Tag Archives: Michael Pemulis

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


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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: And But So Then?

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


April 21, 2012, pgs 958-981/1079. An AA story from someone it doesn’t appear we know takes up valuable pages in the few left before this whole thing comes to a close. No clues. No obvious ones anyway.

Then we get the story of the Middlesex A.D.A., who himself is a survivor, and whose wife has had a very hard time indeed after the Gately and co. toothbrush incident. Most importantly here, we learn that Gately is, legally at least, in the clear.

Then we are back at ETA, but not back inside Hal’s head. There are some indications as to what is happening in these pages at least. “Michael Pemulis was nowhere to be seen since early this A.M., at which time Anton Doucette said he’d seen Pemulis quote ‘lurking’ out by the West House dumpsters looking quote ‘anxiously depressed.'” Pemulis might have been searching for his discarded stash, but it’s hard to know for sure. Otis P. Lord returns briefly, but Poutrincourt is nowhere to be found. From the view overhead, Hal appears to be acting very strange: not eating his usual pre-match Snickers bar and asking Barry Loach (recently named the 10th best non-Hal or -Gately character in the book by Publishers Weekly) if “the pre-match locker room ever gave him a weird feeling, occluded, electric, as if all this had been done and said so many times before it made you feel it was recorded…[something about Fourier Transforms]…locked down and stored and call-uppable for rebroadcast at specified times.” This is similar to the feelings Hal had earlier, about how many times he had performed certain actions. Also like before, “[Hal’s] face today had assumed various expressions ranging from distended hilarity to scrunched grimace, expressions that seemed unconnected to anything that was going on.” And then five-and-a-half pages about Loach’s story and his salvation by Mario Incandenza.

After a long absence, we’re back with Orin, who, like the unfortunate roaches in his apartment from ~900 pages ago, is trapped under what appears to be a giant drinking glass. He’s been drugged and seems to have broken his good foot trying to kick his way out, and he seems genuinely confused about the meaning of the repeating announcement of “Where Is The Master Buried.” I always assumed Orin was the keeper of the Master, but this throws some doubt on that assumption. Speaking of roaches, a vent opens and begins to pour them into the enclosure, a la “1984.” Orin responds in kind, crying out “Do it to her! Do it to her!” Luria P—– is unamused, thinking of her fellow torturer as “a ham.”

Gately’s situation is not improving. His fever delirium has him half aware or less of what’s happening around him, though he knows that he is “the object of much bedside industry.” He hears his own head voice, with an echo, advise him to “never try and pull a weight that exceeds you,” and thinks to himself that he might die. The A.D.A. appears to be in the vicinity, no doubt struggling with the issues he discussed with Pat M. just a few pages ago. A voice at the door “laughed and told somebody else it was getting harder these days to tell the homosexuals from the people who beat up homosexuals.” It’s unclear if that has any relevance, except by a very circuitous inference that his hospital stay has revealed that Gately has AIDS and that  AIDS is still considered a “homosexual” ailment in Wallace’s near-future. Not terribly likely. It appears that the dangerously feverish Gately is lifted into an ice bath, an experience that causes him to “wake up” back on the cold, piss-stained floor with Fackleman and Mt. Dilaudid.

The situation here is not improving either. A motley and highly unpleasant crew of people make their way into the luxury apartment, led by the always unwelcome Bobby C. Everyone starts ingesting extraordinary amounts of substances, aside from those people who are occupied with things like injecting other people with drugs or sewing Fackleman’s eyelids open. Bobby C has a recording of Linda McCartney’s isolated vocals that he apparently loves, which, I mean really, the guy is just rotten to the core. And yet, he is gentle with Gately as they inject him with liquid sunshine and his senses inflame and he begins to tumble to the ground.  The endnotes here contain more than one reference to missiles. For Gately, the experience on the whole is “obscenely pleasant.”

And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.

Before you get angry, at least consider that, for what it’s worth, the imagery here has Gately out of the water and into the cold — contrary to the warm, liquid womb-type imagery from before when he was on drugs.

Now you can feel free to embrace your frustration, and Google “What happened at the end of Infinite Jest,” and head back to the front of the book. If you’ve enjoyed yourself so far, though, take heart. You’re just getting started.

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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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What is the Saddest Thing?

Microwave for One by Sonia Allison
Publishers Weekly pick for The Worst Book Ever
Status: The perfect gift for someone everyone hates

ERNEST HEMINGWAY ONCE WROTE A FAMOUS STORY IN SIX WORDS:  “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” It is still unsurpassed in the short and sad genre of Flash Fiction — until now. The title of the most recent Publishers Weekly nominee for The Worst Book Ever has Hemingway and everyone else beat in half the space. The situation is made worse by that fact that this is a real thing that actually happened.

In 1987, The Book Services Ltd published a slim, 144-page cookbook called “Microwave for One.” The book is by Sonia Allison, who has quite a few publications under her belt. But she’s best known for her masterpiece of tragedy, a book whose title and cover is so rife with sadness that one almost has the urge to brush the invisible tears from Ms. Allison’s face as she leans over her microwave and her food spread.

An Amazon review of the book, posted by none other than “Michael Pemulis” has this to say:

It used to be that I got home from work and the only thing I’d want to put in my mouth was the cold barrel of my grandfather’s shotgun. Then I discovered Sonia Allison’s Chicken Tetrazzini, and now there are two things.

Given all the Pemulis, microwave and suicide references here, I’m going to go ahead and link to the Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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