thomas Pynchon around whom a whole industry of criticism is developing while Pynchon himself calls attention to this kind of critical industry in the course of his work [30].




2 Postmodernism in Infinite Jest




In order to explore some of the affinities between Wallace's Infinite Jest and the poetics of postmodernism and in order to show how the postmodern tradition has to a great extent been carried on through Wallace, I will mostly make use of the writings of Brian McHale and Leo Apostel. The former is mainly interested in postmodernist poetics, and his valuable book Postmodernist Fiction is a purely literary or a-contextual approach of postmodernism. The bulk of McHale's theory is based on the postmodern "possible (i.e. multiple) world approach". The latter analyses postmodernism from a literary sociological point of view. Apostel's writings on postmodernism in literature are vital to fully understand the postmodernist vogue and its literature. Both men are erudite thinkers and complement each other well. By referring to their writings I hope to draw a clear picture of postmodernism and how it is connected to the experience of man at the end of the twentieth century and more specifically the experience of the characters in Infinite Jest.

Wallace interestingly crystallises postmodernist ideas in Infinite Jest. The novel's serious concern with ontologies, zones and alternative and communicating worlds is one of its most recognisable formal characteristics. Furthermore, Wallace is more preoccupied with the "world" than with the "word". His novel is deeply rooted in contemporary American culture. It illustrates a change of attention in literature from "language philosophy" to "cultural philosophy", noticeable in many recent postmodernist novels.


2.1 Modernism and Postmodernism, a Shift from Epistemology to Ontology


2.1.1 Brian McHale about Postmodernism



Postmodernism. "Nobody likes the term", says Brian McHale [31]. But whether we like it or not, it is there, and we have to put it to good use. The term denotes a poetics that is the successor of, or possibly a reaction against, the poetics of modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century. But what's even more important: "Postmodernism follows from modernism... more than it follows after modernism" [32]. The main goal in McHale's book Postmodernist Fiction is to "describe how one set of literary forms emerges from a historical prior set of forms" [33]. McHale does this by making use of the Russian Formalist concept of "the dominant".

The dominant in modernist prose is (or was) epistemological. This means that modernist prose uses techniques that foreground epistemological questions: What is there to know? Who knows it, and how? How certain can we be? A multiple perspective then is a frequently used technique in modernist texts. Many modernist texts have, at some level, the appearance of a detective story. Usually both the reader and (a) character(s) in the novel has/have to find the hidden truth.

The dominant in postmodernist prose is ontological. The questions that are foregrounded here are: what world is this? What is a world? How does one world differ from another world? "In postmodernist texts . . . epistemology is backgrounded, as the price of ontology" [34].

Catalogues of modernist and postmodernist features have been created by, among others, Ihab Hassan, David Lodge and Douwe Fokkema. These catalogues are typically organised in terms of oppositional features. The techniques used by postmodernist writers then seem to be the exact opposite of the techniques used by modernists, yet some techniques are exactly the same. Hence, it becomes very difficult to see how exactly a postmodern poetics is different from a modernist poetics. According to McHale the distinction is clear because "it is the ontological dominant which explains the selection and clustering of these particular features; the ontological dominant is the principle of underlying these otherwise heterogeneous catalogues" [35].



2.1.2 Epistemology and Ontology in Infinite Jest



There can be no doubt that Infinite Jest was designed to raise some epistemological questions, for it can be read as a detective story. There is clearly a "quest" present in the novel. The Office of Unspecified Services and the Wheelchair Assassins are both looking for reliable witnesses in their search for the master copy of the film "Infinite Jest". The master copy is the only duplicable cartridge since regular copies only transmit unrecordable pulses. But unlike a detective story, there is no crime to be solved. A potential crime has to be prevented (by the Office of Unspecified Services) or the crime still has to be committed (by the Wheelchair Assassins).

Problematic in this quest for "Infinite Jest" is not the accessibility of knowledge, but rather, and quite typically for our age of information, excess of knowledge, or at least excess of "information". In order to solve the mystery (Where is the film hidden?) the reader has to go beyond the limits of knowledge, which also the characters in Infinite Jest have to do in order to prevent or commit the crime. The answer to this crucial question, however, will never be found.

Besides raising these epistemological problems with which the novel begins (how can I interpret this information and the endless plotlines in the novel? How certain can we be about all this information or the account of the eyewitnesses? Etc…) Infinite Jest foregrounds questions of "being", ontological issues. Is this dangerously entertaining film "Infinite Jest" even real? Does it exist? From James Incandenza' s filmography we learn that "Infinite Jest" is unreleased and "all other comprehensive filmographies have the film either unfinished or unreleased" (993). So much rumour surrounds this movie that we can even suspect that the movie is a myth, that it, in fact, does not even exist at all. Obviously, there are no reports from people who actually watched the film. There are only "two short essays in different issues of Cartridge Quarterly East [that] refer to the film as extraordinary and 'far and away [James O. Incandenza's ] most entertaining and compelling work" (993). The only thing we can be sure about is that there are rumours about a movie referred to as either "Infinite Jest", "the samizdat" or "the blue dazzle". The master copy of the movie cartridge is presumably "either destroyed or vaulted sui testator" (993), buried in James O. Incandenza’ s head.

So this "samizdat" is maybe just "in the head", like a story, like fiction. The movie might be a construction of the characters' (hence also our own) fantasies. And then again, we cannot be certain about this theory either, because as much as there is evidence to believe there is no such movie, there is as much evidence to believe there is, because "Canadian archivist Tête-Bêche lists the film as completed and privately distributed" (993). To be or not to be, that is the ontological question.

One can take this idea to a next level. Presuming the movie "Infinite Jest" does not exist, then what about the novel in our hands, bearing the same title? Is it also just a projection of a possible world, as McHale would call it? In other words, what is the mode of existence of this text itself? Perhaps the text in front of us, as we read it, is supposed to "morph" into the actual movie (or "movie cartridge") "Infinite Jest", which then becomes a movie about a movie about a movie . . . ad infinitum. Or maybe the text in the novel is a verbal representation of the movie, a sort of retelling, a movie script, but one that does not necessarily addict its readers since perhaps language serves as a kind of lens through which it is safe to watch the contents of the movie.

The least we can say is that James Incandenza’s career and films present substantial archival and ontological challenges. In the filmography's editor's foreword we find "that certain of his high conceptual projects' agendas' required that they [the films] be titled and subjected to critique but never filmed, making their status as film subject to controversy" (985) [36]. The problem for the reader then is to guess which movies in the filmography were actually made and which ones where not. The reader is faced with unsolvable mysteries. It is difficult to find out how all of the jesting wraps up.

Ultimately, in Infinite Jest "ontology" overshadows "epistemology". Improvising with "ontology" serves to illustrate that boundaries between "worlds" are porous. Worlds in Infinite Jest are bound to merge because they behave in similar ways. Among others, there are the similarities between insect world and human world, as becomes clear in a particular scene with Ken Erdedy, a marihuana addict, who sits in the living room, waiting for a woman who promised she would bring him 200 grams of unusually good marijuana. Erdedy is nervous beyond belief. While he is waiting he walks around in the living room and notices "there [is] an insect on one of the steel shelves that held his audio equipment" (17). Erdedy in fact resembles the insect in many ways as he hides in his apartment, stocked with supplies so he doesn't have to go out for four days while he smokes. Sitting by the window, pacing, waiting for the woman he mirrors the bug poking itself out of its little hole and scuttling back in retreat.


He’d had to do some shopping. He'd had to lay in supplies. Now just one of the insect's antennae was protruding from the hole in the girder. It protruded but did not move. He had had to buy soda, Oreos, bread, sandwich meat, mayonnaise, tomatoes, M&M's, Almost Home cookies, ice cream, a Pepperidge Farm frozen chocolate cake, and four cans of canned chocolate frosting to be beaten with a large spoon. He'd had to log an order to rent film cartridges from the InterLace entertainment outlet. He'd had to buy . . . . [etc]. (20)


The scene, by making use of ontological strategies, exemplifies that it is easier to stay in a shell, like a solitary insect, to be alone, trying not to get hurt.



2.1.3 Heterotopias, Zones or Paraspaces Space as Ontological Statement


In postmodernist literature there is a peculiar way of thinking about space. McHale speaks in this context of "the zone". In realist and modernist texts the world of the novel is created through characters and their actions, and in this world stands the observer or narrator. The world in postmodern literature is not constructed in this way.


Space is less constructed than deconstructed by the text, or rather, constructed and deconstructed at the same time. Postmodernist fiction draws on a number of strategies for constructing/deconstructing space [37].


McHale works out this idea by offering a catalogue of techniques that postmodernist writers use to construct/deconstruct space. McHale's elaborations on this subject of space and the plurality of worlds, I think, is his greatest merit.

Brian McHale and Leo Apostel think alike about the reasons why alternative worlds are created in postmodernist fiction. A plausible, but imaginary world is constructed, says Apostel, "to show that a universe of language consists of various possible worlds . . . . Postmodernist fiction . . . underlines alternative worlds, and their possibility to communicate with each other" [38]. Apostel calls this peculiar literary space created by postmodernist writers "Paraspace", the equivalent of McHale's "zone". Using these "paraspaces" or "zones" is, according to both Apostel and McHale, an ontological statement. Apostel, together with McHale comes to the conclusion "that the plurality of worlds is connected to a pluralistic view on the subject" [39].

