Infinite Jest – Week Three (pages 55-78)

Hello all. Next Tuesday we’re going to discuss pp.55-78. This week’s pages include several more E.T.A. snippets, as well as our introduction to Don Gately and Kate Gompert, two characters not at all associated with tennis whose scenes (for anyone feeling a bit claustrophobic at the tennis academy) will come as a nice change of pace and perhaps a relief! This week also includes our first very long footnote: James Incandenza’s filmography. To make this less daunting, I recommend trying to find your favourite film in the list and we’ll share at the meeting! (A lot of them are funny and it’s worth reading through them).

“The following listing is as complete as we are able to make it” (985n. 24)..

Head colds and a whole lot of medications feature in this week’s pages. We have some characters getting sick, some who’ve been sick their whole lives, and others who have the misfortune to murder a sick person. There are many dark ironies in this scene, such as DuPlessis almost being saved by the sort of American advertising he despises, and the fact that we understand what the characters are trying to say to each other though they do not. We also noted the oddly beautiful way Wallace has of describing the most gruesome of deaths. Who is DuPlessis?

We discussed “the best use of a semi-colon in all of literature” on p.60, the way Wallace describes body parts as owning their own ailments and treatments (the “knee’s whirpool”), and the really effective way he describes nightmares in the breathless second-person. Our first-timers are starting to crack the puzzle of the named years.

The filmography is a treasure-chest full of funny details, intertextual jokes, and what seem like hints about the larger structure of the novel. We discussed how this footnote might work in a different novel, and how Wallace manages to both have his joke and tell the life story of one of his characters through details like the production company name-changes, the film titles, and obscure bibliographic information. The intellectual and philosophical allusions (we noted Descartes in particular) in this section seem to hint at Wallace’s intended audience for the novel (i.e., a room-full of undergraduates and graduates…).

We spent a lot of time with Kate Gompert this week, discussing the complicated narrative situation in this chapter and Wallace’s way of manipulating our sympathies as we are pulled close to one character or the other. How does Wallace use medical terminology here? And just how much are we supposed to feel for Kate’s doctor?

Word of the Week: “bluely” (59).

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