DavidFoster Wallace’s deep and formative engagement with scientific models of mind and brain has been similarly neglected, despite the fact that they are threaded throughout his entire body of work. To give a few examples: in “The Planet Trillaphon As It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing” (1984), the narrator describes “all the cute neuroses that more or less around that time began to pop up all over the inside of my brain” (7), while in the uncollected story “The Enema Bandit and the Cosmic Buzzer,” Mary’s “old instinctive Encino brain cells fired for a second” (HRC 27.9, 5). In The Broom of the System (1987), Rick recounts a story about children’s “hearts and brains . . . disposed to swell and bleed” (108), and another about a man who is moved by “the back part of his brain, the part that deals with basic self- preservation” to take a therapist’s advice (184). Wallace opens Girl with Curious Hair (1989) with a “sky” that “looks cerebral” with its “gray clouds . . . bulbous and wrinkled and shiny” (3). Later he refers to the “smoothness of the brain” (139), and to habits that should be “a deep autonomic wrinkle in DeHaven’s brain by now” (326). “The human brain is very dense,” says Marathe in Infinite Jest (1996), and the novel itself is dense with neurological injuries and abnormalities, with references to the “brain-meat behind” the eyes (230), the “operant limbic system” (373), and “sheer cerebral stress” (843). In Wallace’s first essay collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997), he writes about “the lizardy part of my brain” (8), “neurological dysfunction” (240), “Some evolutionary retrograde reptile-brain part of the C[entral] N[ervous] S[ystem]” (283), and David Lynch as a creator whose films tap into “a set of allusive codes and contexts in the viewer’s deep-brain core” (164). In Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999), Wallace refers to “brain-warmed water” (6), “neural plug[s]” (106), “brain damage” (172), and “horrendous neural resonance” (255). Wallace’s third story collection, Oblivion (2004), has many “intricate exploded views of the human brain” (285): in “Mister Squishy,” the limbic portions of Schmidt’s brain” are said to “pursu[e] [a] line of thinking” (31) while others’ “individual neocortices worked to process the visual information and to scan their memories” (38); the narrator of “Good Old Neon” tries “hypnosis . . . the Landmark Forum, the Course in Miracles, a right-brain drawing workshop,” etc., to fix himself (142-43); and the narrator of “Oblivion” refers to his wife’s “and myself’s brains’ respective wave patterns” (225). Wallace’s second essay collection, Consider the Lobster (2005), takes
Wallace’s 2004 collection Oblivion marks an explicit return to ghostly matters. “Good Old Neon” appears at first to be a confessional monologue spoken to an uni- dentified partner, before a casual reference to the narrator Neal’s suicide (“it gets a lot more interesting when I get to the part where I kill myself” ) reveals that the speaker is a ghost. It also appears that Neal’s ghost can take physical form when he reveals that he’s “sitting here in this car” (152). “Good Old Neon” presents an advancement of both the wraith-Gately interface in Jest and the figure of the “com- panion ghost,” itself an inflection of and progression from the earlier “absent pos- sessor.” There are several striking similarities between Neal and the wraith: both can move outside of linear time, with Neal’s explanation that dying “takes forever” (180) mirroring the wraith’s observation that death involves “everything outside you get- ting really slow” (883); both have also experienced epiphanies regarding their own sense of solipsism when watching the show Cheers (Jest 835; Oblivion 168–9) The embracing of communication in the post-corporeal iterations of Neal and the wraith are also drawn in stark contrast to the careers they pursued before their death; Neal worked in advertising, an industry repeatedly linked by Wallace to metatextually “heaping scorn on pretensions to [...] virtues of authority and sincerity” (Supposedly 61), while Incandenza’s avant-garde film-making career became blighted by “meta- cinematic-parody” (Jest 703). In this respect, their newfound incorporeal ability to be able to converse with or enter the consciousness of another mirrors both that meta- fictional “Armageddon-explosion” that occurs at the climax of “Westward”, where the
