Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Nine (Pages 938-981)

“Hello all. This week we finish!”

“I realized I could not distinguish my own visual memories of the Weston house from my memories of hearing Mario’s detailed reports of his memories. […] Cork floors and pre-mounted shelving of woody-smelling wood. The chilling framed print of Lang directing Metropolis in 1924…” (950-51)

It’s difficult to know what to say. Some of the group have finished the novel multiple times, and so are well prepared for the ending (it’s almost lost its disappointment, at this point), while others are left a bit baffled by it. Though of course it is more about the journey than the destination, and though we all agree that no other ending could be all that satisfying (Hal having a nice chat with his dad? the AFR fight the ETA students?), there’s no getting around the fact that this amazing journey ends with a big answerless gap.

Leading up to it, we have a number of really interesting scenes that throw some things into light and most things into further doubt. We learn from Joelle, for instance, that the perfect film was James’s last joke (though it’s a joke that certainly seems to be working…).

James’s ghost looms over all these scenes. Stice believes he is possessed. Hal watches some more of James’s old films, and reflects on his father’s status as an artist, a communicator, an entertainer (what is Wallace?). In fact this chapter is full of artworks: the photograph of Lang directing Metropolis, the Consummation of the Levirates, a bit of Blake and Barth and much besides. Is this a Pynchonian disintegration into multiple texts? Are we to try and reintegrate these fragments into a picture of the Incandenza family, whose members are by turns stentorian, sinful, flat, dispossessed, alienated?

The Mikey-at-AA interlude is frustrating. Who is this guy? What does this have to do with anything? The scene with the A.D.A. at least makes more sense, and shines some light on Gately’s fate (or lack thereof). Can the A.D.A. forgive Gately, as we have done so often?

The Loach saga is great, but again seems somewhat out of place. It’s almost as if Wallace is willfully frustrating his reader, wasting valuable page-space on these side-stories when we really want to hear how Hal and Gately and the AFR all meet up. Wallace puts all that to one side to talk about God and the Devil playing for a man’s soul.

Our first-timers were pleased to see Orin back, if only for a moment. He seems to get his comeuppances at last (and how appropriate that he would try to direct his assailants towards a woman in order to save himself).

Finally, we return to Gately in his memories of his great and ultraviolent low point. What has happened to Gately, by the end? Has he been given Demerol? Has he survived at all? Has he returned to his Bottom indefinitely, or gone there only to come out of it again? The last lines are beautiful, but what do they mean for our characters?

Do the AFR get the entertainment in the end? How do Gately and Hal and Wayne meet up and find James’s head? What happens to Hal between now and his meeting in the Year of Glad? Does it matter? Are we supposed to trawl through the novel to find details, clues, to make answers? Or is the point that there is none?

Is this a deformed ending, or a perfect one, and is there a difference?

Infinite Jest is pretty damn incredible.

Word of the Week: “out” (981).


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