Howling Fantods Thesis Statement

 

Although this dissertation was never officially published, the Ghent University Press, Belgium and the author of the dissertation Toon Theuwis own the copyrights, by permission of KB 1-128 of 1991. No part of this dissertation may be reproduced by means of print, photocopy, microfilm or any other way, without prior permission from the Ghent University Press and Toon Theuwis. The copyright has been asserted on 7 May 1999.

 

Catalogus Referentie: Theuwis, Toon. "The Quest for Infinite Jest: An Inquiry into the Encyclopedic and Postmodernist Nature of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest." GUP 1999. Nr. 722.

 

Trefwoorden: Literatuurwetenshap: Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest.

 

 

 

I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Kristiaan Versluys for helping me to decide on a topic. His guidance and constructive criticism have made my work on this thesis more comfortable than it would have been without his professional help. He has inspired me in many ways, especially through his lectures which to me often seemed to be about how much stories and literature can make certain things in life simply more understandable and more bearable. I couldn’t agree more.

Luc Herman from the University of Antwerp has been very helpful on the subject of encyclopedism and Professor Nicole Rowan made interesting suggestions concerning Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I would like to thank them both for their time.

For about two years now, Dr. Bart Keunen has been helping me to better understand postmodernism in literature. I am indebted to him for drawing my attention to a wide range of reference sources, too numerous to mention here, and for his way of explaining a complex matter in a plain and understandable (very un-postmodernist) language.

I am grateful to Nicolas Marichal who renewed my courage in troublesome moments more than once. I would also like to thank Trevor Dodge for some insightful suggestions.

A little further away from home, I would like to thank William "Captain" Schiavo, a wonderful teacher of literature. The far too few hours I spent in his classroom have been more important to me than he could possibly imagine.

I make a grateful acknowledgement to Mel, Diane and Brooke Kalman who not only provided me with the necessary software, but who have been a wonderful hostfamily and continue to be.

Finally, without the continuing support and efforts from my parents, brother and friends, I never would have been able to summon up enough courage to write a thesis about, what I think, one of the most challenging books to come along in a long time.

Acknowledgements

Table of Contents

Introduction

1 Encyclopedism in Infinite Jest

2 Postmodernism in Infinite Jest

3 Conclusion: Infinite Jest, a Postmodernist Encyclopedic Novel

Notes

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

Encyclopedism in literature deters and attracts at the same time. Encyclopedic novels are enormous in size and in the last decades they encompass complex or even confusing philosophical ideas. They dive into conundrums of epistemology and ontology and thus also join in with the postmodernist vogue in literature. Such encyclopedic postmodernist novels have a great attraction for a certain group of readers, mainly because of their ambitious design, their construction as a system and their display of verbal virtuosity.

The object of this thesis is to demonstrate that David Foster Wallace’s second novel Infinite Jest belongs to the tradition of encyclopedic postmodernist narratives. I will show that the novel is not simply the expression of an individual’s psychology but that it fits in a contemporary interpretation of postmodern society and the literature it produces. Some literary critics and writers have become dissatisfied with the term "postmodernism". There is some uneasiness to use the term "postmodernism" in literary criticism and there is also a tendency with most young authors to recoil from this term. This is definitely the case with David Foster Wallace, who argues that postmodernism has more or less run its course and serves only as a catch-all term which causes everybody to nod when hearing it, without even knowing what we are talking about [1]. Since Wallace has been compared to Thomas Pynchon more often than he wishes, it has become clear that Wallace has a preference for a different kind of postmodernism, that he sees himself as more than just a satellite launched into orbit around Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. I doubt not that Wallace's notion of postmodernism differs from the generation of writers before him, but he is still so strongly influenced by that previous generation [2] that digressions into shades of differences would merely foreground a generational gap in postmodernist literature that I think is ultimately irrelevant. As I hope to demonstrate in the light of Brian McHale’s writings about postmodernism, Wallace’s 1079-page postmodern project is not fundamentally different from that previous generation's achievements. It seems, however, that Infinite Jest is an up-to-date postmodern definition of the 1990s’ drug and media culture.

Infinite Jest

has received little critical attention. This thesis is an attempt to fill that gap in literary criticism. The few reviews and essays devoted to Infinite Jest all focus on the central themes of solipsism, addiction, recovery and the potential annihilation of the consumer-oriented society in the imaginary setting of the O.N.A.N. (Organisation of North American Nations). For that reason, I will discuss Infinite Jest’s encyclopedic and its postmodernist characteristics. None of the resources that have appeared until today have paid particular attention to this. Part one of this thesis surveys encyclopedic elements in Infinite Jest while part two deals with the novel’s postmodernist characteristics. In both parts, I shall be drawing particular attention to the novel’s preoccupation with comprehensive knowledge, systematic perception and the problematic nature of these two concepts. Infinite Jest is as story about our less confident, but perhaps more intellectually curious, times. When reading Infinite Jest one is totally overwhelmed by so much information that reading the novel becomes a kind of downloading. It is a novel about addiction that one does not really read as much as inhale. It is a disorient express of verbal extravagance that teaches to be satisfied with not understanding the world.

 

 

 

 

Books of immense size can hold a lot of information, but they also have a reputation of serving merely as decoration on a bookshelf. It can be the Encyclopaedia Britannica, or The Oxford English Dictionary, or mammoth novels one can cut one’s teeth on like James Joyce’s Ulysses, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity's Rainbow, or David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

One consults an encyclopedia to learn or to verify a definition, an exact date, a name, etc . . . . These data banks only provide us with information that has no value in and of itself. It can only be understood in connection with other information and overarching structures, or maybe even the ultimate overarching structure, a cosmic totality every person, whether he be a scientist or not, is trying to find. Not a single encyclopedia pretends to provide coherence to all the information that is to be found in it. The order in an encyclopedia is an alphabetical one and does not lead to the acquisition of insight, in the sense of structured knowledge.

Recent fiction in general has been highly self-conscious; self-conscious of itself as text, self-conscious about the use of language, self-conscious of the writer as persona, self-conscious about the effects that narrative has on its readers. This awareness has had as one of its consequences that in many modernist, and even more so in postmodernist texts, the problematic nature of objective and structured knowledge is being foregrounded and that, quite paradoxically, it became difficult to grasp the full meaning and the full structure of these texts. It is clear that perception and passing on of knowledge is not a theme reserved for encyclopedic narratives. It is a common theme in contemporary literature. But how then distinguish encyclopedic narrative from any other kind of fiction?

Edward Mendelson introduced the term "encyclopedic narrative" in 1976 in a terribly structured essay [3] that had as one of its objectives to give Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which was initially not well received and dismissed as just a very obscure book, a revaluation by referring to the literary history and the tradition Pynchon’s novel belongs to. The CPR Mendelson performed on Gravity's Rainbow was so successful that the encyclopedic novel in general has today become a remarkable success story and the appreciation for and interest in these encyclopedic works is growing rapidly till this very day. Mendelson’s attempt in 1976 to define the term "encyclopedic narrative" has been the most successful one so far. He argues that the encyclopedic narrative is "a genre that is of central importance in Western literature, but one that has not yet fully been recognized." [4] This popular genre, he continues, caught the attention of neither historical nor formal criticism "partly because it can only be identified in terms that are both historical and formal." [5] Mendelson’s self-imposed task then is to define these cultural and formal requirements.

Mendelson knows of seven members of the genre, not doubting there must still be others: Dante’s Commedia, Rabelais’ five books of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Goethe’s Faust, Melville’s Moby-Dick , Joyce’s Ulysses and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. All these works occupy comparable positions in their national culture and they allow Mendelson to come up with a definition of the genre and to indicate some of the special problems that it raises for criticism. From his essay I was able to extract 8 major characteristics of encyclopedic narrative: (1) It attempts to render the full range of knowledge of a national culture by making use of a synecdoche. (2) It often uses epic structure as its organising skeleton and like epics it treats its own culture allusively or analogically. (3) Because of its indeterminacy of form it is also an encyclopedia of narratives and lacks single plotline or structure. (4) It attends to the complexities of statecraft and proclaims a new dispensation on earth. (5) It is an encyclopedia of literary styles. (6) It often makes use of giants or gigantism. (7) None of the narratives culminates in a completed relation of sexual love. (8) It usually enters its culture from a position of exile or illegality.

We have to observe that any one of these characteristics can also occur in other literary genres, but it is the occurrence of a substantial number of the above characteristics in one work that sets encyclopedic narrative apart from other genres. We can therefore say there are "degrees of encyclopedism" in certain novels.

My objective in this first chapter is to show to what extent Wallace’s Infinite Jest belongs to this tradition of encyclopedic narrative as defined by Edward Mendelson.

 

 

 

We are told on good authority that heaven and earth and their respective inhabitants are held together by the bonds of society and love and order and discipline and righteousness, and that is why the universe is called an ordered whole or cosmos and not a state of disorder and licence.

(Plato, Gorgias)[6]

 

 

The common symbol that is used to denote "infinity" is a loop in the shape of a horizontal numeral eight: . This symbol is actually very appropriate because one can perpetually move around in such a loop. The Greek word for "infinity" is "apeiron". For Pythagoras and Plato this word had a negative connotation because it also referred to the original chaos prior to creation [7]. "Apeiron" is a rather general term which represents chaos and boundless complexity. For Aristotle, "infinity" or "apeiron" was an imperfection because of the absence of boundary [8]. The reader of Infinite Jest will notice that Wallace feels like a fish in the water with the concept "infinity".

