• How to give or take anything: breaking the solipsism of Infinite Jest

      Berman, Eric (2018-12)
      In the course of this paper, I will be using [Infinite Jest] as an inflection point in literature, signaling a shift away from the postmodern era in an attempt to reinject meaning, truth, and trust into our society. Going beyond the New Sincerity movement that Wallace called for in his 1993 essay, IJ signals an attempt by fiction writers at the turn of the millennium to expose the ways our sociopolitical systems are failing to adapt to the social simulacra presented by new media. They warn of postmodernism’s ideology habituating its citizens into solipsistic loops, as this new cultural fabric wraps individuals ever more tightly into isolated existences. IJ on its own may fall short of providing clear answers as to how to escape the problems generated by this changing media landscape, but nonetheless establishes pivotal steps to rebuild the foundation of the social sphere. To prove IJ’s role as an inflection point in postmodern literature contextualized in new media, the paper has five parts that form an organizational trajectory of the changing ideology leading to the present. The first section will analyze how IJ participates in both the epic tradition and postmodernism in order to represent its characters as products of modern solipsistic American culture. The second will analyze Wallace’s satirical creation myth of a new American empire and political subplot behind the principle characters, as well as the ways individual behaviors initiate the apocalyptic crises of the novel. The third will argue that despite its protagonists receiving individual tragic endings within the text, IJ does explore treatment options for America in the form of strategies that the culture can enact to survive in toxic ideology. The fourth section will examine a positive case of post-postmodern literature, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which carries the torch from Wallace’s diagnosis-and treatment in order to break its protagonists from their suffering. The fifth section will employ sociological data in order to contextualize how real-world cases of streaming entertainment, social media, and device usage have transformed American culture into and away from Wallace’s television-based project. Finally, the paper will synthesize the diagnoses and treatment options established in order to provide a summary of actionable steps the reader can take to begin mending the social crises confronting America today.