Adam Kelly
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Absorbing art
The Hegelian project of Infinite Jest
in Reading David Foster Wallace between philosophy and literature
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This chapter argues that reading David Foster Wallace’s fiction ‘between philosophy and literature’ means proceeding via the work of G. W. F. Hegel. A towering philosophical figure, Hegel in his phenomenology posits an essential role for aesthetic expression in the progression of human understanding, while his science of logic and philosophy of history provide an alternative route to the ‘deep necessity’ that Wallace initially sought in analytic logic and maths. The chapter sets out from a phrase – ‘transcendence is absorption’ – that Hal Incandenza attributes to Hegel at the outset of Infinite Jest, and goes on to engage the work of the Hegelian art historian Michael Fried in order to think about what it means to create an absorbing work of art, and what the risks and opportunities of doing so might be. The chapter then examines how absorptive themes play out in the work of Infinite Jest’s primary artist figure, Hal’s father James Incandenza. It ends by examining one particular Incandenza film – more precisely, one character's viewing of that film – that provides the closest thing in Wallace’s novel to a model for what sincere artistic communication looks like in its achieved form.

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