Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Seven (pages 851-896)

Hello all. Next Tuesday we’ll be discussing pp.851-896. These pages include more Hal dreams, more Gately dreams, a public safety announcement, and an elastic forehead. Looking forward to it.

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“For just an instant we both stayed there, straining backward, listening to the little Rice-Krispie sound of his skin’s collagen-bundles stretching and popping. […] ‘Put it back put it back put it back!’ Stice yelled” (871)

This week’s the week of the postmodern hero: static, horizontal, introspective, trapped inside their own heads. Wallace’s narrative style is so perfectly suited to this kind of character. The reader sinks in and out of sleep and fever dreams just as Gately does; the transcript ends just as the lights go out because the typist can no longer see the page to transcribe; and we see what Hal sees as he wanders the halls, sad and lost.

Hal and Gately’s narratives seem closely linked at last here, as we near the end of the novel. Hal seems to be waking up inside himself but it seems like he doesn’t know what to do with himself. Jokes in these scenes seem emptier, the clowns and fools that caper throughout the rest of the novel seem, in this scene, like so many masks that Wallace is starting to peel away.

Gately’s scenes are sad too, but funnier, more joyful, maybe because they’re more hopeful? Some of the writing here is just wonderful. Gately learning all over again to abide “between heartbeats,” to treat what his head tells him like so much noise (860). Hal, on the other hand, is struggling to live in the present. He’s sinking into his past and future, and while we’re getting a better picture of him and his own thoughts on these things, his own emotional response to them seems stunted, unfeeling, less articulate than Gately’s (more honest seeming) reflections on past guilts and wrongs.

The novel is full of different endings: the DMZ, the Entertainment, the Demerol. What use will a children’s TV bit do to stop them? We’re on the lookout for Orin, on the lookout for the AFR. But there’s only so many pages left.

Word of the Week: “Job-type” (895).

Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Six (pages 809-851)

Hi all. Next Tuesday we’ll be discussing pp. 809-851. These pages focus almost entirely on one character, and they are mind-expanding. Can’t wait.”

“the wraith simply disappears the instant the light hits the heart monitor and reappears the instant it moves way […] Gately begins to conclude it’s not impossible that the garden-variety wraith on the heart monitor, though not conventionally real, could be a sort of epiphanyish visitation from Gately’s personally confused understanding of God, a Higher Power, or something […] (833)

At long, long last we check-in on the Don Gately as he suffers through recovery/Recovery in a hospital bed. The Chicken not-so-Little for whom the sky is not falling but ‘[t]he ceiling is breathing’. The narrative voice here seems to hover above Gately’s head yet remains with Gately trapped in observing the unsolicited visitors to his hospital room: ‘he’d maybe been castrated, which was how he’d always heard the term catheterized‘.

Is it Eldred “Tiny” Ewell’s reverie that prompts Gately’s own conscious and subconscious explorations of memories (fever-dreams ‘of dark writhing storm clouds writhing darkly and screaming’ and his mother ‘pulled spinning up into the tornado’s vortex’). And what does this have to do with Alcoholics Anonymous, this deep-rooted shame buried and confessed to across the years? We are a little unsettled by Ewell’s evidently finding pleasure in rhetoric’s power to move and manipulate human hearts – is there a bit of DFW in this? Ewell worries that time and death will deny his reaching the 9th Step – “Even if I could remember the homes of the citizens we defrauded, how many could still be there, living?” – and Gately, ‘unable to vocalize aloud’, cannot give counsel (even if he wanted to).

Wallace paints Gately’s suffering as complex, blending physical, psychological, and moral hues: ‘everything on his right side was on fire. The pain was getting to be emergency-type pain […]. Parts of him kept sending up emergency flares to other parts of him, and he could neither move nor call out.’ Gately finds himself simultaneously in the ‘sit and Hurt’ cage of AA and a hospital ‘crib’ and potentially on the brink of narcotic relapse.