The Greek word "cosmos" stands for both "order" and "ornament". Pythagoreans first used it as a term for the universe, conceived as harmoniously shaped and bounded, in opposition to the shapeless and boundless chaos of "apeiron" [9]. The traditional Greek cosmology, emphasising order, finiteness and constancy of the cosmos dominated Western thought for almost 2000 years until the advent of the Copernican revolution.

Dante’s encyclopedic work, the Commedia, meticulously reflects this ordered Greek cosmology. In Dante’s time, the cosmos was thought of as a perfect, finite sphere enclosing within itself a number of other concentric transparent spheres, each with its particular motion. At the centre of the earth is Dante’s Inferno, the Christian Hell. The Commedia has a complex numerical structure, the most important numbers being three and nine. The tight structure of the work serves to visualise the perfect order in the afterlife. The numerical structure, though difficult to unravel, is not secret or obscure. It serves to make Dante’s methods comparable to divine creation and to give his work the status of ultimate truth.

Quite the opposite happens in Infinite Jest. Wallace occasionally makes use of numerology, but it never creates order. It functions more as a gimmick. Wallace opted to connect the idea of "infinity" with the infinity symbol, the numeral eight (or ). James Incandenza, director of anti-confluential films, including the infamous film entitled "Infinite Jest" [10], made use of super-8 mm film for most of his projects, and some of his movies last exactly 88 minutes. Wallace lets some of his characters walk around in boots with size 8.8. One of James Incandenza's sons, Orin Incandenza (a suspect who might be in possession of a master copy of the lethal movie "Infinite Jest") is a professional football player (a punter) and carries the number 71 on his team's jersey, which is an unusual number for a punter, but add up 7 and 1, and the result is the infinity symbol eight. Orin is also a real playboy and at a certain point in the novel, when in bed with one of his "subjects", "she thought the figure he'd trace without thinking on the bare flank after sex was the numeral 8" (47) [11]. This seems to be Orin’s habit. He has "already drawn idle little sideways 8’s [i.e. ] on the postcoital flanks of a dozen B.U. coeds" (289). In addition, when we witness the first victims of the killer movie "Infinite Jest", the scene describes exactly eight people in one room in front of the "TelePuter" (Television-Computer). References to the numeral eight, symbol of infinity, occur at regular intervals in the novel, [12] but the whole idea does not seem to add up to anything. It makes the reader feel rather paranoid. Infinite Jest seems to suggest its narrative is like a safe to which there is a combination, but the combination is locked up in the safe. One thing is certain: "infinity" is a concept one could easily get lost in. No matter how intelligent, all that one can ever comprehend of the universe (or reality) must of necessity always dwell within one’s mind. This means, of course, that one’s model of the universe is smaller – lesser, in some sense – than that reality. That is the human condition. "Infinity" is a concept that goes way beyond the capabilities of human knowledge. "Infinity" is the textbook example of something we simply cannot comprehend.

 

 

 

 

Knowledge and the enlargement of intellect, are poor, when unmixed with sentiments of benevolence and sympathy.

(William Godwin, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice) [13]

 

 

The last person who could still claim he mastered the full range of the sciences and who had a thorough knowledge of nearly everything there was to know in his time was probably Leonardo Da Vinci. This last specimen of the "Uomo Universale" was a painter, architect, sculptor, musician, inventor, engineer, geologist, biologist, mathematician, physicist and polyglot. He was probably the greatest mind in human history, a true "Renaissance man". I don't want to enfeeble my admiration for such a phenomenon, but I wish to point out that Da Vinci lived in a time when it was still possible to be a "Uomo Universale", and that today, when the term is applied to one of us, it is merely to be ironic. There are no more Renaissance men in our time. This world’s knowledge has become greater than any one person can encompass.

Dante Alighieri’s Magnum Opus, the Commedia is a synthesis of the medieval worldview. This work does not always make easy reading because it contains numerous catalogue passages that deal with several aspects of theology, philosophy and astrology. A complete map of knowledge can be reconstructed from the text. It reviews a medieval landscape of order and geocentric cosmology. Dante attempts to summarise the knowledge of the Western world around 1300. We find elaborations on classical philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, classical authors like Vergil and Ovid. Dante cites from the bible. The Commedia also contains a summary of the sciences. We can learn for instance that the circumference of the earth is 20,400 miles (in actuality it is 25,000 miles). Dante also displays a thorough knowledge of history and the scholastic philosophy of Thomas Aquinas in his attempt to harmonise Aristotelian philosophy and Christianity.

After Dante’s time, writers of encyclopedic novels are faced with the impossibility of rendering the full range of knowledge of their time so that the only way to describe the whole range of physical science is to make use of synecdoche: one or maybe two sciences are selected to represent the entire scientific sector of human knowledge [14]. Yet even Dante’s attempt to create an encyclopedic work must be seen as only a partial success, because it is common sense that a single work cannot contain "everything".

Thomas Pynchon’s extensive use of science in his novels are subject of many essays and books and is always linked to his scientific training at Cornell University, but since he is gradually becoming a literary grandfather, a certain group of young writers, all admitting their debt to Pynchon, are taking over. As we are heading towards the end of the millennium, Richard Powers, born in 1957, William T. Vollmann, born in 1959, and David Foster Wallace, born in 1962, are our new prodigies [15].

Wallace did not receive an academic training in science the way Pynchon did. Wallace studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Amherst, and entered a PhD. program at Harvard University. The knowledge expressed in Infinite Jest is rarely that of the theoretical sciences. Wallace does, however, refer to certain scientific theories that deal with the concept of, again, "infinity". Gerhardt Schtitt, German Headcoach and Athletic Director at the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) in Massachusetts, "whose knowledge of formal math is probably about equivalent to that of a Taiwanese kindergartner" (82)none the less (and quite paradoxically) "approaches competitive tennis more like a pure mathematician than a technician" (81). When Schtitt is conversing with the violently deformed E.T.A. student Mario Incandenza, who stands no higher than a fire hydrant, Schtitt explains his vision on tennis. It is closely related to chaos- and quantum theory.

 

Tennis, in Schtitt's opinion is

 

and furthermore, tennis is

 

Quite impressive for a mathematically challenged coach one would say. Schtitt is not the only remarkable and contradictory character in the novel.

In the quote above, the numeral 35 refers to one of the 388 "endnotes and errata" at the end of the novel. Cantor, as we read in endnote 35, was the founder of transfinite mathematics and the man who proved some infinities were bigger than other infinities (994). These endnotes illustrate the obsessiveness of informational reference but at the same time they serve to create an "illusion" of encyclopedic knowledge, for some of the endnotes simply state "no clue" or "don't ask".

Wallace's preoccupation with theories of expansion, growth and infinity is not only reflected in text fragments like these or the novel's title, but also in his maximalist writing style and his plot development. There is so much lapidary detail that at certain points in the novel there hardly seems to be any evolution in the plot. "Plot" might not even be the correct word here. Not only is the narrative non-linear, but the heavily fragmented countless plotlines do not seem to have a definite coherence. Infinity as a term then is, as Pythagoras said, also closely related to "indeterminacy", or "indefiniteness". By page 900, the reader, whose fundamental objective still is to identify unambiguous literal meaning instead of a diverse interpretative meaning, expects a 100 Watt epiphany, only to find out, at the end, he has to start reading the novel over again from the very beginning (the first chapter is chronologically the last event of the novel) knowing he will not be any wiser after a second or third time through the novel.

How then should the reader make sense of all the information and suggested coherence he finds in Infinite Jest? He might identify with one of its main characters, Hal Incandenza, a tennis and lexical prodigy at Enfield Tennis Academy. At the age of ten, he has memorised the first half of the Oxford English Dictionary and he can quote from it with great ease:

 

’s a regular verb, transitive: to call upon, or for, in supplication; to pray to, or for, earnestly; to beseech; to entreat. Weak synonym: urge, Strong synonym: beg. Etymology unmixed: from Latin implorare, im meaning in, plorare meaning in this context to cry aloud. O.E.D. Condensed Volume Six Page 1387 column twelve and a little bit of thirteen. (28)

 

 

Hal Incandenza is just a genius. His last name intrigues: incandescence means "brilliance" or "illumination". His first name might be a reference to the computer HAL in 2001, A Space Odyssey. Despite Hal’s many talents he keeps having depressive moods and becomes more and more solipsistic. After his father killed himself by putting his head in a microwave in a Sylvia Plath-like suicide, Hal has to go in "concentrated grief and trauma-therapy, four days a week for over a month." Hal doesn't even know how to feel when he meets the therapist. He seems not to be making any progress in the sessions. He does not know how to respond to the therapist's bookish questions: "How did it feel, how does it feel, how do you feel when I ask you how it feels" (252). Hal starts feeling very insecure and is afraid he is "going to end up in a soft quiet room somewhere" (254). He then decides to prepare himself for the therapy sessions as if for a final exam.

