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December 21st, 2010

Embracing Sincerity in the Homogenized World of the Electronic Age

The question I want to explore is this: what is the capacity of the main protagonists in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, Hal Incandenza and Don Gately, to embrace and communicate sincerity in an environment where irony has been institutionalized as the result of the homogenizing effects of spectacle? For the purposes of this paper, spectacle will be synonymous with television and the novel’s figurative depiction of television in the form of video cartridges. I want to investigate how spectacle is the byproduct of the typographic culture and how the homogenizing capabilities of spectacle oppose many of the values that are consequent of typography and the primacy of individualism. To supplement this I want to address whether language as derived from the phonetic alphabet is inevitably an ironic mode of communication or if sincerity can be deduced. As for why this issue is specific to communication done through the alphabet as opposed to something like the characters of Chinese writing is that the alphabet is a democratizing script capable of massive dissemination which was homogenized with the advent of typography. Chinese writing disassociated from the alphabet is highly specialized and arduous to learn which undermines its ability to be widely learned, maintaining hierarchies predicated on literacy that the phonetic alphabet undermines. This democratization has found its return in the electronic age through the ability to transcend hierarchies and tribalize literate individuals. But in order to return humanity from the principles incipient with typography there must be some level of homogenization in order to incorporate diversified populaces.

Wallace gives this homogenization tangible form with “the entertainment” as this video cartridge unifies individuals with euphoric pleasure. This is relevant to the irony that pervades the text as irony is a hindrance to genuine representation of the self through language as irony has been interiorized by the characters of the novel, relegating sincerity to the abject. My contention is that irony’s subjugation of sincerity is intrinsic with the recursive behavior that plagues most of the characters in the novel, including both Hal and Gately. It is the displacement of sincerity through irony that is complicit with the addictions used by a multitude of characters to deny or numb horrifying or discomfiting truths. What “the entertainment” homogenizes is simply the dissemination of pleasure and not the individual as the characters have already sacrificed their autonomy to addiction. The projected future of the novel is that of complete absorption of technology that shares characteristics with that of non-literate or oracular culture but is muddled with the residual effects of typography. To reconcile the difficulty in integrating such paradoxical modes of existence, direct appeal to the individual through pleasure is necessitated and in effect unites individuals by closing off selves and eradicating any need to communicate. The novel explores ways of gaining consciousness to avoid complete absorption of technology associated with spectacle through the serious use of language in both Alcoholics Anonymous and the Schtitt’s (the tennis coach at E.T.A) approach to tennis. It is through these communities that Gately and Hal find ability to avert the pervading irony and recursive consumption afflicting them both. I hope to illustrate how language bred from the phonetic alphabet and typography is ultimately built for irony and incapable of communicating sincerity in any pure form. I also will show how that unconscious absorption of language and technology perpetuates addictive behavior by making an individual susceptible to solipsism.

Bibliographical Essay

Much of the criticism on the text concerns itself with the irony so prevalent in the novel but does not approach it from the point of view as the byproduct of language as a technological invention. I want discuss how language after typography is finding its return to aspects of oracular culture and creating a tension between the contradicting values of typography and secondary orality. And then I want to discuss how this manifests itself in the novel as an obstacle to embracing sincerity as well as being a hindrance to communication in general.

Regarding the perspective of language as technology I would like to incorporate Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy as well as Marshall McCluhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy. Ong’s work is important as it explicates the effects of language on consciousness and provides valuable observations regarding the differences between oral and literate cultures. McCluhan’s work is an extensive genealogy of language from the phonetic alphabet through typography and ending in the electronic age. He draws comparisons between the shifts in values that occurred during the transformation of culture from manuscript to typographic. The anxiety experienced during this change as a result of changing ingrained cultural values mirrors the juncture being experienced in the novel as characters are being extracted from typographic culture to the tribalizing impact of the electronic age. It is also vital to note that the apprehension expressed by McCluhan in experiencing new technology unconsciously shares the sentiment expressed in Plato’s “Phaedrus.” These works help elucidate the danger of interiorizing new technology without awareness of the associated implications and it is exemplified by Hal in the novel. The narrative begins at the chronological end with Hal being trapped in a solipsistic state and incapable of communication. This solipsistic state is attributed to “something he ate” (Wallace 10) and throughout the novel Hal is represented as a mirror that absorbs and this absorption takes its tragic toll in relegating Hal to the solipsistic state that confines him.

McCluhan’s book is also instructive in illustrating the homogenizing power consequent of the electronic age and its ability to tribalize. This perspective along with Wallace’s essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” explain the novel’s antagonistic approach to irony and its pervasive existence in American culture. Television as the initiator of McCluhan’s concept of the global village is able to dictate the ways people interact if audiences remain in a state of unconscious consumption. Hal has more trouble embracing spirituality or the methods of 12 step programs than Gately which may be a result of Hal’s prodigious lexical gifts. The ability to absorb language with such facility makes it more difficult to experience the world without irony to things like God or the sincerity required by a 12 step program.  Gately approaches the language of Alcoholics Anonymous with the sincerity the program demands and finds that it works despite moments of reservation. But even his attempts meet futility in the plot and this is why Mary K. Holland’s article, “The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, concludes that Wallace’s contention with irony is a failure as the characters are unable to escape their fates through sincerity just as the novel is unable to avoid using irony to such extremes. My disagreement with this conclusion is based in the fact that Wallace never completes the narrative with a clear denouement and resolution; he requires the reader to become an active participant to fill in the blanks left by clues in the novel’s main text as well as the notes and errata that complement it. This demand on the reader is to instigate an elevation of consciousness to the irony that ensnares the character and at times even the reader as many of the passages provide great entertainment value and can distract from the work the narrative ultimately demands.

To understand why the fracturing of narrative and inclusion of end notes is part of the reading experience I will discuss this as it relates to Roland Barthes’ S/Z: An Essay, as this book delineates how the “classic text” is delivered through the “naturalness” of language and chronology and how this mode of narrative helps perpetuate the imposition of code much like television is perpetuating homogenization of communication. It is the “naturalness” that gives the classic text its hypnotic capacity and Wallace’s disruption of the typical delivery of plot is designed to demand the reader examine the text as text. Wallace’s novel is replete with irony as well as an action oriented plot that at times creates moments of great tension only to disappoint the reader by delaying resolution by changing point of view or forcing the reader to look to the end notes that depict sub-plots and information not essential to the main narrative. This requirement of the reader to perform along with the text is astutely described in Frank Louis Cioffi’s article, “An Anguish Become Thing’: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Cioff’s treatment of the novel from the perspective of performance that requires reciprocating energy from the reader as a means to raise consciousness of irony’s situating the more horrific parts of the novel to unconscious consumption coincides with my assessment that irony accomplishes the same for sincerity.

In order to illustrate how Hal and Gately experience difficulty in experiencing and communicating sincerity I want to look first at language’s ability to construct a version of reality and then the viability of that construction to maintain sincerity through language. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus looks at language as essentially a “net” to throw on reality. Everything outside the parameters set by language is to “be passed over in silence” as Wittgenstein concludes the work. The language that constructs the realities for many of the characters to exist in is susceptible to ratiocination that gives life to the substances each character abuses. Gately’s sacrifice to a language not his own but that of the Alcoholics Anonymous requires a sacrifice of the will connected to possession of language. By submitting to the reality created by rules governing the 12 step program Gately finds an ability to sustain sobriety. It is also indicative of the power of interiorized language and technology has in creating the recursive loops experienced by individuals. By disassociating from the rhetoric of the interior and replacing it with that of a community more closely associated with oral culture there is potential to shedding the enclosure of addiction. Hal is unable to relinquish his possession of language and continues to consume and interiorize language until mired in solipsism. N. Katherine Hayles’ article, “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest” posits that the idea of an autonomous self is illusory and that belief in autonomy is a large part of recursive behavior. Gately’s sacrifice to the orally inclined culture is juxtaposed with Hal’s absorption of the secondary orality of the electronic age. I use secondary orality in the manner that Ong uses it, as it indicates an orality that stems from typographic culture and not pure like the oracular culture that existed before the advent of the phonetic alphabet. The reason Gately achieves greater success than Hal is his submission of self reverts to culture devoid of the interiorization of language while Hal’s loss of self is imposed by interiorization. Ultimately, Gately’s attempts fail as his sincere embracing of a language external to his notions of self is subject to the impacts of typography. This is not what I believe to be Wallace’s depiction of a hopeless situation but rather a reinforcement of the idea that interiorizing language and technology has durable impacts on human behavior.

