Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Three (pages 698-735)

Hello everyone. Next Tuesday we’ll discuss pp.698-735. These pages include Hal and Blood Sister: One Tough Nun; his and Joelle’s reflections; and Randy, Ruth, Kate, and so many others all nearly crossing paths.

“The latest saved biker-chick becomes a tough and street-smart nun in the same urban order, and is known on the mean streets as Blood Sister, and wimple or not still rides her Hawg from parish to parish and still knows akido” (704-5).

These week’s pages are simultaneously some of the most fragmentary and the most cohesive. Though the players at Ennet and inmates at ETA never occupy the same space, they’re starting to come asymptotically close, and connections abound. Ruth van Cleve and Kate Gompert (who are very reminiscent of the talkative Lenz and silent Green from before) come head to head with Poor Tony and a “lightpost,” while Poor Tony himself is, like Lenz, dotting about to do some thieving. Meanwhile, Troeltsch, Pemulis (whose brother is nearby, we now know), Lyle, Avril, and Mario are variously sick, sicker, ghastly, in motion, stressed, but all about, while Hal is trying to be alone with his father’s films.

Much of our discussion this week was centred around the relationship between James Incandenza and Wallace himself (both the creators of an object called Infinite Jest). Knowing Wallace’s own trajectory, from his pomo-gamesmanship in Broom and Girl, to the personal-life-type crisis that resulted in Infinite Jest, it’s both rewarding and incredibly frustrating to try and pair up the two. James seems to have similar worries about his art, at least, and about the relationship between art and life, art and addiction, art and entertainment. We wonder if making the artist-character in the novel a filmmaker and not a writer is a way to avoid accusations of metafictional navelgazing. Writers abound in “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way,” and it, as we can all agree to agree, is agonising to read.

There’s something very sad and familiar about Hal and the room of kids all sinking into a film they all kind of hate. It’s interesting that Hal and Kate are so linked in last week’s pages, while here his narrative bleeds into Joelle’s. We have a glimpse of Gately at last, though not a comforting one exactly, and as if to mark Gately’s return there are insensitive racial terms flying everywhere once we’re back into Lenz’s head. The image of the man here firing arrows at the building and drawing targets around where they land is brilliant, and should go on Lenz’s gravestone.

Lastly we’re back with the AFR, and some welcome plot. We’re starting to get a much clearer sense of the Entertainment, and again we love Wallace’s subtle, creepy details, like the fact that its viewers are still alive but they scream while it’s being rewound (so much worse, somehow, than it killing you instantly). One of my personal favourite scenes is the one with the madman who explains to Rémy (“I am Swiss”) Marathe that there are 26 machines in the world and they’re deluding the real, nonwhirring people. Might there be some truth to the conspiracy?

With the Quebecois tennis team coming to ETA and the AFR hunting down those close to James, the plot seems at least to have a endpoint. At times these pages are frustrating, because this late on in the novel it would be really great not to have new characters to get to know, but I for one am looking forward to the ghastly things ahead.

Word of the Week: “unsubtlety” (713).


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