One consequence of this kind of thinking is, like I demonstrated in the earlier passage about drug addict Ken Erdedy and the insect in his room, that insect world and human world can communicate with each other. They mirror each other and hence the boundaries between these "zones" are obscured. Intertextual Space: Something Is Rotten in The ONAN



For an analyses of a literary text it is not only necessary to observe where there is ontological foregrounding. There needs to be clarification about how it is accomplished, what strategies have been deployed, how it actually works and, above all, what purpose it serves in the novel. I have already demonstrated this when I mentioned Ken Erdedy and the insect in his room. There is yet another way to foreground ontology, namely intertextuality. Also here McHale offers us interesting ideas. Whenever the reader recognises a relation between two or more texts, McHale says, an "intertextual space" is created [40]. By incorporating another text into a novel, the author pulls the original boundary of the other text towards his own. The ontological horizon of both the original and the "adaptation" becomes less visible. A few examples from Infinite Jest can serve to illustrate this strategy.

One of Hal's telephone conversations with his oldest brother Orin is written in the exact words of a Beatles song.


His way of answering the phone sounded like 'Myellow.'

'I want to tell you,' the voice said. 'My head is filled with things to say.' . . . .

'I don't mind,' Hal said softly. 'I could wait forever.'

'That's what you think,' the voice said. The connection was cut. It had been Orin. (32)

When compared to the following lyrics, the similarities are obvious:


I Want To Tell You


I want to tell you

My head is filled with things to say

When you're here

All those words, they seem to slip away


When I get near you,

The games begin to drag me down

It's all right

I'll make you maybe next time around


But if I seem to act unkind

It's only me, it's not my mind

That is confusing things.


I want to tell you I feel hung up but I don't know why,

I don't mind

I could wait forever, I've got time


Sometimes I wish I knew you well,

Then I could speak my mind and tell you

Maybe you'd understand


I want to tell you

I feel hung up but I don't know why,

I don't mind I could wait forever,

I've got time, I've got time, I've got time [41].


Incorporating the song lyrics in the novel does not come across as "strange". It seems plausible that Hal and Orin are playing an "identify-the-Beatles-song" game over the phone. But it would break all laws of logical thinking to put, for instance, the young Danish Prince "Hamlet" directly in a futuristic America. Yet, references to Shakespeare's Hamlet abound in Infinite Jest. First there is the title of the novel which is reminiscent of the gravedigging scene from Hamlet.


Hamlet: Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him once Horatio - a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. (5.1, 71)


On top of that, there are various references to gravedigging in Infinite Jest. The destructive movie "Infinite Jest" is supposedly buried in the head of its maker, the late James O. Incandenza, Hal's father. In the opening scene, a brief moment before Hal has a seizure, his mind wanders off and is filled with incongruous thoughts.


I think of the hypophalangial grief-therapist. I think of the Moms . . . of Himself [i.e. Hal's father]. I think of John N.R. [Not Related] Wayne, who would have won this year's Whataburger, standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father's head. (16-17)


This is only mentioned as an aside and is hardly eye-catching, as at page sixteen we do not know who Gately, Wayne, nor Hal's father are. The novel seems to suggest that the details like these tie the whole plot together, but the details are sometimes a bit too small and sophisticated to discern comfortably. The affinity of Wallace's Infinite Jest with Shakespeare's Hamlet is problematic, to say the least. Beaming-up Hamlet into Infinite Jest has not left Hamlet unharmed. This transmigration of body and soul from one text to another has deformed Hamlet in many ways. (There actually is a character named Madame Psychosis, pronounced as metempsychosis, the transmigration of the soul). But since everybody in Infinite Jest has outspoken physical defects, I believe that also Hamlet has been made unrecognisable. He most resembles Hal Incandenza, by name and living condition.

James Incandenza, Hal's father, was the founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy and married Avril Mondragon from Quebec. Around the time when James Incandenza commits suicide, Charles Tavis, Avril's half-brother, moves into the headmaster's house, presumably having an affair with her. Avril is living with her half-brother much as Hamlet's mother was living with her husband's brother. There is, however, no evidence that Charles Tavis would have killed James Incandenza. It was a suicide. Hal, a bright but introverted student has a hard time getting over all this. So there is a similar situation at the core of the story: the mother-father-uncle-son relationship. Also, the themes of Hamlet are made recognisable by incorporating similar components. Many other references, of which I will mention only a few, lead one to suspect that Wallace had Hamlet in mind when writing Infinite Jest.

James Incandenza, besides being headmaster of Enfield Tennis Academy, and the founder of "annular fusion" (a certain closed system reaction that creates perpetual energy) is also an avant-garde filmmaker. His output comprises

industrial, documentary, conceptual, advertorial, technical, parodic, dramatic noncommercial, nondramatic (anticonfluential) noncommercial, nondramatic commercial, and dramatic commercial works. (985)


A similar parody on genres we find in Hamlet's conversation with Polonius as the actors arrive at the Danish court.


Polonius: The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastorical-commical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable or poem unlimited (2.2,379-382).


The ghost of the late James Incandenza appears to Don Gately, former narcotics addict and now live-in staffer of Ennet House Recovery Centre, a halfway house for recovering addicts. The ghost tells Don about his life much as Hamlet's father's ghost did.

Hamlet's "antic disposition" in a way resembles Hal's communicative problems, his solipsism and eventual muteness. And by letting a bird fall out of the air on page 44 for apparently no particular reason, Wallace literally lets of the world of the ONAN collide with the world of the Danish Hamlet where there is "a special Providence in the fall of a sparrow" (5.2,157-158).

The war that Norwegian Fortinbras in Hamlet is fighting is a war over an insignificantly small piece of land that causes Hamlet to plunge into one of his soliloquies; one that is often omitted on stage performances and movie adaptations. A similar war over a futile piece of land is fought between the ONAN and the Anti-ONAN Separatists of Quebec whose opposition to the reconfiguration, the handing over of toxic New England to Canada, is of central importance in the novel.

Hal, in the opening scene of Infinite Jest, cannot make himself understood to the other people in the room and ends up on the floor because he has a seizure. During his seizure Hal tries to say: "I’d tell you all you want to know and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear" (9). Hamlet, when at the end he is slain by Laertes, also begins an explanation –"Oh, I could tell you" (5.2,272) - but is cut short by death. Keeping in mind that the opening scene in Infinite Jest is chronologically the last event in the novel, it is obvious that both Hamlet and Infinite Jest end in comparable scenes. Hamlet’s tragic isolation is transposed to Hal, one could argue, through Wallace’s intertextual strategy.

Many other compatible leitmotifs like sleep, death, maggots, Oedipus complex, isolation, confusion, mixture of tragedy and humour/wit, abound in both texts. The name "Hal" however can also be an allusion to Shakespeare's character Prince Hal in the first and the second part of Henry IV where, similar to Infinite Jest, one of the central themes is a problematic father-son relationship. Wallace did not name this character Hamlet, which would have made things less complicated. Infinite Jest is not just a rewriting of the Hamlet story. The many possible intricate allusions attached to just this one name "Hal" contribute to the novel's complexity.

This strategy which creates "intertextual space" draws attention to the boundaries between texts, or rather the lack thereof. Wallace sets out on an ontological ride and Infinite Jest is the horse he rides in on. Out of Place



The U.S.A. as we know it today is quite the opposite of a "heterotopia" (the concept comes from Michel Foucault). A heterotopia is a place that is "radically discontinuous and inconsistent, it juxtaposes worlds of incompatible structure" [42]. The U.S. that we know is an enormous country, where houses, cars, roads, the media, the spoken language are basically similar throughout the entire country. This is not the case, for instance, in Europe or Latin America where internal differences, paradoxes, heterogeneous elements are more evident. Wallace has made the setting of Infinite Jest a heterotopia by inventing the "Organisation of North American Nations" and its internal struggles. In McHale's terms the ONAN could be called "a zone", a concept McHale never really defines, but which can be understood as a design of a problematic world, constructed "for the purpose of exploring ontological propositions" [43]. In Infinite Jest an ontological confrontation occurs between the present U.S.A. and the ONAN. The incongruous two worlds are not simply placed one next to the other. The world of the ONAN communicates with, or even better, invades our own world. The postmodernist novel wants to question the boundaries between the two worlds.

Infinite Jest, a novel designed to raise ontological questions, a novel with a great deal of ontological improvisation, strives to displace and rupture automatic associations, thus parodying the encyclopedia and substituting for "encyclopedic" knowledge its own ad hoc, arbitrary unsanctioned associations. Brian McHale calls this strategy "misattribution". When in Infinite Jest New England is transformed into a huge waste dump it is not without irony, for it is, in a way, "ungrammatical" to associate New England with a toxic place. In this way ontology is interestingly thematised. And although there is a great deal of irony involved in this misattribution, the ontological double bind remains. Constructed Space



It is said that Persian carpet makers would deliberately weave a tiny error into their work, and thereby avoid the wrath of Allah for attempting to make something which was perfect. I am suspecting Wallace is of the same mind, but for slightly different reasons. Infinite Jest offers many discontinuities. Joelle Van Dyne (also known as Madam Psychosis, or PGOAT, Prettiest Girl Of All Time) wears a veil. To everyone asking her why she hides her face she says:


I'm perfect. I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. Everything. Like I'm the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to cheek with perfection . . . I am so beautiful I am deformed . . . . I am deformed with beauty. (538)


So according to her own statements, Joelle is so beautiful that she is deformed. Well then, what is that like? How can the reader turn this paradox into a thought that makes sense? Joelle also presumably had a role in the movie "Infinite Jest" and the description she gives of herself in the passage above comes terrifyingly close to the qualities attributed to the film "Infinite Jest". Somewhere else we can learn that Joelle got acid thrown in her face. But that theory is based on Molly Notkin's (a friend of Joelle) interview with the Office of Unspecified Services during which Molly repeatedly lies about certain things.

Is Joelle deformed? Is she beautiful? Can both Joelles coexist? In the case of this novel it is probably not good to stick to just one vision. Wallace insists on causing confusion.

Joelle alternately says she is beautiful and that she is hideous. Another character, Ortho Stice, a student at E.T.A. is "from a part of Southwest Kansas that might as well be Oklahoma" (100). Is there a better way to "do ontology" than to comprise into one thought elements that seem of necessity to belong apart?

