Tag Archives: James O. Incandenza

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: What Happened, Pt. 2

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

Previously on “Words, Words, Words”:

Had Wallace “completed” the story, he would have distracted from what I think is the real meaning of Infinite Jest.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I’ll tell you what that is.

Commence Part 2…

Credit: “KN/PC: Infinite Jest” by Cody Hoyt. Buy it in print, canvas or shirt form here.

So, I may have misspoke.  The truth is that isolating a single “real meaning of Infinite Jest” is next to impossible. On one hand, it can be said that the novel is about many things: fathers and sons; mothers and sons; addiction; communication; entertainment; politics; greatness, mediocrity and failure. It’s a coming of age story alongside a recovery story that is also possibly a love story, all wrapped in a cloak-and-dagger-ish mystery about international realignment and terrorism. Choose your favorite combination and go with it. The book is about a lot of things.

On the other hand, it’s tough to say the book is actually “about” anything at all.  As we have noted, there is no clear resolution. We never see the characters learn lessons, come of age, fall in love or be at peace in any way that warrants a Happily Ever After type of closure. The book literally stops far away and chronologically ahead of the main events in the novel (sort of) and we don’t entirely know who lives or dies, or what the shape of the continental borders look like, or whether fathers connected with sons.  I’m sure many of the most frustrated readers have tossed up their hands and decided that Infinite Jest is really about nothing at all, some kind of post-modern experiment in reader-annoyance-tolerance-levels where we’re supposed to be thinking about what it means to read stories when really all we wanted was to just plain old read a story.

Rather than walking away from IJ in one of these two unsatisfying directions, it is possible to follow a third and potentially satisfying way.

I believe there is a unified theory of Infinite Jest that explains the various particles and waves of the novel — or most of them, at least — and helps clarify why Wallace made some of the choices he made. Continue reading


Filed under Infinite Jest Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Byzantine Pornography

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


April 14, 2012, pgs 934-958/1078-1079. A brief moment in which Joelle van Dyne is picked up by Hugh/Helen Steeply pulls us out of Gately’s fever memories. But we’re quickly back in, as Gately and Fackleman descend further into their binge, watching JOI’s Kinds of Light, pissing themselves and being just all around pretty disgusting. Even still, rolling M&Ms through urine, then actually shooting up with urine instead of water is arguably less disgusting than Pamela Hoffman-Jeep’s “standard anti-hangover breakfast” the Phillips Screwdriver made of vodka and Milk of Magnesia. It’s accurately described by Gately as a “lowball.” Within the space of a few pages we catch a few missile references: “he [Gately] might as well have been strapped to the snout of a missile” and “it became the ICBM of binges,” indicating that there may be some “Gravity’s Rainbow” overtones here. A later reference, during Hal’s section, to a “sad and beautiful Aryan-looking boy” adds to the presence of GR in these pages. As things get worse and worse for Gately and Fackleman (who has now shit his pants), Gately reverts more and more to his childhood of the breathing ceiling and the bars of his playpen.

We now appear to be alternating between Gately and Hal and Joelle, who is now describing The Entertainment — and the location of the master cartridge — under USOUS questioning. Just as it is for USOUS, this interview is evidence for us readers to help piece together exactly what the hell is happening.

Hal returns to his room to find Coyle and Mario and some developments in the events around ETA. Apparently Lateral Alice Moore arranged the switch for Axford and Troeltsch, and I suspect there’s not much more to this seemingly significant and perhaps light-shedding turn of events than to embed and heighten in us as readers Hal’s feeling “that something as major as a midterm room-switch could have taken place without my knowing anything about it filled me with dread.” Which is pretty goddam brilliant of old DFW. Coyle tells Hal about Stice’s theory that a ghost is haunting him to raise his game, and Hal futher theorizes “Or hurt somebody else’s.”