Finally, I want to look at the potential for language to be communicated with discernible sincerity. I want to look at this through J.L. Austin’s theory of the speech act in his How to do Things with Words and Jacques Derrida’s assessment of this language philosophy in Limited, Inc. While Austin delineates the necessary components to constituting a convention that gives viability for a speaker to convey an action through language; he does admit that all conventions are liable to infelicity. Despite this he never let’s go of the assertion that sincerity is discernible through speech and this is the point of departure for Derrida as he asserts that sincerity, while not entirely lost, cannot be entirely conveyed with certainty as it contradicts the fundamentals of language that allow language to work. Hal complies with rules set forth by Schtitt and Gately does the same with the conventions as dictated by the 12 steps. Each finds an ability to find peace by acting in accordance with univocal language dictated by each environment. Derrida argues that this is what speech-acts require in order to attain legitimacy. The danger in univocal dictation of meaning is made apparent in “the entertainment” as it dictates the action of each viewer to absorb to the point of catatonia. If sincerity is only possible in the authoritative impositions of a single source than the only possible recourse for reconciling the individual with the global village is through homogenization. Wallace looks to raise awareness of the univocal impositions accomplished through the power of electronic mediums and the propagation of irony by disrupting text and using the plights of Gately and Hal as paradigms for what could potentially transpire if technology is absorbed much the way language after the phonetic alphabet was absorbed.

Annotated Bibliography

Austin, J.L. How to Do Things with Words. United States. Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Austin’s discussion of language and the need for it to be used seriously in order for it sustain meaning as a performative applies to Don Gately’s embracing of the language of Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite questioning the changes the language of the program has created in his life Gately continues to simply restore the behavior the language demands and he finds that just in performing the rituals that there can be a form of salvation even if he may not entirely believe in a tangible source of spirituality. Austin’s open criticism of his own assertions is evident as Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as the strategies imposed by Schtitt is subject to the idea of iterability and differance that Derrida argues are the fundamental properties that allow language to exist in the absence of its users. This tension becomes evident in Gately’s refusal any painkillers while recovering from serious injury in the hospital. These drugs are endorsed by doctors and even the other members of the program and Gately’s strict adherence to the accepted language is vulnerable to external forces.

Barthes, Roland. S/Z: An Essay. Trans. Richard Miller. United States: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1974. Print.

In treating the classic text as a perpetuating force of the “discourse” Barthes exemplifies the hypnotic ability of language allows for representation of verisimilitude that imposes cultural codes on readers. The discourse mimics the recursive nature of addiction as it presents a tension or “knot” that is merely solved. Wallace addresses this by fracturing the text and denying the reader of any clear denouement. By presenting information in “windows” (Barthes) Wallace creates a performative piece of fiction that requires work from the reader as opposed to allowing the discourse to perform the rote activities common to the classic text.

Cioffi, Frank Louis. “‘An Anguish Become Thing’: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Narrative 8.2 (2000): 161-81. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Cioffi deals specifically with the novel as a performance work and he discusses the use of end notes and fractured narrative through the lens of performance. He also treats the novel as a piece of horror. This is effective as the novel is dealing with addiction and the crux of addiction is its ability to defend against the abject parts of the self. By making the reader complicit the novel forces you to address the abject without the comforts of a typical narrative as well as drawing awareness to the ironic tone that delivers, at times, very horrific set pieces.

Derrida, Jacques. Limited, Inc. United States. Northwestern University Press, 1988. Print.

This is Derrida’s response to the idea of the speech-act and he questions the ability of language as something that can sustain discernible sincerity of the “inward spiritual act” (Austin) that precedes the external form to communicate it. So the question is how can one perform sincerely? As this pertains to the novel, the notion of language taken seriously still subjects even the most noble of attempts to the entropy of language as its own system distinct from the user. This is illustrated in Gately’s time in the hospital as well as Hal’s solipsistic descent. Hal absorbs so many potential ways to perform that he eventually becomes overwhelmed and unable to affect an operative social persona.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 30.3 (1999): 675-97. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Hayles connects Infinite Jest with simulated communities or “ecologies” to dissolve the notion of autonomy. By dismissing the idea of an independent self Hayles limits the individual as merely a component of a larger whole. This is similar to the existences depicted by Ong and McCluhan as specific to non-literate communities. It supplements my argument in that believe the notion is the effect of interiorized language associated with literacy and that recursive behavior is a direct result of the impact of language following its absorption by humanity.

Holland, Mary K. “‘The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006): 218-42. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

This article deals with Wallace’s antagonism towards irony and how, she believes, he ultimately fails. I contend that the failure of the characters in the novel is necessary for the raising of consciousness of the reader.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy. Canada. University of Toronto Press. 1962. Print.

McCluhan offers a genealogy of medium beginning with advent of the phonetic alphabet through typography and up to the current state of the electronic age. He avers to the importance of awareness regarding new technology as he believes the culture that remains as a result of typography is not ready for the tribalizing effects consequent of the secondary orality produced through radio and television.

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy (New Accents). New York: Routledge. 2002. Print.

Ong offers valuable juxtaposition of non-literate and literate culture and this text is supplemental to McCluhan’s work.

Plato. Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper. United States: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1997. 506-556. Print.

Plato’s worries mirror Wallace’s in that the advent of new technology is dramatically changing the way humans will function. His alarm at rhetoric, which is a byproduct of the alphabet, is the same as Wallace’s alarm regarding “the entertainment” and how the new medium is affecting human behavior.

Wallace, David Foster. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. New York, NY. Back Bay Books/ Little, Brown and Company, 1998. Print.

This collection of essays includes Wallace’s examination of television and how the technology has helped to institutionalize irony as in the essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” It is the combination of the power of medium and the unconsciousness of viewers that create the new tone of everyday communication and it is this institutionalization that in part obstructs the ability for the characters of the novel to embrace sincerity.

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York, NY. Little Brown. 1996. Print.

This is the source text.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. United States: Seven  Treasures Publications, 2009. Print.

This text helps show how language constructs reality. Reality in a language under the illusion of autonomy is the cause of the recursive behavior addling the characters of the novel and it is the submission of a reality created by the language of a community larger than the self that offers solace to some of the characters, specifically Don Gately.

A Prospectus for the rest of us

November 22nd, 2010

The question I want to explore is can the sincere use of language be a source of absolution against the evolved forms of spectacle in Infinite Jest? Spectacle’s genealogy can be traced back to the advent of the alphabet and Wallace creates the fictional terminus of this progression in “the entertainment.” Because spectacle is like anything else and is subject to the Darwinist property that to survive an entity must be capable of change, there is perhaps little humanity can do to stall its amplification but there can still be ways to manipulate the space dominated by spectacle. This evolution is marked by the hegemony of spectacle and its absorption of irony. Irony was initially a source of liberation but its institutionalization has made it reflexive instead of a part of conscious rebellion. What I think Wallace proposes through the protagonists and the structure of the novel is that there needs to be an initial alienation from the immersion in addictive behavior in order to gain an ability to determine how an individual can choose a language to embrace with sincerity. The novel does not propose this with any didactic ism as the end of the novel is foreboding in that even with sincere treatment of language to substantiate a more authentic self the individual and his chosen language is ultimately subject to the greater context of the hegemony of spectacle.

