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David Foster Wallace Dispels Passivity by Provoking Disturbance Many critics immediately dismiss Infinite Jest as a sardonic one-thousand-one-hundred page

paradigm of postmodernisms cloying use of irony, however, there are a great deal of literary critics who believe the novel runs deeper than mere sardonic irony. In their rich and nuanced discussions of David Foster Wallaces gargantuan novel, many critics touch upon whether he achieves advocating the inevitability of dependence or the transcendence of dependence. Some, notably Katherine Hayles, stress community and hold that the patterns in Infinite Jest are inescapable because they reflect humanitys interdependence. Others, including Catherine Nichols, feel he makes a case for breaking the tantalizing spell of dependence and champions human autonomy. Hayles, along with Frank Cioffi, has also tapped into an intriguing dimension of Infinite Jest beyond the plot: how it affects readers. Upon examining Infinite Jest in light of existing reviews and interviews, it is clear that Wallace paints a depressing picture of passivity but is not trying to cynically discourage readers. Passivity permeates the novel, but so do hordes of provocative images. By bluntly depicting the horrifying consequences of indifference, Wallace criticizes modern day society and leaves his characters without redemption. Such depictions, however, simultaneously attempt to redeem the reader by evoking disturbance, thereby calling for a consciously autonomous response. Wallace gruesomely portrays the detachment of the drug addicts and tennis players driving the action of Infinite Jest, and yet I want to suggest that he has hope that individuals will become more aware of and utilize their potential to transcend passivity. This seems like a large discrepancy to gap. In an interview with Larry McCaffery in which Wallace discusses his essay E Unibus Pluram, a commentary on television, Wallace offers much insight regarding his aims as a writer. For instance, McCaffery states in a question that television may be more complex than what most people realize, but it seems rarely to attempt to challenge or disturb its audience, as youve written me you wish to (McCaffery, 1). Here McCaffery explicitly mentions that Wallace has stated his intentions to perturb his readers. In addition, Wallace himself explains that serious art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard

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to access its pleasures (McCaffery, 1). It is obvious from the interview that Wallace considers his own work serious art as opposed to low art, therefore he places himself in this category of literature that is meant to disturb. In labeling himself thus, he implies that he values the active pursuit of pleasure, and wants his readers to exercise and value it as well. His hopeful attitude gleams during later segments of the interview when he proclaims that really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but itd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it (McCaffery, 4). Wallace tries to sketch the deteriorating state of the world, but also tries to evoke a response that reveals the individuals capacity to be authentically human and transcend the worlds damaging complacency. Critic Mary K. Holland is right to highlight the passage in which Don Gately recounts the old AA joke [t]his wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, Morning, boys, hows the water? and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, What the fuck is water? and swim away (Wallace). Like the young fish are enveloped by water, the alcoholic is so immersed in his or her addiction that the destruction it causes is difficult to objectively acknowledge. Coming from Gately, a recovered alcoholic, this joke is ironic, but Holland speculates that Wallaces intent was not simply to metaphorically declare that society is reducible to hollow ironies. Instead, he arouses an awareness that we all are swimming in irony [that] may lead to our own growth out of it (Holland, 220). It is doubtful that Wallaces aim in writing Infinite Jest was to simply attack the reader with cynicism and an overabundance of irony. This gives us ample reason to delve deeper into Infinite Jest, so let us look at the message that the plot of the novel sends and the larger message I want to suggest Wallace tries to have the reader experience while reading the novel. The plot and characters of Infinite Jest definitely function as a negative commentary on humanity today: they are passive and ambiguous, ever sidestepping the process of active living. Wallace argues that such attitudes are harmful by illustrating grotesque displays of passivity. One image that stands out in particular is Poor Tonys bout of withdrawal. He has numbed his existence with heroin and alcohol for years and when he finally has no way of obtaining his drug of choice and

