Monday, July 1, 2019

DFW19: Ethics, Freedom, and Infinite Jest

Vernon Cisney, Ryan Kerr, and Andrew Langford
Moderator: Andrew Varnon

June 28, 2019, 9:00 AM — 10:15 AM


Vernon Cisney
Assistant Professor — Gettysburg College/Interdisciplinary Studies

The Ethics of the Nothing in Wallace’s Infinite Jest
This paper examines the concept of the Nothing in Infinite Jest, as it relates to the novel’s emphasis on self-transcendence. In particular, the artificial nothing of substance abuse is contrasted with the religious/aesthetic nothing gestured at by characters such as Don Gately and arguably Mario Incandenza.

Vernon W. Cisney is an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Deleuze and Derrida: Difference and the Power of the Negative and Derrida’s Voice and Phenomenon: An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide. He is also the co-editor of Biopower: Foucault and Beyond; The Way of Nature and the Way of Grace: Philosophical Footholds on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life; Between Foucault and Derrida; and Pierre Klossowski’s Living Currency.


Ryan Kerr
Ph.D. Student — University of Florida

Competition, Responsibility, and the Problem of Political Freedom in Infinite Jest
In my paper, I wish to examine the tensions in Infinite Jest between freedom and social responsibility that Andrew Warren has commented on in his recent essay “Wallace and Politics.” Using a Marxist framework, I will argue that the novel displays the pitfalls of individualism and the importance of dismantling the hierarchies brought about by capitalism and competition.

Ryan Kerr is an incoming Ph.D. student in English at the University of Florida. He holds an M.A. in English from the University of Virginia and a B.A. in English with a minor in political science from the University of Arkansas. He primarily studies the novels of James Joyce and David Foster Wallace. Kerr’s work has appeared in Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies and on the David Foster Wallace Society blog.


Andrew Langford
Independent Scholar

Fascism as a Sort of Present: the Self-Help of Jordan Peterson
Amidst Total Noise, some seek the reassertion of power through hierarchical order. Such is the case with alt-right-adjacent (but distinct) intellectual Jordan Peterson: an author born in 1962 who spends lots of time criticizing Post-Modernism, preaching the sincere truth of cliche, considering lobsters, and appealing to young white guys. I will make an attempt to compare him with the internet’s Saint Dave. Then I will bring in a more full Wallace, hoping to see how this more complete version might help us navigate our particular time, while also identifying the areas in which his project needs our continuation and completion.

Andrew Langford was born almost literally under the shadow of Disney World. 18 years of Right-wing Christian schooling followed. At his first opportunity he moved a thousand miles away. Now a two-time college dropout, he’s mostly just thankful that the Midwest — and the art and people he discovered there — saved his life.

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