Infinite Jest – Week Fifteen (pages 410-442)

Hello all. Next Tuesday we’ll be discussing pp.410-442. Do I even need to say that the pages are great this week? We’re continuing with the long world-building chapter, with more from President Tr– Gentle; the fate of the big American Ad companies and the advent of subsidized time; Marathe and Steeply on soup; and the continuation of the Clipperton + puppetshow saga.

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It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase.” (414)

We’d been anticipating this week for a while, as Wallace finally explains the origins of InterLace, Subsidized Time, and how the whole TV thing works in this world. As a group, we don’t know many authors who actually write about advertising, though after discussing, for 20 minutes, all the horrible adverts we’ve seen around Glasgow, we’re kind of crying out for more. Wallace’s arguments about serious fiction requiring some work, vs. TV and adverts that are all about inducing an immediate response (of pleasure or pain) seem really significant here.

Each of these sections complement each other really well. Where Hal’s essay on the TV companies (another nice way of setting up exposition, by the way) segues into Marathe and Steeply’s discussion of empowering American choices, we also have Mario mopping up some remains while Gately does the same. All the characters seem interconnected in this way without ever meeting.

Some of us found this Marathe/Steeply scene quite difficult, partly because it’s so long, and partly because the scene so concerns each ‘spy’ trying to work out the other, that we pay too much attention to that and struggle to keep track of what they’re actually talking about. Lots of interesting pretty-girls and ugly-feet imagery here, in the scene with the cross dresser and the legless terrorist.

We discussed the problems of pleasure, delayed gratification, and the Clipperton suite. We discussed utilitarianism and hedonism, and the exponential growth of tech that gluts but never satisfies.

The way Wallace describes the falling-off of energy in roomfuls of people is really great: the feeling when everything gets “jagged.” Infinite Jest is as busy and noisy as the world it describes, but none of us feel jagged. The novel only seems so far to energize discussion and admiration and debate.

Word of the Week: “whingeocide” (441).

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