More visits, from ‘a probably real Pat Montesian’ – doesn’t give the much-longed for answer to whether Gately should accept narcotic painkillers – Joelle, Geoffrey Day, and Calvin Thrust fill in some of the gaps in the aftermath-account of the shooting, although Gately still doesn’t know whether he has killed anyone. Clennette and Yolanda, who certainly have killed, are fugitives harbored ‘taking meals in their room and are under orders not to come down or go near any windows’. The camaraderie at Ennet House is tribal – it seems that society and its laws have broken down or are at least subordinated to the codes of E.H.  Gately’s visitors mostly treat him, in his disability, like there’s noone in there; instead of truly interfacing with him there is something like a TV/Viewer relationship occurring here. Wallace awareness of his reader’s patience is evident throughout, and acknowledged just as we’re starting to get bored of Thrust’s gabbing : ‘Gately’s eyes keep rolling up in his head, only partly from the pain‘.

A moment us veterans have all been looking forward to is Gately’s ‘unpleasantly detailed dream where the ghostish figure that’s been flickering in and out of sight around the room finally stays in one spot long enough for Gately to really check him out.’ This ‘plain old […] generic garden-variety wraith’ doesn’t appear totally benign. In fact, it subjects Gately to ‘lexical rape’ as capitalised words like ‘PIROUETTE’, ‘LACTRODECTUS MACTANS’, and ‘CIRCUMAMBIENTFOUNDDRAMALEVIRATEMARRIAGE’ come ‘into Gately’s personal mind, in Gately’s own brain voice but with roaring and unwilled force’. From these terms we see a multileveled haunting by ‘James’: stylistically in its allusion to Joyce’s Ulysses (Aeolus and Circe, in particular) and thematically in the association to James Orin Incandenza himself. The dissonance intensifies when the wraith produces a verfremdungseffekt-ed can of Coke (with ‘alien unfamiliar Oriental-type writing on it instead of the good old words Coca-Cola and Coke) in ‘maybe the whole dream’s worst moment’. As Gately begins to think this wraith comes from his ‘personally confused understanding of God, a Higher Power or something […] Carrying The Message’, we recognise it as a masterfully metafictive visitation from the author/auteur Himself that sustains rather than breaks the emotive force of the narrative. This is indeed what it may ‘be like to try and talk and have the person think it was just their own mind talking’ that draws us to Wallace’s writing.

The wraith’s thoughts on figurants, the ‘human furniture’ in television and film, take us to the ‘radical realism’ suggested in Wallace’s ‘E Unibus Pluram’. Within the narrative of Infinite Jest, though, they lead to the revelation of the Entertainment’s true purpose – to save Hal from becoming a figurant via a ‘magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy […] To bring him ‘out of himself […] A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard.’ This ‘serious’ entertainment is driven by very human tragedy and sadness. The wraith has increasing significance for us veterans on multiple readings, yet new readers are unsure what to make of or take from its visitation.

Following the wraith’s departure, Gately reflects on and takes inventory of his own past, trying to construct a narrative that is both true and which absolves him from guilt that he may not be a good person: his lack of action (from saving flies and his own mother from suffering) is profoundly ambivalent. At this point, Gately’s sponsor, the Crocodile Ferocious Francis G. visits to ask “And are you as yet sober, then?” apparently giving Gately the fortitude (or fear) to keep suffering un-anesthetized.

The narrative flow breaks with the announcement of a new day (19th November YDAU) and yet we’re unsure exactly how the previous action as unfolded in time from the last date-marker (17th). A very short section following Marathe reveals that, due to his refusal to betray Joelle’s location at Ennet House to the A.F.R., a new plan to infiltrate E.T.A. is mobilised. Back at the hostpital, Gately’s morally-ambivalent dreams and memories merge significantly. Wallace captures his spiritual crisis in a heartbreaking short-story memory (which brought a number of us to tears) of ‘Mrs Waite’ a tragic figure from Gately’s past who comes to be fused with Joelle and Death ‘As in the figure of Death, Death incarnate’ who tells Gately to ‘Wait’ for his release: from damage, guilt, and pain. Many of us have reached the point in the novel where it’s very hard to stop reading as Wallace continues to build the great emotional charge of the narrative while increasingly discharging roman-candle bursts of heartbreak and ecstasy. Bring on the next pp.!

