Tag Archives: Joelle van Dyne

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: What Happened, Pt. 1

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

It’s been a little over three months since the last post of the Infinite Jest liveblog, and I recently noticed the first tiny urges to jump back in and read the book again. I’m not quite ready for all that, but it seems like the right time to tackle some of the most difficult questions lingering at the end of the novel: What the hell just happened? And why did it happen that way? (I’ll tackle the latter in a second post).

If your experience finishing Infinite Jest mirrors mine, then after you threw the book across the room, picked it up and re-read the first chapter, then threw the book again, you went to Google and entered: “WHAT HAPPENED IN INFINITE JEST?” 

This approach leads to some good resources for piecing together the actual events. Aaron Swartz at Raw Thought has the best explanation I’ve seen so far, a concise, linear and well-built case for what happened, even if some of his conclusions are debatable. Ezra Klein has some interesting thoughts about the impact, if not the actual details, of IJ’s ending in a post called “Infinite Jest as Infinite Jest.” And Dan Schmidt’s “Notes on Infinite Jest” answers some questions while raising others.

I’ll be using these sources — without which I would not  have grasped what happened — to walk through things in detail here. But first, let’s establish that there actually is something happening at the end of Infinite Jest. The abrupt closing is easily written off as arbitrary or too clever, an easy way out of a monstrous narrative that offered no satisfying path to the finish line. But Wallace appears to have had an arc — or a circle — in mind, and filling in the blanks does not disappoint. Continue reading


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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Alas, Poor Tony

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


March 8, 2012, pgs 845-864/1076-1077. Finally, the end comes for Poor Tony Krause and Randy Lenz, two of the most unpleasant characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

But age with his stealing steps/ Hath clawed me in his clutch,/ And hath shipped me into the land/ As if I had never been such.

Lenz remains Lenz right up to the very end, apparently cutting Krause’s digits off and offering them up during the AFR civilian testing of The Entertainment. If there was any ambiguity, it seems that Marathe has definitely made his choice since he failed to report Jolene’s Joelle’s presence to Fortier and “had made his decision and his call,” said call being to Steeply. In the meantime, he helps plan an AFR incursion to ETA to get at Hal, Mario and Avril.

Gately dreams. He’s with Joelle getting ready for romance when her revealed face is that of Winston Churchill. This is reminiscent of the description of Ortho Stice from two hundred and ten pages prior: “A beautiful sports body, lithe and tapered and sleekly muscled, smooth…on whose graceful neck sits the face of a ravaged Winston Churchill, broad and slab-featured…”  It’s too far a stretch for me to call this a Hamlet Sighting, but I do think it’s funny that there is some possibly family resemblance between our possible Laertes and our almost certainly Ophelia characters. The root cause, however, is most likely David Foster Wallace’s feeling that Winston Churchill was funny looking. Gately’s touching memory-dream of Mrs. Waite morphs into what appears to be the content of The Entertainment, in which JOI’s death/female/mother cosmology is explained to Gately, who submits to it.

Hal wakes from a dream and — for what I think is the first time — speaks in a first person voice that is loudly and clearly identified as Hal (and not just a random, nameless first-person somewhere in the jumble of characters in the previous 850 pages). Hal now has a voice, and it’s one of the coolest tricks in a tricky novel, mostly because it doesn’t feel like a trick.  Pemulis is off the stage, but he’s clearly on the mind of Hal, who describes the snow outside as “Yachting-cap white.”  He is then struck by that fact that he’s having feelings of not wanting to play tennis: “I couldn’t remember feeling strongly one way or the other about playing for quite a long time, in fact.” Hal is shifting out of neutral, which seems like a good thing, but is also accompanied by the feeling that “without some one-hitters to be able to look forward to smoking alone in the tunnel I was waking up every day feeling as though there was nothing in the day to anticipate or lend anything any meaning.”