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is forced to face withdrawal, he continues to try to bury his consciousness. Rather than check himself into a clinic or rehab program, P.T. Krause hides in an ant-infested dumpster at which point [h]e weighed fifty kilos and his skin was the color of summer squash. He had terrible shivering-attacks and also perspired. He had a sty that had scraped one eyeball as pink as a bunnys. His nose ran like twin spigots and the output has a yellow-green tinge...[t]here was an uncomely dry-rot smell about him that even he could smell (Wallace). The image becomes worse as his passivity becomes more apparent. Krause does not want to face the negative effects of withdrawal, a consequence of his conscious-obliterating addiction, and so gropes pathetically for any way to remain complacently drugged. He locks himself in an Armenian library bathroom stall with codeine cough syrup uncontrollably discharging endless gushing liquid shit that he could not flush enough to keep up with (Wallace). James O. Incandenza is another addict in the novel who links horrific consequences with passive behavior. Rather than try to openly face the reality of his family and the pressures of producing meaningful films, he imbibes a steady diet of Wild Turkey whiskey. When Joelle Van Dyne, the star of his lethal film Infinite Jest, requires him to stop drinking as a condition for her being in the film, he ultimately cannot handle being in society sober. He flees actively engaging with life by committing suicide. Incandenzas death is the zenith of his pursuit of passivity. Wallace clearly portrays his quest as gruesomely harmful through Hals description of the scene post-suicide. Hal informs his brother Orin that their father hadused a wide-bit drill and small hacksaw to make a head-sized hole in the oven door, then when hed gotten his head in hed carefully packed the extra space around his neck with wadded-up aluminum foil (Wallace). Unfortunately, before Hals father died he completed his film Infinite Jest, which becomes desired by terrorists because is can be used as dangerous tool for inducing passivity, as it uses peculiar optics to permanently entrance viewers. As Nichols describes it, the lens itself ensures that its viewers will remain in a perpetual state of liminality that does not require their active participation (13). To blatantly convey the harm that accompanies passivity, Wallace lets the film explicitly affect a medical attach. His delineation of the attachs wife coming home to find him

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mesmerized by The Entertainment is nothing short of eerie. The narrator discloses that, upon arriving home from work, his wife saw his face and tray and eyes and the soiled condition of his special recliner, and rushed to his side crying his name aloud, touching his head, trying to get a response, failing to get any response to her, he still staring straight ahead...the expression on his rictus of a face nevertheless appeared very positive, ecstatic, even, you could say (Wallace). It is graphically horrifying to picture a conscious human being trying to interact with what used to be her husband but is now a haunting, glazed face attached to a body that has entirely lost control of its motor functions. Another extremely horrid image is the scene in which Randy Lenz, Ennet House resident and ex-cocaine addict, begins resolving his daily frustrations by killing rats. Eventually he grows bored and starts using cats, then dogs, instead. During his cat phase, he goes from suffocating the cats in garbage bags to demapping them more violently. It is narrated that doubled Hefty SteelSaks were such quality-reinforced products they could hold something razor-clawed and frantically in-motion and still survive a direct swung hit against a NO PARKING sign or a telephone pole without splitting open, even when what was inside split nicely open; and so that technique got substituted around United Nations Day, because even though it was too quick and less meditative it allowed Randy Lenz to take a more active role in the process, and the feeling of (temporary, nightly) issues-resolution was more definitive when Lenz could swing a twisting ten-kilo burden hard against a pole and go: 'There,' and hear a sound (Wallace). Though it is stated that killing cats in this manner makes Lenz feel active, overwhelming evidence from other parts of the scene make it clear that Wallace uses this statement ironically to cynically castigate passivity. For instance, this paragraph also dubs his method less meditative and seems to suggest his process is a passive ritual by adding that it occurs nightly and outlining the necessary steps of Lenzs [t]here and his need to hear a sound. In addition, a couple of paragraphs earlier it is mentioned that Lenz's interval of choice for this is the interval 2216h. to 2226h. He doesn't consciously know why this interval (Wallace). It is evident that Randy is not consciously acting, and given the above passage, his passivity is undoubtedly characterized by grotesquerie: the way Wallace casually details how Lenz smacks cats against poles until they split open is unnerving. Despite the previously analyzed scenarios, critics like Nichols and Hayles want to argue that Wallace does include characters, namely Hal Incandenza and Don Gately, who ultimately break free from passivity. Though both literary scholars proffer strong arguments, they do not accurately capture

