The Solipsism of the Quantified Self: Working Bodies in David Foster Wallace's Body of Work
Eerily prophetic in many regards, David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel »Infinite Jest«, this paper argues, can be seen to discuss the all too current phenomenon of the Quantified Self. Within its wider critique of American neoliberalism as producing a culture of solipsism, Infinite Jest portrays self-optimization through quantification in the context of labor as detrimental to the formation of stable and meaningful Selfhood and deforming the laboring body. Redefining tennis, usually a playful, non-productive activity, as a form of labor, students at Infinite Jest's Enfield Tennis Academy are prepared for the »Show«, having their bodies turned into a commodity in a marketplace of spectation. Thus, training at ETA centers on practices of self-quantification. Students' selves are exclusively understood as their body and its statistical representation in rankings, resulting in exchanges such as: »"Hey there, how are you?" "Number eight this week [...]"« The self-objectification that prepares ETA students for their work in the entertainment industry not only defers the Self but the materialist philosophy of ETA also deforms the body, creating grotesque bodies that »look [...] like a gorilla's arm [...] pasted on the body of a child«. Concurrently, digitization in Infinite Jest's entertainment industry also solipsizes and deforms the spectator. Thus, measuring the addictive potential of the »Entertainment«, a movie so effortlessly gratifying its viewers watch it until they die, the Canadian terrorists of Infinite Jest employ a macabre digital method, computing the statistical relation between how many digits viewers are willing to saw off to continue watching and the amount of time a viewer hesitates to do so. Digitization and self-quantification in postmodern capitalism endanger both the producer's and the consumer's Selfhood and body. Infinite Jest can be seen as a literary representation of the quantified self, linking materialist notions of self-quantification to neoliberal, solipsizing logic while proposing a Wittgensteinian solution to the problems arising from such a self-objectifying, materialist and poststructuralist culture. (Artistic) work, the novel continuously linking tennis to the work of the author, should be viewed as a reciprocal interaction between subjects rather than an objectified »body in commerce with bodies«.