A similar paradox surrounds the life of the heavily deformed and fire-hydrant-sized Mario Incandenza (Hal's brother). He is either the son of Avril and James Incandenza, or the son of Avril and Charles Tavis (the Claudius-like character in Infinite Jest). Charles is Avril’s half-brother, but, the narrator tells us, "probably not related by actual blood" (900). However, Mario's deformity can be the results of an incestuous relationship. Mario was the second son in the Incandenza family, Orin the first, and Hal the third. Not only is Mario's birth referred to by the narrator as a surprise, he also calls it "the first birth of the Incandenza's second son" (312). Since it is not possible to be born twice, this implies that there must be two "second sons": Mario (Avril's second son) and Hal (James' second son). Again we never find out. Despite the intrusion of the narrator, in the form of endnotes, a thick mist covers the story. Wallace has effectively woven a shroud of mystery around his Herculean novel.

During the process of reading, as the ONAN and the rest of the novel’s actual world are constructed by the reader and deconstructed by the text, one becomes aware of the constructedness of the text. A toxic New England, a modern Hamlet, a Joelle who is both pretty and ugly, Mario as "the first second son", the authorial intrusions; all these elements are deployed by Wallace to reach one of the main goals of the text: to draw attention to its own constructedness.

Not only is Wallace making the reader aware of the "design" of his world, he just as well gives some of his characters the same consciousness. The students at Enfield Tennis Academy themselves are occupied with constructing maps. Once a year (on 8 November, Continental Interdependence Day) the E.T.A. students get fanatically devoted to a home-made academy game called "Eschaton". It is one of the most complicated children's games one could possibly think of. Playing this game requires "knowledge of Mean-Value Theorem for integrals". The game is played on four contiguous tennis courts, representing a world map, and with 400 tennis balls each representing 5-megaton thermonuclear warheads. The students are so serious about the game that they obviously make no distinction between the map and the area it represents . . .


for these devotees become, on-court, almost parodically adult, staid, sober, humane, and judicious twelve-year-old world leaders, trying their best not to let the awesome weight of their responsibilities, responsibilities to nation, globe, rationality, ideology, conscience and history, to both the living and the unborn . . . not to let the agonizing weight of responsibility comprise their resolve to do what they must to preserve their people’s way of life. So they play, logically, cautiously, so earnest and deliberate in their calculations they appear thoroughly and queerly adult, almost Talmudic, from a distance. (327)


The design of the map is easily mistaken for the "real thing" by the players of the Eschaton game. The identification reaches such a level that the students eventually think they are part of the territory that the map represents, and in a way disappeared from the E.T.A. grounds. As a consequence, and against the strict rules of the game, players start firing tennis balls at each other, thinking they are valid targets. Game-captain Michael Pemulis becomes furious at this and lectures the players.


Players themselves can't be valid targets. Players aren't inside the goddamn game. Players are part of the apparatus of the game. They're part of the map. It's snowing on the players but not on the territory. They're part of the map, not the cluster-fucking territory . . . It’s like the one ground-rule boundary that keeps Eschaton from degenerating into chaos. Eschaton gentleman is about logic and axiom and mathematical probity and discipline and verity and order. You do not get the points for hitting anybody real.... Pemulis keeps looking back over his shoulder to the pavilion and screaming ‘Jayzus!’. (338)


Infinite Jest’s constant tugging at one’s readerly awareness results from the use of numerous techniques like the use of paradox, the insertion of endnotes, or comments from someone like Pemulis who acts as Wallace's agent to remind us of the constructedness of the Eschaton-map. Also the fact that the story is left unfinished draws attention to how a narrative is created. In this way, Infinite Jest constantly reminds us of its own constructedness.



2.2 Paranoid Reading 


Yes, I'm paranoid - But am I paranoid enough?

(David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest).



As a reader we can be misguided by links between elements in a novel that were not intended by the author. Such "Hineininterpretierung" on the part of the reader was traditionally considered a "mis-reading". But whereas literary theories of the first half of this century (Russian Formalism, Prague Structuralism) argued that the meaning of a text was fixed, there has ever since been an increasing tendency to stress the reader's interpretative abilities to "give meaning" to a text. When thus "meaning" becomes more of a free-floating concept, then, of course, communication problems will be the inevitable result. The confusion thus caused is one of the effects reached after by postmodernist writers. Characters in the novel can, for instance, mis-interpret other characters' words or intentions. Modernism, with its epistemological foregrounding and cognitive quests, already practised a similar mode of writing. The innovation in postmodernism is that the author of the novel now transposes this "confusion" to the reader in a more radical way. The text tries to expose us as "paranoid readers" (The term is not used here in its clinical sense). It serves to illustrate the postmodern ontologically inspired idea that every construction of a "world" or "reality" is the result of the human imagination, [44] the human need for pattern-making, the need to see "how everything is connected".

There are several strategies at the writer's disposal to encourage the reader to "mis-read" the text. One of the most commonly used strategies in postmodernist fiction is "paranoid reading". Also Wallace's Infinite Jest is, in more than one way, permeated with the idea of "paranoid reading". Wallace employs a very detailed writing practice. In doing so, he suggests that every detail, every word, every character, has more than just its literal meaning, that there lies a secret behind them. The way the novel is written suggests that all the reader needs to do is "read suspiciously" [45] so that maybe he will discover an underlying pattern or see a "hidden truth".

Besides encouraging readerly paranoia, the author can also presents us with characters in the novel who are themselves paranoid. Consequently, the goal of a postmodernist writer is to make the reader’s behaviour mirror the paranoid character’s behaviour.

These two kinds of "paranoia" (the character's paranoia and the reader's) also appear in the novels by some of Wallace’s precursors, namely Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. It is these two kinds of paranoia that are the subject of the following paragraphs.



2.2.1 Paranoid Characters



Michael Pemulis is an E.T.A. student and one of Hal Incandenza's best friends. In his free time he sells drugs of distinguished potency. He fears the wiretap, and "has this habit of looking first to one side and then over to the other before he says anyting. . . . Interrupting him means having to watch him do the head-thing all over again each time" (211). When people contact him for a drug deal, they have to utter the words "Please commit a crime" and Michael Pemulis will reply as if surprised: "Gracious me and mine, a crime you say?" The customer then has to say that he'll harm Michael Pemulis in some way if he refuses to commit a crime. After a couple of fake threats Pemulis will eventually make an appointment to see the caller in person "to plead for [his] honor and personal safety, so that if . . . the phone's frequency is covertly accessed, somehow Pemulis will have been [suborned]" (156).

Pemulis is perhaps the prototypical paranoid in the novel, although there are many others who all have their own conspiracy theories [46]. Pemulis sells the allegedly incredibly potent DMZ, a drug that he considers "The Great White Shark of organo-synthesiszed hallucinogens" (211). He explains his buyers that it was used in certain shady CIA-era military experiments having to do with mind-control. But eventually the subjects were locked away in institutions, written of as casualties of war and the research team was reassigned.

Writing about such conspiracy theories has been commercially successful and therefore practised, by contemporary entertainment literature of conspiracy, like the novels of Tom Clancy. Such narratives typically involve secret criminal or terrorist organisations, foreign secret services, renegade government intelligence agencies, unscrupulous and all-powerful multinational corporations, and, inevitably, computers, communications networks and high-tech weapons [47]. Literally all of the elements of literature of conspiracy can be found in Infinite Jest. The omnipresent conspiracy is of course the attempt of the Wheelchair Assassins from Quebec to lay hands, at whatever price, on the master copy of the film "Infinite Jest" so they can broadcast the ultimate entertainment on U.S. television, killing all spectators in their warm homes.

Such conspiracy, writes Frederick Jameson, "is the poor man's cognitive mapping in the postmodern age" [48]. In postmodern novels conspiracy theories are conceived of as a displaced representation, at the content level, of the global capitalist network itself [49]. In other words, a phenomenon like "conspiracy" needs to be looked at from a sociological point of view. In one of the epigraphs in Foucault's Pendulum, Eco quotes Karl Popper: "The Conspiracy theory of society . . . comes from abandoning God and then asking: ‘Who is in this place?’" [50]. Also Leo Apostel, who has read McHale, approaches postmodernism from a literary sociological viewpoint and with very solid arguments. His thesis about postmodernism provides insight into "conspiracy" as well. Postmodernism, according to Apostel, is "a reaction of conscious human beings to the confrontation with multinational capitalism, the increasing demography (and its consequences), the informational and biotechnical technologies and the speculative dominance of financial capital" [51].

The altered social economical and cultural context then is the most important reason for the paranoiacally obsessed postmodern human beings. Today we live in a society dominated by unpredictable, incomprehensible, complex and worldwide capitalism in which it is impossible to see a fixed centre. Contemporary man does, for instance, not see who has the political power of decision in international conflicts. Many international organisations like the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, interfere in internal national conflicts in the Middle-East, Rwanda, Serbia, etc... The financial world is a global network, but nobody can tell what the response will be to a certain action. In the second half of the twentieth century we experience "that we can no longer check the consequences of our decisions in the economical, political and social world" [52]. Apostel analyses postmodernism from the point of view of the evolution of the economical order and the cultural implications this has.



2.2.2 Paranoid Reader



A traditional novel (if I may use this term), forms an organic whole in which all the parts, in some way, belong together. All the elements of the novel, ranging from major themes to little details, all count in a comprehensibly hierarchical manner. To write something that does not fit things together is thought of as "defective". This idea of wholeness and harmony has been with us in literature, painting, music and architecture. When the idea of harmony is abandoned in a novel, the reader, whose fundamental objective still is to identify literal meaning instead of a diverse interpretative meaning, is left homeless because his quest to find meaning in a text becomes difficult, if not impossible.