Much of the criticism on the novel deals with post modern self-hood, irony, and language but typically the criticism will only deal specifically with one aspect while discussing the other two tangentially. I feel that these are mutually responsible for providing the novel with its source of conflict or as some have said, it’s “macguffin,” but “the entertainment” is not merely an emetic to deliver plot but the concrete manifestation of what is already plaguing the multitude of characters in speciously unique ways. This is what, I believe, Wallace is using to show the potential end of the spectacle’s growth from language to entertainment. The advent of the alphabet helped create the abstract thought necessary to become aware of the “self” and this evolved to a source of pure entertainment in the novel to ease the rigors of having a self. But technology is always of a neutral charge. Despite the change initiated by technological advancement humans are left with the residue of past experience and Wallace looks to the embracing of things like community and sincerity, specifically regarding language, as a potential source of absolution.

Bibliographical Essay

I want to discuss the novel on three levels and then show how those feed each other in their own continuum. The first level is what it is that constitutes an authentic self in relation to the expanding technology. Victor Turner discusses this in his book From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play by examining the ways social drama and stage drama feed each other subliminally and then is reproduced overtly. Turner’s analysis stems from the work of Richard Schechner in his book Between Theater & Anthropology. Shechner delivers cross cultural examinations of how the rituals of communities manifest into works on the stage. Wallace disrupts the text and forces the alienation necessary to force the reader to be aware of the text as a performance. The novel looks at Americans of varying culture and class and then represents the different ways addiction is performed. He is able to accomplish this by disrupting the traditional narrative format associated with strict literary realism. Roland Barthes’ S/Z: An Essay discusses the illusion of verisimilitude in the “classic text” and these works merely perpetuate the discourse of signs and symbols without ever questioning the validity of this cultural propagation into a “replication of bodies.” By subverting the “naturalness” (Barthes) of the discourse the novel takes on a performative texture that draws attention to itself as text and takes the risk of alienating the reader. But this alienation is integral to the work as it forces the reader to perform and become complicit in the formation of the narrative. Frank Louis Cioffi looks at the novel through a performative lens in his criticism, “ An Anguish Become Thing’: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Cioffi’s view is that the novel forces the reader to confront the horror of the abject by stripping the reader of the comforts of typical narrative.

The technological sources that change human behavior is the second area I will discuss. I want to illustrate that the portents surrounding technological evolution began with Plato in the “Phaedo” and this has evolved into the same foreboding surrounding “the entertainment” in the novel. The film cartridge at the center of the plot is a form of spectacle and it this spectacle the Wallace posits could be the terminus of language and essentially the final closing off of the self to community. Walter Ong’s book Orality and Literacy and its examination of how language altered human behavior as human’s “interiorized” language which led to the notions of abstract self-hood. To discuss the existence of spectacle in the post modern world I will look at it through Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, and Marshal McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy. Debord discusses spectacle in an almost apocalyptic sense and is an amplified version of the “Phaedo.”

Baudrillard’s looks at the “simulacrum” as “the copy without an original” and this is pertinent to the discussion of “the entertainment,” and it’s ability to close off the self to all else. What is interesting about the ability of this film cartridge in the novel is that is capable of this no matter the individual that views it which alludes to N. Katherine Hayle’s assertion of the “autonomous self” as merely illusory in her article, “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest.” Her treatment of how ecologies are essentially uninterested in people as individual’s but do in fact depend on the “illusion of self” as a means to adapt and expand correlates with McLuhan’s assertion that the content in a given medium is not as important as the medium itself.

The power of “ecology” or spectacle is essentially the power of hegemony in general. Wallace’s essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” comments on the power of the medium to institutionalize even irony on a mass level which consequently helps amplify the hold of hegemony. Iannis Goertlandt in his article, “ Put the Book Down and Slowly Walk Away’: Irony and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” discusses Wallace’s issue with irony has landed and how this has become a problem regarding where to go with the newly adjusted discourse. Mary K. Holland’s article, “The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” proposes that Wallace’s attempt to confront the issue with irony was ultimately a failure. I disagree with this conclusion as what Holland’s perceives as failure is merely a question Wallace is leaving unanswered because he just may not have one. This is precisely the point of a text meant to disrupt the discourse and its audience as to simply offer something as neat as an answer is futile as this answer will ultimately find the same fate as irony.

The final manner is to look at how the character’s can potentially cope with the difficulties of an evolving hegemonic force and a dissolving sense of self. In the novel, Don Gately is able to approach self- validation by submission to the sincere use of language of Alcoholics Anonymous. The clearly defined parameters are created by an absence of irony and the ability for Gately to manipulate the space between the limits of the language is made manageable. This is equivalent to Hal Incandenza’s ability to manipulate the space of a tennis court as the limits are clearly defined and within them there can be an absence of self that allows for successful performance. Turner discusses this also in terms of “flow,” or in other words the ability of an individual to move from an encumbered self to a person absent of self in moments of nirvana. This is articulated in one of the endnotes of the novel where Hal is on the phone with his brother Orin and complains that his “zone” of clipping toenails into a waste basket is plagued by the need to speak, or perform as “Hal” on the phone with his brother. To be a “Hal” is to be encumbered with the doubts the self carries. I want to show how to gain an absence of an encumbering self is accessible through sincere language. For this I will use Ludwig Wittgenstein’s The Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus and J.L. Austin’s How to do Things with Words. Wittgenstein’s treatment of how language’s messiness limits ability to represent communication to its greatest potential along with Austin’s idea of the speech-act and how sincere use of the language allows a statement to become performative as opposed to simply constative. The ultimate problem the novel leaves unsolved is what happens when the sincerely embraced language is subject to greater context of language as a whole. For this I will use Jacques Derrida’s opposition to the notion of the speech-act in Limited, Inc. Derrida questions Austin’s distinction between sincerely used and insincerely used as language is ultimately closed and only able to refer to itself. Austin actually proposes similar arguments in his own work but never concedes that there can be a distinction made. Derrida’s argument works with Turner’s and Schechner’s assertions that human behavior is always, at least on some level, performative. The title of the novel is from Hamlet and referential in itself. The irony of the title is sadly unavoidable as being that there is no such thing as infinity; the jest ends with the death of all of those that witness the cartridge. And this possibility is a hypothesis for how the self will finally close.

Annotated Bibliography

Austin, J.L. How to Do Things with Words. United States. Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Austin’s discussion of language and the need for it to be used seriously in order for it sustain meaning as a performative applies to Don Gately’s embracing of the language of Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite questioning the changes the language of the program has created in his life Gately continues to simply restore the behavior the language demands and he finds that just in performing the rituals that there can be a form of salvation even if he may not entirely believe in a tangible source of spirituality. Austin’s open criticism of his own assertions is evident as Alcoholics Anonymous, like any other system, is not closed and its rules are subject to the larger tyrannies of circumstance and hegemony. This tension becomes evident in Gately’s refusal any painkillers while recovering from serious injury in the hospital. These drugs are endorsed by doctors and even the other members of the program and Gately’s strict adherence to the accepted language is vulnerable to external forces.

Barthes, Roland. S/Z: An Essay. Trans. Richard Miller. United States: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1974. Print.

In treating the classic text as simple a perpetuating force of the “discourse” Barthes exemplifies the messiness of reading and how being unaware of the plurality of text in its representation of verisimilitude is the very source of the “emetic” as Barthes calls it. The naturalness of language is its greatest lie. The discourse mimics the recursive nature of addiction as it presents a tension or “knot” that is merely solved. Wallace addresses this by fracturing the text and denying the reader of any clear denouement. By presenting information in “windows” (Barthes) Wallace creates a performative piece of fiction that requires a lot work from the reader as opposed to allowing the discourse to perform the rote activities that it necessitates.

