"An Anguish Become Thing": Narrative as Performance in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

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Clearly, David Foster Wallace has an interest in performance and its complex dynamic, because Infinite Jest, his second novel, thematizes performance. Its tripartite plot, set in the early twenty-first century, revolves around prep school tennis players who aspire to play professionally, to join the "show" (Wallace's term); a group of Québécois terrorists' histrionically violent acts to secure a videotape—perhaps entitled Infinite Jest—that will be an ultimate guerilla weapon, for when it is viewed, it causes death; and drug addicts in whom, Wallace suggests, addiction is the ultimate, personal, self-destructive, deconstructing performance. "Thematizing" performance may be too mild a term, in fact, for what Wallace does: he eviscerates performance, showcasing the obsessive practice that must precede it (in the case of tennis), the twisted narrative around it (with terrorism), and its possibly lethal entrapment (in the case of the videotape and with addiction).


This article was originally published in Narrative. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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