Infinite majesty : disabled and athletic métis in David Foster Wallace’s tennis writing
As John Jeremiah Sullivan remarks in his introduction to String Theory, a collection of David Foster Wallace’s essays on tennis, tennis “may be [Wallace’s] most consistent theme at the surface level.” As once an elite junior professional himself, Wallace reflects on and writes from his own involvement in the sport, with the conditioning, strategy, and body-mind training that goes into it. In other essays of String Theory, Wallace reaches beyond his personal playing experience, observes professional tennis players with their incredible grace, and creates his own tennis playing students in Infinite Jest. Throughout these fictional and nonfictional accounts, he conceptualizes what such eminent athleticism entails. This paper will show that celebrated athleticism in Wallace’s work exhibits an embodimental métis, or an acute, crafty body-mind knowledge of its movement through space. Beyond only characterizing athletic movement, however, this paper argues that the same concept of métis extends to people with disabilities, including characters with disabilities in Infinite Jest. The same hyperawareness of corporeality, versatile methods of adjusting to oppositional contexts, and extraordinary complexity are shared by both groups. Using rhetorical scholarship on métis and disability theories of embodiment and social representation, this paper will draw parallels between the moving body-minds of athletic and disabled bodies and trace the implications of this analogy for Wallace’s work and disability studies.