Blog Post 2; Response to Critical Essay

The main argument of the essay Infinite Jest: Triangles, Cycles, Choices and Chases is that there is a schematic theme of fractals and recurrent cycles that underlie the construction of the narrative, multiple themes within the novel (choice, absence, and addiction), and even the geographical layout of the scenes in order to augment the themes themselves. In an interview an excerpt of which is used in this article, Wallace says that one of the structural aspects of the books is in fact a fractal; more specifically a Sierpinski Gasket. This can be understood as a configuration of similar, different sized triangles put together to make larger triangles, forever getting larger (and smaller), a type of cycle in itself. It is important to note that the absence of triangles also occurs within this fractal, since a absence of content is something the author focuses on. “A number of extremely important events within the novel are entirely absent from the text… A series of linked incidents involving the death of James Incandenza are absented and referred to so elliptically that it is often impossible to form a definitive account.”  (David 90) The Cyclic nature of these fractals is an aspect of many of the themes of the novel, which we’ve talked about in class. The comparison between the annular fusion system of energy production and waste consumption and the cycle of addiction is also used in the article, claiming that this directly relates to the absence of important parts of the novel. The essay reaches it’s argumentative center when describing a scene “where a structure created initially through choice runs entropically and destructively out of control and into unexpected chaos” (David 99) and this scene itself takes place in a way that describes its events in increasingly large triangles made by the streets of the city, seemingly out of the control of any of the characters themselves, “which encourages the argument for this sequence as a kind of miniaturization of the whole novel’s fractal schema.” (David 99)

The author reads Wallace with a focus on the thematic structure on the novel, which although it is a very interesting and pivotal aspect of the novel, seems to me to be missing focus on a lot of the important parts. Though this seems appropriate seeing as the author focuses on the absence of events in the novel. Luckily, everything within the novel is very closely connected to everything else, so a lot of the themes of the novel are touched upon, such as addiction, psychological cycles, and so on. However, David seems to be focused more on what Wallace is doing rather than what he’s saying by using these techniques and methods of writing. Though one point of his seemed spot on; “Wallace has already established the circular motif as representative of personal restraint and pathological behavior…” (David 97). The theme of addiction is one largely connected to the infinity aspect of the novel, which I’m glad was discussed. However, I think there is more to the waste-energy connection to the infinity theme.

Nevertheless, I certainly agree with the author on all his points. His explanation of the mathematical, recurrent themes in the novel and how the structure of the novel itself is based on the form of a fractal in order to augment the themes themselves. What Wallace did is absolutely amazing when one takes into account all the other aspects of the book. The structure of the book itself, including the absence of key events, plays splendidly with the reader in ways that I have experienced as mind-bending. I haven’t fully grasped the aspects of the novel that literally have scenes that physically shape triangles and shapes in even more ways that lift the novel up.

However, like I touched on before, I don’t think the essay spent enough time focusing on what David Foster Wallace was actually trying to say by writing the novel in this way. The main argument of the essay was, again, that the thematic structure of the novel, it’s fractal, cyclic form, was implemented to dramatize the themes of the novel that contain that aspect, such as addiction. I don’t think he really overlooked anything, seeing as he mentioned a lot of the themes related to infinity, but he doesn’t really go into a lot of detail as to the true message of the themes themselves. I suppose the essay is strictly about the structural aspect of the book itself and the mention of the themes is all that’s necessary, but I would have preferred a more involved essay about the themes.

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1 Response to Blog Post 2; Response to Critical Essay

  1. argyle8 says:

    You explained that David Hering writes more about what DFW does in the novel’s fractal form than what he means by it. What do you think the novel’s fractal form means in terms of time? In class, we’ve discussed recurring cycles (which point to the fractal theme) and the uncontrollable, horrifying concept of time (especially when time manifests in the form of a bird while Poor Tony undergoes withdrawal [302-303]). How would you connect the novel’s fractal theme with what it’s saying about the concept of time?


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