Tchitcherine is first introduced when Slothrop is in Nordhausen, the site of the Dora concentration camp, at the start of Part Three, ‘In the Zone’. Aptly for the setting, Tchitcherine is presented in the context of slavery, albeit metaphorically, through Geli Tripping, who, ‘[i]n a way’ ‘belongs to’ Tchitcherine (Pynchon, 1995: 290) and, before long, Slo- throp has mentally built him into a caricature of aggression: ‘Tchitch- erine comes roaring through the window, a Nagant blazing in his fist. Tchitcherine lands in a parachute and fells Slothrop with one judo chop. Tchitcherine drives a Stalin tank right into the room, and blasts Slothrop with a 76 mm shell’ (Pynchon, 1995: 293). This version of Tchitcherine as an overly stylized aggressor is developed by the revelation that he is on a mission to find Enzian who, in the best tradition of track down and kill narratives, is his ‘half-brother’ (Pynchon, 1995: 329). The reason for this aggression ‘isn’t politics or fuck-your-buddy, it’s old-time, pure, personal hate’ (Pynchon, 1995: 331), the emphasis on the a-temporal historicity (‘old time’) of which, even if not the motive element, invokes a grandiose series of mythico-cultural and allegorical fratricides including Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Osiris and Set, Medea and Absyrtus, Eteocles and Polynices, Claudius and Hamlet, Sir Balin and Sir Balan and, in more recent fiction, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! This builds over four hun- dred pages in which Tchitcherine is described as a ‘mad scavenger’ pos- sessed of ‘steel teeth’ with a ‘compulsive [...] need to annihilate’ (Pynchon, 1995: 337–8) a ‘suicidal maniac’, (Pynchon, 1995: 345) ‘[r]eckless’, (Pyn- chon, 1995: 347) responsible for Slothrop’s interrogation in the ‘Sodium Amytal session’, (Pynchon, 1995: 390) with his secret ‘vendetta’ (Pyn- chon, 1995: 564) amid revelations of ‘the shape of defeat, of operational death’ (Pynchon, 1995: 566) while he seeks ‘comfort in the dialectical ballet of force, counterforce, collision, and new order’ (Pynchon, 1995: 704). Pynchon constructs a cynical caricature of hatred in the character of Vaslav Tchitcherine, seeking to eliminate the blackness that is both part of him and externally embodied in his brother, with all appropriate psychoanalytic overtones.
not reinstitute a traditional notion of expressive, authentic subjectivity, I have found it useful to reconstruct an implicit distinction made in Ininite Jest between “intent” and “motive.” These two poles of the broader category of intentional subjectivity capture concisely the problem Wallace saw with the version of the subject prevalent in his own time. On the one hand, there can be no sense of human agency with- out “intent”: this is the horror that lies behind the description of the eyes of those subjects who have viewed the “Infinite Jest” film as “Empty of intent” (1997: 508). “Intent” here names something like the minimal orientation towards the world presumed by phenomenology; it is a correlative of being “originally affected.” The victims of the film have lost intent and become affectless – in that they no longer respond to stimuli as brutal as having their fingers forcibly removed – only because they have been affected to a truly terrifying extent. On the other hand, Wallace’s narrator employs the term “motive” – in phrases like “sincerity with a motive” (1997: 1048) – to suggest a form of intention that sets out to manipulate the other in the service of self-interest. For Wallace the problem of resisting this form of intention – of identifying intent without motive – was less a conceptual conundrum than a historical one: the central anxiety his fiction performs and interrogates is that all relations towards the other exhibit only motive, that all characters (including the author himself) are no more than neoliberal entrepreneurs of the self. As we shall see more fully in my conclusion to this response, in Wallace and other New Sincerity writers this worry about motive leads them, in their representation of key characters and in the rhetoric of their narrative voice, to perform the negation of conscious intention altogether. This aesthetic negation of intention—which often doubles as a direct appeal to the reader to fill the gap left by this negation—is what makes sincer- ity impossible while simultaneously marking the possibility of its renewal.