 

It is not so that Hal does not have any feelings. He just does not know what to do with them, how to find order, make sense of his emotions. Hal is totally confused and turns to his late father's close friend Lyle, a "sweat-licking guru" who is always down in the Academy's weight room, literally living off the sweat of others. It is said that "if you let him [Lyle] lick your arms and forehead, he'll pass on to you some little nugget of fitness-guru wisdom" (128). Hal finds Lyle in the weight room, reading Leaves of Grass [16]. Hal wants some advice from him, so he "assumed the position and let him at the old forehead and explained what had been happening" (254). Lyle's advice is that Hal has been too much a student of grief. What he needs to chew through is the section for grief-professionals themselves. He needs to prepare from the grief-professional's own perspective.

Hal runs out of the weight room and jumps into a taxi before it even comes to a full stop, yelling "The nearest library with cutting-edge professional grief- and trauma-therapy section, and step on it" (255). During the next therapy session Hal can grief to the therapist's satisfaction.

 

The grief therapist is ecstatic at Hal’s "grief-therapist-textbook breakdown into genuine affect and trauma and guilt and textbook earsplitting grief, then absolution"(256). After this session, Hal’s traumatic grief is "professionally pronounced uncovered and countenanced and processed" (257).

At first sight this section about the grief therapy might suggest that Hal thinks he can solve his problems from pure theoretical learning, that he thinks he has to pass an exam in order to be emotionally cured. It seems as if Hal is not being fair to the therapist and to himself. But there is of course a flip side to this coin. The grief therapist thinks Hal is cured only because his patient finally matches a prototypical patient. Hal reached out for library books with knowledge about grief partly because the therapist does not understand Hal’s situation. Hal’s reaction is the result of the inadequacy of his therapist who fails to see the particularity of Hal’s tragic case. Hal is truly looking for a way out because he is afraid "he is going to end up in a soft quiet room somewhere" (254) and when he finds out the therapist cannot be a little bit more flexible with the knowledge of his own professional training, Hal decides to just give the therapist what he was looking for. But Hal remains uncured. Hal's encyclopedic knowledge of the O.E.D. and the therapist's bookish learning both fall short when deeper human feelings are involved.

This causes the reader to wonder about what all this knowledge leads to. The size of the novel is a clear manifestation of this problem. The incredibly detailed descriptions, the occasional chaos of print, the innumerable suggested but unclear correspondences between innumerable plotlines serve to confuse the reader and make him feel the same way certain characters in the novel do. The reader cannot absorb and process all the incoherent information and only sees a weak indefinite cohesion between plotlines in this novel without a resolution. The only alternative for the reader is to reconstruct, from the data in the novel, his own "plot", his own sensible universe, a self-constructed alternative universe, which in a way could be dangerous and result in solipsism as is the case with Hal Incandenza who at the end becomes totally mute.

 

 

Edward Mendelson recognises another interesting recurring characteristic of what he calls encyclopedic narrative, one that has to do with time setting. The events in Dante’s Commedia occurred around Easter 1300, but Dante began writing his work in 1307. Similarly, Pynchon chose the nine months around the end of the Second World War as the setting in his Gravity's Rainbow. Thus, argues Mendelson, encyclopedic narratives "are set near the immediate present . . . not in it. The main action of most of them occurs some 20 years before the time of writing, allowing the book to maintain a mimetic or satiric relation to the world of its readers."[17]

The two novels Wallace has written so far are all set near the immediate present. His first novel The Broom of the System appeared in 1987. The setting for most of the story is Cleveland in 1990, some three years after the time of writing, not before. But The Broom of the System, although it is a very ambitious work for a 26 year-old whiz kid, does not fit the description of Mendelson’s encyclopedic narrative.

The main action in Infinite Jest is set some 15 years in the future, not "some twenty years before the time of writing," like Mendelson’s definition seems to require. Does this mean that this novel cannot be seen in the light of the above description by Mendelson? I believe it can be. Its setting is still near the immediate present, and the novel does not miss its effect on the reader because the two worlds, the reader's everyday world and the novel's, are closely linked together. The world in Infinite Jest is a future world, but not a "world-to-come", characteristic of science fiction. Infinite Jest does not have a prophetic quality to it. Its aim is not to compare the hypothetical future state of affairs with our own, in order to show the reader what might happen to our world and to ourselves if we let things go the way they are going at this moment, the moment of reading. Rather, the world represented in Infinite Jest is nothing else than an analogy of the state of affairs in our own present-day world. It has a similar function as that of the beast epic, which in actuality represents the human world. Infinite Jest deals with our own time and setting: the Western consumer-oriented world around the turn of the century.

The novel maintains a mimetic relation to the world of its reader. In this way Wallace’s second novel Infinite Jest resembles the other encyclopedic works cited by Mendelson in that it is an analogy of the time and place in which it was written. Paradoxically, leaving behind the present world in encyclopedic works does not heighten the feeling of alienation. It rather intensifies the identification because encyclopedic narratives observe the world from a distance. The reader is able to look at his own world while standing in the imagined other.

 

 

 

 

In Infinite Jest the country formerly known as the United States of America is now a part of the Organization of North American Nations (ONAN) to which also Canada and Mexico belong. The reconfiguration of the former U.S.A. creates one of the major plot lines in the novel. Most of northern New England has been transformed into a huge toxic waste dump and handed over to the Canadians by president Gentle of the ONAN. If one puts Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Michael Jackson, and Frank Sinatra in one character, the result will be close to Wallace’s presidential Johnny Gentle, the first U.S. president ever to swing his microphone around by the cord during his inauguration speech. Gentle prefers to breathe pure oxygen at conferences. On inauguration day he calls out "Look into my eyes: no new enhancements." He is probably the most disorganised American president ever to appear in a work of fiction. His name is not without significance, for the top priority in his policy is a "tight tidier nation".

Gentle has more or less forced Canada to annex toxic northern New England, called the Concavity or Convexity, depending in which country one lives. Huge catapults launch U.S. waste miles high towards New England. Quebec's Anti-ONAN terrorist cells are violently trying to get the ONAN "de-reconfigured". Wallace at a certain point even gives us a list of the terrorists in another attempt to provide encyclopedic knowledge [18]. Yet, so far none of the terrorist actions look like any kind of serious threat to the three-country continental Anschluss. Quebec's most dangerous terrorist group are the "Wheelchair Assassins", a fanatic group of Quebecers who lost their legs in an obscure Canadian game in which one has to jump from one side of the railroad tracks to the other, as close to oncoming trains as possible. The Wheelchair Assassins are now looking for the master copy of the film "Infinite Jest", a movie that is said to be so entertaining that its viewers become entranced and die in a state of catatonic bliss, which makes it a perfect weapon for terrorists. At the same time, the "Office of Unspecified Services" (the CIA of the 21st century) is trying to prevent that the movie ends up in the hands of the wrong people. As a result, the Wheelchair Assassins and the Office of Unspecified Services are each other's rivals in their attempt to lay hands on this samizdat.

As a revenue-response to the heady costs of the U.S.'s reconfigurative give-aways, the U.S. had to come up with the concept of "Subsidized Time". Consequently, we get, among others, the Year of the Whopper, the Year of the Trial-Size-Dove Bar, the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, and everybody's favourite: the Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic -Resolution - Cartridge - View - Motherboard - Easy - To - Install - Upgrade For Infernatron/Interlace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile (sic). Time is commercially exploited and totally out of control in this novel. The Statue of Liberty serves as a giant advertisement, one year holding aloft a five-ton cast iron burger and during another, wearing depend adult undergarment.

The above is the "novel's actual world". This world stands apart from "the reader's actual world", but is still very recognisable. The novel thus treats its own culture allusively or analogically like Mendelson’s definition of "encyclopedic narrative" required. At times, despite of the fact that the setting and situations in the novel are comically mutilated, the descriptions in the novel, especially the ones about addiction and recovery, come terrifyingly close to a description of our own present-day Western world. The realism in this novel depends not on what is described but on how it is described.

 

 

 

The above two characteristics of encyclopedic narrative are the most obvious ones present in Infinite Jest. Wallace's elaborations on knowledge and science, together with the novel's particular setting, already sets the narrative apart from many other genres. In order to show that Infinite Jest does most definitely belong to the category of encyclopedic narrative, it is now necessary to shed light on the presence of the other typically encyclopedic characteristics that Mendelson makes mention of in his essay. In what follows I will discuss these features, though be it less extensively than I did for the two previous ones.

 

 

 

 

There are several reasons why it is difficult to grasp the full structure of Infinite Jest. First, there is the information overflow the reader has to deal with: an incredible amount of informational reference to molecular structures of drugs, references to scientific theories (quantum theory), technology (optical physics) and art (film theory). Second, there is the fact that Wallace offers us a heterogeneous canvas of experiential and experimental width.

Wallace creates layer upon layer of fictionality, without seemingly letting the plotlines come together. Wallace devotes a lot of energy in creating expectations and then taking pleasure in disappointing the reader. Infinite Jest never so much progresses as creates an infinite series of entrances. This technique enables Wallace to pick up new plotlines again and again.

There are multiple entrances to Infinite Jest, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one. In theory one can start reading Infinite Jest at a random page. In the scene with the first victims of the movie "Infinite Jest", someone starts watching the film from the beginning, but the seven people who enter the room a bit later and start watching the movie also get killed. The problem with Infinite Jest (movie and novel) is not "finding the entrance" but rather the exit. By engaging in the reading process one ends up in a closed helix. As a reader we move around as if in a spiral, continuously moving around a central point and the great moment of truth, the end, the epiphany, the moment of insight never seems to arrive.

