Cycle of Submission

“American experience seems to suggest that people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away, on various levels”

“Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It’s hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency”(Wallace 54).

I chose two quotes from Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, the first occurs as Marathe and Steeply discuss the Helen of Troy. In the second passage, Hal recollects the layout of the Enfield Tennis Academy’s basement and then proceeds to describe the extent to which ETA students, including himself, engage in substance abuse. Both quotes juxtaposed, posit a more in depth critical reading of the theory I believe Wallace is trying to put forth.

The first quote typifies Hal’s behavior as being a part of the “American experience,” where “people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away”. By the term,”unlimited” Wallace insinuates that it’s an experience that subjects Americans to a continuous cycle of submission, which essentially forces Americans to succumb to an infinite loop of needing to martyr oneself, or as Wallace phrases it, “give themselves away, on various levels”. The word choice in this passage implies that this cycle of submission only prevails in an American culture and that we, through societal norms, have contrived a lifestyle that not only presents sacrificial acts as normal but have also encompassed in the American lifestyle the NEED to consistently give ourselves away. In other words, Americans have engineered a lifestyle that posits individual in a state of being more inclined than Quebecois (Marathe’s argument), to engage in addictive behavior. If this is so, then all Americans, like the addicts in this novel, are enslaved to their needs. We are imprisoned to the grave extent that we, in our pursuit of happiness, immolate “on various levels”. The phrase “various levels”, which Wallace deliberately tacts to the end of his allegation, also seems to profess all Americans as addicts that engage in these activities at our own levels of discretion. Hence, “various levels” also seems to be suggesting that Americans sacrificial behavior exist in multiple forms, but won’t necessarily culminate into an unhealthy addiction.

It’s evident that by “virtually unlimited,” the phrase connotes that Americans essentially lack choice. We sacrifice ourselves so willingly that this unconsciously or compulsive act evolves past conscious reasoning into a mindless subconscious practice. Wallace validates this claims through the rationale he provides for Hal’s behavior. In the second quote, he writes, “It’s hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency.”(Wallace 54). The phrase “its hard to say for sure” further proves how we Americans sacrifice ourselves mindlessly, reaching a point when we don’t even know how we even got started in such behavioral tendencies. Are all Americans addictive to an extent? Yes, Wallace makes the brilliant conclusion that we are willing to give ourselves away for anything we perceive as being worthy of such a sacrifice.

Dejah-Millena Stewart

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4 Responses to Cycle of Submission

  1. epiratequeen says:

    These two quotes definitely exemplify the tendency of characters in the novel (and Americans, in Wallace implication) to perceive themselves as secondary to the material objects they interact with. I think the second quote could also be taken in context with the interpretations of the millennial generation that dominate the media. Millennials are said to have a unique relationship with computer and information technology in that they (we, whatever) have been exposed to it their entire lives and don’t know as much as previous generations about a life without it. The second quote you cited reminds me a lot of some of the modern critiques of that relationship.

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  2. endorphinique says:

    For some reason, I haven’t considered the notion that the American culture that Steeply praises and Marathe finds fault in is so much more inclined towards addictive behavior? Illuminating that point through these two different quotes brings the topic of substance abuse into a whole new light, with Wallace arguing addiction as a sort of unique, national lifestyle. For me, this is a little clearer than the child who has to get a stomach ache before it realizes it can’t eat candy all the time, or the pea soup.

    I also really think it’s important to emphasize your phrasing of addictive behavior as a sacrifice of ourselves, and how this sacrifice does tend to be mindless and subconscious to the point where unlimited choice gives us no choice or direction at all. I had been construing addiction as a transaction on a more surface-level basis, with a negative feelings + drugs = positive feelings formula to it, though as we’ve seen with literally every character at Ennet House, this isn’t the case. To shift the perspective as one in which the transaction is your physical and mental self for whatever addiction you choose to give yourself to is much more useful and honest to how Marathe and others see this cycle of addiction/submission.

    Perhaps the ultimate sacrifice, then, the one in which you mindlessly need to give ALL of yourself to, is the Entertainment?

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  3. leficorn93 says:

    This idea, that we as Americans cannot resist giving ourselves away, on some level, reminds me of the discussion in class today. The paragraph at the top of pg. 60 lists all the futuristic devices that Wallace imagined–this list is followed by a semicolon, which opens onto another list, of aches and maladies that people are sure to suffer because of using said devices. The pain that people will experience as a result of the devices is practically listed as part of the devices themselves. People will submit themselves to the point that they “give themselves away, on various levels.” Recent generations are addicted to looking at screens–elementary school students have iPads. Yet, although people often recognize their addiction for staring at screens (TVs, tablets, laptops, smartphones), they rarely contemplate the reason. Similarly, “Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves.” Just as this book, Infinite Jest, is hyper-interactive with the reader, addictions, of various kinds and various levels, interact with the addict. It is never just about the drug, or the alcohol, or the technology. It is about the interaction that is taking place.

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  4. mdr50 says:

    i agree with your assessment that Americans have a particularly strong predisposition to “give ourselves away” to our addictions. I think your second quote is right on the money and that it describes typical Americans and our seeming need to pursue material things without much thought, if any at all. I actually become increasingly freaked out the more and more I read this book as I realize that I am probably subjugated to plenty of the unconscious addictions you refer to. One question that comes to my mind when reading your post is why does Wallace seem to think that this kind of addiction is specific to Americans? I may be going off on a completely irrelevant tangent here, but do you think that on some level Wallace is trying to criticize our content with be consumers in an extremely capitalist society? Or is he just making an observation about young Americans?

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