Gately wakes up to the real Joelle van Dyne.  Like her Ennet House-mates, Joelle unloads her recovery narrative on Gately, only this time he doesn’t seem to mind.  He takes inspiration from her progress and has his own kind of breakthrough: “He could do the dextral pain the same way: Abiding.”  We hear a by now familiar Wallace refrain “What’s unendurable is what his own head could make of it all.” All this business about living in the moment and ignoring the mind carries more-than-subtle notes of Buddhism.

In addition to refusing narcotic painkillers, Gately also tries to convince himself to swear off Joelle.

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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.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Too Much Fun

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


September 14, 2011, pgs 219-240. Here comes Joelle van Dyne, a veiled Boston-ite who, with her knowledge of film making and Incandenzas and hard drugs, is the primary link between the two major plot lines in this book. She arrives on the stage just as she is planning to exit by way of Too Much Fun with some freebase. In addition to a filthily cluttered grad-student bathroom that is so well written it’s annoying at an adult-etiquette level, this section is full of important information. Here is what to look for:

— “The rain’s wet veil blurs things like Jim had designed his neonatal lens to blur things in imitation of a neonatal retina, everything recognizable and yet without outline.”

— “The ultimate annular fusion: that of exhibit and its cage.”

— The chronology of Subsidized Time on page 223 (of my edition) is critical. You’ll want to turn back to this page, so you may as well mark it somehow.

— The man in the wheelchair holding the removable cartridge.

— “She’s had her last fling with film cartridges. Jim had used her several times. Jim at the end had filmed her at prodigious and multi-lensed length, and refused to share what he’d made of it, and died w/o a note.”

— “…after Orin first left, and then Jim came and made her sit through that filmed apology-scene…”

— “Joelle van Dyne” is ” a.k.a. Madame P[sychosis]” from the MIT radio show.

— “Joelle even now lives hand-to-lung on a grossly generous trust willed her by a man she unveiled for but never slept with, the prodigious punter’s father, infinite jester, director of a final opus so magnum he’d claimed to have it locked away.”

— Joelle “doubts that any sum of scenes as pathologic as he’d stuck that long quartzy auto-wobbling lens on the camera and filmed her for could have been as entertaining as he’d said the thing he’d always wanted to make had broken his heart by ending up.”

— “…on either side of the mirror he’d cut for the scenes of that last ghastly thing he’d made her stand before, reciting in the openly empty tones she’d gone on to use on air…”

— “Was the allegedly fatally entertaining and scopophiliac thing Jim alleges he made out of her unveiled face here at the start of Y.T.S.D.B. a cage or really a door?”

— “…brain heaving in its bone-box, memorizing every detail like collecting empty shell…” (this just sounds like a description of what it’s like to be Wallace in a room on a tough day)

— “…a kind of wraith- or phantom-like—”

— “—way it can be film qua film. Comstock says if it even exists it has to be something more like an aesthetic pharmaceutical.”

— “‘This ultimate cartridge-as-ecstatic-death rumor’s been going around like a lazy toilet since Dishmaster… Have a look. See that it’s doubtless just high-concept erotica or an hour of rotating whorls. Or something like Makavajev, something that’s only entertaining after it’s over, on reflection.'”

— “She always sees, after inhaling, right at the apex, at the graph’s spike’s tip, Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa,’ behind glass, at the Vittoria, for some reason…”

— “‘The Face of the Deep’ had been the title she’s suggested for Jim’s unseen last cartridge, which he’d said would be too pretentious and then used that skull-fragment out of the Hamlet graveyard scene instead, which talk about pretentious she’d laughed. His frightened look when she’d laughed…”

— There is an oblique indication that Joelle was molested by her father right at the end of 239. This is a potential, credible but unconfirmed threat.

— Hamlet Sighting: Joelle attempts suicide in a blue bathtub. She is Ophelia.

These chapters do an excellent job of capturing the excruciating experience of hanging out with graduate students who are up their own asses with academic syntax and latin phrases. But the whole nexus of addiction and entertainment and annular cycles of cages and doors and death here is, to be honest, kind of thinly veiled.

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