If indeed Infinite Jest comprises several plotlines that do not seem to be connected in any way, Wallace could just as well have written five, six, or ten separate novels. Wallace did not do this. One could argue, for instance, that the unifying thread that connects characters and plotlines is a thematic resemblance between the storylines. One thing the storylines have in common is that they explore the aspects of entertainment, addiction and recovery. An "overdose of fun" can be had with pharmaceuticals, film entertainment, competitive tennis and even intellectual activity. Drugs are in fact only a metaphor for other addictions we have in our society. The novel also explores the aspects of entertainment in general, the need for entertainment as a release, a relief, and a distraction from who we are and what we do.

Such a reading of the novel is possible, but not in any way necessary. The presence of so many plotlines in fact prevents the reader from interpreting the things that happen in the novel. Wallace is very vague about the connections between scenes and characters. There are of course suggested links between these multiple plotlines, but we are always invited to question the validity of these linkages. Granting significance to the things that happen in the novel is short-circuited, if not sabotaged, by Wallace. Not only is a character like Hal more and more prevented from communicating with the outside world, but also the reader, in turn, is prevented from interpreting the scenes. This is one of Wallace's authorial strategies.

Besides having the effect of confusing the reader, the use of multiple plotlines in Infinite Jest also results in the presence of multiple literary narratives. "An encyclopedic narrative is, among other things, an encyclopedia of narrative," says Edward Mendelson, "incorporating, but never limited to, the conventions of heroic epic, quest romance, symbolist poem, Bildungsroman, psychomachia, bourgois novel, lyric interlude, drama, eclogue and catalogue." [19]. In Infinite Jest we follow a large cast of characters for nine years in total [20]. Infinite Jest, with respect to Hal Incandenza, can indeed be called a Bildungsroman since the reader follows him through his high school years. Infinite Jest also shares the characteristics of a quest romance in that several parties are trying to lay hands, not on a Holy Grail, but on the infamous master copy of the film "Infinite Jest". The novel has at several moments the outlook of a heroic epic. Staff member of Ennet House Recovery Centre, Don Gately, evokes the image of a "suffering Christ" as he gets mortally wounded in protecting one of his patients from a gang of armed Canadians. Furthermore, the terrorist group The Wheelchair Assassins see themselves as patriotic heroes whose goal in life it is to protect Quebec. A poem or eclogue does not appear in Infinite Jest, but there are some lyrical passages. Especially the passages devoted to the heavily deformed Mario Incandenza have a lyrical quality.

David Foster Wallace has not limited himself to a single literary narrative. His novel is constructed around multiple plotlines and Wallace stylistically imitates several genres at once. This lack of belonging to a single genre is also one of postmodernist fiction's self-ascribed virtues. The presence of multiple narratives or genres in one and the same novel therefore has to be approached with much caution. Is it a manifestation of its postmodernity or its encyclopedism? The correct answer is "both", for it can be no coincidence that encyclopedic narrative is eagerly practised among postmodernist authors.

 

 

 

 

"All encyclopedias," writes Mendelson, "attend to the complexities of statecraft, and, like the New Testament which in many ways they imitate, they proclaim a new dispensation on earth." [21] Mendelson then goes on to describe those "new dispensations" in the Commedia, Ulysses, Faust, and in Gravity's Rainbow.

The "new dispensation" in the world of Infinite Jest is the ONAN as described in the paragraphs above (1.2. Insubstantial Country: The Setting of Infinite Jest), and actually very little needs to be added here, except that the "complexity of statecraft" is not to be taken too seriously. The reader is confronted with this supposedly complex statecraft in Mario Incandenza’s self-made four-hour movie, which is a sort of historical reconstruction of the rise of "ONANism" and "U.S. Experialism". Mario Incandenza's movie is shown annually in the E.T.A. dining hall on 8 November, Continental Interdependence Day. Wallace, through Mario’s movie, ironises statecraft in the U.S. because the movie is in fact the registration of a puppet show. The movie opens with a quote from president Johnny Gentle of the ONAN, famous crooner and former lounge singer: "Let the call go forth, to pretty much any nation we might feel like calling, that the past has been torched by a new and millennial generation of Americans" (381).

In what follows we witness a bunch of bureaucratic clowns deciding about the future of the entire continent. As the puppet movie progresses, the reader gets a picture of the changes that have taken place between the present and Wallace's "new dispensation", set some 15 years in the future. We observe, for example, that there has been the disarmament of NATO (385). The US cabinet, in this puppet movie, decides "to reinvent not just government, but history. Torch the past. Manifest a new destiny"(403). Gentle decides to give toxic New England away to Canada, saying to its prime minister: "Look, babe, take the territory or you're going to be really really sorry" (406). Later Gentle has to inform his cabinet that this inconsiderate reconfiguration has led to huge revenue-losses because of the loss of taxable territory. This announcement comically results in "sounds of jaws hitting the tabletop. A couple of moustaches fall of altogether" (440).

The puppet show ends without resolution and we have only been able to see parts of the cabinet meetings. But it will have become clear that David Foster Wallace devotes a considerable part of his novel to statecraft and his invented "new dispensation", although it is presented with a large amount of (postmodern) irony.

 

 

 

 

"Each encyclopedic narrative is an encyclopedia of literary styles, ranging from the most primitive and anonymous levels of proverb-lore to the most esoteric heights of euphuism" [22]. In Infinite Jest, Wallace includes numerous transcripts of newspaper articles, letters, dialogues, etc . . . of course all written in their specific style. What is even more important in the novel is that every character has his or her own voice. There is Hal whose voice, since he knows basically every word in the English language, is characterised by verbal dexterity. Also Hal's father is a lexical prodigy. Hence, the dictionary at the reader's disposal gets a workout. As a counterbalance to this wordiness throughout the book, there is a section in "Ebonics" (the term is a blend of "ebony" and "phonics") narrated by a character named Clenette. The voice of Clenette is as different as possible from the voices of Hal and the chatty omniscient narrator. Clenette’s story about rape and violence is compelling and emotionally wrenching.

 

Because of this section, an extremely wide range of discourse is successfully established early on in the novel, and leaves room for many linguistic variations in-between. There are recognisable foreign accents like the ones of German tennis coach Gerhardt Schtitt:

 

We are able to recognise an outspoken Brooklyn accent (181), a Southern American accent (181), and a Hispanic accent (178). Furthermore, Marathe from Quebec talks in English phrases which are too literal translations from French. The residents of the halfway house across from E.T.A. are basically only recognisable by the language they speak, and the AA meetings are very much characterised by often hilariously funny verbal meanderings:

 

Wallace's extensive "wordrobe" explains part of the novel's popularity. Wallace successfully proves himself to be a literary DJ. The style of the novel could sometimes pass for academic writing, but at certain moments it just as well includes probably the most vulgar slang ever written down between two covers of a book. Infinite Jest draws as deeply on the vernacular as on high literary language, thus providing an encyclopedia of literary styles.

 

 

 

 

It would seem obvious that encyclopedic novels, typically of immense size, are preoccupied with giants or gigantism. Mendelson says encyclopedic narratives thus provide an image of their own scale. Giants guard the pit of hell in Dante's Commedia, Don Quixote mistakes windmills for giants, Moby-Dick is a giant, Joyce presents "Cyclops" in Ulysses, and in Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow titans live under the earth and an angel descends over Lübeck whose eyes go "towering for miles" [23].

True, accidentally dropping Wallace's novel results in an estimate eight on the Richter scale, but giants hardly seem to be on the forefront here. I am even suspecting that Mendelson has interpreted the term "close reading" a bit too literally. The references to giants in some of the novels he mentions are clearly there, but the idea of "gigantism" usually remains somewhere in the background, much as it does in Infinite Jest. Sure, there are references to giants in Infinite Jest. Don Gately's name, for example, is never mentioned without a reference to his huge size. He has "the size of a young dinosaur" (55). "Gately looks less built then poured" and has "the smooth immovability of an Easter Island statue" (277), and so on. Besides references to Don Gately’s size, there are frequent references to "rapacial feral hamsters and insects of Volkswagen size" (573) sending up clouds of dust as they pass by in the Convexity, former New England, now part of Canada. Also certain newborn Quebecers are reported to be of Volkswagen size, and lobsters in the same region look like monsters from old Japanese films (1017).

It seems, however, that all these elements can hardly be called significant, with respect to "gigantism" in the novel. More important in encyclopedic narrative, I believe, is the fact that the text itself is too large to be grasped all at once, or to be held in the mind as a whole. So the most important giant in play here is the novel itself.

 

 

 

Several times also Marathe called U.S.A. to Steeply ‘Your walled nation’ or ‘Your murated nation.’

(David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest)

 

The love of another will destroy the cause of my crimes . . . . My virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to the chain of existence, and events, from which I am now excluded.

(Mary Shelly, Frankenstein) [24]

 

 

Thus sounds the lament of the monster created by Victor Frankenstein. The creature considers himself "the fallen angel" become "a malignant devil . . . . I am alone" [25]. This outcast's foremost desire is happiness through the love of another. He is convinced that love will turn him into a better person.