Word of the Week: “wraith” (829).

Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Five (pages 774-808)

“Hello all. We’re reaching something of a milestone this week, as we tackle the very last of the long endnotes! We’ll be reading pp.774-808. This week: Marathe meets someone who looks like his wife; Hal and Mario talk some more and Hal tries something new as a result; Molly Notkin reveals all; and, buried in the endnotes, Pemulis meets his match. Looking forward to it.”

“‘What you’re saying is I need to actively go over to Jim myself and ask him to hold me,’ Kevin Bain says.” (807)

Marathe is so frustrating. Perhaps we just miss those happy chapters back in the beginning where he seemed to stand for a pretty clear, anti-American point. Now his whole philosophy about choice seems warped. This week he is sitting with Kate and refusing to tell her a love story. Marathe’s love for his weird skullless wife is supposed to be altruistic, but here it comes across as incredibly solipsistic, all about what she opens up inside him, all about how noble a person she lets him imagine he is. On the other hand, Kate’s naive belief in a love that’s “about your eyes meet across someplace and both your knees give out and […] you know you’re not going to be alone and in hell” (780) is maybe equally solipsistic, if love is all about saving yourself. And if that’s all you’re after, why would you say no to the Entertainment when Marathe offers it? An unhappy, lonely chapter.

We learn at last what happened in the room with the urine guy. Hal has to withdraw, and admits out loud, for the first time, that he might just have a problem. Hal’s saga in these pages is captivating, and sad. The fact that Mario both doesn’t seem to get what Hal is talking about, and seems to understand Hal’s problem better than Hal ever could, is really complexly excellent and well done. There’s more crossed wires when Hal pretends he’s on a research trip to Ennet House, and Mrs. Foltz gives him an out of date brochure. If only Hal was as smart as he thinks he is!

It’s always a joy to revisit the post-Marxist Molly Notkin, who tells us everything we’d want to know and more. Just as it’s refreshing to get an outsider’s look at Hal, it’s interesting to see Joelle’s history from the outside for a change (it seems more objective, somehow, if someone else is saying it). Our veterans had forgotten that Joelle’s bottom had stemmed directly from James’s topping himself: at least the chronology starts to come together on the 3rd of 4th reading. We enjoyed Notkin’s mixed metaphors (“no matter how wildly his nautical compass was spinning around, on its tether” [789]), the hints that Avril is death incarnate who might have been jealous of Joelle, and the story of Joelle’s wonderfully creepy father. Also, a big WTF at the mother-death cosmology – where’s that come from?

And what to make of the support meeting Hal attends? Wallace seems to poke fun of this meeting more than he does the AA/NA meetings, with its participants in toast-coloured jumpers and beards and their middle-class jobs. Maybe other readers would see “Needs, Needs, Needs, Needs, Needs” as a motto worthy of AA too, but it feels like there’s a big difference. Is it that AA is about identification and passing the gift on, where the I.I. group is all about taking the gift–the hugs, the teddy bear–for yourself? You can’t help but feel that Hal could use a hug, but perhaps not like this.

Finally, buried below all of this in the endnotes, is the end of Pemulis’s ETA career. We can’t help but be suspcious of Avril, given what we’ve learned from Notkin about Avril’s vindictive jealousy, and Wayne’s mysterious intake… Wallace really cleverly constructs his scenes so we keep having to put pieces together. We learn, for example, that Hal’s secret addictions are hardly secret at all if Wayne knows about them, and that Pemulis weaseled out of the urinalysis because he knows about Hal’s mother’s affairs. But what Hal makes of this we’re left to guess, which works really well from a readerly standpoint. And we’re left to anticipate, too: is this the last we see of Pemulis? Will we be seeing more of Wayne? It’s not so much like we’re getting answers, finally; it’s more like the picture of all these lives just keeps getting fuller and richer and easier to see. At last Hal is starting to make sense.

