Infinite Jest – Week Five (pages 105-128)

Hello all. Next week we’re going to discuss pp.105-128. In these pages we’ll finish the Marathe-Steeply chapter with their discussion of love, we have a long section with the Big Buddies teaching their tiny students, a romantic scene with Mario, another with Marathe and Steeply, and finally the introduction of Lyle (who is, in a word, unique…).

“‘The sort that gets sung about, the kind people die for and then get immortalized in song. You got your ballads, your operas. Tristan and Isolde. Lancelot and what’s-her-name” (105)..

We read the tail-end of a Marathe and Steeply conversation this week, in which they talk about (and bungle) the classics and love. How does Wallace bring allusions to high and ancient culture into such a televisual novel? Do they work in the same way as allusions in other big novels? Does the novel agree or disagree with Marathe that characters who are slaves to nothing do not deserve “songs”?

We talked about the different sources of wisdom and teaching the students at ETA have, their aloneness despite them and the strangely empty community they come together to make, the machine language of the muscles and rituals for their own sake and the Show as an endgoal that so few will reach. We talked about Hal seeming to open here more than anyone else.

Something that come out of these pages was the big problem of whether or not ETA is a healthy thing, and is whatever the students are suffering for worth it. Does the novel want us to align with Schtitt, Marathe, Steeply, Lyle, or none of the above, as we try to understand where the characters are headed and why. Is it the book’s aim to obscure that kind of easy ‘message’.

Mario Incandenza’s romantic scene is parts funny and parts sad, with Wallace doing what we’ve seen a lot with characters having two conversations that don’t match up and connect. Circularity seems really key in the pages this week: the way characters loop around in speech and movement to arrive where they started.

We enjoyed the military metaphors for Millicent’s mad hair. We wondered what Interdependence might mean.

And what’s the deal with Lyle?

Word of the Week: “atwinkle” (121), or perhaps “murated” (127)


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