The ideology of the Enfield Tennis Academy excludes romance and sexuality. The students at E.T.A. only think about achievement and eventually making it to "The Show" (i.e. The A.T.P. Tour). Dating is strongly discouraged, so as a result "E.T.A. is mostly a comparatively unsexual place" (636). For Hal Incandenza, lifetime virginity is even a conscious goal (636). Hal feels like his brother Orin is having enough acrobatic coitus to make up for the entire family. It is very ironic that from the air the E.T.A. building looks like "a Valentine’s heart" (983).

On the other side of the hill from E.T.A. is a halfway house for recovering addicts. It is a strict rule there that newcomers don't get romantically involved for the first year of sobriety (1054), the reason being that the sudden removal of substances leaves an enormous ragged hole in the psyche of the newcomer. The pain thus caused and which the newcomer is supposed to feel and be driven kneewards by is eventually supposed to be replaced with AA's ideology. "Celibacy's often, the issue that separates those who Hang from those who Go Back Out There" (1054). So both settings, between which most of the narrative in Infinite Jest alternates, are unsexual and unromantic places. Edward Mendelson's observation that none of the encyclopedic narratives culminate in the completed relation of sexual love is clearly and prominently present in Infinite Jest.

Individualism is prominently present in all of Wallace’s writings. In The Broom of the System, Wallace's first novel, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman is essentially a lonely character in search of a way of life amidst her friends and lovers, who are all unable to decently communicate with one another. The novel is written in the margins of Wittgenstein's Tractatus and on the surface deals with language philosophy and communication problems. But what it is really about is loneliness and lostness. The main character's name, LENORE, echoes "LONER", and that is exactly what she is.

Individualism in the novel is everything but an original theme in literature. "But what comes next?" wonders Hal Incandenza in his term paper in seventh grade about modernist and postmodernist heroes. Hal concludes: "We await, I predict the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulis [sic], carried here and there across sets by burly extra's whose blood sings with retrograde amines" (142). It is this kind of hero who is the focus of attention in Infinite Jest: the catatonic hero, the extremely isolated, solipsistic individual, the one "beyond calm", more alienated even than his romantic and modernist predecessors.

About Infinite Jest Wallace said in an interview:

 

In another interview Wallace said:

 

The sadness Wallace talks about is solipsism, Hal Incandenza's biggest problem.

"I'd tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear" (9) says 18 year old Hal Incandenza in the opening scene of the novel. Hal is a competitive junior tennis player and ranked sixth in the continent. At this point in the novel, he is at the University of Arizona for an admission interview on the basis of his impressive athletic ability. The reader is can see what Hal wants to say, but in the pages that follow, the reader notices that Hal is unable to make himself understood to the interviewers.

 

Hal's inability to communicate, his solipsism does not come out of the blue. The boys at the E.T.A. are trained in the most horrible way. Dawn drills and resistance training are known to the kids simply as "Pukers". Somebody is always throwing up a little. The motto of the school is "transcendence through pain" (660). The students are being force-fed the ideology of competition and fame without understanding how lonely such a pursuit can be.

The coaches at the boarding school have their own name for professional competitive tennis: The Show. "They [the students]‘ll be entertainers . . . audiences will be the whole point" (661). Hal, like all the other students, is being brainwashed to the point where he himself advises other students to "please make no extramural friends. Discourage advances from outside the circuit. Turn down dates" (175). "E.T.A. is mostly a comparatively unsexual place" as for Hal "lifetime virginity is a conscious goal." Also Hal's friend "Troeltsch's never come close to dating anybody" (634-635).

In the shower, after drills, the students of the boarding school all think about their condition:

"Why are they still here, then, if it's so awful every day?" asks Hal Incandenza. His friend Ingersoll answers:

 

Because they are being force-fed this E.T.A. ideology, nearly all students erect a wall between the self and the outside world. Only one student has decided he wants no part of this kind of life. Ted Schacht stopped dreaming of getting to "The Show" after graduation and has his heart committed to a dental career because he is convinced that "there's like a psychic credit-card bill for Hal in the mail, somewhere, coming" (270).

What contributes even more to the feelings of sadness and loneliness in this boarding school is the student's unresponsible use of soft and hard drugs, a ritual they all wish to keep secret and during which they all insist on being alone. At the heart of all the character's actions is a void and emptiness. Competitive tennis, marihuana, are all insulation against existential loneliness and spiritual hollowness. The whole world seems to be drug dependent. The characters live in a world where everybody is trying to amuse himself or herself to death, looking for 100% pure entertainment. The film "Infinite Jest" is supposed to be such a pure entertainment, but one that eventually kills its viewers.

Infinite Jest, on the one hand, is a profoundly sad book, a study of addiction. But it is also, and more importantly about recovery. Right up the hill from the E.T.A. grounds is Ennet House, a halfway house for recovering addicts. In this setting, former Demerol addict Don Gately is the focus of attention. The narrative of Infinite Jest alternates mainly between these two settings. These two story lines are never quite synthesised, but as the novel progresses, our attention leads us gradually away from the tennis courts towards the recovery house where we see people trying to pick up every day life again. One could say that Infinite Jest is a sad book, but it ultimately suggests a belief in recovery from the present condition of the Western world.

 

 

 

James Joyce spent nearly his entire adult life in Trieste, Zurich and Paris. Dante was exiled from Florence and Pynchon has his self-imposed exile. Wallace, however, still lives in The United States and does not hide himself from the media. But like all other encyclopedic narrative, Infinite Jest "originate[d] in opposition to the culture [it] later come[s] to symbolise" [28].The author observes his culture from a position which enables him to comment on it.

Mendelson further observes that such encyclopedic narratives "begin their career in charismatic illegality" and the "organized critical industries built upon the exile, obscurity or illegality . . . provide food and shelter for many hundreds of scholars and critics" [29]. Mendelson thinks that an encyclopedic novel generates an underground industry.

One has to conclude, however, that this characteristic of exile and illegality does not apply to David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest. The novel does deal with illegal practices like drug use and terrorism, but that is not what Mendelson has in mind. Mendelson talks about the genesis of these novels and the political circumstances that caused their writers (Joyce, Dante) to live in exile. This even applies to Thomas Pynchon around whom a whole industry of criticism is developing while Pynchon himself calls attention to this kind of critical industry in the course of his work [30].

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to explore some of the affinities between Wallace's Infinite Jest and the poetics of postmodernism and in order to show how the postmodern tradition has to a great extent been carried on through Wallace, I will mostly make use of the writings of Brian McHale and Leo Apostel. The former is mainly interested in postmodernist poetics, and his valuable book Postmodernist Fiction is a purely literary or a-contextual approach of postmodernism. The bulk of McHale's theory is based on the postmodern "possible (i.e. multiple) world approach". The latter analyses postmodernism from a literary sociological point of view. Apostel's writings on postmodernism in literature are vital to fully understand the postmodernist vogue and its literature. Both men are erudite thinkers and complement each other well. By referring to their writings I hope to draw a clear picture of postmodernism and how it is connected to the experience of man at the end of the twentieth century and more specifically the experience of the characters in Infinite Jest.

Wallace interestingly crystallises postmodernist ideas in Infinite Jest. The novel's serious concern with ontologies, zones and alternative and communicating worlds is one of its most recognisable formal characteristics. Furthermore, Wallace is more preoccupied with the "world" than with the "word". His novel is deeply rooted in contemporary American culture. It illustrates a change of attention in literature from "language philosophy" to "cultural philosophy", noticeable in many recent postmodernist novels.

 

 

 

Postmodernism. "Nobody likes the term", says Brian McHale [31]. But whether we like it or not, it is there, and we have to put it to good use. The term denotes a poetics that is the successor of, or possibly a reaction against, the poetics of modernism at the beginning of the twentieth century. But what's even more important: "Postmodernism follows from modernism... more than it follows after modernism" [32]. The main goal in McHale's book Postmodernist Fiction is to "describe how one set of literary forms emerges from a historical prior set of forms" [33]. McHale does this by making use of the Russian Formalist concept of "the dominant".

The dominant in modernist prose is (or was) epistemological. This means that modernist prose uses techniques that foreground epistemological questions: What is there to know? Who knows it, and how? How certain can we be? A multiple perspective then is a frequently used technique in modernist texts. Many modernist texts have, at some level, the appearance of a detective story. Usually both the reader and (a) character(s) in the novel has/have to find the hidden truth.

The dominant in postmodernist prose is ontological. The questions that are foregrounded here are: what world is this? What is a world? How does one world differ from another world? "In postmodernist texts . . . epistemology is backgrounded, as the price of ontology" [34].

Catalogues of modernist and postmodernist features have been created by, among others, Ihab Hassan, David Lodge and Douwe Fokkema. These catalogues are typically organised in terms of oppositional features. The techniques used by postmodernist writers then seem to be the exact opposite of the techniques used by modernists, yet some techniques are exactly the same. Hence, it becomes very difficult to see how exactly a postmodern poetics is different from a modernist poetics. According to McHale the distinction is clear because "it is the ontological dominant which explains the selection and clustering of these particular features; the ontological dominant is the principle of underlying these otherwise heterogeneous catalogues" [35].

 

 

 

 

There can be no doubt that Infinite Jest was designed to raise some epistemological questions, for it can be read as a detective story. There is clearly a "quest" present in the novel. The Office of Unspecified Services and the Wheelchair Assassins are both looking for reliable witnesses in their search for the master copy of the film "Infinite Jest". The master copy is the only duplicable cartridge since regular copies only transmit unrecordable pulses. But unlike a detective story, there is no crime to be solved. A potential crime has to be prevented (by the Office of Unspecified Services) or the crime still has to be committed (by the Wheelchair Assassins).

