How to be Hip and Cool According to Infinite Jest

I have a strong hunch that I’m a cynic, and I don’t like it. So […]

David Peterson / 10.12.15

I have a strong hunch that I’m a cynic, and I don’t like it. So whenever people I respect sound off about cynicism, I’m all ears. If you spot it, you got it and if you got it, you spot it, after all. David Foster Wallace offers a piercing insight into cynicism and the human condition in this passage from 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 … We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naiveté … That queerly persistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naiveté are mutually exclusive. Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naive and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pulses and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.

He’s so right. My cynicism is a mask. It is a defense mechanism. As I “consume” media (perfect verb by the way), I’m looking for clues that could help stave off feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The primordial figure living beneath our veneer of practiced indifference is the human in his/her weakest and most vulnerable state. This is not only the state in which we find ourselves developing our most intimate bonds with one another, it is the place where our need for a savior is most palpable. In other words, we come to our Maker, drooling and gooey, or not at all.