E Pluribus Unum
E Pluribus Unum
Ritual, Currency, and the Embodied Values of the Pale King
Where Infinite Jest had allowed Wallace to go continually inside the calculating minds of addicts and consumers to find evidence of diminishing returns and enslavement, he turned to taxes in order to place in the background of his next novel innumerable arcane terms of valuation, transaction, and reconciling, the million acts of book-balancing that go on constantly at the IRS. Oblivion’s wariness about the saving power of work receives new accents in this examination of ascetics, and by elaborating anew my central terms of work, value, and political rhetoric, I add nuance to readings that have already characterized the novel as a history of the rise of neoliberalism. In more specific terms, the chapter takes up three main threads: first, a re-energized role for ritual, a trope taken from DeLillo, as Wallace depicts his priestly accountants at sacred work. Second, a re-reading of forms of paper value in a neoliberal society, centered on contracts (a concern I unpack in previous chapters as well) and the values inscribed on currency, here elaborated in the novel’s many scenes that encode a Freudian intermingling of money and waste. Third, Wallace’s final rendition of axiology in passages about human attention’s comparative valuing of details, as explored through competing models of relevance and what the author-persona calls “the exact size and shape of every blade of grass in my front lawn” – one last image of the ground fiction forms.
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