It has been mentioned before that there is an epistemological element in the background of Infinite Jest, that the novel can be read as a detective story where two parties, the Office of Unspecified Services and the Wheelchair Assassins, are trying to locate and secure a master copy of the movie "Infinite Jest". On a next level, the characters’ quest for "Infinite Jest" (the movie) mirrors the reader's quest for Infinite Jest (grasping the novel). The movie and the novel do, not coincidentally, bear the same title. But the cognitive quest in which the characters and the readers of Infinite Jest are involved in fails [53] and ultimately results in "world making" on behalf of the characters and the readers of the novel. "Paranoid reading" then is a nice blend of epistemological and ontological thinking since the lack of information results in the creation of multiple possible worlds.

McHale says paranoid reading works like this: If our reading of the text resembles the characters' reading of their world - the novel's - and if their reading of that world is paranoid, than this implies that we are paranoid readers [54]. But how does one go about "reading paranoiacally"? It would appear that we are being programmed by Infinite Jest itself to "read suspiciously" [55]. The fundamental rule, writes McHale, parodies E.M. Forster's slogan in Howard's End: ‘Only connect.’ The corollary is ‘only suspect’, i.e., read suspiciously, in the expectation of overlooked or occult connections [56].

The idea that is exploited in Infinite Jest is that facts or encyclopedic knowledge only become important or useful when they are connected to other facts. A reader who is presented with 1079 dense pages of encyclopedic narrative will simply HAVE to find some kind of coherence in order to keep the novel from disintegrating under the information it includes. The novel, because of this, provokes the reader to read attentively. But even when read very attentively, the novel seems to radiate the feeling that it needs some internal plumbing. The reader then, does this plumbing as he scans through the pages in that windshield-wiper way of people watching tennis. The desired effect is that the reader finds his or her own structure in the novel, so that the reader "projects his own world" to use McHale's terminology.

This element of "paranoia" works like an infuriating carrot-and-donkey game, for the structure of the novel will depend on the conjectures the reader hazards about the author's intentions. At the same time the reader realises the connections he sees between elements in the novel are based on a speculative theory. The object of the reader's attention throughout the novel can be as simple as the numeral eight or the colour blue. "The following things in the room were blue," (508) writes Wallace at the beginning of a chapter. We are tempted to see a leitmotiv in this colour for it reappears throughout the entire novel. E.T.A. principal Charles Tavis designed the Toronto Blue Jays' SkyDome ballpark and hotel complex. Avril Incandenza always carries a blue pen with her. The movie "Infinite Jest" is referred to as "the blue dazzle" (90), and so on. This feeling of paranoia comes to a climax when the colour of the wallpaper at E.T.A. is described as "the overenhanced blue of the wallpaper's sky [with] fluffy cumuli arrayed patternlessly against an overenhancedly blue sky, incredibly disorienting wallpaper" (509). Disorienting indeed, for the cover of the novel itself (the hardcover edition) resembles this E.T.A. wallpaper. The reader must now feel like Hal Incandenza who "loathes the sky-and-cloud wallpaper because it makes him feel high-altitude and disoriented and sometimes plummeting" (509). The colour blue could be a valuable or misleading leitmotiv, but so could be the numeral eight, Hamlet, spiders, Black Widows, spiderwebs, and so on. [57]. The whole point is that the leitmotivs never seem to connect. At the end of the novel, the reader can say that "everything is connected" but more or less in a meaningless way. We are thus exposed as paranoid readers. Part of what Wallace tries to do here is nothing else but to deconstruct this very thesis in front of you.



2.3 Chinese-Box Worlds 



Those of us who are familiar with Chinese-Boxes know how inside each box is another, smaller box. Such a set usually consists of about eight boxes, but the idea it tries to bring across is one of infinite regress. To discover the smaller boxes within the bigger ones, one must perform the same operation over and over again. Certain postmodern fiction does something similar, and does so in a problematic way.

The play-within-the-play in Shakespeare's Hamlet represents a lowered, secondary level of reality. But Shakespeare does not go beyond this second level. Hence, there is no problematic ontological foregrounding.

Postmodernism's deliberate ontological "mystification" by using Chinese-box structures does cause ontological instability. The reader of Infinite Jest tries to keep up with the regressing realities Wallace keeps on creating and recreating. Take, for example, Rémi Marathe, member of the Wheelchair Assassins, who functions "as a kind of ‘triple agent’ or duplicitous ‘double agent’" (995). But only very few people know "that Marathe is now only pretending to pretend to betray." Even more problematic, however, is that Wallace, in the next paragraph, says that Marathe really is betraying his superiors and his country "and is thus only pretending only to pretend." Add to this the fact that M. Fortier, president of the Wheelchair Assassins is "not . . . aware that Steeply [who meets Marathe at regular times] and the B.S.S. [French abbreviation of the Office of Unspecified Services] are aware that Fortier is aware of Marathe's meetings with Steeply" (995).

The book is chock-full of constructions like these. The incredibly potent drug DMZ is "synthesized from a derivative of fatviavi, an obscure mold that grows only on other molds" (170). At a certain AA meeting there is a biker who has a "tattoo of a huge disembodied female breast being painfully squeezed by a disembodied hand which is itself tattooed with a disembodied breast and hand" (207). In the ONAN doctors are "treating cancer by giving cancer cells themselves cancer" (572). Joelle Van Dyne wears a veil to hide her deep need to hide, because she is trapped in the shame about the shame (535-537). The unsolvable mysteries that are usually caused by such endless vicious circles shake up the novel's own construction. So we really have to ask ourselves the ontological questions "What world is this?" and "How is it constructed?" The Chinese-box structure has the effect of "interrupting and complicating the ontological horizon of the fiction, multiplying its worlds, and laying bare the process of world-construction" [58]. Each change of narrative level in such recursive structures involves a change in the ontological level, a change of worlds [59].

Such complex narrative constructions are affiliated with Wallace's love for "expansion" and "infinity". It is as if the story persistently carries itself towards uncontrollable complexity. The concept "entropy" comes to mind. Entropy is a measure of disorganisation. The second law of thermodynamics states that in a closed system entropy increases [60]. The result is chaos and total inertia, a situation similar to the results of watching the movie "Infinite Jest" and perhaps also reading its namesake, the novel. "Entropy" and "closed systems" are not unfamiliar to the reader of Infinite Jest. James Incandenza, maker of the much talked about samizdat, is also the founder of annular physics: "a type of fusion that can produce waste that’s fuel for a process whose waste is fuel for the fusion" (572). It is a closed system reaction that, surprisingly, does not create inertia or chaos, but, on the contrary, perpetual energy. This "Annulation" (or perpetual movement and energy) occurs in both movie and novel Infinite Jest. The viewer of the movie is so entranced he wishes to view the movie over and over again, until the recursive loop has given him so much pleasure that it eventually kills him. The reader, in turn, at the end of the novel is forced to reconsider the beginning, chronologically the last part of the story.

The creation of such recursive structures may also, as in Infinite Jest, deceive the reader on a very grand scale. Suppose Infinite Jest, like Pynchon's Gravity's rainbow, can be read as a representation of a movie. In postmodernist texts, McHale says, movies and television usually function to create a world-within-the-world [61]. The idea of "novel-as-movie" creates the image of infinite regress. At the beginning of Infinite Jest, the reader is encouraged to look at the story as a first-level representation because of the numerous transcripts of essays, newspaper articles, dialogues, etc . . . . But this is deliberately misleading. As we read on, we are gradually led to believe the novel may very well be the movie talked about in the novel itself for James Incandenza's filmography also includes short descriptions of his movies and certain events that occur in the novel itself resemble those descriptions. We will have to reconsider the dialogues. They may be nothing else but a screenplay. It is exactly the fact that the novel initially radiated the idea of realistic representation that eventually disorients the reader and undermines the ontological status of the story, the novel and the movie all together. One never has the feeling that the "real" world is reached. This is one of the most recognisable postmodernist ideas in the novel. There is either too much ambiguity and mystery involved or yet another narrative level heaves into unexpected view. Infinite Jest is about Infinite Jest about Infinite Jest about . . . ad infinitum.

Finally, I wish to point out that reading Infinite Jest as a movie, while it could increase the intelligibility of the text, also reduces its strangeness. But it is the strangeness of a postmodern novel that we especially appreciate. McHale makes a similar comment concerning Gravity’s Rainbow. If one reads Wallace’s novel as the moviescript of "Infinite Jest" then one might think one found the correct frame in which to place all the events in the novel. The ontological horizons of the movie and the novel have then come together, are identical and not problematic at all. However, reading the novel, from the first page to the last, consistently as a moviescript is actually not possible. Also this is something we especially appreciate about the novel, for in this way there is a blurred separation between the story about the movie "Infinite Jest" on the one hand, and the novel Infinite Jest on the other hand. Sometimes they seem to be identical, sometimes not. In this way, the ontological horizons of both worlds have become invisible.



2.4 Language and Meaning 



In contrast to traditional interpretations that aspire to find the "true meaning" of a text, poststructuralism recognises its own incapacities when confronted with the complexity of text interpretation. A structuralist analysis like, for instance, the one of Baudelaire's poem Les Chats by Roman Jakobson and Claude Levi-Strauss [62] still dared to attach a single, objective and fixed meaning to the text, for structuralists believe that systematic knowledge is possible. Poststructuralists, however, claim to know only the impossibility of this knowledge [63]. Poststructuralism confronts literary theory for the first time with interpretations of texts while not pursuing absolute truth.

Language had long been seen as a neutral vehicle that makes thoughts "im-mediate-ly" accessible to others. This is no longer the case today. The most important concerns in western thinking in the twentieth century are the limitations and possibilities of language. Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan share the view that a concern about language occupies centre stage in all scientific and cultural innovations of this century [64]. These three prominent Western thinkers played an important role in the development of poststructuralism in literary theory.

