Tennis: the Perpetual Struggle Against the Self You Cannot Live Without.

“The true opponent, the unfolding boundary, is the player himself. Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms. The competing boy on the net’s other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self.” (Infinite Jest, pg. 84)


Upon first reading about Wallace, one of the things that stuck out to me as odd was his love for tennis. After all, most geniuses are more likely to be transfixed with far more intricate things than a seemingly meaningless game of tennis. However, from the short passage I quoted above, I was able to see that Wallace saw tennis as far more than just a game; it was a perfect representation of the human condition and the challenges that everyone must strive to overcome in their lifetime.

In this passage, Wallace uses the game of tennis to argue that life is really one long struggle with the self and that all other outside factors do nothing more than help one realize that struggle or change the venue in which the struggle takes place. Furthermore, tennis shows that we are limited in our ability to overcome these hindrances and while it may appear saddening to be so limited as a human being, it is absolutely necessary that we have these finite capacities, for if we did not have them our existence would cease to have meaning, and happiness would transfigure from a difficult to an impossible endeavor. The only way people can experience true joy is if there is a perpetual conflict with the self in trying to overcome their limitations.

This interpretation of tennis and life proffers a strange proposal that one’s limitations are simultaneously the road to happiness as well as the source to the sinister realization that one must experience sadness if one is to reach that road. However, I think this view ties in quite well with the addictions and drug use described in Infinite Jest. Drug use either gives people the illusion that they are either transcending their limitations, or it is a means to run away from the hardship of having to face their limitations. Either way, drug users are no longer faced with the burden of dealing with their own finite capacity. This removes meaning and happiness from the drug users life. It is only when the drug user confronts or accepts the fact that there will always be limitations that he or she can achieve happiness. But acknowledging the existence of limitations is not enough. One must always be making an effort to counter these trying encumbrances.

Does anyone think that this is what Wallace derived from tennis? Or was he trying to deliver a different message? Do you think that addiction can be related to tennis in a different way than what I said?

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2 Responses to Tennis: the Perpetual Struggle Against the Self You Cannot Live Without.

  1. You’re beginning to do some interesting work here, but I’d urge you to work more closely and carefully w/ the text, as your reading is veering toward the over-general and abstract rather than the concrete and specific.


  2. tangledheadphones1057 says:

    As an avid tennis player/enthusiast, I’d argue that Wallace’s comparison between tennis and life focuses on the infinite possibilities created by boundaries. Each move is followed by an infinite number of moves. On page 67, Wallace wrote describing Hal’s recurring nightmare about playing on an infinitely complex court, “There are lines going every which way, and they run oblique or meet and form relationships and boxes and rivers and tributaries and systems inside of systems: lines, corners, alleys, and angles deliquesce into a blur at the horizon of the distant net.”


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