Infinite Jest – Week Nineteen (pages 538-575)

Hi all. Next Tuesday we’ll discuss pp.538-575. Lots of great stuff this week: we get to know Lenz perhaps a little more than we’d like; we learn some more about the habits of Tine and Avril; we have some snippets from Ennet House and Moment Magazine (including a long footnote – beware); and, finally, we meet the Great Idris Arslanian. Looking forward to it.

“His northern routes back to the House are restricted by the priority to keep Brighton Best Savings  Bank’s rooftop digital Time and Temperature display in view as much as possible.” (542)

This week we spent our time in the company of two hideous men. Wallace’s American Psycho, Randy Lenz, is a masterclass in characterisation and bleak bleak comedy. To our first timers he seems like the antagonist of the text so far, a sort of anti-AA member. We enjoyed our glimpses of cyberpunk Boston in this scene, the enormous digital timepiece, and the way Wallace sews the many meanings of clockwork throughout.

Lenz plays out the whole addiction cycle in a terrible way: his search for a greater fix as he climbs up the foodchain (with humans at the top?), but also his pathetic loneliness, and the wound-up pent-up tension he feels because he can’t connect with another human being in a meaningful way. Perhaps he should have spent more time reading William James.

The scene with Dolores Rusk is equally amusing and sad. Clearly the kids in this novel are all obsessive and anxious and their inner children could probably do with a hug, but Rusk seems to provide the opposite of TLC. Avril, on the other hand, is all about tender loving.

We’re all feeling the plot pick up pace. The Lenz scene is so sustained it feels significant, and we want to get back to it (and our veterans are trying not to give anything away…). At the same time, Wallace pulls out of this larger scene to drop little ones like the one with Tine, or one of Orin’s empty (beautifully written) flings, or bombshells like the moment between Avril and Wayne. Where our first timers expected a second reading of the novel to be rewarding because of all the small details you’d miss, they perhaps hadn’t expected the characters to be thrown into such a different light so late into the novel. Now every Avril scene seems different, and cries out to be reread. How exciting it would be to be able to read the novel as if you’d never seen it before.

Lenz’s scenes sink into the the same manic garrulousness from which Lenz is said to suffer when he takes coke. The speed and details pick up, and the language goes haywire (way too many ‘words of the week’ this week), and now we’re just waiting for the crash.

Word of the Week: “twidgelling” (548).


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