Infinite Jest – Week Four (pages 78-105)

Hello all. Next week we’re going to discuss pp.78-105. In these pages we have one of my favourite passages in the novel about the strange beauty of tennis, as well as some E.T.A. locker room talk. We are also introduced to Tiny Ewell, and we see the start of what seems like a significant conversation between someone called Marathe and someone called Steeply…

“Marathe said ‘. . . have I merely pretended to pretend to pretend to betray'” (94)..

This week we’re starting to get much more of a sense of the novel’s setting. Acronyms are starting to be spelled out a bit (ONAN in particular), sections like the long plagiarism footnote are unique ways to deliver exposition about the political situation, and Wallace is starting to more explicitly set out the different ideologies at play.

Everyone loved the Schtitt passage about infinities humanly contained, though we’re not quite sure what to make of it yet. We’re starting to get a sense of how the novel situates America and Americans in relation to the rest of the world and to its own national myths, while we wondered how much the novel (and in particular these pages) either support Schtitt’s view or seem to counter it. To what extent can Marathe and Steeply be said to represent their nations? Is Wallace parodying the James Bond-type spy? The Tom Clancy hero? Everyone on earth?

Whichever grouping of pages you choose to read from Infinite Jest all the individual fragments, while obviously disparate, seem to follow familiar patterns. The problem of plagiarism being much more work than just writing something original seems to tie in with Hal’s secrecy being much harder work than the thing he’s trying to keep secret, or a self being the product of a fight with the very limits that make a self possible in the first place. All of this seems deeply significant.

We discussed the strangeness of trees in this section, the significance of ill-defined smells and sicknesses you can’t see. We talked about character names and the problem with parents, and about how Wallace’s dialogue works so well. How does he manage to capture the way young precocious people speak to each other without ever really saying anything to each other at all?

At the 100 page mark, our first-timers are feeling happy/relieved/surprised to find, given the novel’s reputation as a massive book about tennis and maths, that it is not boring, and fun to read, and the problem is not so much understanding it page by page but simply in making the fragments cohere (which, so far, has been rewarding). How long can the fragments keep going before we really start to long for Wallace to do some of the cohering himself?

Word of the Week: “firelight” (103).


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