Poststructuralists argue that if the language that we use to express ourselves is not neutral (but still the only way to know our world and ourselves) then so can our self-image, our idea of the world, our culture, our science not be neutral. This is the essence of the twentieth century poststructuralist discussion about language. Derrida calls the reading-method that deals with the consequences of this poststructuralist thesis: deconstruction [65]. Derrida sees the reader as "a producer of meaning" of literary texts [66]. A text, according to Derrida and other deconstructionist thinkers, is a finite system of linguistically linked signs, that create an infinite number of meanings [67]. "Meaning" in itself does not "exist", there are only signs that refer to a meaning [68]. There is, to give just one example, no inherent meaning in nodding one's head. Only within a certain system can it function to mean either "yes" or "no".

Deconstruction is a way of analysing texts. But "language" and "meaning" have now also been recognised as central problems in the texts of contemporary fiction writers themselves: how is meaning created? What is the boundary of the text? How can the interpretation of the text be distinguished from the interpreted text? Those typically poststructuralist questions have not only significantly influenced the way we have started to think about the texts we read, they are also major themes in postmodernist fiction.

McHale incorporates this evolution in language philosophy in his thesis about the distinction between modernist and postmodernist texts. The shift from an epistemological to an ontological dominant in literature is mainly the result, says McHale, of an inner evolution. "There is a kind of inner logic or inner dynamics . . . governing the change of dominant from modernist to postmodernist fiction . . . : push epistemological questions far enough and they ‘tip over’ into ontological questions" [69].

Indeed, most literary theories start out from the idea that postmodernism originated from a philosophy of epistemology and language. From such a theory follows that there is an evolution from a stress on the inexpressibility of reality in language to a stress on the impossibility of an objective reality (partly because of the inexpressibility through the medium of language - nothing is im-mediate). Theories like these provide an a-contextual analyses of postmodernism. They either deal with an "inner evolution" (McHale), or focus solely on Saussurean or Derridian (poststructuralist) thinking and language philosophy (Bertens and D'haen) [70]. These may all be very fruitful approaches to postmodernism, but for the purpose of discussing a novel like Infinite Jest, I think it is more appropriate to consider postmodernism from a different point of view. It will have become clear that I recognise the ontological dominant in postmodernist texts, but I do not believe it is the result of an "inner logic", as if the epistemology has gotten out of hand. For Leo Apostel, the theories just mentioned are only superficial observations of the symptoms of literary postmodernism. The interpretation that Apostel proposes approaches postmodernism from the angle of social reality.

Leo Apostel, who has also read McHale, thinks that the shift from epistemology to ontology cannot be explained as the result of the evolution formulated by McHale. Apostel's theory (as mentioned before in the section about "Paranoid Reading") approaches the problem from a literary sociological viewpoint. Literary postmodernism, according to Apostel, is "a reaction of conscious human beings to the confrontation with multinational capitalism, the increasing demography (and its consequences), the informational and biotechnical technologies and the speculative dominance of financial capital" [71].

Although Apostel and McHale argue conflicting cases, the best way to deal with their theories is to consider them as complementary. Essential in Apostel's thinking is his search for the reasons of postmodernist thinking. Why has the hope for change been abandoned? Why is inadequate thinking and behaviour such a central theme in postmodernist writing? Why all this exactly now, in the second half of the twentieth century?

I believe that Wallace is more occupied with "the world" than with "the word". The most obvious postmodernist elements in Infinite Jest are not the occasional references to poststructuralist thinking, but rather the ontological dominant in the novel (as described by McHale) and the reflections on the postmodern living conditions (as described by Leo Apostel). I dare to say that in Infinite Jest Wallace does not experiment with the problematic nature of representation of reality in language in the same way many postmodernist authors did, say about twenty years ago. In former days it was more likely that an author would write a chapter with only the first 6 letters of the alphabet, or a whole novel in which the letter "f" is consistently replaced by the letter "c". Experiments like these are almost unthinkable today. The awareness of the problematic relation between language and reality, though it is still present in recent postmodernist texts, is not as drastically foregrounded as it used to be. Instead of explicitly drawing our attention to language's incapacity, postmodernist texts now tend to have accepted and internalised the problem. Linguistic scepticism seems to have disappeared into the background. Yet a close observer will still find that postmodernist fiction plays with the conviction that unmediated knowledge is an illusion.

In The Broom of the System, in some of his short stories, and to a lesser extent also in Infinite Jest, Wallace is interested in "meaning". Language philosophy was Wallace's major topic in his first novel The Broom of the System, written in the margins of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Wittgenstein, foreshadowing Derrida, and one of his students in the novel, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman's great-grandmother, both believe that language possesses no meaning except in how it is used at specific times in specific places in specific linguistic contexts [72]. Lenore relates how as a child her great-grandmother talked to her about her mentor's philosophy and how she also believed that one's understanding of the world arises from one's ability to talk about it. Lenore is invigorated by her great-grandmother's introduction to Wittgenstein's philosophy. "Meaning," Lenore says, "is nothing more or less than its function" [73].

Wittgenstein's language philosophy also explains the central metaphor of Wallace's first novel: the broom. As a child Lenore's great-grandmother showed a broom to Lenore and asked which was more fundamental to it, the bristles or the handle. Lenore answered "the bristles". "Aha, that's because you want to sweep with the broom, isn't it? It's because of what you want the broom for, isn't it? . . . . And that if we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom . . . . Meaning as use" [74]. Ever since, Lenore believes that language creates and imprisons her.

Language philosophy is also a topic in Wallace’s short story Here and There [75] in which a character named Bruce, a 22 year old graduate in electronic engineering from M.I.T., is working on an honours’ thesis about variable systems of information- and energy- transfer written in epic verses. Bruce wants to be the "first really great poet of technology" [76]. Bruce believes that "real poetry won't be in word after a while. He said the icy beauty of the perfect signification of fabricated non-verbal symbols and their relation through agreed-on rules will come slowly to replace first the form and then the stuff of poetry" [77]. In the language of the future "meaning will be clean," [78] says Bruce. But his girlfriend comments on his ideas about language and says that "it seems that what he thought about poetry was going to make poetry seem cold and sad. I said a big part of the realness that poems were about for me . . . was feelings . . . I didn't think numbers and systems and functions could make people feel any way at all" [79]. Bruce, in fact, is looking for stability in his life. But at the end of the story, while his aunt is conjugating irregular French verbs in the background, he gradually starts accepting things the way they are and only then starts really living.

Only occasionally does Wallace seem to be explicitly concerned with language philosophy in his second novel, Infinite Jest. When the E.T.A. students take a shower after dawn-drills they are all in search for the word that comes closest to their feeling of exhaustion.


'So tired it's out of tired's word-range,' Pemulis says. 'Tired just doesn't do it.'

'Exhausted, shot, depleted,' says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand. 'Cashed. Totalled . . . Beat. Worn the heck out.'

'Worn the fuck-all out is more like.'

'Wrung dry. Whacked. Tuckered out. More dead than alive.'

'None even come close, the words . . . . We need an inflation-generative grammar . . . a whole new syntax for fatigue on days like this.' (100-101)


In this post-shower community feeling, the students then turn to E.T.A.'s best mind on the problem, someone who has analysed and digested whole thesauruses: Hal Incandenza. But even this is beyond the linguistic prodigy's capabilities and as an answer to this linguistic problem he holds up his fist and starts "cranking at it with the other hand so the finger [he's] giving...goes up like a drawbridge . . . . Everybody agrees it speaks volumes" (101).

Looking for meaning is not on the deconstructionists' agenda. Also Hal does not seem to even WANT to look for the appropriate word, since even he, who knows the English language inside out, believes that this is impossible.

"Deconstruction," says Jonathan Culler, "is not a theory that defines meaning in order to tell you how to find it." On the contrary, "it demonstrates the difficulties of any theory that would define meaning in a univocal way: as what an author intends, what conventions determine, what a reader experiences" [80]. Although "meaning" may not be defined, we somehow need it. So we "give" meaning to what we see or experience. Occasionally, Infinite Jest plays with this idea of "reader as producer of meaning". For example, keeping in mind that Infinite Jest, among many other things, is a book about addiction and recovery, it seems quite easy to interpret the following sentence about Joelle Van Dyne. She just ended up in Ennet House Recovery Centre in an attempt to get "clean". "Joelle used to like to get really high and then clean" (736). A possible idea behind this sentence is one of an addict who alternates between getting high for some time and then staying clean for a while. Relapsing addicts abound in Infinite Jest. But "clean" might also be used with a different meaning, for in the following sentence we read: "Now she was finding she just liked to clean. She dusted the top of the fibreboard." If one had interpreted "clean" in the first sentence as an opposition to "high", one is forced to re-interpret the meaning of this entire first sentence. One of the reasons why it was impossible to immediately understand how "clean" is used in the first sentence is because "meaning is a process in time" [81]. Wallace is explicitly making this clear. When we read a sentence, a word that appears later in the text can still influence that particular sentence. This "process in time" never comes to a stop. That is why, on a larger scale, at the end of Infinite Jest the reader is going to have to read the novel again. Not because the reader wants to, but because the structure of the novel leaves him, so to speak, no other choice. The reader is sent from pillar to post in his own "quest for meaning" in Infinite Jest. It is as if someone were to try to "really understand" the definition of one single word and then ends up reading the whole dictionary, because each explanation of a word consists of again other words that one will have to look up in the attempt to understand their "meaning" [82]. Reading a dictionary becomes an infinite jest because of the "endless play of signifiers" [83]. Reading Infinite Jest or a dictionary becomes thus an infinite pursuit of meaning.