McCaffery then pre-empts our next question by asking Wallace himself, “How is this insistence on mediation different from the kind of meta-strategies you yourself have attacked as preventing authors from being anything other than narcissistic or overly abstract or intellectual? (137). The answer to this question is simple: Wallace’s use of metafictional techniques is different from the image-fictionists because in his hands they serve a purpose beyond themselves. He does not use metafictional devices for the sole sake of making himself look clever; instead he seeks to reveal fiction as the mediated experience that it is. Wallace says of image fiction that “far from being a trendy avant-garde novelty, [it] is almost atavistic… a natural adaptation of the hoary techniques of literary realism to a nineties world whose defining boundaries have been deformed by electric signal” (E Unibus Pluram 172). He draws a line between the type of fiction he writes and the veiled resurgence of Realism that, echoing the disjunction of modern society and still enslaved by the ‘love-me-watch-me-I’m-so-clever’ syndrome, devolves into the destructive, ironic metaphysical loop he so detests.
Vaslav Tchitcherine is first introduced when Slothrop is in Nordhausen, the site of the Dora concentration camp, at the start of part three, “In the Zone”. Aptly for the setting, Tchitcherine is presented in the context of slavery, albeit metaphorically, through Geli Tripping, who, “[i]n a way,” “belongs to” Tchitcherine (1995, 290) and, before long, Slothrop has mentally built him into a caricature of aggression: “Tchitcherine comes roaring through the window, a Nagant blazing in his fist. Tchitcherine lands in a parachute and fells Slothrop with one judo chop. Tchitcherine drives a Stalin tank right into the room, and blasts Slothrop with a 76 mm shell” (1995, 293). This version of Tchitcherine as overly stylized aggressor is enhanced when it is revealed that he is on a mission to track down and kill Enzian who, in the very best tradition of track down and kill narratives, is his “half-brother” (1995, 329). The reason for this aggression “isn’t politics or fuck-your-buddy, it’s old-time, pure, personal hate” (1995, 331), the emphasis on the a-temporal historicity (“old time”) of which, even if not the motive element, invokes a grandiose series of mythico-cultural and allegorical fratricides including Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, Osiris and Set, Medea and Absyrtus, Eteocles and Polynices, Claudius and King Hamlet, Sir Balin and Sir Balan and, in more recent fiction, Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! This build-up continues over the course of four hundred pages in which Tchitcherine is described as a “mad scavenger” possessed of “steel teeth” with a “compulsive [...] need to annihilate,” (1995, 337-338) a “suicidal maniac,” (1995, 345) “[r]eckless,” (1995, 347) responsible for Slothrop's interrogation in the “Sodium Amytal session,” (1995, 390) with his secret “vendetta” (1995, 564) amid revelations of “the shape of defeat, of operational death,” (1995, 566) while he seeks “comfort in the dialectical ballet of force, counterforce, collision, and new order ” (1995, 704).
becomes habitual, it becomes automatic”, but that art can “remove objects from the automatism of perception in several ways” (2006: 778-9). In Wallace’s fiction, defamilizarization can be both diegetic, as when in The Broom of the System Lenore drives a car “made by Mattel, also the maker of Hot Wheels”, which is “only slightly larger [… and] really more toy than car” (Wallace 1997b: 67), and non-diegetic, as in the metafictional headings of “Westward The Course of Empire Takes Its Way”, when Wallace draws attention to the story as a constructed artwork with bold text that announces sections such as “A REALLY BALATANT AND INTRUSIVE INTERRUPTION” (Wallace 1997c: 264). Yet even these uses of defamiliarization go beyond the aesthetic. Wallace suggests in his interview with McCaffery that the writer’s role is to “no longer mak[e] the strange familiar, but mak[e] the familiar strange again […] to restore strange things’ ineluctable strangeness, to defamiliarize stuff, I guess you’d say” (Wallace in McCaffery 1993: 38). In this way Wallace seeks to combat the fact that, “for [his] generation, the entire world seems to present itself as ‘familiar’” – this familiarity being “of course an illusion in terms of anything really important about people” (ibid: 38).
