Tag Archives: Eschaton

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Getting Chewed by Something Huge and Tireless and Patient

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 


December 20,2011, pgs 567-619/1044-1045. Let’s begin with the mention of the blind tennis player Dymphna, which seems insignificant aside from the fact that he is nine years old here in the Y.D.A.U., yet is sixteen when Hal says he has to play him one year later in the book’s opening chapter. I don’t know whether this is an oversight or something deliberate. What I do know is that the use of the name “Dymphna” here likely comes from St. Dymphna who, according to the prayer to St. Dymphna, looks out for those “afflicted with mental and emotional illness” to whom IJ is practically dedicated. The reference also bears weight based on the story of Dymphna, which is commonly called “The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter” and is about pretty much what the title says. It’s a flip on the Oedipal themes running throughout IJ and, as we will see, has some serious relevance vis-a-vis Joelle van Dyne.

While Idris Arslanian walks around blindfolded to study the blind-Dymphna method, Pemulis provides a useful explanation of annular fusion and the reasons for giant infants and large hamsters in the Concavity. Pemulis also mentions that James Incandenza helped design “these special holographic conversions so the team that worked on annulation could study the behavior of subatomics in highly poisonous environments. Without getting poisoned themselves.” This brings to mind the speculations Steeply’s people have made on holography in The Entertainment.

One also finds it amusing that the discussion of annular waste reuse happens as Pemulis solicits Arslanian to (re)use his urine.

The story then jumps between Orin Incandenza’s developing situation with the Swiss hand model and Lenz and Green’s walk home, which after a brief section with Mario ultimately climaxes at Ennet House.

Orin maintains his theory about his legless admirers while his dangerous liaison hides under the covers with a pistol and an oxygen mask. Again, this strange situation is balanced with Orin’s sadness and longing, and his Holden Caulfield-esque remark that “I miss seeing the same things over and over again.” Also an offhand mention of feeling “ready for anything” including “Swiss cuckolds, furtive near-Eastern medical attaches, zaftig print journalists.” Emphasis mine.

Bruce Green is sharing another of OJ’s tragi-comic back stories, including a note that “The creepily friendly bachelor that lived next to his aunt had had two big groomed dogs,” which I think is Wallace’s Man in the Macintosh* moment. Lenz is finally back to executing house pets and giving chase to large Canadians. Mario’s sojourn outside Ennet House is a brief, calm island in the middle of raging seas, even despite his uneasiness about Madame Psychosis. His feeling that “It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know” now has a sad extra valence of meaning to it. I wonder if maybe Mario is showing something of what Wallace felt like around AA, and why he felt compelled to write about it. “Mario’s felt good both times in Ennet’s House because it’s very real…once he heard somebody say God with a straight face and nobody looked at them or looked down or smiled in any sort of way where you could tell they were worried inside.” You can even hear DFW breaking through when he momentarily slips out of Mario’s voice to complain about the difficulties of finding “valid art” — which just doesn’t sound like Mario — about “stuff that is real.”

Then, during the Herculean and Kafka-esque moving of the cars at midnight, the ever-humble and ever-dutiful Don Gately gets into a brawl defending Randy Lenz. This is an incredible fight scene. Not only because of the balletic choreography of (as I think Lenz puts it) “some righteous ass-kickings,” nor for the beautifully illustrated pain, like the way Gately’s “shoulder blooms with colorless fire,” but because this fight scene is also a character study of Don G, while it is also a romance between Don and Joelle, while also being a pretty incredible ensemble piece about the people at the halfway house and environs. It’s the Ennet House Eschaton.

*Given the lack of any quick and dirty internet explanations to link to here, I should maybe just say that The Man in the Macintosh was an incidental character in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” long thought to be Joyce himself. After an evening’s Googling, however, there is apparently evidence that the Man is actually Mr. Duffy from the story “A Painful Case.” My point is, Wallace had two dogs and likely considered himself a creepily friendly neighbor at times.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Eschaton!

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 


October 7, 2011, pgs 321-342/1022-1025. The Eschaton game on Interdependence Day is quite possibly the signature piece of writing in David Foster Wallace’s entire body of work. I invite readers to agree or disagree in the comments. Allow me to point out, however, to those inclined to pose some counterargument about the way that the cruise ship essay or “Good Old Neon” or the Kenyon University commencement speech better capture DFW’s intangible essence, my point can almost be proven mathematically, with data. This section has tennis, trigonometry, violence, drugs and alcohol, overachieving kids, a beanie to provide a slight touch of dorkiness, rampant and disorienting abbreviations, chaos, humor, a sinister and mysterious element on the perimeter (the mint green sedan), Utter Global Crisis, serious consequences, technology, bodily fluids and a really long endnote. It is “Infinite Jest” at full throttle, Wallace at his most excessive, showcasing his best as well as his worst.

By way of visual aide, another great graphic from Chris Ayers at Poor Yorick Entertainment (click to enlarge; take some time to explore):

This is “Lord of the Flies” updated for the millenium, right down to the nerdy kid getting his head stuck in a computer monitor rather than crushed by a rock. I don’t actually think Wallace was deliberate with the parallels, I just mean its in the same spirit, that being the spirit of how quickly all hell can break loose.

Despite the elaborate mathematics — in fact, partly because of them — in the long Pemulis-narrated endnote, this chapter is one of the more absurd in the book. I admit I’m not a big fan of when Wallace pushes these boundaries. But even though they can be uncomfortable for 20 or so pages, they’re essential to the novel as a whole.  It just wouldn’t be the same without the occasional reality-busting weirdness. This chapter is also a pivotal point for plot movement in the pages ahead, with potentially far-reaching consequences. Plus, we get to hear a bit more from Pemulis, who I truly enjoy, even if he is “a thoroughgoing chilled-revenge gourmet, and is not one bit above dosing someone’s water jug…”

Another piece of evidence for Eschaton’s enduring and ouvre-defining (if such a thing is possible for Wallace) quality is the fact that it has been the focus of a stage adaptation of IJ:

And recently dramatized by The Decemberists in a really fantastic music video:

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog.


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