The Jest of the (In)Finite: Cataloguing the Clôtural Boundaries of Logocentric Totality in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest

William Shane Tucker


The late David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest (1996), is an eclectic and expansive encyclopedic novel totaling nearly 1,100-pages in length, which simultaneously adopts and challenges the encyclopedic convention of logocentric boundaries assumed by Wallace’s encyclopedic precursors. The work attempts to marginalise the boundaries that separates informational totality—the known, expressible data capable of being recorded—from that which is unknown and/or inexpressible: the infinite. While it is impossible to completely transverse these boundaries, Wallace also refuses for his work to be completely subservient to the boundaries of totality. This struggle is the epitome of Emmanuel Levinas’ call in Totality and Infinity for opening the Self up to his notion of the infinite Other—an Other that cannot be conceptualised within a system of logocentric totality. Despite the problematic nature of resting on such a foundation (or lack thereof), it will be argued that through the concept of the clôture Wallace's novel indeed rests on such a liminal ground that maintains as well as fractures the interior/exterior dialectic delineating the boundaries between totality and infinity—and by extension—selfhood and Otherness.

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