physical or metaphysical reality. Even so, though the name is externally bestowed, it is somehow fundamental to the sense of one’s identity. It is, therefore, in its way, perfectly representative of the bridge – or chasm – between inner and outer worlds. The naming of fictional characters is yet more fraught, operating as it does within a network of non-contingent events, where the generating consciousness has more control over the actions of the character than any parent, notwithstanding the author’s post-publication obsolescence. Naming is a thing practiced upon a character, a semi-determining external operation that can never quite be fulfilled. Fictional names are always worthy of study for this reason; a character’s name is not always a symbolic key to their function, but neither is it ever coincidental. Terry Caesar has suggested that standard authorial practice for choosing a name is heavily symbolic, that “names are meant to disclose some essential facet of a character which it is the burden of the narrative to enact and clarify” (Caesar 5), but this seems a simplistic explication of a complex process. Rather let us say that such disclosure is indeed a common feature of narrative construction, but it can hardly be said to be the neces- sary condition of character naming, nor so blunt an instrument as it sounds. Indeed, Caesar takes aim in the same article at critics who typically “pick off a symbolic possibility from a character’s name and work it into the interpretive scheme of whatever it is that the critic happens to be discussing” (5), rather begging the question of how there might be more than one symbolic possibility, if the name exists to disclose this essential facet. Caesar is quite right that readers and critics seek semantic significance in fictional names, sometimes to the exclusion (as he points out in Pynchon’s case) of the more superficial creative zing of names that are simply comic, or pleasing, or clever. He argues that “[t]he deliberateness of [Pynchon’s] naming is seldom conceded its joking, ironic, tearaway dimension”, and that the characters “are often discontinuous with their names” (6). For Pynchon, according to this reading, naming is a way of thumbing the authorial nose at critical praxis.
Critical responses to Infinite Jest wrestle with this question at length. Ciaffi, for instance, opens his argument about the narrative structures of the text and how they force the reader to actively create the world in which the novel takes place with an open confession: “As I read on, I realized that this novel was having a curious impact on me, was penetrating my consciousness in a way that struck me as unusual” (162). Ciaffi calls Infinite Jest a “disruptive text,” one that interrupts the reader’s consciousness. He analyzes prose style narrative choice like a critic, but as he continues, he concludes that “the novel’s odd devices…are inextricably woven into the texture of the novel itself” (169). By the time he reaches his conclusion, he describes feeling “violated, to an extent, and addicted, along with the characters” (177). Though disturbing, the extended engagement required to complete the novel drew him into the work with frightening intensity. He finds the work troubling, but sincere, and the process pulls him out of his academic objectivity into compelling claims of experience.
that a certain thing happened then that thing did, in the world of the narrative, indeed happen. There is no reference world to act as truth-maker. In such a model, I submit (although Doležel himself fights shy of going quite this far), there is no need to assign the status of primary narrative or central narrative world, so that there is no need, in the case of canonical texts which employ a framing narrative (such as The Woman in White, The Turn of the Screw or Heart of Darkness), to downgrade the story which constitutes the main substance of the text to the level of the hypo- diegetic. This is even more emphatically the case when it comes to postmodernist metafictions which continually draw attention to their own textuality: if the reader is constantly being reminded that she is reading fiction there is no urgency to assign a particular narrative level the status of primary diegesis, since the aesthetic and semantic qualities of every level of the narrative can be assessed or appreciated inde- pendently on its own terms. McHale and Prince’s concepts allow for this democracy of narrative levels in a way which Ryan’s model does not.
“Lyndon” proffers writing as the most potent communicative act to bridge the distance between people and truly bring loftier powers back down to earth alongside those quivering in the trenches. As in “Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR,” the story turns when Johnson’s path crosses Boyd’s late at night when no one else occupies the office; however, unlike in “Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR,” their relationship is rooted in written correspondence. In Boyd and Johnson’s first meeting, Johnson tells Boyd to “write that down for me,” establishing their relationship as textual from the start (78). Boyd’s first assignment of delivering mail throughout the office only solidifies his position as a pivotal node in the tex- tual-exchange system that is Lyndon Baines Johnson. The midnight encounter that establishes their intimacy hinges on Boyd expressing his admiration for the Same Day Directive, which requires that all incoming correspondence receives a reply the same day as it arrives. Johnson responds to Boyd’s praise with “I wrote that” (89). After this conversation, they spend the rest of the night together “answering mail, for hours, mostly silent,” signing each letter with the same signature, Johnson with his own hand, Boyd by “applying the Senator’s signature stamp,” making them bound to each other through the written word (89, 88). This relationship develops in intensity until Boyd does so much writing for Johnson that they “contain one another” (116). Boyd serves as one of the first ghostly authors to haunt Wallace’s fiction by acting as Johnson’s ghostwriter, “jot[ting] things down for him—thoughts, turns of phrase, reminders,” and, of course, letters, all of which would be subject to Johnson’s review and bear his signature (91). Thus, Boyd’s connection with Johnson depicts textual production and authorship as shared endeavors that work best when the paths of both parties collide.