"Meaning is context-bound," says Culler "but context is boundless" [84]. Indeed, every word that we read in a text has appeared before in other contexts and will be encountered later in yet other contexts. We only know words from their previous use in unique contexts. Therefore, the meaning of the word will always be (slightly) different each time we encounter it. "[M]eaning is determined by context and for that very reason is open to alterations when further possibilities are mobilized" [85]. Derrida calls this principle "dissemination" [i.e. of meaning] [86]. Derrida argues that meaning is something unstable and dynamic because the "process of meaning" perpetually takes place. The context in which the word "clean" appears, in our example, constitutes part of its meaning. When one reads the first sentence, "addiction" and "recovery" are the context, not yet "cleaning". The second context is established at a later stage and influences the meaning of the word "clean" in retrospect.

Such a mechanism does not only work within the boundary of one and the same text. New contexts keep on appearing and will perpetually have the ability to alter meaning of existing texts. A parody can alter its original because the reader will re-interpret the original in this newer context. A parody changes the meaning of the work it parodies by repeating it in another context. "The fact that language is repeatable undermines ‘meaning’" [87]. A literary procedure like a parody exposes this principle. One could thus argue that the contexts for Shakespeare's Hamlet or the Beatles' song "I want to tell you" have altered because of Infinite Jest. And when their contexts have been altered, both Hamlet and the song "I want to tell you" have also acquired a newer provisional "meaning".

Deconstruction tells us that every interpretation is only a provisional one. It will generate even more interpretations rather than fixing the meaning of the text [88]. It can be no surprise that Paul de Man argues that the distinction between "reading" and "misreading" is an insubstantial one [89] for every reader, no matter how paranoid he might be, will always overlook certain connections between elements in the novel. The text has a limited amount of words, yes, but at the same time the meaning that is generated by that finite number of words bursts through every barrier. In this way language combines finiteness and infinity [90].

If meaning in itself does not "exist", if there are only signs that refer to a meaning, then how can we know "the truth" or the world in which we live? From this fundamental problem, deconstruction draws its conclusions about the relation between language, meaning and truth. That there could be a "reality" outside our language is dismissed by some die-hard poststructuralists as an illusion [91]. Although not everybody will subscribe to such a view, it can still be an interesting theoretical line of thought to pursue because something similar can be said about the movie Infinite Jest. As we do not know its contents, or where it is hidden, and since there are only a few signs (i.e. rumours) that hint at its existence or at what it has to tell or show us, it might not exist in the way we first thought it would. Whether or in what form the movie "Infinite Jest" exists, we do not know. We can only learn about it through its linguistic namesake. The reader is not even given a fair chance to try and see the movie’s contents, let alone its "meaning". In fact, the reader is better served not knowing the movie's contents and meaning for whoever watches it experiences a lethal pleasure-seeking urge to watch the movie again and again and eventually dies a slow euphoric death. Viewers who have some way or another been dragged away from their TelePuter (television-computer) want nothing else but to continue viewing the film even though they know it will eventually kill them. Longing for pleasure then becomes longing for death. If it were possible, says Derrida, to perfectly verbalise "l’être", all there would be left would be longing for death [92]. It is exactly the inadequacy of language that is the cause of man's will to live, says Derrida. No "différance" equals death. "Vie sans différance: autre nom de la mort." [93]. So it would be possible to assume that this lethal movie is something so "sublime" and with a perfectly clear univocal meaning that it leaves its viewers with a death wish. Wallace simply could not present us with such a "sublime" "Infinite Jest", since it would be too dangerous (or humanly/linguistically impossible?). The only alternative for Wallace was to give us its "unsublime" counterpart, a movie in words, hence without a perfect and univocal meaning. If according to Derrida the ultimate function of our inadequate language is to keep us alive, then Infinite Jest's (the novel's) structure is life-giving.

The most common complaints in critical debate about deconstruction are that deconstruction is sometimes experienced as nihilism, as if it endorses the idea that "anything goes". According to such a philosophy "language" and "meaning" become something chaotic and incomprehensible. Somehow a line needs to be drawn in, what Terry Eagleton calls, "the endless play of signifiers." Jonathan Culler, when mentioning both the reproaches hurled at deconstruction and deconstruction's resistance to those reproaches, comes to the conclusion that


while it does enjoin scepticism about possibilities of arresting meaning, of discovering a meaning that lies outside of and governs the play of signs of a text, it does not propose indeterminacy of meaning in the usual sense: the impossibility or unjustifiability of choosing one meaning over another. On the contrary, it is only because there may be excellent reasons for choosing one meaning rather than another that there is any point in insisting that the meaning chosen is itself also a signifier that can be interpreted in turn [94].


Scepticism, not favouring boundless chaos, is the appropriate attitude. Indeed, an interpretation either allows only one reading of the text or it chooses to recognise its polysemic nature. The latter, moderate form of deconstruction, is the appropriate way to approach Infinite Jest.




3 Conclusion: Infinite Jest, a Postmodernist Encyclopedic Novel




It is amazing what can be created with only words and the imagination. That is the overwhelming feeling one has after reading Wallace's mammoth creation. For the postmodernist novelist, however, escaping into the realm of language and the imagination is more than just a re-representation of reality, it is something which is to supplant reality. Infinite Jest is a novel that "imitates the pluralistic and anarchistic ontological landscape of advanced industrial cultures" [95].

Wallace's created pluralistic world is not always a comforting one. The lines between entertainment and addiction have been hopelessly blurred in the consumer-oriented culture of the ONAN. There is an existential loneliness that possesses the characters. Their search for solutions in alcohol, narcotics, highly entertaining movies and addictive competition threatens to annihilate their very idea of selfhood. The only result of this pursuit is an even more intense feeling of lostness. The characters become almost ecstatic that they can still say it is this loneliness that unites them: "E Unibus Pluram" (120).

The ultimate entertainment that the circular movie "Infinite Jest" supposedly is, is merely a result of an increasing demand for more pleasure. It is a metaphor for consumerism, which aims at only perpetuating itself. The movie resembles a "black hole" in many ways: It seduces its viewers into a dark hollowness and death because of its orgasmic Medusa-effect. Similar to a black hole, which can only be perceived indirectly by observing its surroundings, one never gets to see the movie directly. This object of everybody's pursuit in the novel may not even exist. But what does exist is the culture that created it.

In discussing David Foster Wallace's second novel Infinite Jest, I submitted to your consideration the terms "encyclopedism" and "postmodernism". I am content to accept that this thesis about Infinite Jest is selective and partial, since there is more that can be said about this novel than one will find in this thesis. But I think that my attempt to write about Infinite Jest does capture quite a lot that is worth understanding about the novel. In Infinite Jest we witness some large-scale attempts to incorporate encyclopedism and postmodernism. This thesis told a story about those attempts. As I have tried to demonstrate, Infinite Jest belongs to an encyclopedic and postmodernist tradition in literature. It shares with other encyclopedic narratives the characteristics observed by Edward Mendelson, and it shares with postmodernist texts postmodernism's ontological dominant.

Infinite Jest's predominant and most interesting encyclopedic element is its foregrounding of the problematic issue of comprehensive knowledge. The plot is deliberately left unfinished and this lack of resolution puzzles and maybe even irritates readers. By incorporating a temporal gap of almost one year in the story and by providing only one confusing chapter which takes place after this temporal gap, but which is placed at the beginning of the novel, Wallace made his plot elliptic, indefinite and unstable.

Still, certain opposing forces are at work in Infinite Jest. The novel's two main settings, The Enfield Tennis Academy, and Ennet House Recovery Centre, are supposed to get across comprehensive and structured knowledge. The academy is "based on the rigorous Oxbridge Quadrivium-Trivium curricular model" (8) and Ennet House's staff uses Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step program to help patients get "clean". None the less, the reader hardly feels the presence of structured knowledge in the novel.

Infinite Jest also belongs to postmodernist poetics in the sense that it shares with other postmodernist texts postmodernism's ontological dominant. All strategies Wallace employs in his novel have their ontological consequences. These strategies include: incorporating the concept of infinity, the peculiar construction of space in the novel, the intertextual references, the technique of "misattribution", drawing attention to the constructedness of the text, exposing the reader to paranoia and the construction of Chinese-box worlds.

Infinite Jest is thus a postmodern encyclopedic novel. For some critics such a claim is the beginning of a discussion about the problem of genres in postmodernist texts. Postmodernists usually claim there is no such thing as "genre". They would reject the idea that a particular postmodernist novel belongs to the genre of encyclopedic narrative. Taxonomical classifications have more than once been parodied by postmodernist writers as in the following fragment from Infinite Jest about Jim Incandenza who is described as "genre-dysphoric" (682) and whose highly conceptual filmic output comprises


industrial, documentary, conceptual, advertorial, technical, parodic, dramatic noncommercial, nondramatic ('anticonfluential') noncommercial, nondramatic, commercial and dramatic commercial works. (985)


Such a parody of taxonomy is an exemplary postmodern fragment that aims at showing the impossibility of generic classification. But is it a justified claim?

Generic classification in literature is indeed a key problem for literary theory. A competent reader is more or less able to intuitively recognise literary genres. Theoretically, however, there are substantial problems concerning the development of a genre theory which would enable us to adequately classify and define literary genres. Genre, as Marjorie Perloff argues in the introduction to a collection of essays entitled Postmodern Genres, "is always culture specific and to a high degree, historically determined" [96]. There is no unity of genre, but only the historical determination of genres.

The essays in Perloff's Postmodern Genres argue that the most fundamental questions about postmodern culture are derived from classification and genre [97]. A postmodern genre, "it sounds like a contradiction in terms," [98] Perloff continues. Modernist discourse was preoccupied with the question of renewal or adaptations of the original genres. But postmodernism, especially in its poststructuralist manifestation, has tended to dismiss genre as a more or less anachronistic and irrelevant concept [99]. Critics of postmodernist literature therefore often deliberately use a neutral term like "text" in order to avoid generic classification.

