This essay historically situates David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest as a transitional text between the first and second nuclear ages. Written in the immediate wake of the Cold War, Infinite Jest complexly develops the nuclear trope’s fabulously textual persistence despite the relative disappearance of the discourse of Mutually Assured Destruction. Through recursively inverting what he called postmodern metafiction’s “Armageddon-explosion,” I argue that Wallace attempts to articulate an anti-eschatological imagination capable of attending to the second nuclear age. Paying particular attention to his projection of US “Experialism” and the nuclear simulation Eschaton, I analyze Wallace’s construction of the Entertainment as the emergence of the nuclear, not as an “event,” a moment where the bomb explodes, a moment of destruction and indetermination, but rather as a result of archival accumulation and network assemblage, of the materiality of text becoming catastrophic. If the American eschatological imagination continues to project fantasies of annihilation, Wallace quite presciently warns us throughout Infinite Jest that even without the “presence” of the nuclear bomb, or indeed even without the teleological end to America’s Cold War narrative, we should be wary of disaster remaining a dominant form of cultural representation.
Research Article|August 01 2012