Word of the Week: “enmeshments” (791).

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).

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).

Infinite Jest – Week Twenty Two (pages 663-698)

Hi all. Next Tuesday we’ll discuss pp.663-698. These pages include a wonderful account of Avril + dog by one Marlon Bain; the adventures of the tunnel club; a discussion of shooting stars; yet another new character; and some of the best and most famous pages in the whole novel, on depression and millennial America.

‘The  Xmas cards had had excruciating little watercolor pictures of locomotives on them. She could barely stand to think about them, even at the best of times, which the present was not.’

Our eyes bask briefly in the acres of white space of letters ‘From the Desk of Helen Steeply’. But not for long: most of the content is tucked away in ‘Notes and Errata’. We’re treated to Marlon Bain’s take on ‘both Orin’s mendacious idiocy and Mrs. Incandenza’s unwillingness to countenance an idiotic lie’, which strikes us all as particularly astute (although, he can’t seem to keep Steeply’s name right – degenerating from ‘Steepley’, through ‘Steeples’ and ‘Starksaddle’ to ‘Bainbridge’ – so maybe not the most reliable witness). The tale of canine S. Johnson became a ‘nubbin’ is, indeed, almost ‘unspeakable’ and I still find the read pretty nauseating. We find Avril’s maternal failings potentially abusive and it makes some of us feel a bit hopeless: as with Don Gately’s return to violence, many admirable qualities are beginning to poison the chalice. We’re noticing that Orin’s imitation of Avril – by ‘assum[ing] an enormous warm and loving smile and move steadily toward you until he is in so close that his face is spread up flat against your own face and your breaths mingle’ – illustrates a perverted philanthropy and that it foreshadows his own behavior with his Subjects.

Back at (or rather, under) E. T. A., another perspective of the Ortho-Hal exhibition. Some of the younger kids involved in the Eschaton debacle are on ‘a semi-punitive shit detail’ in the utility and storage tunnels underneath the campus. Some interesting group dynamics here – the tension being whether Blott was lying about seeing some scuttling horror down here. The Tunnel Club’s Stand-By-Me adventure rides on the hope that they will spot a creature (feral hamster or rat) the mere reporting of the sighting being enough to distract the faculty from further punishing Hal, Pemulis, and Axford. In the end, it is the horror of maggots, of death itself, in a big, subterranean fridge: ‘This is Death. Woe unto those that gazeth on Death.’ Like the ballooning carton in the fridge, this is a tightly-contained episode of a particularly concentrated solution of dread and innocence lost.

Back at the match, Thierry Poutrincourt (whose ‘slight shrugs and way of looking elsewhere while speaking were not unlike Rémy Marathe’s’) becomes the fixation of a suspicious-Steeply narration. The breakdown of each of the students in terms of their game-weaknesses seems slightly cruel from these staff members (like a student’s paranoia over Staff Room character assassinations). When we get to the male #1 and #2, DeLint tells us “Wayne is pure force. He doesn’t feel fear, pity, remorse” and that Hal “looks just as perfectly dead out there” but has an “emotional susceptibility in terms of forgetting”. This is troubling because we rarely get inside Wayne, but there are suggestions (like at Mario’s screening) that he is vulnerable in other ways, while Hal believes he is completely internally empty.