Problematic in this quest for "Infinite Jest" is not the accessibility of knowledge, but rather, and quite typically for our age of information, excess of knowledge, or at least excess of "information". In order to solve the mystery (Where is the film hidden?) the reader has to go beyond the limits of knowledge, which also the characters in Infinite Jest have to do in order to prevent or commit the crime. The answer to this crucial question, however, will never be found.

Besides raising these epistemological problems with which the novel begins (how can I interpret this information and the endless plotlines in the novel? How certain can we be about all this information or the account of the eyewitnesses? Etc…) Infinite Jest foregrounds questions of "being", ontological issues. Is this dangerously entertaining film "Infinite Jest" even real? Does it exist? From James Incandenza' s filmography we learn that "Infinite Jest" is unreleased and "all other comprehensive filmographies have the film either unfinished or unreleased" (993). So much rumour surrounds this movie that we can even suspect that the movie is a myth, that it, in fact, does not even exist at all. Obviously, there are no reports from people who actually watched the film. There are only "two short essays in different issues of Cartridge Quarterly East [that] refer to the film as extraordinary and 'far and away [James O. Incandenza's ] most entertaining and compelling work"(993). The only thing we can be sure about is that there are rumours about a movie referred to as either "Infinite Jest", "the samizdat" or "the blue dazzle". The master copy of the movie cartridge is presumably "either destroyed or vaulted sui testator" (993), buried in James O. Incandenza’ s head.

So this "samizdat" is maybe just "in the head", like a story, like fiction. The movie might be a construction of the characters' (hence also our own) fantasies. And then again, we cannot be certain about this theory either, because as much as there is evidence to believe there is no such movie, there is as much evidence to believe there is, because "Canadian archivist Tête-Bêche lists the film as completed and privately distributed" (993). To be or not to be, that is the ontological question.

One can take this idea to a next level. Presuming the movie "Infinite Jest" does not exist, then what about the novel in our hands, bearing the same title? Is it also just a projection of a possible world, as McHale would call it? In other words, what is the mode of existence of this text itself? Perhaps the text in front of us, as we read it, is supposed to "morph" into the actual movie (or "movie cartridge") "Infinite Jest", which then becomes a movie about a movie about a movie . . . ad infinitum. Or maybe the text in the novel is a verbal representation of the movie, a sort of retelling, a movie script, but one that does not necessarily addict its readers since perhaps language serves as a kind of lens through which it is safe to watch the contents of the movie.

The least we can say is that James Incandenza’s career and films present substantial archival and ontological challenges. In the filmography's editor's foreword we find "that certain of his high conceptual projects' agendas' required that they [the films] be titled and subjected to critique but never filmed, making their status as film subject to controversy" (985) [36]. The problem for the reader then is to guess which movies in the filmography were actually made and which ones where not. The reader is faced with unsolvable mysteries. It is difficult to find out how all of the jesting wraps up.

Ultimately, in Infinite Jest "ontology" overshadows "epistemology". Improvising with "ontology" serves to illustrate that boundaries between "worlds" are porous. Worlds in Infinite Jest are bound to merge because they behave in similar ways. Among others, there are the similarities between insect world and human world, as becomes clear in a particular scene with Ken Erdedy, a marihuana addict, who sits in the living room, waiting for a woman who promised she would bring him 200 grams of unusually good marijuana. Erdedy is nervous beyond belief. While he is waiting he walks around in the living room and notices "there [is] an insect on one of the steel shelves that held his audio equipment" (17). Erdedy in fact resembles the insect in many ways as he hides in his apartment, stocked with supplies so he doesn't have to go out for four days while he smokes. Sitting by the window, pacing, waiting for the woman he mirrors the bug poking itself out of its little hole and scuttling back in retreat.

 

The scene, by making use of ontological strategies, exemplifies that it is easier to stay in a shell, like a solitary insect, to be alone, trying not to get hurt.

 

 

 

In postmodernist literature there is a peculiar way of thinking about space. McHale speaks in this context of "the zone". In realist and modernist texts the world of the novel is created through characters and their actions, and in this world stands the observer or narrator. The world in postmodern literature is not constructed in this way.

 

McHale works out this idea by offering a catalogue of techniques that postmodernist writers use to construct/deconstruct space. McHale's elaborations on this subject of space and the plurality of worlds, I think, is his greatest merit.

Brian McHale and Leo Apostel think alike about the reasons why alternative worlds are created in postmodernist fiction. A plausible, but imaginary world is constructed, says Apostel, "to show that a universe of language consists of various possible worlds . . . . Postmodernist fiction . . . underlines alternative worlds, and their possibility to communicate with each other" [38]. Apostel calls this peculiar literary space created by postmodernist writers "Paraspace", the equivalent of McHale's "zone". Using these "paraspaces" or "zones" is, according to both Apostel and McHale, an ontological statement. Apostel, together with McHale comes to the conclusion "that the plurality of worlds is connected to a pluralistic view on the subject" [39].

One consequence of this kind of thinking is, like I demonstrated in the earlier passage about drug addict Ken Erdedy and the insect in his room, that insect world and human world can communicate with each other. They mirror each other and hence the boundaries between these "zones" are obscured.

 

 

 

 

For an analyses of a literary text it is not only necessary to observe where there is ontological foregrounding. There needs to be clarification about how it is accomplished, what strategies have been deployed, how it actually works and, above all, what purpose it serves in the novel. I have already demonstrated this when I mentioned Ken Erdedy and the insect in his room. There is yet another way to foreground ontology, namely intertextuality. Also here McHale offers us interesting ideas. Whenever the reader recognises a relation between two or more texts, McHale says, an "intertextual space" is created [40]. By incorporating another text into a novel, the author pulls the original boundary of the other text towards his own. The ontological horizon of both the original and the "adaptation" becomes less visible. A few examples from Infinite Jest can serve to illustrate this strategy.

One of Hal's telephone conversations with his oldest brother Orin is written in the exact words of a Beatles song.

 

His way of answering the phone sounded like 'Myellow.'

'I want to tell you,' the voice said. 'My head is filled with things to say.' . . . .

'I don't mind,' Hal said softly. 'I could wait forever.'

When compared to the following lyrics, the similarities are obvious:

 

I Want To Tell You

 

I want to tell you

My head is filled with things to say

When you're here

All those words, they seem to slip away

 

When I get near you,

The games begin to drag me down

It's all right

I'll make you maybe next time around

 

But if I seem to act unkind

It's only me, it's not my mind

That is confusing things.

 

I want to tell you I feel hung up but I don't know why,

I don't mind

I could wait forever, I've got time

 

Sometimes I wish I knew you well,

Then I could speak my mind and tell you

Maybe you'd understand

 

I want to tell you

I feel hung up but I don't know why,

I don't mind I could wait forever,

I've got time, I've got time, I've got time [41].

 

Incorporating the song lyrics in the novel does not come across as "strange". It seems plausible that Hal and Orin are playing an "identify-the-Beatles-song" game over the phone. But it would break all laws of logical thinking to put, for instance, the young Danish Prince "Hamlet" directly in a futuristic America. Yet, references to Shakespeare's Hamlet abound in Infinite Jest. First there is the title of the novel which is reminiscent of the gravedigging scene from Hamlet.

 

On top of that, there are various references to gravedigging in Infinite Jest. The destructive movie "Infinite Jest" is supposedly buried in the head of its maker, the late James O. Incandenza, Hal's father. In the opening scene, a brief moment before Hal has a seizure, his mind wanders off and is filled with incongruous thoughts.

 

This is only mentioned as an aside and is hardly eye-catching, as at page sixteen we do not know who Gately, Wayne, nor Hal's father are. The novel seems to suggest that the details like these tie the whole plot together, but the details are sometimes a bit too small and sophisticated to discern comfortably. The affinity of Wallace's Infinite Jest with Shakespeare's Hamlet is problematic, to say the least. Beaming-up Hamlet into Infinite Jest has not left Hamlet unharmed. This transmigration of body and soul from one text to another has deformed Hamlet in many ways. (There actually is a character named Madame Psychosis, pronounced as metempsychosis, the transmigration of the soul). But since everybody in Infinite Jest has outspoken physical defects, I believe that also Hamlet has been made unrecognisable. He most resembles Hal Incandenza, by name and living condition.

James Incandenza, Hal's father, was the founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy and married Avril Mondragon from Quebec. Around the time when James Incandenza commits suicide, Charles Tavis, Avril's half-brother, moves into the headmaster's house, presumably having an affair with her. Avril is living with her half-brother much as Hamlet's mother was living with her husband's brother. There is, however, no evidence that Charles Tavis would have killed James Incandenza. It was a suicide. Hal, a bright but introverted student has a hard time getting over all this. So there is a similar situation at the core of the story: the mother-father-uncle-son relationship. Also, the themes of Hamlet are made recognisable by incorporating similar components. Many other references, of which I will mention only a few, lead one to suspect that Wallace had Hamlet in mind when writing Infinite Jest.