Coyle is watching JOI’s Accomplice! which again sparks Hal’s interest in his father’s intentions.  Accomplice! appears to be another odd JOI joint, focused on a meta-watching experience. Hal mentions “a self-conscious footnote” and explains that the film’s “essential project remains abstract and self-reflexive; we end up feeling and thinking not about the characters but about the cartridge itself.” Its star, Cosgrove Watt, is first spotted by JOI in a commercial wearing a white toupee, just like JOI Sr. wore and just like Lenz wears. Graduate students start your engines on that one. Speaking of which, Hal watching the reports of snow falling on various people and places across the area, and his calling up of the phrase “smiling mirthlessly,” brings to mind James Joyce and his story “The Dead.” I’ll go ahead and make too much of it by pointing out Hal’s observation that “I had never once ridden a snowmobile, skied, or skated: E.T.A. discouraged them. DeLint described winter sports as practically getting down on one knee and begging for an injury” (emphasis mine, since this basically what happens at the end of “The Dead,” except with love and not with winter sports).

Hal begins to reminisce. The poster he remembers of Lang directing Metropolis is, presumably, the one Wallace wanted to use as the cover of the book. He remembers seeing a knife stuck in a mirror, though not the word KNIFE written on a non-public mirror. Hal’s impression of the Byzantine erotica he was once interested in feels like the organizing idea for all of IJ: “Something about the stiff and dismantled quality of maniera greca porn: people broken into pieces and trying to join, etc.” He realizes he doesn’t want to play anymore, and thinks about injuring himself to avoid ever playing again and “becoming the object of compassionate sorrow rather than disappointed sorrow.” It’s another moment in this book that is harder to read knowing the author’s fate. Hal recalls a sad moment involving Himself, Orin and pornography’s impoverished idea of sex, and he thinks about his mom. He knows about John Wayne, as well as a long list of others including Marlon Bain. He pictures Wayne and his mom in what is presumably a posture of the Byzantine porn.

Joelle comes back to “the House” to find a Middlesex County Sheriff’s car sitting outside.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a Comment

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Using Your Head

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


March 29, 2012, pgs 902-911/1077. Many questions in just a handful of pages. We continue to get Gately’s backstory, which is kind of funny in a you-don’t-get-the-backstory-of-a-major-character-until-the-last-hundred-pages kind of way. We establish that Gately was nine years old during what sounds like the Rodney King riots.  Assuming Wallace is referring to these specific riots, that means Gately was nine in March of 1992, and is 29 here in the YDAU, making it 2011 or 2012. It’s unclear when his birthday is, though I’m sure some enterprising young obsessive could figure it out. For not, it’s another clue in nailing down the exact year.

Gately’s relationship to his head, at least in his younger days, is far different from the way Wallace usually deals with heads. Gately’s is a tool, a physical object so large and indestructible that it serves as a net positive in his social interactions and overall happiness. Most of the other heads in this book are portrayed as something along the lines of locked cages and/or torture instruments.  The “here” from Hal’s “I am in here.” on the first page of the book is reasonably interpreted as inside his head. It’s the first of many times when someone is basically trapped by their head — but not the young Don Gately, who uses his head to get laughs, get beers and get touchdowns. For more on how Wallace felt about heads, check his Kenyon University remarks.

Speaking of being inside Hal’s head, we swing back to another of his first person sections. “Some more heads came and awaited response and left.” This section marks the return to the main text of Mike Pemulis, who appears looking haggard. When Hal says “I could see my asking him where he’d been all week leading to so many different possible responses and further questions that the prospect was almost overwhelming,” it sounds an awful lot like the way being high has been described earlier in the book.

As I said, there are many questions, for example…

Pemulis says that Petropolis Kahn, who Hal appeared to ignore a moment ago, had “mentioned hysterics” when reporting to MP about Hal being in the room.  Hysterics?

Hal is thinking of his father’s funeral.  Why?

There is “a whoop and two crashes directly overhead.”  Significant? Or just general ETA-waking-up noises?

There is what seems to be a deliberate mention that Hal hasn’t seen C.T. or his mom all week. Where are they?

When asked about going to get food off campus, Hal finds that “I couldn’t decide.” Hamlet Sighting? (Yes.)

