DescriptionFrom Referents to Revenants: The Hyper-Real Brockengespenst in David Foster Wallace’s Haunted, Desert(ed) Landscapes
Jean Baudrillard invoked Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘On Exactitude in Science’ when claiming that America is a desert—an expansive cultural void where the real and unreal are enmeshed so thoroughly that distinctions between them disappear. This hyper-reality is exemplified in Jacques Derrida’s notion of the hauntological specter: a liminal Other that oscillates between the familiar and unfamiliar, the present and absent, and being and non-being. He elaborated on the nature of the spectral in ‘History of the Lie’: ‘The fabulous and the phantasmatic have a feature in common […] they do not pertain to either the true or the false, the veracious or the mendacious. They are related, rather, to an irreducible species of the simulacrum or of virtuality’ (65). Exacerbated by the effects of hyperrealism, the desert becomes an outland of signification unable to maintain the authenticity of cartographic and tangible referents necessary for delineating the physical and metaphysical boundaries dividing the Self from the Other.
The late David Foster Wallace invokes manifestations of the spectral Other that haunts the barren, hyper-real landscapes he constructs in his first two novels: Broom of the System (1987) and Infinite Jest (1996). The fictional Great Ohio Desert (G.O.D.) in Broom of the System is a simulation of wilderness designed by the governor of Ohio to remind people living within the commercialized cityscape about the virtue of pastoral landscapes. However, the G.O.D. is a fake desert built over the ‘real’ wilderness of Wayne National Park because the governor felt the national park did not conform enough to the traditional concept of wilderness. The inauthentic, hyper-real desert essentially becomes its own commercialized space. Furthermore, in its simulation and liminal commercial-natural existence, the G.O.D. becomes a specter of the national park’s destroyed wilderness as well as a specter of cultural waste. Infinite Jest also contains a hyper-real landscape in the form of the fictional Great Concavity/Convexity: an artificial wilderness near Quebec created by the literal waste of American commercialism. Another haunted landscape is the Baudrillardian map created by tennis students during the war-game Eschaton that ends in the students violently arguing as the map territory and real territory blend together. The simulated nature of these three landscapes incorporates a systematical loss of referent-based signification further enhancing their function as outlands obfuscating the boundaries of the Self/Other dialectic.
The haunting of these desert(ed) landscapes by a liminal, spectral Other will be analyzed in relation to Wallace’s symbol of the Brockengespenst cast over an Arizonian desert in Infinite Jest. Goethe’s famed Brocken spectre effect is created by the magnification of an observer’s shadow upon the surfaces of clouds when the observer is standing on an elevated plane. The Broken specter is essentially the unreal being projected onto the real in order to produce the Other. Ultimately, it will be argued that Wallace’s haunted borderlands challenges logocentric and ontological boundaries by embracing, enmeshing, inverting, subverting, and obscuring these limits between selfhood and Otherness. This suggests a form of spectrality through the transmutation of cartographic referents into revenants of a phantasmal order.
|8 Mar 2014
|Cornwall, United Kingdom