Infinite Jest, Week 4 (242-317)

If you're still following along, you made it!!! The next 600 pages of IJ are incredible. Every chapter from now is either pretty interesting or extremely interesting, and you now have the context to continue to enjoy the things that he keeps on building on :-)

In this week's reading we get our first peek into how Ennet House relates to the rest of the story, and why so many chapters have been devoted to its residents. In Gately and Geoffrey Day's conversation (mostly taking place in a footnote), Day complains to Gately about the circular logic of AA in hopes of convincing Gately that he doesn't have the Disease. This is an interesting passage because I actually agree with Day's logic- if you have an addiction, you should be in AA, but if you say you don't, then you're in Denial, so you should be in AA- but I find Gately's point much more compelling.

‘For me, the slogan means there’s no set way to argue intellectual-type stuff about the Program. Surrender To Win, Give It Away To Keep It. God As You Understand Him. You can’t think about it like an intellectual thing. Trust me because I been there, man. You can analyze it til you’re breaking tables with your forehead and find a cause to walk away, back Out There, where the Disease is. Or you can stay and hang in and do the best you can.’

What Gately is saying is there are some things that just can't be explained intellectually, that have to be come at with nothing but earnestness and blind belief, and that over intellectualization and justification will prevent you from doing what is simple to say but hard to do.

If Day ever gets lucky and breaks down, finally, and comes to the front office at night to scream that he can’t take it anymore and clutch at Gately’s pantcuff and blubber and beg for help at any cost, Gately’ll get to tell Day the thing is that the clichéd directives are a lot more deep and hard to actually do. To try and live by instead of just say. But he’ll only get to say it if Day comes and asks.

This seems to me to be another core idea of IJ: to Keep Coming Back

Other interesting parts (there are a bunch):

  • Hal's musings on being in the Zone, prompted by an uncanny streak of toenail clippings landing in a faraway wastebasket
  • The dynamic between CT, Moms, Himself, and the other Incandenzas. The Hamlet vibe is feeling especially strong with CT's speech.
  • Orin's incredibly interesting transition from almost successful tennis player to superstar football kicker, and his relationship with Joelle van Dyne/ Madame Psychosis/ P.G.O.A.T.
  • Poor Tony's disgusting and terribly pathetic story. If you have an idea why Poor Tony is in the story please let me know, because the character honestly just seems like DFW's punching bag.
  • Hal's beautiful touching relationship with Mario (we also learn that Mario was born prematurely and has some serious physical disabilities):
    But in the Year of Dairy Products From the American Heartland it was Hal, not she, who, when the veiled legate from the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed showed up at the E.T.A. driveway’s portcullis to discuss with Mario issues of blind inclusion v. visual estrangement, of the openness of concealment the veil might afford him, it was Hal, even as Mario laughed and half-bowed, it was Hal, brandishing his Dunlop stick, who told the guy to go peddle his linen someplace else.

Some things to remember:

  • Orin thinks he is being followed by people in wheelchairs.
  • Orin and Hal start talking about separatism in footnote 110 because of the profiler from Moment, which, if you recall from Marathe and Steeply's conversation, is OUS agent Hugh Steeply's current disguise. From the same conversation, Marathe described "Helen" Steeply as hideously masculine, but Orin finds Hugh/Helen attractive enough to call his estranged brother. The only other girl on that same level for Orin is Joelle, allegedly so pretty that people are too scared to talk to her, but when we meet Joelle at the party, she is wearing a veil, something that only members of the Union of the Hideously and Improbably deformed do in the book. So does Orin have strange taste, or is Marathe wrong about Hugh, or is Joelle actually hideous? 
  • In the same footnote (110) & the same conversation about separatism, Orin asks why these fringe Canadian separatist groups that have historically railed against Canada have suddenly united against America on the issue of the Concavity/Convexity. There are a lot of arguments that they bring up that are shot down, and before the conversation finishes the footnote ends mid sentence. The fun thing is I forgot all of the details of the argument except that there is one coming later and it's both convincing and satisfying, so I look forward to finding out too.

And finally, some quotes I like:

  • On success:
    Schtitt’s philosophical stance is that to win enough of the time to be considered successful you have to both care a great deal about it and also not care about it at all.
  • On loss, and missing what kills you:
    Gately often feels a terrible sense of loss, narcotics-wise, in the A.M., still, even after this long clean. His sponsor over at the White Flag Group says some people never get over the loss of what they’d thought was their one true best friend and lover; they just have to pray daily for acceptance and the brass danglers to move forward through the grief and loss, to wait for time to harden the scab. The sponsor, Ferocious Francis G., doesn’t give Gately one iota of shit for feeling some negative feelings about it: on the contrary, he commends Gately for his candor in breaking down and crying like a baby and telling him about it early one A.M. over the pay phone, the sense of loss. It’s a myth no one misses it. Their particular Substance. Shit, you wouldn’t need help if you didn’t miss it. You just have to Ask For Help and like Turn It Over, the loss and pain, to Keep Coming, show up, pray, Ask For Help.
  • On the passing of time:
    Time is passing. Ennet House reeks of passing time.
  • On a crush:
    But this was different. He’d been smitten before, but not decapitated.
  • On dread (a salient example might be fear of failure leading to failure):
    He said he was just speculating here, ad-libbing; he was meeting her eye and not drowning, his dread now transformed into whatever it had been dread of.