When Hal says that Pemulis “blarneyed” the urinalysis guy into giving them 30 days, Pemulis, who is itching to talk to Hal about something important, replies “Blarney wasn’t why we got it, Inc, is the thing.” Why did they get it, then?

Pemulis remarks that he hasn’t even heard of half of JOI’s stuff, followed by “And me using the poor guy’s lab.” What is Pemulis using the lab for?

Pemulis misreads that Annular Fusion is Our Fiend, and is corrected by Hal that it’s our Friend.

Credit: Chris Ayers http://pooryorickentertainment.tumblr.com

The closing of the section focuses on JOI’s film Good Looking Men…etc, with Hal specifically requesting to watch the last part in which Paul Anthony Heaven delivers a pedantic lecture on ancestors and inherited behaviors. When JOI enters the pages I always consider him as a stand in for Wallace, or at least Wallace’s artistic ambitions, and here we have his work appearing as Pemulis wears rimless specs and talks about blarney, while Hal considers the insertion of references to the artists JOI loved while the lecturer refers to generational hydrophobia. These cues make me think of James Joyce, and may perhaps explain Wallace’s struggle to avoid being “deprived of some essential fluid, aridly cerebral, abstract, conceptual, little more than hallucinations of God,” and step out of the shadow of his ancestor: “it is, finally, artistic askesis [discipline, or asceticism] which represents the contest proper, the battle-to-the-death with the loved dead.”

…tears run down Heaven’s gaunt face…

Last question: The book ends in 70 pages. How is he going to wrap this up?

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a Comment

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: “…”

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


February 25, 2012, pgs 809-845/1076. Gately is laid up in the trauma wing of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, mute and only non-narcotically medicated.  As such, he has become a target for Ennet House visitors eager to unload their memories, and for his own mind to unload a few of his own memories as well. Tiny Ewell is first, along with a “tall and slumped ghostish figure” and “the blurred seated square-head boy” who is likely to be Otis P. Lord with the computer monitor still stuck over his head. Ewell’s story of his school boy days makes him sound quite a bit like an early Mike Pemulis. Gately keeps dreaming about “Orientals” for some reason that I can’t identify.

Gately talks about the “airless and hellish, horrid” condition of being unable to speak and it seems that, as we approach the final pages of the book, both of our main protagonists are fighting the temptation to take drugs.  Hal sees faces in the floor and Gately sees breathing in the ceiling.  Gately’s bed is moved like Stice’s and he ends up next to a crying patient with a very deep voice.  No clue who that is.

Enter ghost.  The figure that has been resting its tailbone on the window sill (like JOI’s mother in previous scenes) is JOI Himself. The Hamlet Sightings are off the charts here, with the se offendendo that Wallace notes in the endnotes to JOI being the ghost of Hamlet’s father to his insertion of the word LAERTES into Gately’s thoughts. Bear in mind also that Laertes is the father of Odysseus, so there may even be some James Joyce/Homer sightings taking place here as well. We learn from the ghost of JOI about figurants, and how he felt like one his entire life and how Hal had started to become one just before JOI’s se offendendo. The figurants conversation also offers a hefty justification for why this book pretty much features “every single performer’s voice, no matter how far out on the cinematographic or narrative periphery they were.”  Immediately the early Clenette chapter (“Wardine say her mama aint treat her right…”) comes to mind.

We learn that the purpose of The Entertainment was for JOI to connect with Hal, “To bring him ‘out of himself,’ as they say. The womb could be used both ways. A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard. A life-long dream. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.” I’m not certain of the exact timeline here, but it seems possible that JOI-as-wraith might be able, at some point during these interactions with Gately, to whisk up the hill to ETA and see his son actually watching and presumably being entertained by his father’s movies.

Gately slips in and out of consciousness, remembering the MP who abused his mother.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog


Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Every Unhappy Family…

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


February 3, 2012, pgs 736-755/1062. The strangeness with Orin and his mother puts Joelle van Dyne in the habit of getting high and compulsively cleaning, the irony of which being that compulsive cleanliness is one of Orin’s mother things. Joelle has retained the habit into sobriety, and as she careens around her shared room at Ennet House, we get a look back at her own family and some of the interactions with the Incandenza family. Contrary to the “Anna Karenina” bit referenced in our title, Joelle notes that “Orin’d had no idea how banal and average his same-sex-parent-issues were…Joelle’d known her mother didn’t much like her from the first time her own personal Daddy’d told her he’d rather take Pokie to the pictures alone.” Here again we have the possible indication that Joelle’s father abused her at the movies.

