Authors Name: 
Colin Groundwater
University: 
Yale University
Category: 
Literature
Award winner

Rhizomatic Mathematics: David Foster Wallace and the Literary Infinite

“Rhizomatic Mathematics” seeks to unravel the web that is Infinite Jest through its underlying mathematical structure. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest has baffled readers since its publication in 1996 with its apparent lack of structure. Wallace’s constant shifts across time and space make it impossible to construct a single linear interpretation of events. This paper intends to demonstrate that Wallace’s choice is a mathematically constructed denial of set interpretation, resulting in a hermeneutically richer text. In a 1996 interview with Michael Silverblatt, Wallace claimed Infinite Jest was structured like a Sierpinski Gasket, a fractal shown to theoretically exhibit an infinite area. The Sierpinski Gasket structure is the culmination of a preoccupation with the mathematical infinite that pervades the novel, revealing one of the text’s central goals: a book open to limitless interpretation. By exploring criticism of similar American novels and the work of Gilles Deleuze and Guattari, we investigate how Wallace employs rhizomatic principles to render a geometric figure in literary form. With an understanding of Infinite Jest’s mathematical foundation, it becomes clear that Wallace uses the philosophical implications of the literary infinite as a response to postmodern media culture as embodied by the danger at the heart of his text, the fictional film Infinite Jest.