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. Sheila Faria Glaser. Ann Arbor, Michigan. The University of Michigan Press. 1994. Print.

Baudrillard’s discussion of the simulacra as “a copy without an original” discusses spectacle as ultimately hollow and responsible for hollowing out the authenticity of self with the “replication of bodies” as Barthes would put it. This is pertinent to the discussion of the novel’s “entertainment” and how that will finally homogenize the self by rendering dissolving the individual as merely a part of mass consumption.

Cioffi, Frank Louis. “‘An Anguish Become Thing’: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Narrative 8.2 (2000): 161-81. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Cioffi deals specifically with the novel as a performance work and he discusses the use of end notes and fractured narrative through the lens of performance. He also treats as a piece of horror. This is effective as the novel is dealing with addiction and the crux of addiction is its ability to defend against the abject parts of the self. By making the reader complicit the novel forces you to address the abject without the comforts of a typical narrative. Cioffi also comments on the fact that novel is extremely entertaining at times and becomes a source of a kind of readerly “fix” to keep the attention of repeatedly alienated audience.

Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit, Michigan. Black and Red, 1983. Print.

Debord treats spectacle as the source of the capitalist trap in the apocalyptic tone prevalent to the hazardous hypothesis proffered by the novel. He discusses from it as a self-evolving entity that constantly reconstitutes itself to maintain its power. This is useful in discussing how hegemony absorbed irony through television.

Derrida, Jacques. Limited, Inc. United States. Northwestern University Press, 1988. Print.

This is Derrida’s response to the idea of the speech-act and he questions the ability of language as something that can ever really transcend pretend into the realm of the serious. As it is iterable it inevitably is a reproduction which makes it on some level always performative. So the question is how can one perform sincerely? And if you can’t then there can never be something as simple as a “speech-act.” As this pertains to the novel, the notion of language taken seriously still subjects even the most noble of attempts to the entropy of language as its own system distinct from the user. This is illustrated in Gately’s time in the hospital as well as Hal’s solipsistic descent. Hal absorbs so many potential ways to perform that he eventually becomes overwhelmed and unable to affect an operative social persona.

Goerlandt, Iannis. “‘Put the Book Down and Slowly Walk Away’: Irony and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006): 309-28. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Irony is a dilemma for Wallace as it is a major tool in his major literary influences but has lost its meaning in its saturated use. Goerlandt examines this use and looks to Infinite Jest as perhaps offering a new version of irony. Its incessant questioning of irony in (ironically enough) incredibly ironic prose is the source of the question as to where to go with the newly adjusted discourse. The articles involvement with how irony’s iterability reinforces Derrida’s idea that language is always somewhat performative. Goerlandt’s addressing of the notion of power the ironist claims to hold over those immersed in what is being viewed is pertinent in that this power is now defunct as irony is merely part of the growing discourse.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 30.3 (1999): 675-97. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Hayles connects Infinite Jest with simulated communities or “ecologies” to dissolve the notion of autonomy. By dismissing the idea of an independent self Hayles limits the individual as merely a component of a larger whole. If this is the case the only thing for the individual to do so as not to be left behind by a steadily advancing amplification, which Hayles discusses in the context of a swelling right triangle, the individual must find the means to perform and restore the appropriate behaviors. I want to show that this is done with a choice of language and establishing a sense of concrete rules to operate under or as concrete as one can get.

Holland, Mary K. “‘The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006): 218-42. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

This article also deals with Wallace’s fight with irony and how he ultimately fails. As I begin my argument I also believe that the choice of language to operate is inevitably vulnerable to the impositions of external forces.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy. Canada. University of Toronto Press. 1962. Print.

McLuhan’s examination of culture as a result of literacy and print supplements the Ong text. He is more combative than Ong and asserts that the medium’s technology offers for communication have supplanted the message it was designed to carry. He finds the content to be arbitrary and that advancement of something like television would have retained its cultural impact regardless of the images it carried. He later summarized this with the pithy “the medium is massage.” As “the entertainment” in the novel is the end of this progression, McLuhan’s exploration of the culture that could theoretically provide the opportunity for this kind of advancement is essential to understanding the novel.

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy (New Accents). New York: Routledge. 2002. Print.

Technology’s impact on humanity begins with the advent of the alphabet according to Ong and this is only the beginning as each technological advance changes the way we communicate and ultimately how humans absorb these evolutions and change accordingly to continue to remain a viable part of the world. Wallace’s idea of “the entertainment” is only the newest form of what began with the alphabet and the impact of this in the novel terminal.

Plato. Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper. United States: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1997. 49-101. Print.

Plato’s worries mirror Wallace’s in that the advent of new technology is dramatically changing the way humans will forever function. His alarm at rhetoric, which is a byproduct of the alphabet, is the same as Wallace’s alarm regarding “the entertainment” and how the new medium is affecting human behavior.

Schechner, Richard. Between Theater & Anthropology. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985. Print.

Schechner has a particularly helpful diagram which appropriately enough is the same as the sign for infinity. He discusses how things are feeding each other in an endless continuum and how this results in behavior that is unconsciously performative. As this regards to the novel it becomes imperative for the “reader” to become conscious of this unconscious performance so as to disassociate and then examine the available options. By examining the limits represented in the different languages of different systems an individual can potentially manage the disorder of a world with infinite forms of information.

Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. Village Station, New York. PAJ Publications, 1982. Print.

Turner’s work is closely related to Schechner’s but his book deals specifically how ritual seeps into the performance of the everyday. In analyzing the benefits of 12 step programs the correlation between ritual and the everyday is integral. Gately’s ability to transfer the ritual of his community to the everyday is what makes the everyday manageable and this is Hal’s failing as he is unable to take what makes him so prodigious as a tennis player into external communities.

Wallace, David Foster. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. New York, NY. Back Bay Books/ Little, Brown and Company, 1998. Print.

This collection of essays includes Wallace’s examination of television and how the technology has helped to institutionalize irony as well as proffer the examples of accepted versions of the self in the essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” By showing how technology absorbed the rebellion of irony by creating a discourse where the accepted codes of the discourse now also exhibited a self-awareness the article (written 6 years before the publication of Infinite Jest) forms the dilemma governing the characters of the novel. The characters are unable to reconcile the performative self with the private self as they seem to be the same thing. To be able to read this as the issue can give the individual a chance at choosing an identity that offers the greatest chance at operating the chaos.

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York, NY. Little Brown. 1996. Print.

This is the source text that will be examined for its hypothesis of the literate self could presumably close.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. United States: Seven    Treasures Publications, 2009. Print.

The problems of language and how it creates its own confusion are directly confronted by Wittgenstein as he proposes a manner in which the language can be produced to a logic that is capable of clearer communication. Gately finds this in AA and Hal finds this in tennis but this is not capable of any ultimate absolution as it is subject to a greater context as Derrida would argue.

Annotated Bibliography

November 14th, 2010

Continuing in the post modern tradition Wallace’s Infinite Jest examines the world as place saturated with information and how this wealth of information is paradoxically meaningless or ironic. This is not new ground as John Barth and Thomas Pynchon among others have done myriad explorations of the conditions of the post modern world. How Wallace differs from the ironic simulations of worlds predicated on systems and hegemony is question the use of the irony typically used to illustrate the era’s disorder as irony has been absorbed by the discourse as Barthes refers to it. So the problem set forth is that as irony has been absorbed and institutionalized (Wallace) it simply becomes another way to restore behavior and part of the ways for a human to perform. I hope to show how Infinite Jest develops this problem as a problem of “reading” and “performing,” specifically in the context of how technological advancement changes how we read and how we exude the interpretations of what we read. Language as performative requires the individual or reader of the world to interpret and restore behavior most beneficial to that person. The dilemma is that as technology grows and offers a variety of ways to manifest addiction it blurs the lines of what to read and how to read it and creates a confusion for the reader by this duplicitous and ultimately specious variety. To combat this recursive behavior a person must sacrifice himself to a language that is “serious” and offers tangible parameters for that person to “perform.” Within these rules the disorder of information can be managed without recourse to addiction. What Wallace, much like Plato in the “Phaedo”, eventually posits in his inconclusive narrative is that technological advancement is going to change the things about us that are what we believe make us most human.

