Work Ethic, Grace, and Giving in Infinite Jest
Wallace’s masterpiece is an encyclopedia of transactions, values, and methods of valuation, documenting its subtle engagements with the economically topical (NAFTA’s neoliberal definition of “free trade,” for instance) and the culturally embedded (ongoing perversions of the Protestant work ethic, which this chapter links to Wallace’s readings of Pynchon and Gaddis). Wallace leads us to see viewers of the title Entertainment – and their more thoroughly examined analogues, drug and alcohol addicts – as economic agents seeking a return of value that has been utterly compromised, resulting in conditions of slavery that Wallace interprets, as he did in Broom and “Westward,” through Hegel’s “Lordship and Bondage.” With these terms in place, I revisit AA scenes that have driven interpretations focused on sincerity and irony and show these moments’ structuring term to be value. Often noted for his generative exceptionality in Wallace’s cast of characters, Don Gately comes to his distinctiveness, I argue, through a relationship to work and to the uncannily rewritten coinage in which he receives “payment.” Building on Wallace’s annotations of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift as well as a cut passage on pennies’ “weird inverse value” that I draw from the Infinite Jest manuscripts, I link Gately’s initials to the abbreviation for Dei Gratia – “By the Grace of God” – found on British coins, thus recalibrating readings of the novel’s religiosity and Wallace’s relationship to contingent structures.
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