Date of Award

Summer 8-12-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Chris Kocela

Second Advisor

Calvin Thomas

Third Advisor

Paul Voss


In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace positions abjection in opposition to empathy. Both psychological phenomena derive from a relationship between two people, but abjection depends on a pushing away and empathy depends on a pulling toward. The experience of either phenomenon results in a blurring of interpersonal boundaries, but there is no intimacy in abjection. Instead, as made evident in the central family of Wallace’s novel, the result of abjection is that an individual retreats into the self, rejecting any attempt at intimacy that might be interpreted as an effort to breach autonomy. This alienation is best countered by empathy, as modeled in Infinite Jest in the practice of “Identification” in Alcoholics Anonymous. To identify with a person is to empathize with him or her: to share perspective and emotion. Empathy, unlike abjection, lasts only for a moment, allowing for the reinstatement of the boundaries of self.