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the whole picture of Hal and Gatelys situations. Hayles points to Don Gatelys successful recovery using the support of AA and Hal Incandenzas participation in competitive tennis, both community settings, to insist that humanitys problems arise from the presumption of autonomy (693). In other words, humans believe that they are in control of themselves and can act freely in their own selfinterest. According to Hayles, this is merely a mirage. Though Infinite Jest may be able to function as a representation of the worlds intricate networks, and, undoubtedly, the overwhelming presence of recursion, it does not reject the importance of autonomy to the degree that Hayles is suggesting, nor does it offer community as the solution to societys ills. In describing what she takes to be Don Gatelys triumph, Hayles rejects autonomy in favor of citizenship saying Gately's struggle reveals what it means to attempt on a daily basis to shed the illusion of autonomous selfhood and accept citizenship in a world in which actions have consequences that rebound to the self because everything is connected with everything else (693). In so doing, however, Gately is clearly sacrificing his authenticity as a conscious individual entity, and Wallace does not portray this as a noble sacrifice. Earlier in her essay she herself even acknowledges that, to recover, Gately must go through a mindless routine, praying to a something that he is not sure he even believes in and going to meetings where the stories are always the same. If this sort of passivity is what Hayles is deeming an acceptance of citizenship, then Infinite Jest certainly does not advocate embracing community while ignoring autonomy. Gately does not recover in AA, he simply trades one form of passivity, addiction, for another -- ceaseless repetition of algorithmic routines and stale slogans. This new passivity is evident in Wallaces presentation of his AA experience, which continues the correlation of passiveness and strikingly unpleasant images. The process of a typical meeting is outlined in detail. While describing one such meeting, the narrator illustrates the Advanced Basics chairperson, who gives opening remarks, saying this guy's also like totally, almost flamboyantly bald, and to top it off he's wearing a bright-black country-western shirt with baroque curlicues of white Nodie-piping across the chest and shoulders, and a string tie, plus sharp-toed boots of some sort of weirdly imbricate reptile skin, and overall he's riveting to look at, grotesque in that riveting way that flaunts its grotesquerie (Wallace). The narrator shifts to show the meeting from Gatelys perspective

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commenting that there are more cheap metal ashtrays and Styrofoam cups in this broad hall than you'll see anywhere else ever on earth. Gately's sitting right up front in the first row, so close to the podium he can see the tailor's notch in the chairperson's outsized incisors (Wallace). The atmosphere of the meetings he must attend is not comforting, but perverted and bizarre with mentions of reptile skin and outsized incisors. Gately must sit amongst addicts and alcoholics, full grown men listening, as if their lives depended on it, to the same witness accounts week after week while strungout on coffee and shaking or sweating from withdrawal. Destined to forever be stuck passively going to a janitor job, dealing with the dregs of society in Ennet House, and clinging to AA slogans that are way too insipid even to mention what they are (Wallace), Gately will never truly transcend his numb existence. Rather than asserting his own creative abilities and trusting himself to live consciously, Gately chooses to accept citizenship, to accept his place amongst other brainwashed alcoholics who do not have to understand why, only what (Hayles, 693). Nichols also touches upon Gately as a character who breaks the spell of passively avoiding identity. She uses his hospital stay, during which he refuses drugs that could reawaken his addiction, as proof that he is no longer gripped by unconscious daily routine. By claiming that he achieves transcendence but cannot communicate his transcendence to other characters, Nichols ends up saying that Wallace associates a commitment to experiencing the world without the deliberate alterations of perception -- drugs, veils, disguises, entertainments -- as itself a subversive foray into the no mans land of human experience (14). This view is too pessimistic. If anything, Wallace is not negatively portraying attempted active living but criticizing how society needs to understand the value of active living. In addition, though Gately may be mentally in control of himself, his physical passivity must be highlighted. When residents from Ennet House visit, he can only lie totally mute and inert and passive (Wallace). Again then, Wallace connects heart-wrenching images with passivity when he writes of how Gately's eyes keep rolling up (Wallace) as he questions the possibility that the mysterious wraith that has appeared to him might represent the Sergeant at Arms, the Disease, exploiting the loose security of [his] fever-addled mind, getting ready to fuck with his motives and persuade him to accept Demerol just once, just one last time (Wallace).

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Also worth noting is the fact that, although chronologically Gately has overcome his

addiction by the end of the novel, the novel does not close on a hopeful note of recovery, but instead with a flashback to Gatelys days of addiction. Wallace definitively associates severe passivity with a grisly illustration, one of Don Gatelys past that will, as evident from Gatelys previously cited thought about the wraith, always tempt his conscious self. At first, Gatelys friend Fackelmann kept making a string of chocolaty drool appear and distend almost down to the floor. The acidity of their urine was corroding the apt.'s hardwood floor's finish in an observable way. The puddle had grown many arms like a Hindu god...[and] Gately couldn't quite tell if the urine had explored its way almost back to their feet or if they were already sitting in urine. Fackelmann would see how close to the surface of the pond of their mixed piss he could get the tip of the string of spit before he sucked it back up and in (Wallace). Fackelmann and Gately are not sickly amused by bodily fluids for long. The scene becomes even more ghastly and surreal as how Fackelmann is treated by individuals who want to harm him, for a Dilaudid drug scheme in which he was involved, is described apathetically. It seems unclear whether it is Gately or the narrator who observes that they'd given Fackelmann the anti-narc so he'd feel the needle as they sewed his eyes open...The eye that was already sewed open bulged obscenely... The corporate-tool type was dropping fluid from a pipette into Fackelmann's sewed-open eye while the lady rethreaded the needle (Wallace). The extreme passivity of Gately and Fackelmanns Dilaudid binge is very closely connected to these jarring images. Gatelys physical passivity when he is hospitalized is reminiscent of his passive slip into a drugged state at the end of the novel. A similar situation surrounds Hal. The novel begins with Hal in a college interview unable to speak. Though readers can access his thoughts, other characters cannot -- he needs his uncle, Charles Tavis, to speak to the administrative staff on his behalf. Nichols posits that Hal undergoes a transformation from passivity to transcendence, that he learns to truly reveal his inner thoughts (14) and feelings. He is changed in that he can face real emotion, however he is, like Gately, still rendered physically passive -- he cannot actively express his newfound transcendence. Moreover, when examining the novel as a whole, Hals physical passivity, like Gatelys, reminds us of his past: for the bulk of the novel Hal is a passive tennis player and chronic marijuana user. The gospel his tennis career is indebted to is avoid thinking about any of this by