James Incandenza, besides being headmaster of Enfield Tennis Academy, and the founder of "annular fusion" (a certain closed system reaction that creates perpetual energy) is also an avant-garde filmmaker. His output comprises

A similar parody on genres we find in Hamlet's conversation with Polonius as the actors arrive at the Danish court.

 

The ghost of the late James Incandenza appears to Don Gately, former narcotics addict and now live-in staffer of Ennet House Recovery Centre, a halfway house for recovering addicts. The ghost tells Don about his life much as Hamlet's father's ghost did.

Hamlet's "antic disposition" in a way resembles Hal's communicative problems, his solipsism and eventual muteness. And by letting a bird fall out of the air on page 44 for apparently no particular reason, Wallace literally lets of the world of the ONAN collide with the world of the Danish Hamlet where there is "a special Providence in the fall of a sparrow" (5.2,157-158).

The war that Norwegian Fortinbras in Hamlet is fighting is a war over an insignificantly small piece of land that causes Hamlet to plunge into one of his soliloquies; one that is often omitted on stage performances and movie adaptations. A similar war over a futile piece of land is fought between the ONAN and the Anti-ONAN Separatists of Quebec whose opposition to the reconfiguration, the handing over of toxic New England to Canada, is of central importance in the novel.

Hal, in the opening scene of Infinite Jest, cannot make himself understood to the other people in the room and ends up on the floor because he has a seizure. During his seizure Hal tries to say: "I’d tell you all you want to know and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear" (9). Hamlet, when at the end he is slain by Laertes, also begins an explanation –"Oh, I could tell you" (5.2,272) - but is cut short by death. Keeping in mind that the opening scene in Infinite Jest is chronologically the last event in the novel, it is obvious that both Hamlet and Infinite Jest end in comparable scenes. Hamlet’s tragic isolation is transposed to Hal, one could argue, through Wallace’s intertextual strategy.

Many other compatible leitmotifs like sleep, death, maggots, Oedipus complex, isolation, confusion, mixture of tragedy and humour/wit, abound in both texts. The name "Hal" however can also be an allusion to Shakespeare's character Prince Hal in the first and the second part of Henry IV where, similar to Infinite Jest, one of the central themes is a problematic father-son relationship. Wallace did not name this character Hamlet, which would have made things less complicated. Infinite Jest is not just a rewriting of the Hamlet story. The many possible intricate allusions attached to just this one name "Hal" contribute to the novel's complexity.

This strategy which creates "intertextual space" draws attention to the boundaries between texts, or rather the lack thereof. Wallace sets out on an ontological ride and Infinite Jest is the horse he rides in on.

 

 

 

 

The U.S.A. as we know it today is quite the opposite of a "heterotopia" (the concept comes from Michel Foucault). A heterotopia is a place that is "radically discontinuous and inconsistent, it juxtaposes worlds of incompatible structure" [42]. The U.S. that we know is an enormous country, where houses, cars, roads, the media, the spoken language are basically similar throughout the entire country. This is not the case, for instance, in Europe or Latin America where internal differences, paradoxes, heterogeneous elements are more evident. Wallace has made the setting of Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest News Archive

NB: The non-link content of this page has not been updated in a long time.. As such, a lot of the speculations below have been fleshed out in a variety of publications and by the online community at wallace-l. By no means consider the notes and speculations below final, if anything, they'll have you hungry for more.


INFINITE JEST NOTES AND SPECULATIONS

SPOILER WARNING!!!! Seriously, reading all the stuff below could give serious things away about IJ if you have not read it yet.

There has been much discussion on wallace-l concerning what happened in IJ.
On this page is the beginnings of what will hopefully be a coverage of all the theories and evidence put forth by all those posting to wallace-l, and talking in other sources.
The foundations of this page are based in Dan Schmidt's IJ Notes page and from block quotes from wallace-l, hopefully it is readable!
If anyone has any corrections to suggest or ideas to submit please email me.

Further Note: Some of the discussion below is well and truly out of date, to keep up with any discussion subscribe to the wallace-l mailing list.


FOR MORE INFO

and excellent Infinfite Jest Resources check out the online IJ resource links (including and Index, 'Chapter' Guide, Glossary, Character Profiles) over at the Infinite Jest page. (also partially reproduced below)


Infinite Jest Reading Resources:


Who is Mario's father?

I think Mario is one of the most interesting characters in IJ. Even though I always thought he was Tavis' son I had trouble deciphering the evidence. Below is a post to wallace-l from Michael Briggs on 22 Oct 97 which I think covers the topic quite well.

>From Michael Briggs:

For the record, at any rate:

1. I'm almost certain that Mario is CT and Avril's son. True, on page 451, CT refers to Mario as "the thing it's not entirely impossible he may have fathered," but the text elsewhere suggests that it's way more possible than Charles admits.

On 312, the narrator refers to Mario's surprise arrival as "the first birth of the Incandenza's second son" -- since, evangelism aside, it's not possible to be born twice, this implies that there are two "second sons": Mario (Avril's second son) and Hal (Himself's second son). On the same page, we learn that Mario is born in November, in "the seventh month of a hidden pregnancy" -- which means he was conceived in the spring, about the time Charles moved in with Avril and JO for an "extended and emotional-battery-recharging visit."

Are Mario's birth defects the result of an incestuous relationship? As seems to be the case with almost everything in the novel, there is a lot of ambiguity on this topic: CT is "either Mrs. Incandenza's half-brother or adoptive brother, depending on the version" (81). On page 900, we learn that Hal leans toward the latter: he thinks CT and Avril are "probably" not related "by actual blood" (like Molly, they are "Not-kin"). Also, Hal remembers learning -- from "a distraught CT in the waiting room of Brigham and Women's OB/GYN while the Moms was prematurely delivering Mario" (901)

-- that CT's mother had dwarfish/homodontic features. It is genetically plausible that CT passed those recessive genes along to Mario -- which might explain why Mario is the "object of some weird attracto-repulsive gestalt for Charles Tavis" (316).

Not that important, but interesting: both Orin and Hal (whose middle name is James) have parts of their father's name in their own, while Mario is named for his paternal great-grandfather (p. 313). Mario's middle initial is M. (p. 316) -- from Mondragon, Avril's original surname?

I need to look more closely at Himself's relationship with Mario and Charles before I can guess whether JO had any suspicion about all this. What do you think?

From: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Joelle: Beautiful? Deformed? Both?!

It was August-September last year (97) that wallace-l flared up with discussion concerning whether the PGOAT (Prettiest Girl of All Time, aka Joelle, aka Madame Psychosis) is scarred, or beautiful.

There are two main arguments:

1. Joelle is so beautiful that she may as well be deformed. Thus wearing the UHID veil to hide her beauty. This theory is based upon references to things Joelle said herself, and supported by the lack of integrity of Molly Notkin's responses when being interviewed.

OR

2. She is deformed. Got splashed with acid etc. just as Notkin claims.

Below I have set out a few very interesting posts to wallace-l with evidence and views to both sides of the argument. Subsequently I have found two passages that have (as far as I can find) not been quoted on wallace-l. I think they both confuse the issue more... I am beginning to think there is no answer...

The first quote comes from the interview of Joelle by Steeply (p. 940) , Joelle speaking:

'When he talked about this thing as a quote perfect entertainment, terminally compelling - it was always ironic - he was having a sly little jab at me. [This is the important bit... I think] I used to go around saying the veil was to disguise lethal perfection, that I was too lethally beautiful for people to stand. It was a kind of a joke I'd gotten from one of his entertainments, the Medusa-Odalisk thing. That even in U.H.I.D. I hid by hiddenness, in denial about the deforminty itself. So Jim took a failed piece and told me it was too perfect to release - it'd paralyse people. It was entirely clear that it was an ironic joke. To me.'

Now read the passage on p 538 (Joelle talking to Gately), Joelle speaking:

"Don, I'm perfect. I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. Everything. Like i'm the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to cheek with perfection."

Is she lying? What is the truth? To make matters worse there is the whole Molly Notkin thing (p. 787-795), true or false given that she lies in the interview as pointed out by Michael Briggs in a post to wallace-l.

-- Notkin is not the world's most reliable storyteller. One example: she says on page 787 that JO's belief in "a finite world-total of available erections rendered him always either impotent or guilt-ridden." On page 220, though, the narrator tells us that it was Molly's former lover -- a "GW Pabst scholar at New York University" -- and not Himself who suffered from this neurosis. [quoted from Michael Briggs]

But as well as this, just a few pages after the interview with Steeply (p. 958), Joelle:

' She'd been close to removing the veil to get away from the outside-linebacker of a federal lady anyway.'

Arrgghhh!!! more ambiguity. Why would removing the veil help her get away? Because she is so deformed that it would terrify Steeply? Because she is so beautiful Steeply would have been paralysed?

I just don't know anymore. Somehow I see her as being both hideously deformed AND beautiful at the same time. I think DFW has constructed it this way, and performed it perfectly.

Anyway onto a semi-random selection of quotes from wallace-l...

>From Dave Lynch:

On Wed, 20 Aug 1997, Bob Skinner wrote:

> I'm on my second pass at IJ and a nagging PGOAT question still stumps me. > Maybe it's because I was reading pretty fast the first time through but > didn't Joelle v.D. get acid thrown in her > face when nimble Orin ducked? If so, then how come "Gately can see up at > what looks like a regular human > female chin and makeupless lower lip under the veil's billowing hem." (p. > 616) after being shot by the F.L.Q.?

