Infinite Jest – Week Thirteen (pages 343-375)

Hello all. Next Tuesday we’ll be discussing pp.342-375. I think this is the first week where the whole thing is just one long chapter (we’re going to struggle, soon, to find neat chapter breaks to arrive at each week). This one is all about AA and what it’s like to be an addict. Looking forward to it.


Our first weekly-reading to comprise a single chapter, the narration in the AA sections always comes as a kind of relief after the hard work of ETA (not that we aren’t enjoying those sections too). Though we’ve had some sections describing life in- and out-side Ennet house, this is our first sustained section on AA itself (and it’s always surprising, for someone who knows how central AA is to the book, how long it takes to get there!).

We note that this section takes place on the same day as the Eschaton game, and it reads, indeed, like the after-party following an apocalpyse. We talked about the importance of capitalisation in this chapter, about Identification and empathy, and about the way the chapter cuts between characters’ specific tales of addiction and the narrator’s reflections on the same-old pattern these stories all fall into.

It struck us as signifcant that we learn about Joelle’s arrival at AA through a endnote, and we wondered just how much you’d be missing if (for some mad reason) you were choosing to ignore them.

We liked the perfect description of one man’s vanished ass (345), the “whimpery instead of banging” ways to die (348), and the outdated Walkman (363) (not much portable tech in this world: it all seems home-based). We liked Gately’s moment of anxiety–the first time we see him rattled–when Joelle raises a problem for which he has no answer.

The problem of choice is obviously really central to this chapter, and is clearly one of the central threads that ties all the pieces togther. The choice is to die or survive to become a Crocodile (which hardly seems appealing!). Did the girl at the end, who recounts her terrible story, have a choice? Does it matter if she had a choice? Is the only choice that matters the one she makes now? We talked, haltingly, about this last terrible scene, admiring (the wrong word?) Wallace’s construction of it, the little ambiguous details he adds to make a bad story so much worse. We talked about the emptiness of sex symbols, and modern tech-y horror stories, and what seems here like an irreversible turn towards real horror from what had maybe been a little funny before.

Word of the Week: “polyesterishly” (358).


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