This meditation leads nicely into the penultimate chapter, ‘Vocal Instability and Narrative Structure’, in which Hayes-Brady conducts a fascinating study of a pronounced instability between primary or explicit and secondary or implied narrative voices in Wallace’s fiction. Hayes-Brady names this tendency the ‘skeletal narrative’, and explains it as ‘a strategy by which Wallace embeds the seeds of textual and interpretive unrave- ling within the narrative voice of a story’, in which the primary narrator ‘begins to tell a story, but through asides or tonal slippage reveals another layer of narrative under the surface, ultimately losing control of the primary narrative vocabulary and confessing or revealing what was hidden’ (138–139). This clever and original analysis will undoubt- edly prove a productive point of departure for scholars interested in Wallace’s engage- ment with theory of mind and different levels of consciousness, including the role of cognitive vs pre-cognitive awareness and decision-making in his narratives.
Viewed from this perspective, we can see how ‘Adult World I’ is everywhere constructed so as to gesture towards an anticipated moment of epiphanic revelation, one self-consciously signposted from the start of the narrative—as, for example, in the wife’s retrospective interjections, which explicitly mention a future point ‘after she had had an epiphany and rapidly matured’ (BI, p. 139)—and repeatedly returned to throughout the text (culminating in an extended discussion of the ‘secular psychodevelopmental’ definition of ‘epiphany’, and its rarity of occurrence outside the constructed worlds of ‘dramatic representations, religious iconography, and the “magical thinking” of children’ (BI, p. 150)). In light of this, the silence at the centre of ‘Adult World I’—the husband’s hidden sexual ‘secret’, and the resulting speechlessness between the couple—can be seen to function as a kind of ‘mystery’, a question whose anticipated answer will, it is suggested, result in a life-changing moment of realisation for the young wife, a shift from inexperienced childhood (as exemplified in the initial baby-talk references to the husband’s ‘thingie’), into mature adulthood (as signalled in the sudden disclosure of the wife’s full name—Jeni Roberts—in the moments leading up to her epiphany). The abrupt shift into schematic form in ‘Adult World II’ serves as a self-conscious frustration and deconstruction of this expected moment of realisation, as both Jeni’s epiphanic revelation (‘J. follows F.L.’s gaze out fast-food window & sees husband’s special vanity license plate among vehicles in Adult World lot: → epiphany’ (BI, p., 156)), and the husband’s unspoken secret (that he is a ‘Secret Compulsive Masturbator’, whose ostensible bouts of insomnia serve as cover for his own trips to Adult World to ‘purchase/view/masturbate self raw to XXX films & images’ (BI, p., 156)) are dispensed with in flat, shorthand terms. In denying, or at least occluding access to, this central moment of dramatic crisis, Wallace invites us to consider the limitations of the short story form, the restrictions inherent in the ‘constructed’, artificial nature of fictional narrative. Zadie Smith has read ‘Adult World’’s ‘unfinished, unfilled in’ second part
The last book review Wallace published was a scathing attack on three giant figures of American fiction. The very first sentence begins ‘Mailer, Updike, Roth — the Great Male Narcissists’ (CL, p. 51). Wallace was not naturally inclined to launch such attacks or confrontations. Ellis was the only other writer he directly condemned in the same way, and he was a contemporary rather than an established figure. His awkwardness is clear as he reminds us in the review, covering Updike’s Toward the End of Time, ‘of the let’s say two dozen Updike books I’ve read’ and his admiration for ‘the sheer gorgeousness of his descriptive prose’ (CL, p. 52). But, despite the guilt he felt afterwards, Wallace was compelled to say something: in Max’s telling ‘he felt within his rights in this case because of his sense that Updike’s flaws had gone beyond the literary to the moral.’ 162 Anyone familiar with Wallace’s work would immediately see why. As with Ellis, as we saw in chapter three, there was something not just wrong but dangerous about Updike’s late work. It was not just the depiction of narcissism and solipsism, but how they seemed to be celebrated in their work, particularly in the Updike novel being reviewed; the fact that the ‘very world around them, as gorgeously as they see and describe it, tends to exist for them only insofar as it evokes impressions and associations and emotions and desires inside the great self’ (CL, p. 54). Wallace concludes the review with a hilarious final line, saying of the novel’s protagonist ‘it never occurs to him, though, that the reason he’s so unhappy is that he’s an asshole’ (CL, p. 59).
