Infinite Jest – Week Eighteen (pages 508-538)

“Hi all. Next Tuesday we’ll be discussing pp.508-538. We’re with Hal for most of this week, in a really great chapter. We also have another Marathe-Steeply snippet as standard, and a rare Joelle chapter.”

danger-third-rail (2)
“For post-Delco-incident legal reasons, the name-plaque on her reception desk has DANGER: THIRD RAIL instead of the name Lateral Alice Moore.” (513)

Blue is the colour, tennis-academy angst is the game this week outside Tavis’s office. Hal’s fixation on the interior design (‘you can tell a lot about an administrator by the decor of his waiting room’) orients himself, Pemulis, Ann Kittenplan and Trevor Axford – all of whom have been summoned and are ‘awaiting what they presume to be some kind of administrative fallout from Sunday’s horrendous Eschaton fiasco’.

All this anxious waiting is in the presence of administrator Lateral Alice Moore, confined to crabwise movements since a traffic-copter crash, whose movement from desk-end to desk-end is facilitated by a electrically-motorised chair. It is only much later in the episode that we realise the scene’s atmosphere – drowning in blue-ness – is also defined by the noise of Alice’s printer. It is clear from this that it is Hal’s consciousness (and his fixation on blue as some kind of therapeutic technique) through which the reader gains access to this world. Meanwhile, other irritating sounds include Pemulis bobbing on a squeaky chair while reading some hairy maths.

Through the open door-less frame of Avril’s office, the Moms is ensuring that no sexualisation of the young academy girls is taking place. This monthly duty is usually administered by Dr Dolores Rusk who is conspicuously absent (could she be waiting behind C.T.’s office door? Then Hal and Co. would really be in the kind of trouble that would necessitate Tavis’s requirement of psychological expertise!) It is through Pemulis, who ‘loathes Rusk with a hard a gem-like flame’, that we get any of her background. Although, this turns out to be an electrocution attempt by Pemulis who has such good and loyal friends in Hal and Schacht (and maybe Mario) that he was never caught and expelled for the deed. We are again directed to the endnote (Wallace testing his reader’s memory) where Pemulis is crowned the ‘Paranoid King’ whose ultimate fear is academic expulsion.

While our narrator may feign that they have ‘No clue’ as to what Rusk might mean by the ‘Coatlique Complex’, we can see it resonates with the echoes of Lolita throughout this section. It occurs to us that, while Avril isn’t uncovering any clear sexual crimes, she is privy to details that Rusk would relish – such as a young girl’s father ‘influencing’ her into rooms.

Hal is overtly situated between Avril and Charles Tavis: ‘pretty much the Dynamic Duo of compulsion’. Indeed this section paints Hal as an Odyssean figure navigating between the Scylla and Charybdis of C.T. (with his ‘jaw-like’ office doors and ‘audible smile’) and the Moms (‘The Black Hole of Human Attention’). Avril’s ‘Politeness Roulette’ routine – where she goes around ‘with her feelings out in front of her with an arm around the feelings’ windpipe and a Glock 9mm. to the feelings’ temple like a terrorist with a hostage, daring you to shoot’ – seems at once a spot-on diagnostic description, and (considering Wallace may have modelled this from his own mother) more than a little uncomfortably unflattering portrait.

Back on the outcropping northwest of Tucson, Marathe and Steeply discuss the Medusa and the Odalisk in terms of American vanity. The episode concludes with a changing of positions and levels as Steeply sits down and, for the first time, looks up at Marathe: indicating a power-shift, just one of the crises or turning-points this week.

Over at Ennet House, we’re eavesdropping on Joelle and Gately. There are questions of authentic voice: Gately seems sensitive to Joelle’s ‘drift[ing] in and out of different ways of talking’. This conversation throws up some of the paradoxes of UHID: such as being ‘open about their essential need for concealment’. It culminates in Joelle’s admission that she is fatally (or at least maddeningly) beautiful (like some kind of terrible angel?) only Gately can’t follow her, won’t understand, or isn’t ready to hear.

Word of the Week: “cyanosis” (512).

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