Lacking: A reckoning with absence through the lenses of Beloved, Housekeeping, and Infinite Jest

Plan Author

  • Samuel Amber, 2018

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Sex, Violence, Liberation
  • Course: Tell about the South: The South in the American Literary Imagination
  • Tutorial: Sculptures in the Snow
  • Tutorial: Infinite Drafts: A Plan Writing Seminar

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Mark Lamoreaux, Housatonic Community College


I began writing my essays from very different places; investigating rememory and generational trauma in Beloved, darkness in Housekeeping, and addiction in Infinite Jest. What emerged from all of them—a spine to the plan, Geraldine would call it—as the papers took form were the feelings of intense loneliness and the search for/recoil from the real in a world that simulates (Jest) or disremembers (Beloved). My poetry, titled “Please, I beg you, Leave me ‘Lone,” expands on the inescapability of isolation and loss, often utilizing metaphors attached to physical things, but whose physical presence is only a momentary part of their stories and what they hold. In the final element of my plan, I use materials in my sculpture gleaned mostly from the woods in a effort to engage with this real that is absence, materials from “the desert of the real itself,” by using materials that will decompose; balance rocks that will eventually fall. It’s an acknowledgement to the most real thing, which is decomposition and loss.


In my comparison of Beloved and Housekeeping, the loneliness is created by ever-present absence and is, in comparing the character Denver from Beloved and Ruth from Housekeeping, the strongest link between the two books. It is also loneliness that puts one in closer proximity to rememory, as clarified in Ruth’s account of being put “out of doors” by loneliness, to feel the absence fully since there’s no one to connect to and distract from the loss. However, both are novels about very different families: one, of former slaves in post-civil war Ohio, the other, a working-class white family in Idaho. The difference in background accounts for the different ways rememory manifests itself in the two stories.

It is in this unreality—or hyperreality—that we find ourselves in Infinite Jest, searching for substance in a material, consumable world. Those who ingest substances do so in an effort to find a material that will not just be consumed and excreted but that will make some kind of difference. Materiality is a major focus in the consumer culture Wallace constructs. The names of products that we hear are often over-descriptive and refer to the very materials they are made out of. The heavy use of overly-scientific language echoes Baudrillard’s assertion that the simulacrum is one measured by and obsessed with “genetic miniaturization.” The consumption of material in Infinite Jest is hyperreal—an insistence by the culture that they know what they are consuming.

Every man’s a violation
on this earth—a Sutpen,
a tearer—bent inward
on himself. Of ledgers
and debits; ‘you owe me’
and ‘this earth owes me’
for some delusional labor
(his own labors are
the only he sees).
He’s owed the freedom
to do what he wants,
all the while insisting
that nothing matters,
shaking his fist at the truth
he calls the void, but
the truth is that something
didn’t add up; not given
what he was owed,
and all the anger, him
shaking fists and rebelling
and tearing, taking all
insisting nothing, all bent
inward on what he’s owed
and sensing injustice
which meaning he
grasps not—not ledgers—
but words.


What I remember most about Plan was the agony, but I found what I wrote interesting, and was inspired by many books. I enjoyed talking about books with my Plan sponsor.

Three of Sam Amber’s art installations in the woods.