Austin, J.L. How to Do Things with Words. United States. Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Austin’s discussion of language and the need for it be used seriously in order for it sustain meaning as a performative applies to Don Gately’s embracing of the language of Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite questioning the changes the language of the program has created in his life Gately continues to simply restore the behavior the language demands and he finds that just in performing the rituals that there can be a form of salvation even if he may not entirely believe in a tangible source of spirituality. Austin’s open criticism of his own assertions is evident as Alcoholics Anonymous, like any other system, is not closed and it’s rules are subject to the larger tyrannies of circumstance and hegemony. This tension becomes evident in Gately’s refusal any painkillers while recovering from serious injury in the hospital. These drugs are endorsed by doctors and even the other members of the program and Gately’s strict adherence to the accepted language is vulnerable to external forces.

Barthes, Roland. S/Z: An Essay. Trans. Richard Miller. United States: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 974. Print.

In treating the classic text as simple a perpetuating force of the “discourse” Barthes exemplifies the messiness of reading and how being unaware of the plurality of text in its representation of verisimilitude is the very source of the “emetic” as Barthes calls it. The naturalness of language is it’s greatest lie. The discourse mimics the recursive nature of addiction as it presents a tension or “knot” that is merely solved. Wallace addresses this by fracturing the text and denying the reader of any clear denouement. By presenting information in “windows” (Barthes) Wallace creates a performative piece of fiction that requires a lot work from the reader as opposed to allowing the discourse to perform the rote activities that it necessitates.

Cioffi, Frank Louis. “‘An Anguish Become Thing’: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Narrative 8.2 (2000): 161-81. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Cioffi deals specifically with the novel as a performance work and discusses the use of end notes and fractured narrative through the lens of performance. He also treats as a piece of horror. This is effective as the novel is dealing with addiction and the crux of addiction is its ability to defend against the abject parts of the self. By making the reader complicit the novel forces you to address the abject without the comforts of a typical narrative.

Derrida, Jacques. Limited, Inc. United States. Northwestern University Press, 1988. Print.

This is Derrida’s response to the idea of the speech-act and he questions the ability of language as something that can ever really transcend pretend into the realm of the serious. As it is iterable it inevitably is a reproduction which makes it on some level always performative. So the question is how can one perform sincerely? And if you can’t then there can never be something as simple as a “speech-act.” As this pertains to the novel, the notion of language taken seriously still subjects even the most noble of attempts to the entropy of language as its own system distinct from the user. This is illustrated in Gately’s time in the hospital as well as Hal’s solipsistic descent. Hal absorbs so many potential ways to perform that he eventually becomes overwhelmed and unable to affect an operative social persona.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Mansfield Centre, CT. Martino Publishing, 2010. Print.

Freud deals with the psychology that Barthes references in his approach to the classic text. The illustration of the cyclic behavior of appeasing new tensions is represented by Wallace in a plethora of manifestations. Wallace hopes that through variegated representation the notion of addiction is not relegated to merely drugs and alcohol but that is an intrinsic part of human behavior.

Goerlandt, Iannis. “‘Put the Book Down and Slowly Walk Away’: Irony and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006): 309-28. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Irony is a dilemma for Wallace as it is a major tool in his major literary influences but has lost its meaning in its saturated use. Goerlandt examines this use and looks to Infinite Jest as perhaps offering a new version of irony. It’s incessant questioning of irony in (ironically enough) incredibly ironic prose is the source of the question as to where to go with the newly adjusted discourse. The articles involvement with how irony’s iterability reinforces Derrida’s idea that language is always somewhat performative. Goerlandt’s addressing of the notion of power the ironist claims to hold over those immersed in what is being viewed is pertinent in that this power is now defunct as irony is merely part of the growing discourse.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 30.3 (1999): 675-97. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

Hayles connects Infinite Jest with simulated communities or “ecologies” to dissolve the notion of autonomy. By dismissing the idea of an independent self Hayles limits the individual as merely a component of a larger whole. If this is the case the only thing for the individual to do so as not to be left behind by an steadily advancing amplification, which Hayles discusses in the context of a swelling right triangle, the individual must find the means to perform and restore the appropriate behaviors. I want to show that this is done with a choice of language and establishing a sense of concrete rules to operate under or as concrete as one can get.

Holland, Mary K. “‘The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006): 218-42. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Nov. 2010.

This article also deals with Wallace’s fight with irony and how he ultimately fails. As I begin my argument I also believe that the choice of language to operate is inevitably vulnerable to the impositions of external forces.

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy (New Accents). New York: Routledge. 2002. Print.

Technology’s impact on humanity begins with the advent of the alphabet according to Ong and this is only the beginning as each technological advance changes the way we communicate and ultimately how humans absorb these evolutions and change accordingly to continue to remain a viable part of the world. Wallace’s idea of “the entertainment” is only the newest form of what began with the alphabet and the impact of this in the novel terminal.

Plato. Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper. United States: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1997. 49-101. Print.

Plato’s worries mirror Wallace’s in that the advent of new technology is dramatically changing the way humans will forever function. His alarm at rhetoric, which is a byproduct of the alphabet, is the same as Wallace’s alarm regarding “the entertainment” and how the new medium is affecting human behavior.

Schechner, Richard. Between Theater & Anthropology. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985. Print.

Schechner has a particularly helpful diagram which appropriately enough is the same as the sign for infinity. He discusses how things are feeding each other in an endless continuum and how this results in behavior that is unconsciously performative. As this regards to the novel it becomes imperative for the “reader” to become conscious of this unconscious performance so as to dissassociate and then examine the available options. By examining the limits represented in the different languages of different systems an individual can potentially manage the disorder of a world with infinite forms of information.

Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. Village Station, New York. PAJ Publications, 1982. Print.

Turner’s work is closely related to Schechner’s but his book deals specifically how ritual seeps into the performance of the everyday. In analyzing the benefits of 12 step programs the correlation between ritual and the everyday is integral. Gately’s ability to transfer the ritual of his community to the everyday is what makes the everyday manageable and this is Hal’s failing as he is unable to take what makes him so prodigious as a tennis player into external communities.

Wallace, David Foster. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. New York, NY. Back Bay Books/ Little, Brown and Company, 1998. Print.

This collection of essays includes Wallace’s examination of television and how the technology has helped to institutionalize irony as well as proffer the examples of accepted versions of the self in the essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” By showing how technology absorbed the rebellion of irony by creating a discourse where the accepted codes of the discourse now also exhibited a self-awareness the article (written 6 years before the publication of Infinite Jest) forms the dilemma governing the characters of the novel. The characters are unable to reconcile the performative self with the private self as they seem to be the same thing. To be able to read this as the issue can give the individual a chance at choosing an identity that offers the greatest chance at operating the chaos.

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York, NY. Little Brown. 1996. Print.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. United States: Seven    Treasures Publications, 2009. Print.

The problems of language and how it creates its own confusion are directly confronted by Wittgenstein as he proposes a manner in which the language can be produced to a logic that is capable of clearer communication. Gately finds this in AA and Hal finds this in tennis but this is not capable of any ultimate absolution as it is subject to a greater context as Derrida would argue.

