Infinite Jest

This is Joe Nickerson’s tattoo.

Literary Tattoos: Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace

“And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”

- From Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Joe says:

The brilliant shadow the writer David Foster Wallace cast over my life and writing and the way I view the world is really pretty much impossible to quantify. Aside from family members, I have never felt such sorrow related to the death of a person I did not personally know – though, that is not entirely accurate. Given the depth of emotion and human decency David often shared and expressed in both his fiction and essays, and the extent to which I often live in my own head, on some level, I had (still have) a deeper, more intimate relationship with him than I had or have with friends and/or family – both living and deceased.

So, as someone who has always been interested in literary-minded tattoos, this was a no brainer. The passage is taken from his beautiful mess of novel, Infinite Jest – the ellipses, a device Wallace often employed to express a character’s speechlessness, symbolizes my own inability to fully express both my own sorrow and David’s fall into silence.


  1. 451 says

    I really like that you attributed the quote. It seems that if a work is important and beautiful enough for you to tattoo it permanently on your skin, then you should also credit the source of such inspiration…just taking the words seems almost like stealing.

  2. Amy says

    I disagree — I think it’s ridiculous to attribute a quote when it’s a tattoo. In my mind, the quote DOES belong to you because it has a unique, personalized meaning to you. When you attribute it, it takes away the personal aspect of it.

  3. ophelia says

    But what if that personal meaning only has significance when the quote IS attributed? You’re right, tattoos are personal. Whether or not a tattooed quote cites the author is a personal choice, and neither way is more or less valid.

  4. 451 says

    Ugh. It’s so arrogant to think you can own someone else’s work. So disrespectful to the author. I realize it’s sometimes aesthetically better not to attribute, and that’s fine, but jeez. It’s important to recognize that the power in the words came from the author who wrote them, and that no matter how much you personally identify with them, you’re indebted to the source.

    And literature isn’t supposed to be a wholly personal thing. Attribution is a tribute to the interconnectedness of the literary canon, to the transformative power of language, and the malleability of words.

    I don’t have a problem with people who don’t attribute, because the vast majority of them recognize and respect the source material. But it’s just unbelievable to me that someone can say that a quote belongs to them. You can own your feelings, your interpretation, your reaction, but you can’t own someone else’s words.

  5. Roman says

    I like it, but honestly, I think D.F.W. would be flattered and wondering what the hell you were thinking at the same time.

  6. Joe Nickerson says

    Roman –

    As was I when I learned that Wallace had Mary Karr’s name tattooed on his arm, inside a heart – which, come on David, what the hell were you thinking? ; )

  7. cara says

    I'm always searching literary tattoos and DFW tattoos and I've seen yours come up a dozen times so I wanted to say for the record that I absolutely love it. By far one of the best I've come across.


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