Publication Date

April 2017


Matthew Garrett


American Studies, English


English (United States)


I argue that David Foster Wallace’s novel, "Infinite Jest," is most compelling in its regularity. By regularity, I mean a formal orderliness that contains the novel, even in its chaotic passages. My argument differs from critics who see "Infinite Jest" as a singular achievement; in addition, I disagree with readers who find the novel too complex. To structure my argument, I employ Russian philosopher M.M. Bakhtin’s concept of the “chronotope”—literally, “timespace”— which refers to the fusion of time and space as expressed in literature. Importantly, chronotopes function intrinsically and extrinsically (inside and outside of the novel). The chronotopes of "Infinite Jest" reveal the novel’s institutional existentialism. In the dystopian world of the novel, many characters occupy a chronotope of isolation: narrative function is minimal, as reflected by the descriptive form of the text. In contrast, characters recover narrative within communal institutions (a chronotope of recovery). Moreover, I argue that this chronotope of recovery allegorically reveals a chronotope of the writing program. In both institutionally enclosed chronotopes, the individual is given rules to follow and specific language to use. Finally, I argue that the writing program feeds back into Infinite Jest, allegorically indicating an all-encompassing chronotope of the program (programs as means of ordering society in a meaningful way). In addition to my textual analysis, I employ my original research of Wallace’s archive at the Harry Ransom Center (University of Texas at Austin). I also use a number of critical sources. Of particular importance are Bakhtin’s “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” Mark McGurl’s “The Institution of Nothing: David Foster Wallace in the Program,” and Jeffrey Severs’ "David Foster Wallace’s Balancing Books: Fictions of Value."



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