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practicing and playing until everything runs on autopilot and talent's unconscious exercise becomes a way to escape yourself, a long waking dream of pure play (Wallace). Furthermore, Hals passive marijuana habit is in keeping with the trend of appalling scenes accompanying passivity. While watching the epic Eschaton match with Axford and Pemulis, Hal finds himself taking the proffered duBois and smoking dope in public without even thinking about it or having consciously decided to go ahead (Wallace). The boys are still passively getting high a few pages later when one of the younger players, Lord, does indeed go headfirst down through the monitor's screen, and stays there, his sneakers in the air and his warm-up pants sagging upward to reveal black socks. There'd been a bad sound of glass. Penn flails on his back. Possalthwaite, Ingersoll, and McKenna bleed. The second shift's 1600h. siren down at Sunstrand Power & Light is creepily muffled by the no-sound of falling snow (Wallace). The backdrop of this powerfully shocking scene of young children taking a game too far is the passivity of Hal and the older boys smoking on the sidelines, thus Wallace effectively links passivity with horror. It is extremely disheartening that Hals physical passivity opens the novel and Gatelys loss of himself in passive drug use closes the novel. Where Nichols finds redemption for Hal and Gately there is actually only an inevitable lapse into passivity being represented. This negation of Hayles and Nichols restoration of Hal and Gately as characters, as well as the aforementioned repugnant depictions coupled with displayed passivity, opens a chasm between the message conveyed by Infinite Jest and earlier commentary on David Foster Wallaces opinions regarding fiction writing. It seems Wallace is merely being pessimistically critical of society and cleverly trying to elicit a reaction from readers only for the sake of being clever, but he himself decries postmodern authors for doing just that. In the words of Wallace, [s]hock stops being a by-product of progress and becomes an end in itself. And its bullshit (McCaffery, 5). As a first-hand reader of all 1,079 pages, I can say that the experience of reading Infinite Jest certainly offers a possible way to bridge this cavity. Luckily, this novel evidently especially compels many readers to seek out the opinions of other readers, as noted by Chris Hager, one of its first critics. In his thesis essay he is amazed by the way so many Infinite Jest readers walk to the nearest computer, do a Google search on the title, and try to

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read what other people have to say about it (Hager, n.p.). This observation raises the question of why readers are stirred to actively engage with the text, and critics like Frank Cioffi have begun to offer answers. Cioffi explains that Infinite Jest has a curious affect on readers: it is disturbing. His examination is worth expanding in the service of discovering how Infinite Jest illuminate[s] the possibilities for being alive and human (McCaffery, 4) in the world. Examples scrutinized thus far may seem to reduce Infinite Jest to a lengthy diatribe against humanity, but scenes such as Gately lying limp in his own urine engender feelings of disturbance, a feeling that can push one beyond passive pleasures. Upon being disturbed by Randy Lenzs progression from rat burning to dog burning, certainly one has the option to slam the book shut, shove the sensation away, and instead pick up a sappy love story with a happy ending. However, clearly Wallaces intention was not to drive his audience to the same passivity he chastises his characters for maintaining. It is a quite plausible assertion that, although Wallace does not redeem his characters, he has hope that readers will be redeemed. For Wallace, any possible human redemption requires us first to face whats dreadful, what we want to deny, (McCaffery, 8) which Wallace encourages readers to do by providing disturbing images. This suggests that his hope is that, upon being disturbed, the reader will actively choose to finish the novel, to openly face the destructive qualities of passivity. In so doing, the reader would be him- or herself resisting passivity. Here disturbance must be treated as an active response, not as an easy or automatic reaction. Cioffi tries to argue that awareness, due to Wallaces technical grammatical structure, of an addiction to provocative images, provided by the author but mentally fashioned by the reader, is what causes disturbance. He labels the disturbed reader a conscious addict, explaining that a self-crafted mental performance puts the reader into a trance but Wallaces grammatical structure provokes selfawareness. In reality, however, being disturbed is even more active than mere awareness: it is not conscious addiction, but conscious choice. To feel disturbed, one must be made to feel uncomfortable and then willingly choose to prolong exposure to whatever is making one discomfited. Disturbed readers of Infinite Jest, by perpetuating their disturbance, as opposed to simply being enveloped in it

