Habit-forming : reading Infinite jest as a rhetoric of humility




Gerdes, Kendall Joy

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In this project, I argue that David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel Infinite jest (or IJ) is both about recovering from addiction through humility, and also it produces that humility in some of its readers by making us feel ourselves to be addicts to a certain kind of reading: a reading to find closure, certainty, and resolution. But, in frustrating the desires for closure, certainty, resolution, etc., IJ denies readers the satisfaction of completing the fix. It is precisely this denial that prompts readers to re-read, repeating the structure of addiction--but also destructuring it, by installing habits of reading that pleasure in the failure to close, the uncertainty, the impossibility of resolution--habits which I treat as humility. Following a thread in the performative theory of J.L. Austin, Jacques Derrida, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, I clear space for reconceptualizing the performative utterance through an unusual example of a performative utterance: I take IJ to be the utterance of humility. Drawing on Avital Ronell's "narcoanalysis" in Crack wars, I argue that IJ's performative or substantializing work is in exploiting one kind of habit (addiction) in order to replace it with another (humility). The rhetorical transformation (to humility) effects itself through IJ's performative formation (in the reader) of the humbled habit. This project is a reading of a performative utterance (IJ) that produces a rhetorical effect, which effect is the formation of the habit of humility.




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