Angelo Grossi
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‘Something staring back at you’
An anamorphic reading of Infinite Jest
in Reading David Foster Wallace between philosophy and literature
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Starting from an understanding of Infinite Jest as a novel that appropriates the techniques of the Baroque visual regime, I will discuss how the issues of ‘anamorphosis’ and of the Lacanian ‘gaze’ play a fundamental, yet subterranean role in the thematic economy of David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus. In Jacques Lacan’s formulation, the gaze pertains to the way an object looks back at the viewer. Lacan famously addressed this concept in Seminar XI by using the example of Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting The Ambassadors; in the painting an anamorphic undecipherable blot is revealed to be a skull once it is seen downward and through the left. The skull marks the site of the gaze in so far as it indicates the way the subject is inscribed in the picture, an experience that dismantles her sense of mastery and control. The encounter with the gaze constitutes an experience of the traumatic ‘real’, which marks the failure of our power to account symbolically for everything. There are several moments in Infinite Jest where experiences revolving around the gaze and anamorphosis are clearly illustrated. In showing this, the chapter proposes a reading of Infinite Jest as a path that leads outside ideology and towards the traumatic ‘real’.

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