Joelle’s impressions of JOI’s movies sound like Wallace’s critique of his own writing. She describes JOI’s films as “the work of a brilliant optician and technician who was an amateur at any kind of real communication. Technically gorgeous, the Work, with lighting and angles planned out to the frame. But oddly hollow, empty, no sense of dramatic towardness — no narrative movement toward a real story; no emotional movement toward an audience.”  This probably sounds just about spot-on to anyone who’s stuck with it for 740 pages, and Wallace himself seemed to feel the same way.  He was quoted in a D.T. Max New Yorker piece that, in his early writing, he “saw himself as having been driven by a “basically vapid urge to be avant-garde and post structural and linguistically calisthenic.'” Interestingly, after this sort-of layered in apology by the author, Joelle talks about the split second shots in The Medusa v. The Odalisque where his fighting monsters seems to feel a deep concern over the audience, showing brief flashes of pain when their actions turn the seated people into stone. “It was like he couldn’t help putting human flashes in, but he wanted to get them in as quickly and unstudyably as possible.”

In Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell, the Ecstasy of St. Theresa figures heavily again, as it does in M v. O  and in Joelle’s own life (another drug induced experience along with compulsive cleaning was to visualize the Ecstasy at the peak of her high). In Pre-Numptial… a slow four-minute shot of the sculpture is the only point indicating “Freedom from one’s own head, one’s inescapable P.O.V.” Again we see the building blocks of “This is Water.”

Marathe, while successfully interviewing for admission to Ennet House, spots some potential versions of The Entertainment. He makes his decision about which side to land on once the ONAN-AFR battle begins, and decides correctly since Fortier does not plan to let him live. But Marathe doesn’t decide on when he should make his move, leading to a possible but unlikely Hamlet Sighting.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a Comment

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Antitoi Entertainent [sic]

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


November 22, 2011, pgs 469-508/1033-1034.  Marathe and Steeply. Both the American/O.N.A.N. government and the Canadians have experimented with debilitating entertainments — which Steeply points out to demonstrate that choosing to overindulge is not a uniquely American weakness. He is being defensive in every sense of the word, trying to soften some of AFR’s murderous intent through a process of a geopolitical Identifying With. “I’m saying that if he could get past the blind desire for harm against the U.S., your M. Fortier might be induced to see just what it is he’s proposing.” But it doesn’t work; Marathe is Quebecois.

Click to enlarge. Credit: pooryorickentertainment.tumblr.com

Gately’s missle-strapped joyride takes us not only past the Bread and Circus/Whole Foods where I used to work (moved a few blocks in IJ), but also to the interior of “Antitoi Entertainent” [sic], which true to its translation, “Anti-you”, appears to be a nexus in the IJ universe where lots of harmful things come together. That does not, however, include the Antitoi’s themselves: “Once or twice doing work of affiliation with the Separatist/Anti-O.N.A.N. F.L.Q., they are for the most part a not very terrifying insurgent cell…spurned by the F.L.Q. after DuPlessis’s assassination* and also ridiculed by the more malignant anti-O.N.A.N. cells.”  They now have a “previously DuPlessis-restrained flair for stupid wastes of time,” for example, tying the Fleur-de-Lis flag to the statue downtown (which Joelle noticed a few chapters earlier), or taping bricks to the (banned in Canada) postage-paid return cards, a trick Wallace has one of his characters repeat in “The Pale King.” They also sell drugs, including some “trop-formidable harmful pharmaceutical no longer available and guaranteed to make one’s most hair-raising psychedelic experience look like a day on the massage-tables of a Basel hot-springs resort.” This seems to be the DMZ sold to Mike Pemulis.

Continue reading

Leave a Comment

Filed under Liveblog