Infinite Jest – Week Seventeen (pages 475-508)

Hi all. Next Tuesday we’ll be crossing the 500-page mark! We’ll discuss pp.475-508. These pages include one of my favourite sections in the whole book, with a man and his broom. We also have two mini-Marathe-Steeply sections, a return to James + his father, and a sequence about the perils of hugging. Looking forward to it.

“the Aventura’s ten-cylinder backwash raising an odd little tornado of discarded ad-leaflets and glassine bags and corporate-snack bags and a syringe’s husk and filterless gasper-butts and general crud and a flattened Millennial Fizzy cup […] which whirls in his exhaust, the tornado of waste does […]” (479)

The best moments in Infinite Jest spear you to your seat.

This week’s pages contain some quite famous parts of the novel, and there was loads to talk about. We all really enjoyed the cinematic shift-in-scene from Gately in car to cup to door to Lucien to horror. This whole chapter is shot through with dramatic irony, which is by turns tragic and comedic, and makes us feel like things are coming together: like the Millennial Fizzy cup that Gately does not see, we know that Gately has rather more involvement in international politics than he realises. We know more about Joelle than he does, and enjoy seeing him try to work her out. And we know that there is some complicated connection between the Antitoi Bros. and someone from ETA.

We liked the baggy sky, the milk-and-honey innocence of those people Gately likes to drive at, and the masterclass in suspense that is the slow legless arrival of the AFR. This scene, we note, has so much in common with DuPlessis’s death: the terror of not being understood, the gruesome detail, and the beauty that marks the ending of a life.

We return to Marathe and Steeply but the former agent is thrown into a whole new light by our first glimpse of the AFR in action. Though the wheelchair assassins are ridiculous, and the novel’s portrait of Canada seems like one big joke, there’s something about the bumbling antagonists that makes them all the more terrifying. Imagine having people in charge who literally don’t know what they’re doing…

It seems significant that the James + James Sr. scene is sit in that cinematic year that, as DeLillo puts it, broke the back of the twentieth-century. Our picture of Hal’s inheritance is growing ever clearer, though we feel more sympathetic for Hal, for some reason, than we do for his equally distant father (whose narrative voice some of us found more stressful to read than the broom-scene).

The book tempts us with the contents of the Entertainment. Like Roy Tony’s hugs, some offers are hard to refuse.

Word of the Week: “anechoic” (503).


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