Meeting Matty Pemulis is a cinematic experience (like Robert Altman, Wallace seems to just move the camera) and a tragic one at that: ‘Matty Pemulis was a prostitute and today he was twenty-three’. At a cafe in Cambridge, Poor Tony Krause passes by, almost unrecognizable to Matty (implying their past connection). This haunting by ‘Krause’s spectral mien’ and the horror of human feces in the street provokes Matty’s memory of his father raping him from the age of ten. Like with other narratives of horrific abuse in the novel, Wallace manages here to avoid simplistic judgments like ‘pure evil’ (‘The origins of the big man’s clear familiarity with the stuff [lube] and its nighttime use not even adult perspective could illuminate’) instead suggesting cycles of abuse at the same time as acknowledging the complex pain of the abused (both Matty and his witnessing brother, yes, Michael): ‘Matty still toasted the man’s final memory with his fist shot, whenever he indulged’.

After the match, DeLint explains to Hal that he ‘just never quite occurred out there, kid’ – an unwitting foreshadowing of Hal’s withdrawal (not just from pot, but from the social plane?). We’re speculating whether Hal, who then begins to watch his father’s films, may here, at some point, stumble across the Entertainment… What he does watch is Wave Bye-Bye to the Bureaucrat as he ‘likes to project himself imaginatively into the ex-bureacrat’s character on the leisurely drive home toward ontological erasure’. Hopeless and ‘Bob-Hopeless’ Hal’s left at a bit of a precipice, perhaps like the film cartridges ‘waiting to drop, in order, and be digitally decoded.’

Back with the consciousness of Poor Tony, in the same time-frame as we left Matty Pemulis above, it appears the reborn, but unrepentant detoxing transvestite is about to attempt a purse-snatch to then fleece the goods at the Antitoi brothers. We see his bypassing of Matty Pemulis ‘a sure source of compassion’ as potentially a missed opportunity for salvation. The cliffhanger hangs as we’re treated to the bathos of Geoffrey Day’s fieldnotes on the ‘the way most of the male residents of Ennet house special little cognomens for their genitals’, and his nostalgia for Lenz ‘brandishing the Hog’

Our reading this week concludes with the knockout rhapsody on ‘Kate Gompert and this depression issue’. This crucial episode details Wallace’s distinction between the hip and cool anhedonia (the narrative here blends to J.O.I.’s suicide and Hal’s essential emptiness and resulting loneliness) to ‘the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain’ of clinical depressionmelancholia. Kate Gompert, ‘down in the trenches with the thing itself, knows it simply as It‘. Like Stephen King’s shapeshifting essence in his 1986 novel (the second King reference this week) ‘It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence’ which makes living ‘not just unpleasant but literally horrible’. We have been waiting to hear this, Kate’s side of the dialogue that has been until now been monopolized by men – first the patronising doctor of ‘brisk good cheer’, then the ID-ing Geoffrey Day with his billowing darkness. Kate’s navigation of the terminology of depression strikes as as particularly exemplary of Wallace – both seeming to arrive at an arresting accuracy by pulling many different literary and scientific sources together – from Milton’s flames to Burton’s melancholia and Yevtushenko’s psychotic depression. The final image of ‘excruciating little water color pictures of locomotives on them’ loops our reading back to the ‘ontological erasure’ of Wave Bye-Bye to the Bureaucrat, yet now we are in darker, scarier territory: the novel has just raised the stakes and the precipices plunge deeper.

Word of the Week: “burning” (697).

Infinite Jest – Week Twenty One (pages 616-662)

Next Tuesday we’ll discuss pp. 616-662. This week includes: a hill-side spectacle and wheelchair event; ETA students at supper; the famous M*A*S*H scene; one of my favourite Kate Gompert Scenes; and Steeply watching some “chess on the run.”

