Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 10: Art and Being Hip


I live in Asheville, which is considered a “hipster” city. As a result, I see people who work very hard and spend a lot of money perfecting their non-conformist images. I like to say that these people “conform to the established idea of non-conformity.” Not that I am passing judgment. Everyone has a right to express themselves in a way that feels right, but I suspect that some impressionable individuals buy into the idea of non-conformity that is promoted through the arts and social media, especially young people.

With this in mind, I’d like to point out an interesting passage in Infinite Jest.

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip – and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, to be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion.

(p. 694)

This rang true for me on several levels. Certainly, the hipster “conforming to non-conformity” I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but also the need to belong, especially in one’s adolescent years. I was like that, and I’m sure we all were to an extent. I dressed the part of the crowd that I was hanging out with, listened to the same music, went to the same places, all to be a part of a group and to avoid having to be alone. Because what happened when you are alone? You have to face yourself, and that was hard for me as a teenager and I suspect it is difficult for others too.

Anyway, as I have gotten older, I am more comfortable with myself and no longer feel the need to be a part of a particular group. I do what makes me happy, and whether I do that in a group or alone, doesn’t make that much difference to me. But Wallace taps into something that is almost universal for people growing up. We all want friends and we want to be a part of a group, and we look to art to teach us what is cool and how we should be if we want to fit in with the hip crowd. It makes me wonder if we have some tribalism hidden away in our collective consciousness.

Thanks for stopping by, and have an amazing day!



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5 responses to “Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 10: Art and Being Hip

  1. Precious thoughts, Jeff. I found the passage quite delightful and it definitely rang true for me as well. Personally, I tend to cherish my outsider status though loneliness/isolation is a price to pay I guess. “I don’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member”;)

    • LOL! So you don’t want to join the Erudite Outsiders Club with me?

      Well, here’s the biggest issue I see now. People have become so staunch and extreme in their views that they allow no room for deviation. “You’re either with us or against us.” Personally, I’m from the Frank Zappa mentality: there’s no progress without deviation. 😉

      Cheers, and glad that you’re you.

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Fabulous and potent excerpt and musing, as ever. And yes, everything, it seems, is fair game for being co-opted into the Cultural Norm-fest (perhaps the more likely it is the stir up the ‘norm’, the more it gets co-opted?).

    Anhedonia … had to look that up (love when that happens, and it does often with DFW). Hip ennui. Peer-hunger. Wow, right?

    xo Jamie

    • Hi Jaime! So glad you liked the post. Yeah, everything gets co-opted, it seems. There was a song by The Clash that criticized the establishment for “turning rebellion into money.” Everything, including what is hip and anti-establishment, eventually becomes a commodity.


  3. Pingback: “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 12: Final Thoughts | Stuff Jeff Reads