Date of Award
David Foster Wallace, Self-consciousness, postmodernism, Infinite Jest
This paper is about self-consciousness and how it figures in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Because Infinite Jest is such a large novel (1079 pages, including the indispensable footnotes), it serves, like other large novels before it, as a kind of encyclopedia of contemporary culture. The novel, in large part, treats self-consciousness—a distinctly human phenomenon, one which certainly accounts for our dominance as a species—as a problem (on both an individual and collective level) that needs to be overcome. This is because, as it turns out, self consciousness, when it becomes epidemic, is as much a boon as it is a blow to the species.
This paper will unfold in five sections. The first section introduces the problem of self-consciousness as one of the chronological starting points of Infinite Jest, showing its centrality to the work as a whole. The second section expands this problem in relation to Wallace’s apparently conservative version of postmodernism. Sections three, four, and five explore the problem through detailed close readings of the text, showing some of its richness as well as drawing attention to some of its ramifications.
Cunningham, Josh, ""The Hazards of Being Free": Thinking About Not Thinking in Infinite Jest" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.