This episode highlights the central question that the present article will attempt to address: what kind of relationship critics can posit between, on the one hand, DavidFoster Wallace’s personal library and marginalia and, on the other hand, his pub- lished works of fiction? Bustillos’ reading of the self-help marginalia would seem to have been confirmed by the ensuing controversy – thus reinforcing the conventional critical understanding of authorly annotations as a form of personal revelation or truth, and, by extension, as a kind of allegorical key to the respective literary oeuvre. Nonetheless, I will contend that such a straightforward model of interpretation is unsettled by a reading of Wallace’s marginalia alongside his novel Infinite Jest and his short story ‘Good Old Neon’. This contention brings into focus a number of the legal,
encountered a Lilith, let us here take another nominal risk and call her Eve. When the law student first sees Eve, “her weight was on one arm stiff-armed out behind her and the other hand held the apple—am I describing this right?” (313). In a devilish, even serpentine, metafictional gesture, Wallace at once signals his recasting of a prelapsarian archetype and asks readers to consider whether or not he’s doing it “right,” that is, as expected. One thing Wallace has altered, of course, is that this is “a supermarket apple with a small supermarket price sticker still affixed to it” (311). Like the law student, we watch “with a sort of detached amuse- ment to see whether she would eat the price sticker without taking it off.” The price of the biblical Eve’s apple was Edenic innocence, but if this new Eve can eat the price sticker, perhaps she, like the story itself, can hope to erase the price of experience. This promise of the return to innocence is the very substrate we have been taught by Wallace and his critics to identify under his fiction. But nothing would be more ironic or experienced than knowingly to swallow the price tag of forbidden fruit. Accomplishing that would require a more innocent gesture; Wallace’s Eve must eat the price sticker unconsciously, even as the narrator and readers look on with detached amusement. Yet the whole structural recasting of the loss of innocence is itself inescapably ironic. What fallen reader dare back away from ironic watching? Eve may be unconscious, but her sitting there as an Eve figure eating a supermarket apple makes her the embodiment of irony itself. As in all of Wallace’s fiction, the question then becomes whether irony can be made to appear to unconsciously consume irony while readers consciously observe it and the author self-consciously looks on. Unfortunately, in this story, the only one who can tell us for sure, who can affirm that innocence (or unironic sentiment) really can emerge from experience (or ironic fear) is the law student. And now it is clear why he must speak the law’s idiom, for the whole story hinges on his testimony, which appears sincere and yet ironically is inconclusive: “I can’t for the life of me recall whether she ate the price sticker, nor what became of the apple at all, whether she discarded it or what” (314-15).