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as Cioffi implies they are, are exercising autonomy both in creatively fashioning their mental production and in their choice to continue suffering through disturbance. Disturbance does not simply captivate readers, it can make them excitedly conscious of their autonomy and shed light on Wallaces conception of human nature. While Cioffi touches upon disturbance, he misses this vital interpretation. Though he acknowledges that readers can become conscious, he only deals with how the novel structurally brings about self-awareness, thus he leaves readers uncontrollably emotionally mesmerized by their own mental performances. I was not mesmerized by my own performance, but deliberately chose to continue performing as I mentally watched my personal vision of Poor Tony gulping codeine. It is not necessarily the awareness that one is trapped in a trance that is disturbing: it is the awareness that one is choosing freely to entrap oneself. Being disturbed thus seems to call upon human autonomy in a frightening way, and yet disturbed readers consciously sustain their uneasiness. This is because one gets a certain thrill or excitement from being appalled by the medical attache literally dying from passivity, from being forced to grapple with ones own autonomy. I was stimulated by having to choose to continue reading even though it was making me uncomfortable or stop reading to dispel the uneasiness. My choice to continue disturbed me, but I felt triumphant. Disturbance, therefore, is not awareness of powerlessness as Cioffi claims; it is deriving pleasure from uneasiness one consciously perpetuates. Resulting pleasure comes from recognition of autonomy, which is quite the opposite of powerlessness. As humans we can obtain joy from recognizing that we are free to choose to disobey logic, as literary characters such as Dostoevskys Underground Man have demonstrated. Logic urges us to eschew what is unpleasant, but we are free to nonetheless choose to prolong discomfort. The choice to continue reading as Fackelmanns eyes are sewn open and Gately lies in a puddle of daysold urine, to allow ones mind squirm at the mental picture of J.O. Incandenza hacksawing a hole for his head in the familys microwave oven, reflects this human ability to actively disobey logic. Wallace would probably agree that not only are disturbed readers tapping into true human autonomy, but are also embracing the human condition to a degree. In an interview Wallace expresses that

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since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering (McCaffery, 1). In light of this commentary, it can be said that Infinite Jest encourages its readers to be actively human by graphically discrediting passivity. Though the characters of Infinite Jest are simply displays of passivity, the reader has the chance to be active. By simultaneously reflecting apathy and engendering disturbance, Infinite Jest is both pessimistic and optimistic. Though the text itself, the characters, events, and themes, powerfully represents society, plagued as it is by pervasive passivity, the interplay between reader and text yields a consciously autonomous human who diminishes passivitys ubiquity in our present reality. Infinite Jest goes beyond the empty irony that categorizes postmodernism by attempting to awaken readers to their own autonomy, pushing them to actively choose to endure grotesque images of passivity.

Brown 12 Bibliography

Cioffi, Frank Louis."An Anguish Become Thing": Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest. Narrative, Vol. 8, No. 2, Narrative and Performance (May, 2000), pp. 161-181. April 22, 2012. http://0-www.jstor.org.helin.uri.edu/stable/20107209 Hager, Christopher. "On Speculation: Infinite Jest and American Fiction after Postmodernism." Unpublished thesis. Stanford University, 1996. http://www.thehowlingfantods.com/ thesisb.htm Hayles, N. KatherineThe Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest. New Literary History 30.3 (1999). 675-697. April 22, 2012. http://0-muse.jhu.edu.helin.uri.edu/journals/new_literary_history/v030/30.3 hayles.html#authbio1 Holland, M. K. (2006). "The Art's Heart's Purpose": Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Critique, 47(3), 218-242. McCaffery, Larry, "An Interview with David Foster Wallace," in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol, 13, No. 2, Summer, 1993, pp. 127-50. Nichols, Catherine. "Dialogizing postmodern carnival: David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest." CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 43.1 (2001): 3+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA93920675& v=2.1&u=providence_main&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest: A Novel. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1996. http:// www.beaujo.net/InfiniteJest.html