Bibliographical Essay First Draft

October 31st, 2010

Because Infinite Jest is contemporary there is a reasonable amount of criticism to sift through as opposed to something regarding James Joyce so finding a common thread in the “conversation” hasn’t been too arduous. The novel’s theme in the high school sense of the word is about addiction and the criticism really can’t avoid this as the concept of recursive behavior manifests itself in myriad ways. The question or dilemma the novel investigates is how to achieve an awareness of the self in its consumptive state and after achieving awareness how to then rectify the cycle of destructive indulgence. The idea of self possession as opposed to being possessed by the self is never completely answered and it seems to indicate that the notion of autonomy is an “illusion”(Hayles). This illusion is perpetuated by language and it’s “naturalness” as well as the discourse’s structural “narrativity” (Barthes) but this only perpetuates a false autonomy as opposed eradicating the notion itself. What I hope to show is how Wallace proposes that our autonomy is viable through choosing a language that offers the determinate limits that can afford the signifier an ability to communicate with greater ease. The initial alienation required to gain consciousness of systems of language must be followed by a choice of language or system that provides the greatest efficacy. By choosing limits and rendering certain things to “nonsense” (Wittgenstein) a person has effectively chosen the terminus of what will eventually become his chosen compulsions. Essentially you must choose your addictions wisely.

Roland Barthes and S/Z is essential as it questions the “naturalness” of language and how that perpetuates an ultimately false reality. Wallace’s disruption of narratives and dismissal of tying the “knot” with a conventional denouement is how he creates a performative text as Frank Louis Cioffi discusses in his article “An Anguish Becomes a Thing: Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Alienating the reader is the job of the book to help the reader gain an autonomy from text or in this case narrative. The reader must perform as the author isn’t providing the typical structure that is typically devoured. By creating “windows” to enter the text from at any point it offers the freedom to create an independent plurality and without the specious hierarchy traditional literary realism perpetuates. J.L. Austin’s How to do Things with Words is also prevalent (used by Cioffi as well) as Wallace’s disruption of convention makes the “speech act” harder to complete because the rules are disorderly. The reader is no longer able to perform “felicitously” and this dissolution of literary convention can liberate a reader but not necessarily satisfy one.

Now that the reader is situated at an alienated distance he must find order in the presented windows. This is where Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractacus Logico-Philosophicus and his discussion of language and the limits it sets on reality would come in I suppose. By throwing a chosen “mesh” on a reality the reality becomes limited or manageable. Even the concept of “mesh” implies language gives reality windows to perceive. Success of the autonomous self is contingent on recognition of linguistic convention and the potential to exist adequately with the compulsions the language will then create. To choose a language is to be absorbed by it as a limit of the language inherently changing the limits of the language. The ability to make this choice is the quibble with Hayles article “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and “Infinite Jest.” While recursivity is perhaps inevitable it does not diminish the ability to become aware and to then choose. Granted you could argue that in and of itself is its own compulsion of greater system that is simply beyond the greatest of human acuity but then what’s the point so I’ll to go with that my free will is available to me because the future is unknown (Wittgenstein).

Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy is illuminating for Hal Incandenza particularly. Hyper literate and inherently disorderly, Hal’s solipsistic descent juxtaposed with Don Gately’s impending liberation can be directly attributed to the interiorizing of language that Ong discusses as an effect corollary with the shift from oral based cultures to those literate culture. Hal’s lexical density creates confusion as it muddles the limits and create a disorder that is only mollified with clandestine addictive indulgences. Because Hal is saturated with codes and language he is rendered as nonsense to the convention that created the nonsense. Gately’s absolution is his ingratiation to the oral culture of Ennet House where the rules (he himself helps to construct some of these rules) are clearly defined and the system is closed to help render the abuse of substance as “nonsense.” In an ironic twist some of the members of the house are mandated to be there but they typically subvert the “seriousness” (Austin) of the conventions rendering their participation “infelicitous” (Austin).

As I continue to read sources external to Infinite Jest my ideas change and the books I’d like to include continue to change as well. Interpretation is a hard thing to fix and my initial annotated bibliography is probably going to look much different. I’m aware that this is missing any real in depth involvement with articles of criticism but I’ve been working from the broader theoretical works and am hesitant to select as I’m still unsure as to what I want to argue and who the argument should be with. The irony of this is that reading a lot of different things can muddle what I would want to propose. So my concern isn’t so much voice but having something to voice so the words don’t fall hollow. Once something has been hammered out in my head the voice should take care of itself. But its been kinda interesting so far. (This is compelled by the blog and the idea of “first draft” and obviously not going to be part of a “final” prospectus).

Wait you found it – nah – good try – but wait already go

October 24th, 2010

Voice is a funny thing to locate specifically because I’m in the middle of reading some Derrida.  Ideally voice indicates a possession of the language used.  This is MY voice.  As in not that guy’s even if some of the language being used was used originally by that guy by mine is mine and that’s that.  But I’m going to assume a nihilistic protest of  language and the horrific rigidity the artifice of phonemes and syntax and whatever I’m bored with this sentence.  So anyway as a method to find voice I generally look for the biggest clue of authorial identity language does perpetuate and this is the lovely pronoun “I” which granted is no longer “I” but close enough.  (Brief confession:  this is my first semester as a grad school student which was entered through the backdoor of non-matriculation due to some suspect undergrad work so there is a bit of worry on my part that perhaps I misread a lot of things and then consequently the things I write are essentially bullshit so this is a parenthetical “my bad”).  So here it goes anyway, the search for voice doomed to failure, I think.

Article 1 was written by Frank Louis Cioffi and it was also titled by the way.  In case you’re curious the title is “An Anguish Become Thing” : Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  It was published in the Ohio State University Press and it was also quite useful regarding this assignment.  The author’s (as well as the next and I think its probably a recurring theme and also very probably why it was one of the professor’s instructions for the previous assignment as sitting down to write is a real pain in the ass and if one decides to do so it would probably help if you the one in question gave a shit about what one was writing)  voice is most apparent when he deviates from the performance of objective interaction with the text in question and the supplemental interpretative texts and takes a second to let the audience to know why it is he decided to pursue the idea with such an aggressive fervor:

“This is precisely the response I had to Infinite Jest: it haunted me for days, its images invaded or prevented me sleep, and I at once tried not think about it and then found myself referring to various passages either in the text itself or in my recollection of it.” (163).

I suppose the attraction of voice lies in its ability to attract people of like minded curiosity or even to create an exceptionally gravitational piece of phonemes so as to get people previously disinterested to stop and reflect on the potential of the article to illuminate.  For me in the most personal of instances I find that voice and its consequential production of pathos is what draws me to a text.  Upon opening a serious publication and reading an article by a professor who has read a bunch of things and knows a bunch of stuff the credibility is axiomatic.  The variant is the attachment.  As in why would a person of such self-evident credibility gravitate towards a work and how does this instance of relation to a text create a unique piece of interpretation to add to the proverbial “conversation.”  This is not to say that articles should not be perused with critical objectivity that looks to dissect an argument so as to offer a version of plural interpretation to exist in relation to an initially presented argument.  But this personal preoccupation (which kind of jives with the article in question (paradox never ends in this interpretative business)) does create the communal appeal of which conversation is an integral component.  Which brings me to a portion of voicy contribution from the second article which is by the way written by N. Katherine Hayles for the publication New Literary History and also by the way titled “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and “Infinite Jest:.”’”

“My intent in making these arguments is not to downplay the importance of the natural world or the complexities of our interactions with it.  On the contrary, I hope to show the valuing autonomy without attending to recursivity leads to destructive behaviors that are unlikely to change unless we are willing to rethink what it means to be a subject in the contemporary world” (678).

This “on the contrary” and “intent”  and  “downplay” and “hope” (for me anyway) show an appeal by the author to an audience of a shared experience that this article is like way serious and carries a magnitude of seriousness that the potential audience will most likely share.  With hope this blog has been written on task.  Perhaps this is not an exhaustive Roland Barthey examination of voice (which is paradoxical my bad, Barthes killed the guy that made the voice so it just never ends) but I guess my point is voice comes from giving a shit.  And these people seem to and show as much with the urgency and enthusiasm of their prose.  For me I think voice will sort itself out because in the end you’ll find that you just end up being yourself (even in the closed off no longer there but the producer of what’s there even though there is no a priori way back to never mind).