Like many academics whose primary interest in DavidFosterWallace stems from an appreciation of his work as well as a professional responsibility to understand and interpret its place within contemporary American literature, I experienced mixed feelings when I first heard news about the release of a Wallace biopic, James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour. To me, the idea of seeing Wallace on the big screen was simultaneously intriguing and unsettling—something that my interest in Wallace’s life and work would make it hard for me to ignore but, at the same time, something that, out of respect for a writer who seems to have placed a high value on his privacy, I would feel somehow guilty going to watch. My ambivalence became more pronounced when I learned that the film would present Donald Margulies’ adaptation of David Lipsky’s 2010 book Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself, itself a text that, it could be argued, cashed in on the growing interest in Wallace’s life and work and allowed Lipsky to be illuminated in the posthumous glow of one of America’s most important recent writers. Setting aside some of these doubts, I decided to watch the film in order to write a review of it and, in the process, discovered something that might interest other scholars working within Wallace Studies.
break into the A.D.A.’s home and intentionally make it look like a botched burglary. A month later, the A.D.A. receives in the mail “two high-pixel Polaroid snapshots, one of big Don Gately and one of his associate, each in a Halloween mask denoting a clown’s great good professional cheer, each with his pants down and bent over and each with the enhanced-focus handle of one
her irritation reaches its peak when he interprets one of her questions too literally about whether he usually stays at the bar that long: ‘She extinguishes the cigarette a bit more thoroughly and emphatically than she usually does, in order to reinforce a certain tonal impatience in what she says as she puts the cigarette out: “All right then”’ (459). Drinion’s face is still blank, and she begins to directly question Drinion on whether he has had any sexual feelings, ever; questioning Drinion’s sex-drive in this manner gives the smoke rings a new sexualised context in which to interpret them. When Drinion affirms he has never had any such urges, Rand tries to read his habits, his affect, to see if this is true: ‘Rand is very good at reading affect on people’s faces, and as far as she can tell there’s nothing here on Drinion’s face to read’ (462). Her interaction with her external environment is usually marked by how others react to her appearance; therefore, it is not her looks that define her habits, but how others interact with her. Earlier in the novel, the narrating Wallace suggests that beauty is a genetic disposition – ‘a given, like facial symmetry’. That beauty is a social concept – as any basic understanding of the different values of beauty across cultures demonstrates – is emphasised by how she affects those around her; this reaction is repeated, reinforced by the name POTEX, and this collective reaction in turn defines the formation of her habits. As Dewey suggests: ‘A genuine apprecia- tion of the beauty of flowers is not generated within a self-enclosed consciousness. It reflects a world in which beautiful flowers have already grown and been enjoyed’ (HN 22). Through Rand’s habitually defined being, Wallace offers a contingent, fluid conception of identity, which is markedly similar to Dewey’s contention that self and environment are in constant interaction: ‘Selfhood is not something which exists apart from associations and intercourse’ (1998: 348). Consequently, Rand’s habits do not stem from her appearance, but, instead, from her interactions with others.
In light of this reassurance that no overt, or even ‘latent’, homosexual desire exists between these characters, the narrative provides the most direct explanation of the aesthetic practice of IJ as a kind of mirrored reflection of Incandenza’s own ‘Infinite Jest’, a reproduction of a baby’s view of his mother from a crib. Lee Konstantinou (2012) argues that if we read Incandenza as an extension of Wallace in this sentimen- tal manifesto, we can see him ‘simultaneously critiquing the hyper-self-involution supposedly characteristic of the avant-garde as well as the infantilizing tendencies of the mass media’ (103). In other words, Wallace views his specific, ‘sincere’ iteration of the literary novel as a liminal space between a particular reading he has of ‘art for art’s sake’ avant-garde art and mass culture, pulling from mass media the objec- tive ‘to entertain’ and from the legacy of ‘serious fiction’ the more effortful demands of aesthetic difficulty. By contriving, some would argue unfairly, this liminal space between mass culture and the avant-garde, between entertainment and aesthetics, Wallace begins the important process of becoming, himself, a kind of ghost. In think- ing about masculinity, Robinson argues that this ‘middlebrow’ space critically serves as an opportunity for the artist to become ‘the great unmarked, the phantom figure against whom differences become visible—but…himself deeply invested in coming to visibility’ (14–15). Wallace’s ability to construct a narratorial position as ‘the great unmarked, the phantom figure’ is crucially how he actualizes with the reader the ‘mutual reflexive substitution’ we see between Gately and Incandenza.