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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Wallace’s fictional narrative Infinite Jest is an epic approach to the solicitous and addictive nature of humanity. The novel’s diverse characters demonstrate both individually and collectively the fixations and obsessions that bind humanity to the pitfalls of reality and provide a fertile groundwork for the semiotic explanation of addictive behavior. Although Wallace may have actualized the concept of the “addicted gaze” to the literal or physical response to the viewing of Incandenza’s coveted film the Entertainment [Infinite Jest], it is manifested symbolically throughout the novel in the distractions of its characters.


It would appear that Wallace has chosen society’s most frequently rejected and denounced individuals as the vehicle for the narrative search for and preservation of the ultimate fix, which is illustrated by the obsession for Incandenza’s film. At the same time and despite their diversity and distinctions, these individuals will ultimately represent the inextricable and covert characteristics of nihilistic behavior.

School-aged malcontents, drug addicts and the physically challenged all attempt to get a hold of a copy of the film and experience its pleasures at any cost. Ironically, it was the film maker James Incadenza’s habit to regularly observe the depravation of Boston’s crowded street milieus, where “everyone goes nuts and mills, either switching or watching” (620). It is not surprising therefore that he should develop a film that would be perceived as the panacea to the entertainment addictions of the masses.

Figurative Transgendering

Wallace devotes a substantial amount of space to the illustration of the contradictions of gender, where the adoption of gender behavior or symbols contrary to the character’s true gender can be analyzed. The occasion of Hugh Steeply in drag as he met with Marathe to discuss the emergence of the Entertainment’s cartridge may have served the literal purpose of the agent arriving incognito however his devotion to applying feminine mannerisms appear to go above and beyond the call of duty (90). In spite of his practice, Marathe nevertheless describes Steely’s appearance as “less like a women than a twisted parody of womanhood” (93).

Wallace also presents the steroid-driven objectives of a number of the female tennis player’s like Ann Kittenplan. “who at twelve-and-a-have looks like a Belorussian shot putter” (330). It may be fair to assume that their desire to acquire a manly physique is not entirely confined to the advantages it offers on the tennis court. In his notes, Wallace suggests that the “gratification of pretty much every physical need is either taken care of or prohibited” by the tennis academy (984). Clearly, the administration of steroids or any other drug of choice is prohibited by the ETA considering the wide scale purchase of “clean” urine for the academy’s drug testing.

An Endless Jest

Perhaps the most significant example of the addicted gaze is demonstrated not so much in the stationary and fixated attention to satisfying one’s obsession but in the demand for the continuous pursuit of it. The halfway house/rehab center, Ennet House, represents the often ineffectual and delusional pursuit of ridding oneself of addiction. A clear example of the deceptive environment of rehab is demonstrated by Lenz’s use of cocaine while at the facility. For many of the residents like Lenz, the limitations at Ennet House are often so unbearable that its residents are driven to the use of drugs in order to preserve their sanity. Ironically, Lenz’s stash of cocaine works as a contrived temptation that undermines any true potential for ridding himself of his addiction.


Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a chaotic amalgam of humanity and the similarly depraved behaviors that they demonstrate in the pursuit of amusement and satisfaction. Although the restrictions to their attainment are clearly represented by the physical entities of the Academy, the Ennet House and the wheelchair, they are also fostered by them.

If Incandenza’s “Accomplice” is any indication of the content of the Entertainment, it only reinforces the contention that human nature includes the inherent desire to not only view the depravity and debauchery of human behavior but even more, to participate in it. There is little to ponder why so many of Wallace’s characters must depend on their mind and body altering drugs of choice, if not to influence how they are viewed by others then at the very least to make more palatable their own perceptions of self.

John L.’s monologue delivered at one of the AA meetings illustrates the destructive implications of either reasoning: “all the masks come off and you all of a sudden see the Disease as it really isand see what owns you, what’s become what you are -” (347).

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