Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Four (pages 736-774)

Next Tuesday we’ll be discussing pp.736-774. We have an illuminating outsider’s perspective on the Incandenza family; Marathe meanwhile is hunting down that outsider; and Mario is trying to take care of Hal.”

“the 240-second motionless low-angle shot of Gianlorenzo Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa,’ […] the climactic statue fulled the screen and pressed against all four edges […] the mediated transcendence of self was just what the apparently decadent statue of the orgasmic nun claimed for itself as subject.” (742)

We open in the consciousness of Joelle as she (soberly) cleans her Ennet House dorm with some Kleenex. We’re in agreement that it is here Joelle really becomes one of the very few major main characters alongside Hal, his family, and Gately: ‘She’d barely thought consciously of any Incandenzas for four years before Don Gately, who for some reason kept bringing them bubbling up to mind’ (737). Through the recovering Madame Psychosis, then, we are treated to a meditation on ‘the second-saddest family Joelle’d ever seen’ (737). Wallace writes families extremely well. We ponder the meanings of Jim’s face being ‘any room’s fifth wall’: both an effective theatrical metaphor (the division between critic and auteur) and suggestive of ensuring those around him are cloistered in private spaces. We were seeing potential parallels between J.O.I. and D.F.W. in terms of the ‘unstudyably’ realistic human flashes. Joelle’s memory of the Incandenza Thanksgiving dinner, which ends ‘in a kind of explosion of goodwill’ is a favourite episode of our group: like we felt with Bain’s take on Orin, Joelle’s perspective here allows us to see the picture-perfect Incandenzas for the ‘whole sad family unit’ they are.

Downstairs from Joelle at Ennet House, a veiled Marathe attempts to gain residency from Pat M. We find the A.F.R. simultaneously dangerous (the fate of the Antitoi bro’s) and bumbling – with Marathe’s lie ‘I withdraw from the scag, smack, and H’ blatantly transparent. His fatigue is rather poignant here, as if Ennet House is a safe enclosure in which to lay down the weight of his ‘quadrupling’ espionage; to what ends and to what side will he commit himself for the good of ‘his restenotic wife and entertainment-hungry children’.

Over at E.T.A., Mario’s shooting peripatetic footage around the dorms. Felicity Zweig, caught in a towel, provides some genuine dialogue, but LaMont Chu, under pressure to “say something for posterity […] can’t think what to say.” The kids at E.T.A. are used to being under the gaze of the (Mario’s) camera, yet never seem to acclimatize. We consider how “all conscious performances are self-conscious performances.” As Mario arrives in Avril’s office, so begins some of the novel’s finest sustained dialogue. We get a real insight into Avril’s mendacious interfacing which causes even Mario, who takes everything as truthful, to suffer. As Avril cycles through academic descriptions of sadness, we digress into talking about the laugh-tracks on sitcoms. The way TV shows pace themselves and conceal or transform malignancies (of both characters and script-writing) behind canned-laughter seems to depict some of the unsettling qualities of Millennial conversation that had LaMont Chu unable to ask Mario a question,  and Avril unable to really listen to Mario, with artificial performances denying connection. In both instances sadness is uncomfortable and is avoided through performance. By the dialogue’s end (ostensibly about Mario asking what to do about Hal’s sadness) Joelle’s diagnosis proves correct as the definitions of and anxieties over sadness could apply to any Incandenza.

In the final episode this week, Mario and Hal are finally reunited. In revealing what went down with Pemulis and the urologist, Hal unwittingly reflects on the issues of deceit found in the preceding passages. Here, through Hal, Wallace’s moral concern shines. Pemulis’s ability to lie ‘Brass-faced’ summons in Hal a nightmare: “I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there’s simply no way to tell. The ones who give nothing away” (774).

Word of the Week: “Opheliac” (1063).


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