In Wallace's short story Here and There, which appears in his collection Girl With Curious Hair, a character named Bruce, a 22 year old graduate in electronic engineering from M.I.T., is working on an honours’ thesis which he calls "an epic poem about variable systems of information- and energy-transfer" [100]. Bruce wants to be "the first really great poet of technology . . . . He thinks art as literature will get progressively more mathematical and technical as time goes by" [101]. Even Wallace, in this short story, must realise that he, in this time of postmodern "openness", makes a distinction between an epic poem and a thesis from an engineering student. It is only because Wallace can discern genres that he is able to put them together. The same goes for the encyclopedic novel which incorporates several genres like heroic epic, romance, poetry, detective story, Bildungsroman, and so on. Even as we recognise the mixing of these genres in encyclopedic narrative, we are thinking genres again. We are applying these genres to the encyclopedic novel. "Encyclopedic" is thus based on generic markers as much as traditional taxonomical classifications are. The claims that postmodern writing blurs genres or transgresses them could then be countered with another claim, namely that the only really postmodern genre is the one based on the mixing of genres: encyclopedic narrative with its insertion into the narrative of newspaper articles, stories within stories, letters, drama, mathematical formulas, molecular structures and so on.

No matter how pointless it may seem to the postmodernist thinker to classify and label texts or to fit them into the established categories, practically speaking, it is virtually impossible to read a given new text without bringing to it a particular set of generic expectation. This is simply the result of the basic human need for ordering disorder. We need to see how one piece of writing is based on other pieces. No text can have traits that will identify all the texts within that class. Moreover, as soon as a given text is identified as belonging to a specific genre, that genre itself is no longer the same [102]. Modern genre theory, therefore, is descriptive instead of prescriptive. It does not prescribe rules to authors, it does not limit the number of possible genres and it supposes that traditional genres may be mixed and produce a new kind [103]

"Do postmodern genres exist?" is the title of Ralph Cohen’s contributive essay in Postmodern Genres. His answer is that we cannot live without them.


We need names . . . and genre theory provides them . . . If we seek the historical recurrence of certain kinds of writing, the rejection or abandonment of other kinds, genre theory provides the most adequate procedure for this enquiry. If we wish to analyze an individual text, genre theory provides knowledge of its constituents and how they combine . . . . Postmodern theorists, critics, authors and readers inevitably use the language of genre theory even as they seek to deny its usefulness [104].


I therefore believe my claim that Infinite Jest is a postmodern encyclopedic novel is justified.

The "openness" of postmodernist texts and their indeterminacy of form also account for the lack of resolution in Infinite Jest. The ending has even upset some critics who labelled Infinite Jest as a "Little, Brown pig" and a


gigantic case of literary coitus interruptus. Some reviewers...have tried to palm off this enormously frustrating failure as an elaborate joke on the unsuspecting reader (Infinite Jest, get it?), a postmodern subversion of traditional narrative closure. But there's nothing in the text that supports this view [105].


I hope this thesis has demonstrated such bold comments are untrue, and that, on the contrary, it was part of the plan Wallace had in mind when writing Infinite Jest. The only way to solve the paradox of an infinite text confined in a finite space is to construct the novel as a closed helix. Indeed, the story itself will never break through its closed helix, only an interpretation can do this.

Another criticism raised by Levich is that the last several chapters of "Wallace's overly ambitious story" suggest, at least to Levich, "the last-minute manipulations of a novelist in crisis, desperately striving to put his characters in place for some sort of finish." [106]. It is possible that the particular structure of Infinite Jest left some readers "unconvinced that Mr. Wallace offered anything more than a lot of energy and a dazzling but heartless cleverness." [107]. But to a satisfied reader of Infinite Jest like myself, it is as if Wallace wants to say, in Hamlet's own words: "Report my cause aright to the unsatisfied." (5.2,281-282)

David Foster Wallace held a lecture at the occasion of a tribute to the work of Franz Kafka sponsored by PEN on 26 March 1998 in New York City [108]. In this lecture Wallace talks about teaching Kafka to his students from the State University of Illinois. It is enlightening to compare what Wallace has to say about "Kafka's wit" with some of the things that have been argued in this thesis. Unfortunately, Wallace says, Kafka's humour is "inaccessible to children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance." And Wallace continues:


It's not that students don't ‘get’ Kafka's humour but that we've taught them to see humour as something you get - the same way we've taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke - that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It's hard to put into words up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it's good they don't ‘get’ Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding on this door, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don't know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens . . . and it opens outward: we've been inside all along. Das ist komisch.


I believe this quote sums up the story Wallace tried to tell with Infinite Jest and its confusing end. The attentive reader will see that Wallace ultimately does not put "addiction" and "loneliness" on the foreground, but rather the tough and nearly inhuman "horrific struggle of recovery" from all kinds of addictions. Wallace's epic thus at the end resembles Homer's epics where, despite the countless deaths of war heroes and the victories at the end, the emphasis is still on the infinite and horrific battles and struggles. The experiences we have on the long road we walk on are far more interesting than the laurel wreath we receive at the end.









[1] Charlie Rose. "Interview With David Foster Wallace for The Charlie Rose Show." March 27 1997 on PBS:

n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.

[2] Wallace has always admitted the influence of Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, John Barth and Don DeLillo on his work

[3] Edward Mendelson. "Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon." Modern Language Notes 91 (Dec. 1976): 1267 - 1275. I am indebted to Luc Herman for drawing my attention to this essay.

[4] Ibid. p. 1267.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Plato. Gorgias, transl. W. Hamilton. London: Penguin, 1960: 117-118.

[7] Rudy Rucker, Oneindigheid, filosofie en wetenschap van het oneindige, Amsterdam: Contact, 1985: p. 12. Translated by Eugène Dabekaussen from the original: Infinity and the Mind: The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite, Boston: Harvester Press, 1982.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Isabel Rivers, Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry. London: Routledge, 1992: p. 72. First published in 1979 by George Allen & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd.

[10] In order to distinguish the novel Infinite Jest from the movie "Infinite Jest", I shall refer to the novel by using italics and to the movie by using quotation marks.

[11] David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest. Abacus: London, 1997: p. 47. First published in the United Staes of America by Little, Brown and Company 1996. Page references are the same in all hardcover and paperback versions.

[12] The references mentioned can be found on the following pages: 42, 47, 87, 129 and 993.

[13] William Godwin. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. London: Penguin, 1985: p. 300.

[14] Edward Mendelson. "Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon." Modern Language Notes 91 (Dec. 1976): p. 1269.

[15] Tom LeClair, "The Prodigious Fiction of Powers, Vollmann and David Foster Wallace." Online. Internet. Oct 1998.

[16] Lyle even resembles Walt Whitman in that he is "able to pull life towards himself" (128) and able to feel in harmonious unison with his time and place. That is the reason why the E.T.A. students turn to him whenever they encounter emotional problems.

[17] Edward Mendelson "Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon." Modern Language Notes 91 (Dec. 1976): p. 1269.

[18] This list can be found on page 144 of Infinite Jest.

[19] Edward Mendelson. "Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon." Modern Language Notes 91 (Dec. 1976): p.1270.

[20] See page 223 of Infinite Jest for a list in chronological order of these nine years of the subsidised American calendar.

[21] Edward Mendelson. "Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon." Modern Language Notes 91 (Dec. 1976): p. 1271.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Mary Shelly. Frankenstein. London: Penguin. 1992: p. 142-143.

[25] Ibid. p. 213.

[26] Laura Miller. "The Salon Interview: David Foster Wallace." Salon Magazine (Mar. 9-22 1996): n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.

[27] Valerie Stiver. "Interview with David Foster Wallace." Stim e-zine: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.

[28] Edward Mendelson. "Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon." Modern Language Notes 91 (Dec. 1976): p. 1274.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Brian McHale. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987: p. 3.

[32] Ibid. p. 5. (Author's emphasis)

[33] Ibid. p. 6.

[34] Ibid. p. 11.

[35] Ibid. p. 10.

[36] Not underlined in the original.

[37] Brian McHale. Postmodernist Fiction. London: Methuen, 1987: p. 45.

[38] Leo Apostel, Jenny Walry and Bart Keunen. Hopeloos gelukkig, leven in de postmoderne tijd. Amsterdam: Meulenhof, 1997: p 239. The translations of the quotes from Dutch to English, taken from this book, are my own.

[39] Ibid. p. 241.

[40] Brian McHale. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen., 1987: p. 56-57.

[41] All copyrights acknowledged, presented for study only. Lyrics by George Harrison, 1966.

[42] Brian McHale. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987: p. 44.

[43] Ibid. p. 43.

[44] Or, to stay in the novel's terminology, it is all "sui testator", only in the head, imagination, just like the existence of the movie "Infinite Jest".

[45] Brain McHale. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992: p. 167.

[46] Even Secret Service agent Hugh Steeply from the Office of Unspecified Services has his own conspiracy theory about experiments conducted in the 1970’s with electro-implantations in the human brain, which gave the brain intense feelings of pleasure and left the subjects dehydrated and fatigued because all they wanted was this pleasure of the electric stimuli in the brain. It eventually killed them in a similar way "Infinite Jest" kills its viewers (470).

[47] Brain McHale. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987: p. 178.

[48] Quoted in: Brain McHale. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992: p. 178.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Quoted in: Brain McHale. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992: p. 166.

[51] Leo Apostel, Jenny Walry and Bart Keunen. Hopeloos gelukkig, leven in de postmoderne tijd. Amsterdam: Meulenhof, 1997: p. 230.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Interesting to notice at this point is that Wallace originally planned to give his novel the subtitle: "A Failed Entertainment".

[54] Brain McHale. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992: p. 167.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Don Gately refers to addiction as "the spider"; James Incandenza’s production company is named "Lartodectus Mactans", the Latin name for Black Widow; James’ wife Avril becomes a "widow" after his suicide and certain descriptions of her resemble descriptions of spiders; Hal, in his nightmares, sees the lines on a tennis court as a spider's web, and so on....

