25th May 2017 6:30pm
G7 Pavilion Parade
The Novel at the End of History: Donald Trump and Infinite Jest
In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published "The End of History," an essay that proclaimed the victory of liberal democracy in America and the world. In 1996, David Foster Wallace literalised Fukuyama's thesis in his novel Infinite Jest, conceiving of a literal end of history where year dates are replaced by the names of corporations and linear progress is replaced by recursive cycles. Moreover, in writing his novel Wallace came to a different conclusion than Fukuyama had about the fate of liberal democracy. For Wallace, in liberalism's apparent victory lay its actual exhaustion, and Infinite Jest contains an urgent warning that America at the end of history is setting itself up for the rise of fascism.
Following the victory of populist demagogue Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election, Wallace's warning seems more urgent than ever. In this paper, I will outline the political diagnosis Wallace offers in Infinite Jest, and will also look to the cure the novel is intended to provide. Wallace's New Sincerity, as I have called it elsewhere, is instantiated in Infinite Jest through the motif of absorption, which operates as the central thematic and formal principle of the novel. Drawing on critical debates in modernist art history, I will explore the novel as an absorbing and absorptive work, and outline its dialectical contribution to the history of aesthetics and to the politics of the present
Adam Kelly is lecturer in American literature at the University of York. He received his PhD from University College Dublin and held a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University before coming to York. He is the author of American Fiction in Transition: Observer-Hero Narrative, the 1990s, and Postmodernism (Bloomsbury 2013), and has published numerous journal articles and book chapters on various aspects of contemporary American literature. At York he heads up the Freedom After Neoliberalism project, and his monograph-in-progress is provisionally titled American Fiction at the Millennium: Neoliberalism and the New Sincerity.