Some questions yo

October 17th, 2010

How does community foster individuality or potentially undermine the idea of the self?

Is the idea of the autonomous self true? Is the idea actually just a byproduct of literacy?

Do the linguistic limits of communities, specifically support groups, provide a greater independence than an existence without any rules or constructions?

Does tangible freedom actually require a submission of self? Is this freedom gained through linguistic sacrifice?

Are words private? Is the idea of private language possible? If language is privatized does the created isolation equal freedom? Is liberation simply a different prison? Is autonomy essentially a choice of language and convention and operation within those specific rules?

These are my angsty teen questions. I knew I wanted to do something with Infinite Jest if for nothing else than the fact that I find the book to be just plain super. Anyway I’ve read the Tractatus and Orality and Literacy and these books have kind of guided the initial questions along with an identity crisis fit for Sammy Beckett. Ong talks a lot about literacy’s impact on creating the idea of the self and how that shift occurred in relation to communities structured around orality and formula. These formulas dictated limits for speech in performances of epic poems (The Iliad etc.) where language was manipulated in various ways between basically a few walls. With the inception the alphabet and literacy language was capable of abstraction as opposed to the totalizing instincts of the pristinely oral community member. This allowed for seemingly endless self reflection as language interiorized in the brain. Obviously any form of language, oral or literate, will have its limits but language derived from an alphabet has much more ambiguous ends that vary from person to person, I think, so far. As far as Mr. Wiggy goes he talks about cleaning up the messiness of language to properly elucidate. I think this is more likely to occur in communities where convention is agreed upon and creates an environment in which an individual can operate under fixed limits.

As to where I’m going is a fun question to entertain in general but for the sake of an audience not comprised of nosy distant relatives I’ll restrict it the potential paper in question. What I’d like to show is how limiting language creates a convention where privatizing language becomes another kind of prison. To exercise something close to autonomy is to choose the convention in which to operate. This also means choosing a language in which to think with. Don Gately is able to escape the limits of self hood and solipsistic indulgence in drug abuse by choosing a system that can give him fixed variables to govern his choices by relegating the abuse of drugs as “nonsense” or as something outside the selected system. Hal Incandenza’s descent into solipsism is predicated on an inability to find a place to situate himself communally and the involutions of self hood entrap him. The exception is in his ability to still play incredibly high level tennis as his body is able to communicate in a system of fixed limits whereas his individuality is alienated by his privatized language. This is what I’m running with for the time being until someone else points out (ie Professor, classmate, yet to be read source material etc.) tells me hold on a second this whole thing seems quite silly.

Annotated Bibliography

October 3rd, 2010

I was going to wait for Dionysian inspiration for a thesis but I’m paying for these credits and the bursar’s office seems unwilling to negotiate so I guess I’ll have to get to it. I’ve had only brief encounters with literary theory and because of this I wanted to start with broader and more seminal works, regarding deconstruction specifically, as the hazy incipience of my slowly forming thesis seems to have it’s roots in this particular literary theory. It also seems futile to start specific as definition is this pursuit of precision through subtraction, or I guess like Platonic distance. So far I’d like to do something involving David Foster Wallace’s use of polarized diction in Infinite Jest, specifically in the narrative involving Don Gately. Told in 3rd person omniscient by a very intrusive author with a domineering style, Wallace narrates with a violent register ranging from the very colloquial to the incredibly esoteric. Gately, in the vein of Huck Finn, is a character of minimal literacy that doesn’t preclude him from moral abstraction and internal conflict, the kind of dilemmas reserved for the “self-actualized” or more competently literate characters. Gately’s ability to draw personal enlightenment through cliche (cliché as the decline of the proverbial mode of didacticism in oral cultures) throughout the novel move in an opposing vector to Hal Incandenza’s convolution of self despite a superior literacy. This is all getting tossed around and I’m not sure what it will ultimately look like in regards to a nice, succinct little sentence with a point of clarity and much of that could depend on the exterior sources I read and how that could cause my presuppositions to alter from what I think is a slowly narrowing point of focus. Regardless, this is the general area where I’d like to start from and we’ll see how progresses.

Concerning the selection of the works I had a little help with the orality/literacy thing from the other class I’m currently taking, so that helped save me some time poking around. After that I basically googled deconstruction and that brings you to Barthes and Derrida (this very quick only because I’m going to do a little list with some explaining after this). The last book, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s The Tractucus, was selected based on background knowledge of the author (Wallace) and the influence the philosopher had on Wallace’s work in general. The articles selected were found in the MLA Bibliography through the school’s library website and was pretty simple to use. Some of them are available as online texts and others on google books. Those that aren’t are in the CUNY system so acquiring texts should be relatively simple. I’d like to think I’ve developed a good base to start from and we’ll see how different time and exposure to other things will affect this initial attempt. So here’s the little breakdown with the titles and everything (see professor, already following directions):

Barthes, Roland. S/Z: An Essay. Trans. Richard Miller. United States: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1974. Print.

This is the work that Barthes murders the author through an examination of a work by Balzac. By eliminating the author as the singular source of meaning where the text is essentially a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back to an ultimate meaning. By placing the responsibility on readers to create meaning it creates a plurality of interpretation. As to why this is pertinent to my research I’m not specifically positive yet, but I do know that Infinite Jest is written with an amplified voice and a style that isn’t concerned with the norms of psychological realism. Intrusion and language not belonging to characters are large parts of Wallace’s style which in an ironic way reinforces Barthes’ assertion. The myth of words belonging to characters in a closed system with little variable of meaning is glaringly impossible with Wallace’s style. The relation of this to what I think will be the area my thesis will investigate is how the language of the highly literate is ultimately alienating and of very little power to indicate any metaphysical “goodness” or “health.” And to negotiate the polarities in language as a means to discern something more true about humanity than the accepted norms of I guess “bourgeois” convention. Well at least I hope.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammotolgy. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.

This selection has more to do with my need to understand all this talk about binary relation and the strength of the written word over the Platonic ideal of orality. Obviously, not having read this yet it would be hard to ascertain a specific point of reference for the pertinence of this source to as of yet undeveloped thesis but I feel this work’s importance in deconstruction will help clarify some of the reason for Wallace’s polarized style.

Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy (New Accents). New York: Routledge. 2002. Print.

This is the work that was sampled in the other class I’m currently taking this semester. It deals with the evolution of thought from oral to literate and how it has changed culture and identity, narrowing experience from one that was formerly communal to what is now a culture predicated on the individual. This could be the source of what is to become a more cultivated thesis as I think Don Gately’s internal awakening is harbored by immersion into a community where Hal’s descent into solipsism is a product of his isolating himself through immersion into his own consciousness as a product of heightened literacy/consciousness that sequesters him from the convention’s that created the very situation.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. United States: Seven Treasures Publications, 2009. Print.

This was selected due to the influence on the author and for his inquiries into language and knowledge and ideas regarding solipsism. Its treatment of language and its failures to elucidate truth due to the variability of signs that are too easily deconstructed will help explain Hal’s descent into solipsism as an inability to communicate in an open system where Gately’s ability to sacrifice the illusion of self to the closed system of AA and it’s reliance on cliché and jargon to support the necessary vacating of the self that leads to recursive tendencies inherent in drug addicts.

Ewijk, Petrus van. “‘I’ and the ‘Other’: the Relevance of Wittgenstein, Buber and Levinas for an Understanding of AA’s Recovery Program in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” English Text Construction 2.1 (2009): 132-145. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

This article helps in its specific discussion regarding Wittgenstein’s influence on Infinite Jest and how his views of language concern identity. Language as an external system used to parallel reality and the need for eliminating variable so as to construct limits is what helps save Gately. Hal’s continuing search for a system to help is rendered impossible by a superior literacy that has alienated him from closed systems because of inability to accept the almost cult like vernaculars without ironic trepidation.

