Mind the Gap: An Instance of Grotesquely Defamiliarizing Indeterminacy in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
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The concept of the grotesque originated in medieval Italy with the discovery of early-Christian period Roman artifacts that blended plant, human, and architectural forms into simultaneously comic and terrifying amalgams. By the 16th century, European writers began applying these distortions to literary works. Early examples are found in Rabelais and Cervantes, and later in Sterne and Hugo. As a literary term, “grotesque” has come to indicate a confluence of incompatible contents that evoke an ambivalent reader response: half laughter, half revulsion. This capacity to comedically unsettle is perhaps one reason for its popularity among authors of the 20th and 21st centuries such as Beckett, Kafka, Pynchon, and Ballard. However, one aspect of the modern grotesque remains largely unexamined: distortions of syntactic and grammatical form, as opposed to those of character and imagery. This project looks therefore at the formal-grotesque quality of indeterminacy in one element of David Foster Wallace’s 1996 opus Infinite Jest. The novel presents anomalous anaphoric narrative breaks, wherein breaks in the text are immediately followed by incomplete sentences that lack the orienting information of traditional narration. Employing the theories of Bakhtin, Shklovsky, and Iser, this project aims to elucidate this grotesque formal indeterminacy.