“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.