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Redemption

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The theme or more accurately—act—of redeeming appears throughout Wallace’s writing. In his interview with Larry McCaffery, Wallace repeats the importance of not only diagnosing, but also redeeming the ugly habits of our culture, the cruel realities that we face, or more succinctly—“what’s wrong” (147). Wallace sees the main obstacle of post-modernity as the “terrible penchant for ironic diagnosis of unpleasantness instead of an ambition not just to diagnose and ridicule but to redeem” (147). He wonders why so few artists discuss the possibilities of “working toward redeeming what’s wrong” (147) and conjectures that it is “because they’ll look sentimental and naïve to all the weary ironists” (147). Despite his realization of how he might look to the weary ironists, Wallace plows ahead with the discussions of redemption. More importantly, Wallace actually redeems our culture and its characters through his own writing. From the athlete to the hideous man to the drug addict, Wallace redeems every type of character. In the narratives of these characters, the reader recognizes a writer who has stepped out of himself to see and understand the world through the feelings and experiences of his characters. The result is art that portrays human beings in the best light, art that redeems.

Secondary Sources on Redemption in Infinite Jest:

Catherine Nichol’s “Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest” and Erik Mortenson’s “Xmas Junkies: Debasement and Redemption in the Work of William S. Burroughs and David Foster Wallace” explore the redemption of various characters in Infinite Jest. In so doing, each text presents a picture of redemption and a definition of what it means to be redeemed. “Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival” suggests that redemption results from shedding the escapist mask and regaining autonomy. “Xmas Junkies” conveys that redemption derives from the connection between the reader and the character.

In “Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival,” Nichols focuses on the redemption of Hal and Gately—their attempts to “engage the dynamism of reality” and the “radical act of dialogue” (Nichols np) that results from their redemptive transformations. For Nichols, the attempt to “engage with the dynamism of reality” can be seen in Hal and Gately’s efforts to unmask the self, which point “the trajectory of their transformation [toward] one of restoring personal agency” and ultimately “offer the seeds of redemption in Wallace’s unflinching portrayal of late-twentieth-century culture” (Nichols). Thus, “Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival” portrays the process of redemption as one that entails a gaining or “restoring [of] personal agency.”

Mortenson examines the redemption of yrstruly in Infinite Jest by focusing on how Wallace “restore[s] the addict’s humanity” (37). Mortenson notes that “Yrstruly is indeed a contradiction, simultaneously vicious and compassionate, self-serving and loyal. Yet this contradiction serves to humanize yrstruly” (44). Mortenson reveals that the humanization of a character is achieved by making that character relatable to the reader. He describes the redemptive moments of yrstruly as ones in which “we has readers are more easily able to identify with…. Like us, yrstruly is trying to find his place in the world, and while we cannot always agree with him we can at least identify him as a fellow human being engaged in a common struggle” (45). Hence, in “Xmas Junkies,” to be redeemed means to be “like us.” Redemption comes from sharing something in common with the reader—from connecting with the reader.