“the progression of the program from fun to obsession – crucial distinctions had collapsed, I think, now. Between the fictional Burns and this Linville who portrayed Burns […] he seemed to believe the name of the character Burns also somehow hiddenly signified the English verb for the promise of the consuming fire of the apocalypse.” (643)

The beady-eyed among you will no doubt have noticed from the page ranges that we didn’t quite finish the Gately blockbuster episode last week. The scene shows Wallace’s ability to balance brows of low (Green’s broken-nose mufflings “By doze is fide” and the thick-Bostonian slurrings of the drunk security guard [or should that be “gaaa’hd”?]) and high (the ‘picayune’ drudgery that opened the episode is now a religious currency of ‘coins of blood’ as Gately is smuggled into Ennet House). We are still perturbed at the violence still resonating off this (in)conclusion.

As the unofficial title of the section which follows indicates, there seems to have taken place a shift in the narrative (or our reading habits) from hyper-detail to a more plot-driven ‘spect-ops’. This particular section – detailing the placid surroundings Boston Public Garden following the spectacle of the draining of the duck pond –  utilises the trademarks of the villainous A.F.R. to build suspense, with the squeak of wheels functioning like John Williams’ leading-tone Jaws motif. At the center of the machinations, the prey is Madame Psychosis’s radio engineer, sunbathing in November, unaware of and unprepared for being kidnapped at highspeed. The heightened drama here strikes us as intentionally overblown – especially considering the scene this follows – yet it does bring to light the procedures of the A. F. R. within the wider milieu of inner-city homelessness and the privileged’s ‘passion for standing live witness to things’. But are the A.F.R. closing in on M.P. – and for what reason?

Back at E.T.A. it’s feeding time. We all loved the da-Vincian-Last-Supper vista which Wallace paints so well of these youngsters. Like the ‘spect-ops’ episode, this too takes place in the aftermath of the (ostensible) main event – an exhibition match between Hal and Ortho ‘The Darkness’ Stice. The youngster from Kansas seems to (unconsciously) whip the room’s energy around him, and we’re reminded of what Wallace once said about minds being tornadic. Towards the end of this episode, we’re reminded how these kids are almost being bred for sport-star success, while their other human parts (notably their developing sexuality) seems to be undisclosed and undernourished.

From Hal’s ‘stelliform-mold shape E.T.A. mashed potatoes’ to Steeply’s anecdote of his father’s addiction to M*A*S*H. Despite Marathe’s increasing boredom and impatience with Steeply here, this tale – a favourite of both our veterans and new recruits – does seem to succeed as a visceral tragedy towards ‘the final enclosing isolation of obsession’. Steeply’s current struggle as a raconteur appears to be trying to connect and engage with Marathe through quintessentially American (though internationally syndicated) pop-culture. Of course, then, the moral of the tale must ultimately be lost/misplaced in translation.

Following Gately’s wounding, in ‘the hours that are truly wee’ Kate Gompert and Geoffrey Day attempt to describe the attributes of the ‘thing’ – that ‘large dark billowing shape’ – of depression. This section is very raw and affecting and made even moreso as the interlocutors are trying to interface while the background is dominated by the televised ‘grotesque’ infant-caricature of Mr. Bouncety-Bounce. As our first-time readers are picking up on, this figure seems important: both reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty’s Depend Adult Undergarment, and the oversized infants of the toxic-waste dump site – twin factors of gorging yet disgusted Americans both attracted and repelled by their infantile relationship with the external world. Above this, Kate Gompert identifies the poetry in the horror of ‘Time in the shadow of the wing of the thing too big to see, rising’.

The narrative then returns to fill the lacuna of the actual exhibition tennis match between Hal and the Darkness. ‘Helen’ Steeply’s in the crowd, chaperoned (i.e. kept distant from the Incandenzas) by Aubrey DeLint, and while ‘she’ doesn’t learn much pertaining to her true mission, she does learn to appreciate the game’s beauty as “Chess on the run”. Yet in the geopolitical landscape beyond the affluent abstractions of the game, Steeply sees ‘the scalps and knees in the stands, the bags of gear and a couple incongruous cans of furniture polish’ and wonders, perhaps with an emerging post-colonial sensitivity, ‘Carved of what, though, this place?’

Word of the Week: “Misplaced” (648).