Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Alternative Format


Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Carmichael, Thomas


This thesis employs a poststructuralist framework to consider the possibilities for agency and resistance in consumer capitalism. The argument begins with an examination of figures who emerged in nineteenth century psychiatric discourses, and the roles that those figures play in poststructural and postmodern critiques of psychoanalysis and psychiatry, specifically in the work of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. I then argue that David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest presents us with a new figure—the addict. My reading of Wallace is informed by poststructuralist critiques of psychiatric power and by Wallace’s own affinity for the fiction of Franz Kafka. I argue that the addict is a configuration of subjectivity that emerges under consumer capitalism, and through a Deleuzian reading of Infinite Jest, I prove that the addict is both a complicit and resistant figure, who personifies the grounds for human agency under consumer capital.

Summary for Lay Audience

Much poststructural and postmodern thought has focused on the construction of the subject, particularly on the configuration of regimes of knowledge and power that have historically defined subjectivity. Following the example of poststructual and postmodern thought, my thesis is an examination of the figures of madness who emerged in nineteenth century psychiatric discourses and came to be, in many ways, emblematic figures of poststructuralist thought. I demonstrate that these figures—the depressive, manic-depressive and schizophrenic—and the therapeutic regimes that spring up around them are inherently political. Theorists such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari argue specifically that these figures are symptomatic of the fragmented subjectivity that emerges under consumer capitalism. In texts such as Madness and Civilization and Anti-Oedipus, they argue that the confluence of certain forces—therapeutic regimes, particularly psychoanalysis and capitalism—have coalesced around and actually realize their full, despotic potential in the repression of the contemporary subject. However, wherever there is oppression, resistance is also possible. Drawing upon David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, I argue that there is a fourth figure, the figure of the addict, who embodies these circulations of power and, in many ways, is the ideal subject of consumer capitalism, but who is also a figure of resistance. Through a Deleuzian reading of Wallace’s text, I argue that the addict is both a subject who is formed by the multiplicity of forces beyond their control but who nonetheless finds agency in the world-building nature of addiction. I also examine Wallace’s affinity for Kafka’s literature, particularly The Metamorphosis, and his appropriation of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa through the character of Hal Incandenza in Infinite Jest. For Wallace, I argue, Kafka’s narrative serves as an example that enables the late postmodernist writer to construct the addict as the logical response to the dominance of anhedonia and depression that is engendered by consumer capitalism.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.