Aubry, Timothy. “Selfless Cravings: Addiction and Recovery in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” American Fiction of the 1990s: Reflections of History and Culture. Ed. Jay Prosser. London, England: Routledge, 2008. 206-219. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

The culture of addiction and denying impulse is central to questions of self. The issue of autonomy and self possession is speciously reinforced by the decision to consume as it can no longer be a decision when it becomes compulsion. The lie of the self perpetuates its own independent existence as it has to constantly pander to an infinitely amplifying appetite. The articles discussion of addiction and recovery corresponds with the idea of how language and its variables make it difficult to unify the self and create ironic readings of what occurs in the stream of consciousness that won’t be quiet, especially in the cycle of addiction.

Burn, Stephen J. “‘The Machine-Language of the Muscles’: Reading, Sport, and the Self in Infinite Jest.” Upon Further Review: Sports in American Literature. Ed. Michael Cocchiarale and Scott D. Emmert. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004. 41-50. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

This article discusses the idea of closed systems regarding sport which is where Hal can still behave with grace as his ability to behave in social environments has dissipated into oblivion. His ability to still perform athletically (machine-language) corresponds to idea that language stripped of variables allows for an ability to be free from the lie of self in this kind of paradox where to lose the self is to gain autonomy even in highly limited sense.

Hayles, N. Katherine. “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest.” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 30.3 (1999): 675-97. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

Hayles directly concerns her focus with the idea of autonomy and if it’s actually a real thing or a myth of bred of human awareness of appetite. The illusion of autonomy shares its origin with language’s ability to misdirect. She deals heavily with Locke and Descartes so I may have to look at some of their texts as I have very little exposure to their ideas. But I don’t know pertinent those texts would be to what I’m researching as I’m more concerned with how systems of language can liberate and how that corresponds with the idea of oral cultures as being more equipped to support those systems whereas literacy has created a system with no discernible limits except for those of the individual.

Goerlandt, Iannis. “‘Put the Book Down and Slowly Walk Away’: Irony and   David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 47.3 (2006): 309-28. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

Irony is inextricable from the idea of variability in language. Its the cause of multiple readings and the idea of presence and absence which is a fundamental concept of deconstruction and Derrida. Irony is pervasive in Wallace’s prose and an inherent component of his prolix sentences that go on for days.

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York, NY. Little Brown. 1996. Print.

I wasn’t sure if this required 10 texts besides the one that is the basis of my paper or if it was to include it. But the reasons are pretty evident for this one and if it’s not supposed to be included I’ve got another source to find.

Evolution kinda (Journal #1)

September 1st, 2010

Words like journal and blog can be disorienting when appropriating an audience for one’s prose, or specifically my prose if there’s such a thing. Anyway, I’ve decided on conversational and we’ll calibrate the rest of these assignments from reaction to this initial endeavor. So in the process of doing this assignment and thinking about how this could culminate into a tangible thesis I had to think about things I knew (which were considerably less than the erudite author’s sampled in American Literature, the journal I eventually selected for this journal entry). Much of my experience is probably more akin to the close reading and biographical investigation of the earlier articles, trying to cultivate an interpretation of a material by examining the language and trying to reconcile the work with the life of the person who wrote it. Which seems to be a pervading conundrum for the contributors of this periodical, which is the point I guess, as it’s a uniquely American problem, a nation built by immigrants trying to form a new identity without losing touch with the old one.

Among the favorites discussed over my brief encounter with the journal were those usual suspects. Henry James, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and that guy who seemed to instigate much of the direction of American Literature, Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The selfless self” or the conversion or reverse conversion of Huck Finn, the split psyche of narrator and author (Twain) or the emotional or anti-emotional actor (James) are variations on a dilemma set forth by Emerson (according to James who never wanted to admit it apparently, at least according to one article(Henry James in the Philosophical Actor, Steven Joba, March, 1990). And this is the paradox of how to maintain a personal identity while simultaneously allowing its dissolution when performing an act of art that needs to reach a greater wisdom. This artistic self must be sequestered from the contaminating influence of the personality. But does this take divine self possession or an almost sociopathic alienation from any true sense of self? For Tocqueville it was a product of democracy and its capacity for blurring class lines that was going to diminish religion’s ability to provide uniform identity with stern boundaries for people to aspire to. The article in question was by Reino Virtanen(March 1950, Volume 1) and he juxtaposes Tocqueville against William Ellery Channing, who in general agreement with Tocqueville takes a considerably more positive take on the potential effects of a democratic nation. Channing perceives this as a chance for the evolution of thought to break through the veneer of superficial humanity to the true components of the soul (all very Emersonian). This article was the earliest that I read, (from March 1950) but the broader issue remained even in one of the more recent articles which was the James article regarding his impressions on acting and drama (Steven Jobe, March 1990).

The changes are pretty apparent as there is a more head on dealing with literature that depicts life for basically non-whites that is also written by non-whites. There also seems to be more discourse regarding the place of psychological realism in the novel after the post modernist boom of Barth, Pynchon and the rest (also author’s that don’t fall in line with the aesthetic of Melville, Hawthorne, and James). But things like that are necessary shifts in focus so as to maintain relevancy like a singer that tries something new so that teenagers will continue to buy his albums. Two articles from the 90’s illustrated this alteration in what had been a quarterly of homogeneous interests, the first being by Dana Luciana (Perverse Nature: The novel’s reproductive disorders March, 1998) and her discussion regarding the place of the novel in a republic and the second is an article that looks to sort out Native American identity in literature as it struggles with maintaining indigenous culture while assimilating into the American aesthetic. The politicization of the novel as simply another part of the economic hierarchy and perhaps a tool to reinforce the shadow rules that govern class in a democracy that doesn’t admit to much of a divide between bourgeois and proletariat are ideas that revolve around Marxism and Deconstruction, theories that move away from the work of close reading and author biography. In spite of this acquiescence to broadening tastes and more egalitarian principles regarding literature and the canon specifically, the journal doesn’t entirely betray its roots and the fathers of American literature, as the big names are consistent sources of interest for the periodical. This becomes a version of the same tension that many of the articles find their own preoccupations with.

Concerning my own search for a thesis to construct a paper around I tried considering which books I’ve read and how they mirror the issues regarding this paradox of thought. This was most lucidly portrayed in an article concerning Huck Finn and the polarized instincts of his piety bred of society and the natural instincts regarding his intrinsic human loyalty to Jim (Norris Yates,The “Counter Conversion” of Huckleberry Finn, March 1960). The tumultuous state distorting the clarity of belief once enjoyed by Huck leaves him in flux and unable to unify his idea of self and how that should govern his decision. This idea of the speciousness of religious piety, particularly one that also endorses the slavery of men is clarified in the ironic twisting of Huck and it was this article that clarified much of what was written about Tocqueville and Twain and James and the like. The novel Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace seems to confront this issue with a violent register of diction that shoves academia into prolix sentences that are also permeated with words from the cultural zeitgeist. And this language is key in establishing a natural unity between the two protagonists that embody each end of this spectrum By using this rhetoric to characterize and unify, Wallace uses style to establish the kind of wisdom and truth Twain may have been looking for, which was discussed at length in the article by Philip Beidler (Realistic Style and the Problem of Context, March 1980) that discusses Twain’s struggle to find a realistic style that accomplish the aforementioned. Not to say Wallace has discovered a terminal style to be endlessly reproduced but it is an overt attempt at trying to negotiate the polarizations that are the progenitors of much of the artistic contention in the journal. Now as a side note, I’m not sure how strict the rules of MLA govern something like a journal entry or blog but it was not my intent to plagiarize (my attempt to preempt any charges with a plea of ignorance) so if the expectations are of a stricter sense I hope to do better next time.


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