Infinite Jest, Week 10 (701-774)

One of the many crazy things about IJ that I admire is this: DFW managed to write a book whose key parts are an elite tennis academy founded by an avant-garde film director, a halfway house full of recovering addicts, a group of Quebecois separatists distinguished by their abject hatred of the US and their wheelchairs, a dystopic future where years are named by corporations and parts of the US and Canada have become a wasteland where giant feral hamsters and massive babies roam, and a film that is so addictive that everyone who watches it is rendered catatonic and watches to their death, and nothing has happened. In almost 800 pages, almost 80% of the way through the book, very little narrative wise has been developed. There’s been a lot of stuff, but most of it has been more exposition than narrative, though at this point in my first read through I’d gotten used to it and I just had faith that somewhere down the line everything is going to make sense in one cohesive story. And my god its finally happening! Marathe interviewing at Ennet House with Pat Montesian and her dogs is two what has so far been totally separate worlds colliding, and it’s weird— like your high school friends hanging out with your college friends or your mom meeting your coworkers. It’s funny that with such a ridiculous premise in such a detailed background the most exciting story element that has happened so far is just two characters meeting.

The flip side of lack of narration is IJ’s breadth of exposition, and for me the first time I realized just how much esoteric knowledge DFW crammed into me through IJ was in this section of reading. In a footnote, presented as research Struck is doing for his paper, DFW finally explains why the AFR are in wheelchairs, and it’s fucking crazy. I read that while pacing in my kitchen, and when my roommate Greg came out I tried explaining to him that footnote, and to properly do it, I had to explain not just the A.F.R. but the tape, O.N.A.N., the Concavity, subsidized years, and completely fictional intra-North-American politics. I stumbled through months of DFW explaining obscure things in weird and often seemingly pointless detail, and holy shit some of it actually stuck!

Some other bits that I found interesting:

  • Around page 740, while she is cleaning, Joelle thinks about the Incandenza family, and we get our first outsider perspective on the family, and it’s fascinating. We’ve spent 800 pages reading about the Incandenzas, mostly from the perspective of Hal and Orin, and they seem like the most abnormal and dysfunctional family ever. Like Joelle says though, “never trust a man on the subject of his own parents,” and from her perspective things that were mostly alluded at are now much clearer, like how scary Moms really is, how neurotic Orin is, and how annoying Hal is.

  • Joelle also shares some insights on Himself’s works. His films come across as “mordant, sophisticated, campy, hip, cynical, technically mind-bending; but cold, amateurish, hidden,” but when Joelle watches and studies closely enough she realizes that there is something very real and human hidden in flashes in his films. Joelle’s experience also applies to Infinite Jest itself. IJ is a technical masterpiece, and at times its language and structure and density seem very hostile to its readers, but hidden and intentional, IJ is centered around a very unironic and moral thesis.

  • On page 726, “an employee at the Academy of Tennis of Enfield had been recruited and joined the Canadian instructor and student already inside for closer work of surveillance.” Poincourte and John Wayne? Who is the new employee?

  • On page 766, “A couple odd long crinkly paper strips of bright red hung over the side of the wastebasket, which was normally totally empty and clean” are probably the remnants of the pom poms Moms was holding while having sex with John Wayne in her office, and “An old folded pair of U.S.A. football pants and a helmet are on top of one of the file cabinets by the flag. Her one memento of Orin, who won’t talk to them or contact them in any way.” might be the helmet Wayne was wearing

  • Mario, while filming his ETA video, walks to visit Moms, and asks her “how can you tell if somebody’s sad?” Moms gives Mario a wonderful answer of disassociation, and feeling existentially “not yourself" (which I can painfully Identify with), but Mario asks:

    ‘You explained it very well. It helped a lot. Except what if it’s that they’re almost like even more themselves than normal? Than they were before? If it’s not that he’s blank or dead. If he’s himself even more than before a sad thing happened. What if that happens and you still think he’s sad, inside, somewhere?’

    Initially I thought Mario was obviously talking about Hal, but rereading that first conversation Mario has with Hal about sadness, I think Mario could also be asking about Moms, and whether Moms is still sad, despite seeming happier and taller and smiling more after Himself’s death.

  • Hal and Mario talk about monsters while Hal is explaining how Pemulis lied his way out of a scan, and Hal explains how

    ‘The truth is nobody can always tell, Boo. Some types are just too good, too complex and idiosyncratic; their lies are too close to the truth’s heart for you to tell.’
    ‘Boo, I think I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. 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.’ ‘But then how do you know they’re monsters, then?’ ‘That’s the monstrosity right there, Boo, I’m starting to think.’ ‘Golly Ned.’ ‘That they walk among us. Teach our children. Inscrutable. Brass-faced.’

    I think about this in relation to Pemulis (who thus far has seemed like an innocent prankster) and Mrs. Incandenza, who everyone finds inscrutably perfect.

Some quotes that I liked:

  • “post-carrot anhedonic and existentially unmoored” is a big mood:
    when a sudden infusion of patent-receipts left him feeling post-carrot anhedonic and existentially unmoored

  • She feels good that he makes no chitchat and probably doesn’t know her name.

  • On parody:
    Even as an undergrad Joelle’d been convinced that parodists were no better than camp-followers in ironic masks, satires usually the work of people with nothing new themselves to say.

  • On family:
    We’re all a lot more intuitive about our lovers’ families than we are about our own families, she knew.

  • On existential, blunting sadness and self obliteration:
    ‘There are, apparently, persons who are deeply afraid of their own emotions, particularly the painful ones. Grief, regret, sadness. Sadness especially, perhaps. Dolores describes these persons as afraid of obliteration, emotional engulfment. As if something truly and thoroughly felt would have no end or bottom. Would become infinite and engulf them.’

    ‘Engulf means obliterate.’ ‘I am saying that such persons usually have a very fragile sense of themselves as persons. As existing at all. This interpretation is “existential,”

    ‘My point here is that certain types of persons are terrified even to poke a big toe into genuinely felt regret or sadness, or to get angry. This means they are afraid to live. They are imprisoned in something, I think. Frozen inside, emotionally. Why is this. No one knows, Love-o. It’s sometimes called “suppression,” ’ with the fingers out to the sides again. ‘Dolores believes it derives from childhood trauma, but I suspect not always. There may be some persons who are born imprisoned. The irony, of course, being that the very imprisonment that prohibits sadness’s expression must itself feel intensely sad and painful. For the hypothetical person in question.

    ‘People, then, who are sad, but who can’t let themselves feel sad, or express it, the sadness, I’m trying rather clunkily to say, these persons may strike someone who’s sensitive as somehow just not quite right. Not quite there. Blank. Distant. Muted. Distant. Spacey was an American term we grew up with. Wooden. Deadened. Disconnected. Distant. Or they may drink alcohol or take other drugs. The drugs both blunt the real sadness and allow some skewed version of the sadness some sort of expression, like throwing someone through a living room window out into the flowerbeds she’d so very carefully repaired after the last incident.’

  • On love:
    ‘Hal, pretty much all I do is love you and be glad I have an excellent brother in every way, Hal.’
    (I particularly like how Mario repeats Hal’s name twice)