Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Eight (Pages 896-938)

Hello all. This week we’ll discuss pp.896-938. Nearly at the end!”

Too Late” (934)

‘E lucevan le stelle’: and the stars were shining, Incandescent. The ‘free floating misery’ of Tosca underscores the moment when Hal is ‘hit’ by something he describes as ‘some variant of the telescopically self-conscious panic that can be so devastating during a match’. Like Cavaradossi’s, is Hal’s telos his own pending execution? The experience seems to be totally opposite to Gately’s enforced mental strategy of Abiding in discrete moments. For Hal ‘Everything came at too many frames per second’ as the continuum of the everyday ‘took on a crushing cumulative aspect’. Hal reexperiences and projects the ‘total number[s]’ of his existence: walking up steps, eating, excreting. This is quite a strange moment in the novel (what has Hal been ‘hit’ with, existential angst or something chemical?) yet displays Wallace’s ability to humanize philosophical abstraction. Needing a lie down, finally supine and horizontal in front of a screen, Hal ruminates on etymologies of blizzard as the snow whips outside (conjuring images of Joycean decay and amnesia) (896-7).

Back with the macrocephalic Gately we’re treated to the high school years of the ‘Big Indestructible Moron’. Here Gately remembers, through difficulties in English class, being frustrated in his efforts to progress along the path of a promising scholarship-supported Football career and instead increasingly narcotized on Quaaludes and beer with his friend Trent Kite. Gately labels the time when he was thirteen-through-fifteen years old as ‘The Attack of the Killer Sidewalks’. When his mother ‘suffered her cirrhotic hemorrhage and cerebral-blood thing in late October, just before the midterms Gately was getting ready to fail’ another level of addiction is reached, another threshold crossed: ‘The first gasper he ever smoked was that day […]. He never played organized ball again’ (904-6).

Hal starts noticing curious passersby as ‘more heads’ which seems familiar from somewhere… As he watches his father’s films we see the titles of J.O.I.’s Filmography in their intended context – i.e. being watched (especially by Hal). Good-Looking Men… provides Wallace another proleptic swipe at academic critique which, in the case of this film, fails to ‘explain the incredible pathos of Paul Anthony Heaven reading his lecture to a crowd of dead-eyed kids picking at themselves and drawing vacant airplane- and genitalia-doodles on their college-rule note-pads, reading stupefyingly turgid-sounding shit’. This latter is exemplified by one ‘Professor H. Bloom’ whose ‘artistic influenza’, i.e. Anxiety of Influence, is a target of J.O.I.’s ridicule (Bloom clearly didn’t take too kindly to this… if he even got this far into Infinite Jest). Alternative readings of Infinite Jest seem to reside somewhere between the tears of Heaven, the boredom of these students, and the playful J.O.I. that directs the experience (911).

Gately’s reverie continues through his early criminal career with partner Fackelmann (‘That’s a goddamn lie’) and employer Whitey Sorkin. Wallace builds this story towards an affect-ed climax captured in this breathlessly dynamic sentence: ‘Gately lay in the Trauma Ward in terrific infected pain, trying to Abide between cravings for relief by remembering a blinding white afternoon just after Xmas, when Fackelmann and Kite were off disposing of some of a furnished apartment’s furnishings and Gately was killing time in the apartment laminating some false MA drivers licenses rush-ordered by rich Philips Andover Academy kids for what turned out to be the last New Year’s Eve of Subsidized Time’ (916). In Gately’s pain is held much of the (dis-)ordered temporal concerns of the novel and he seems much older for this, a fact highlighted by his memory of ‘The B.U. punter’ (Orin) being only ‘two years younger than Don Gately’.

This story is broken by Pemulis’s discovery that the DMZ has  been removed from its hiding place – location unknown but presumed vitally important. When Gately’s story resumes the key plot moments (Fackelmann’s betrayal of Sorkin and its discovery) are outsourced to Gately’s alcoholically narcoleptic girlfriend Pamela Hoffman-Jeep. That she can’t differentiate between important and superfluous narrative details makes the story increasingly hard to follow, undermining its ostensible entertaining value. Gately’s ‘feverish dreams punctuate memories and being conscious’ making it hard to tell if Lyle’s haunting appearance here means anything at all (933). What is surely crucial, however, is Gately’s dream (or vision) of ‘digging some dead guy’s head up’ with ‘the sad kid’ (934): again, where do we remember that from…

Joelle leaves the hospital and is accosted by ‘a grotesquely huge woman’ (whom we recognise as Steeply) with a warning of imminent ‘almost mind-boggling danger’. Is this a threat or an offer of protection? With only a few pages left, perhaps we may not find out for sure?

In a new morning in Gately’s memory (in relation to Pamela’s telling of the story, ‘that night’s next A.M.’) he and Fackelmann are slumped at base-camp of Mt. Dilaudid – the geologically huge pile of drugs Fackelmann had bought with the money stolen from Sorkin. The decay and excretions of these two become nauseating as the narrative draws attention to the scene’s temporal distension, ‘as if the time were honey’ (935). Gately and Fackelmann become detached from a meaningful existence as ‘When the phone rang it was just a fact. The ringing was like an environment, not a signal’ to which Fackelmann’s surreal (and increasingly slurred catchphrase) becomes all the more apt: ”s a goddamn lie.’ When the doorbell rings, however, Gately tries to connect it to Pamela needing entry granted: ‘He wobbled like a toddler’ until, once again, attacked by the Killer underfoot. Trapped, then, with the nightmarish Fackelmann and his spider-like hand, Gately is also imprisoned in this unsolicited dream-memory. Will he wake?

Word of the Week: “bacchanal” (908).


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