[58] Brain McHale. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987: p. 112.

[59] Ibid. p. 113.

[60] Colin Greenland. The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British ‘New Wave’ in Science Fiction. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983: p. 191.

[61] Ibid. p. 128.

[62] Roman Jacobson and Claude Levi-Strauss " ‘Les Chats’ de Baudelaire." L’Homme, Revue française d’antropologie 2 1962: 5-21.

[63] Jonathan Culler. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983: p. 22.

[64] Els Schrover. Deconstructie en Literatuur. Muiderberg: Coutinho, 1992: p. 10.

[65] Ibid. p. 14-15.

[66] Ibid. p. 52.

[67] Ibid. p. 94.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Brian McHale. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987: p. 11.

[70] Hans Bertens en Theo D’haen. Het postmodernisme in de literatuur. Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 1988.

[71] Leo Apostel, Jenny Walry and Bart Keunen. Hopeloos gelukkig: leven in de postmoderne tijd. Amsterdam: Meulenhof, 1997: p. 230.

[72] Lance Olsen. "Termite Art, or Wallace’s Wittgenstein." The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13;2 1993: 199-215: p. 204.

[73] David Foster Wallace. The Broom of The System. London: Abacus, 1997: p 149.

[74] Ibid. p. 149-150.

[75] David Foster Wallace. Girl With Curious Hair. London: Abacus, 1997.

[76] Ibid. p. 155.

[77] Ibid. p. 167.

[78] Ibid. p. 155.

[79] Ibid. p. 167.

[80] Jonathan Culler. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983: p. 131.

[81] Els Schrover. Deconstructie en Literatuur. Muiderberg: Coutinho, 1992: p. 61. Translations mine.

[82] Interesting to notice in relation to this is that some of the 388 endnotes at the end of Infinite Jest have their own footnotes, or that some endnotes simply refer to other endnotes.

[83] Terry Eagleton, Quoted in: Els Schrover. Deconstructie en Literatuur. Muiderberg: Coutinho, 1992, p. 55.

[84] Jonathan Culler. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983: p. 123.

[85] Ibid. 124.

[86] Els Schrover. Deconstructie en Literatuur. Muiderberg: Coutinho, 1992: p. 38.

[87] Ibid. p. 37.

[88] Ibid. p. 53-54.

[89] Ibid. p. 54.

[90]Ibid. p. 87.

[91] See Derrida’s claim "Il n’y a pas de hors texte." Quoted in Samuel IJsseling. "Derrida over tekst en context." In: Deconstructie en Ethiek. Philippe Van Hautte and Samuel IJsseling (Ed.) Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 1992: p. 9 – 28. The famous phrase has often been misunderstood. Derrida does not claim there is no reality whatsoever. He only claims that we only know reality through the medium of language. Because of this initial misunderstanding Derrida felt the need to further explain his famous phrase in 1990 in Limited Inc. "La phrase qui, pour certains, est devenue une sorte de slogan en général si mal compris de la déconstruction (‘il n’y a pas de hors texte’) ne signifie rien d’autre: il n’y a pas de hors contexte. Sous cette forme, qui dir exactement la même chose, la formule aurait sans doute moins choqué. Je ne suis pas sûr qu’elle aurait donné plus à penser." Jaques Derrida, Limited Inc. Galilée, Paris, 1990, p. 252. Quoted in the same article by Samuel Ijsseling, p. 9.

[92] Els Schrover. Deconstructie en Literatuur. Muiderberg: Coutinho, 1992: p. 96-97.

[93] Ibid. p. 97.

[94] Jonathan Culler. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983: p. 189.

[95] Daley Haggar. "It's Showtime! At the Apocalypse: The Media and the Culture of Addiction in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Harvard Advocate Fall issue 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.

[96] Perloff, Marjorie (ed.) Postmodern Genres. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989: p.7

[97] Ibid. p. 3

[98] Ibid.

[99] Ibid.

[100] David Foster Wallace. Girl With Curious Hair. London: Abacus, 1997: p. 154.

[101] Ibid. p. 154-155.

[102] Perloff, Marjorie (ed.) Postmodern Genres. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989: p.4.

[103] Ralph Cohen. "Do Postmodern Genres Exist?" in: Perloff, Marjorie (ed.) Postmodern Genres. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989, p.13.

[104] Ibid. p. 25

[105] Jacob Levich. "A Cruel Joke." TV Guide Entertainment Network: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Laura Miller. "The Road To Babbitville." New York Times Book Review 16 Mar. 1997: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.

[108] David Foster Wallace. "A Series of Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness from Which Not Enough Has Been Removed." Lecture held in New York City on 26 March 1998. "an evening of tribute, reflection, and re-examination of the work of Franz Kafka" Sponsored by PEN. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.











Primary Bibliography:



Costello, Mark, and David Foster Wallace. Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present. Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1990.


Wallace, David Foster. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. London: Abacus, 1998. First published in the United States of America by Little, Brown and Company 1997.


---. Girl With Curious Hair. London: Abacus, 1997. First published in the United States of America by W.W. Norton & Company 1989.


---. Infinite Jest. London: Abacus, 1997. First published in the United States of America by Little, Brown and Company 1996.


---. The Broom of The System. London: Abacus, 1997. First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin 1987.






Secondary Bibliography:



Apostel, Leo, Jenny Walry and Bart Keunen. Hopeloos gelukkig: leven in de postmoderne tijd. Amsterdam: Meulenhof, 1997.


Bertens, Hans, and Theo D'haen. Het postmodernisme in de literatuur. Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 1988.


Birkerts, Sven "The Alchemist's Retort: A multi-layered postmodern saga of damnation and salvation." Atlantic Monthly Feb. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Bruni, Frank. "The Grunge American Novel." New York Times Magazine 24 Mar. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Caro, Mark. "The Next Big Thing." Chicago Tribune 23 Feb. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Costello, Mark. "Fighting to Write: A Short Reminiscence of D.F. Wallace." The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13;2 1993: 235-236.


Culler, Jonathan. On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.


Dante Alighieri. De goddelijke komedie [The Divine Comedy]. transl. Christinus Kops. Kapellen: Pelckmans, 1993.


Donahue, Anne Marie. "Interview with David Foster Wallace." Boston Phoenix 21-28 Mar. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Fellman, Rob. "Jest Joking: Infinite Jest infinitely impresses." College Hill Independent 11 Apr. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Gates, David. "Levety's Rainbow." Newsweek 12 Feb. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Godwin, William. Enquiry concerning Political Justice. London: Penguin, 1985.


Greenland, Colin. The Entropy Exhibition: Michael Moorcock and the British ‘New Wave’ in Science Fiction. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983.


Haggar, Daley, "It's Showtime! At the Apocalypse: The Media and the Culture of Addiction in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." Harvard Advocate Fall issue 1996. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


IJsseling, Samuel. "Derrida over tekst en context." In: Deconstructie en Ethiek. Philippe Van Hautte and Samuel IJsseling (Ed.) Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 1992: p. 9 – 28.


Jacobson, Roman, and Claude Levi-Strauss " 'Les Chats' de Baudelaire." L'Homme, Revue française d'antropologie 2 1962: 5-21.


Kakutani, Michiko. "A Supposedly Fun Thing: Musing on Life's Absurdities." New York Times 4 Feb. 1997: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Kakutani, Michiko. "Infinite Jest." New York Times 13 Feb. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Laskin, Tom. "Infinite Jester: Writer David Foster Wallace tweaks American Culture." Isthmus 7 Feb. 1997: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Leclair, Tom. "The Prodigious Fiction of Powers, Vollmann and David Foster Wallace". Online. Internet, Oct. 1998.


Levich, Jacob. "A Cruel Joke." TV Guide Entertainment Network: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


McCaffery, Larry. "An Interview with David Foster Wallace." The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13;2 1993: 127-150.


Mendelson, Edward. "Encyclopedic Narrative: From Dante to Pynchon." Modern Language Notes 91 (Dec. 1976): 1267-1275.


McHale, Brian. Constructing Postmodernism. London: Routledge, 1992.


---. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987.


Miller, Laura. "The Road To Babbitville." New York Times Book Review 16 Mar. 1997: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


McInerney, Jay. "The Year of the Whopper." New York Times Book Review 16 Mar. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Olsen, Lance. "Termite Art, or Wallace's Wittgenstein." The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13;2 1993: 199-215.



Perlof, Marjorie (Ed.). Postmodern Genres. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.

Plato. Gorgias, transl. W. Hamilton. London: Penguin, 1960.


Rivers, Isabel. Classical and Christian ideas in English Renaissance poetry. London: Routledge, 1992.


Rose, Charlie. "Interview with David Foster Wallace for the Charlie Rose Show." March 27 1997 on PBS: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Rother, James. "Reading and Riding the Post-scientific Wave: The Shorter Fiction of David Foster Wallace." The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13;2 1993: 216-234.


Rucker, Rudy. Oneindigheid, filosofie en wetenschap van het oneindige. Amsterdam: Contact, 1985. Translated by Eugène Dabekaussen from the original: Infinity and the Mind: The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite, Boston: Harvester Press, 1982.


Scheiner, Kathleen. "Infinite Jest Spoofs Culture's Future." Daily Iowan Mar. 27 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Schrover, Els. Deconstructie en Literatuur. Muiderberg: Coutinho, 1992.


Schwarzbaum, Lisa. "Read and Weep: Plowing through Infinite Jest." Entertainment Weekly 15 Mar 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


Shelly, Mary. Frankenstein. London: Penguin, 1992.


Sheppard, R.Z.. "Mad Maximalism" Time Magazine 19 Feb. 1996: n. pag. Online. Internet. Oct. 1998.


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