Note that this testimony was given by Molly Notkin, who it's pretty much obvious DFW intends to have absolutely no credibility with the reader whatsoever, even aside from her obviously bullshit post-Marxist film theories. F'rinstance her rendering of the the pee goat's name as "Lucille Duquette". Whether this was the result of the pee goat lying through her teeth to Notkin or Notkin's own apparent utter stupidity is open to question- it's notable that an "E. Duquette" is mentioned as the author of comments about the nature of the Entertainment in one of the footnotes, in one of the cartridge art-mags. It's possible that she knows more than is apparent, though; her strategic misrendering of "her" as "their" at one point in the interview would be just the sort of thing that would prick up the attentions of any soap opera fan, Freudian psychiatrist, or professionally paranoid investigator, as well as any hapless reader trying to suss out the sum "meaning" of a lengthy and contrary book. However, as far as Notkin's explanation of the pee goat's disfigurement, I regard it as more or less truth within the context of the narrative (given that everything in it is pretty much made up), simply because the total absurdity of it is just the kind of event apropros to the narrative (JARS OF ACID IN THE BASEMENT?).

The question of whether the pee goat is REALLY disfigured or not then becomes a question of her basic character- is her adoption of the veil one of those pathetic "Oh pity me I'm so beautiful" things that when you get right down to it underlies the entire motive of the UHID, the desire for pity? Or is it just some sort of an attempt at a coping mechanism? Maybe it's just that I'd prefer to think of it as the latter, the former idea being one of those irritatingly obvious and not all that correct to boot themes of the type that Hal found so mortifying in "Blood Sister: One Tough Nun". [Dave Lynch 26 Aug 97]

>From John Byrd, 27 Aug.

Somewhere it was written, last week on this list, > >> Of course, thinking it over in light of the posts on this subject, DFW does >> seem to have hinted around enough to leave adequate evidence for a theory >> that the acid story was a red herring. > >there's a reference on someone's part to the whole acid scene being a >confabulation on Orin's part to excse his fear of commitment, isn't there? Many other conjectures as to whether Joelle were actually deformed or so unutterably beautiful as to be stupefying, etc..

Here's what I find in the text: The most explicit description of the acid-throwing scene is Molly Notkin's interview w/ U.S.O.U.S. But also, Joelle, on her way to Molly's party where she is trying to freebase herself to death , ruminates on JOI (p. 225): "For a while, after the acid, after first Orin left and then Jim came and made her sit through that filmed apology-scene... for a while, after taking the veil..." (On first reading I thought this passage referred to LSD insteady of low pH chemistry.) Further (p. 230): "There was nothing coherent in the mother-death-cosmology and apologies she'd repeated ..."

Joelle's ruminations support Notkin's testimony on both the acid incident and the nature of the Entertainment.

On her beauty, she later ruminates in Ennet house on meeting JOI (p. 743): "Jim'd told her later she'd seemed too conventionally, commercially pretty..." In other words, pretty, but not necessarily stunningly so (in JOI's mind, anyway).

I have to say, DFW leaves no ambiguity about the acid incident. It happened.

>From The Robot Vegetable (who?) 5 Sep 97

On Wed, 20 Aug 1997, donato wrote: > re Joelle v.D and her veil... > > I was always under the impression that she had no physical deformities, > but was hiding her intense beauty. > > At least that's the suspicion i got at one point in the book > (don't remember where. somewhat early on i think). The acid > business made me rethink my thoughts, but, and i'd have to go back > and check, maybe "acid hit my face when Orin ducked" was only what > she *said* happened, and not what really happened...

I pretty much think she got slagged by the acid. The incident would fit with Orin losing interest, remember part of his attraction was that her beauty and his mom's were on the same level of 'restaurant-silenciing.' Gately seemed to be hallucinating heavily in the hospital; he could have created his sense of regular looking lower features, or, as someone else noted concerning the effects of acid meling flesh, they could very easily be smooth. Gately was really out of it, he was talking with JOI and Lyle, for heaven's sake. That's pretty astounding. And JOI was talking about Hal not being able to talk. How did he do this? He must have known them from before. I confess I didn't try to track continuity very much, but knowing Joelle long after JOI offed himself clearly set these events long after he could have known JOI. Back to another point raised, there's ample evidence that Hal was autistic, maybe it even says this somewhere. Going cold turkey on weed could easily have driven such a fellow into a babbling silence. With his memory, and a dada who was flipping out over his silence when he didn't think he was silent, this all points to the possibility of an extreme breakdown, as is displayed in the Year of Glad. I don't think the DMZ needs to be introduced to explain it. Clearly someone found the stash; I don't have any clue as to who.

veg

>From Brian Short 23 Sep 97

ok, so i've noticed that the number of postings on this list have gone *way* down, and that combined with new insights from my second reading of IJ prompt me to submit some ideas for discussion.

1. JvDyne is not in fact hideously deformed. She is an Odalisque. She wears the veil because:(IJ pg. 538 hardback) Joelle speaking:

"Don, I'm perfect. I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. Everything. Like i'm the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to cheek with perfection."

That seems to sum it up pretty well. I had noticed some discussion on l-wallace a couple of weeks (months?) ago and was frustrated that i couldn't find the reference. But there it is.

>From Michael Briggs (sorry lost the date):

3. Though Joelle is in all likelihood disfigured -- the best evidence in this ambiguity-fest being the Joelle-attuned narrator's statement on page 225: "For a while, after the acid, after first Orin left and then Jim came and made her sit through that filmed apology-scene" -- Notkin is not the world's most reliable storyteller. One example: she says on page 787 that JO's belief in "a finite world-total of available erections rendered him always either impotent or guilt-ridden." On page 220, though, the narrator tells us that it was Molly's former lover -- a "GW Pabst scholar at New York University" -- and not Himself who suffered from this neurosis.

>From Doug Denison, 18 Oct 97:

Hello, At 05:57 PM 10/17/97 -0700, Michael McAulay wrote: >I wonder if you or someone else could kindly summarize the discussion of >these topics. Or if anyone kept the stuff and could forward it to me >that would be swell too. > >Not yet tired of talking about Joelle or the narrator, >

Well, since I'm the 'you' in the above sentence, I will go ahead and try to summarize these topics thus far. But I'll insert right away a big caveat -- what I write may or may not be complete (well, certainly NOT); may or may not be accurate, and will probably lead to more discussion anyway. Oh well, call me crazy...

Joelle: Obviously two possibilities here:

1) J.vanD. is disfigured. This is supported in the text mostly by Molly Notkin's talk with Unspecified Services. Before Molly's revelations about the accident, there are some references in the text to the accident. Also there's the fact that Orin rather abruptly and inexplicably dumped Joelle, which many people think happened because he is either superficial and doesn't want to have to look at an acid- scarred face, or he feels guilty about ducking when the acid was thrown. There's also the possibility that Orin was jealous of Himself's relationship with Joelle, but that relationship actually seemed to result from Orin's breakup with her.

2) She is not disfigured. The strongest argument for her not being disfigured comes from a statement by the narrator during J.'s freebasing overdose attempt. The phrase is something like, 'Unveiled, she is lethally beautiful'. Joelle herself tells Gately that she wears the veil because she is hideously beautiful, though this statement has been interpreted to be a sarcastic remark. When Gately is on his back after being shot, he sees Joelle's chin and thinks it looks like a very normal chin. Again, many people think her face is disfigured while the underside of her chin is untouched. Then there's the dicier issue of Joelle's performances in JOI's films, including the Entertainment. In one film -- I think Low-Temperature Civics -- Madame Psychosis is listed as playing a woman so beautiful she causes a man to lose all touch with reality, or something like that. Check the filmography. It seems unlikely that a disfigured Joelle could play the role of a beautiful woman in several of JOI's films.

So the conclusion was that Joelle's condition is mostly a matter of opinion, and seems to hinge on whether or not you believe Notkin. Which then leads to the issue of narration -- who's narrating what, can you believe the narrator(s), what's the deal with the footnotes, etc. There are simply too many permutations to list. I think that topic sort of fizzled out because it seems like there's no absolute answer, and maybe we shouldn't be trying to figure it out anyway.



I good point to finish on, I think.
Nick

What Happened To Hal?

Four possible ideas here. Either he consumed the DMZ via a laced toothbrush, Self-Synthesised DMZ after abstaining from drugs/going through withdrawal, less likely but still interesting, snapped due to knowledge of family based abuse, or, possibly watched the "entertainment".

  • The DMZ Toothbrush

    ...with the toothbrush business beginning on p. 864 with "I went down the hall to take out the tobacco and brush my teeth...." ? And then p. 896: "I was moving down the damp hall when it hit." Pemulis finds his stash missing on p. 916, the "relevant panel" of the ceiling having been disturbed. Is that where the DMZ was stashed? And is it possible that Hal -- going nuts with the detox business -- ripped off the DMZ and dosed himself?
    and later...
    re: toothbrush. The toothbrush really seems ominous and Hal has it [and the Nasa cup] with him for the longest time, even noting [p. 871] that "only the worst kind of naif leaves his toothbrush unattended around E.T.A." I have to agree with Kent that many signs point to a dosed t-brush. What we need to find is the "smoking toothbrush" -- the moment when the text lets us in on a possible moment when the drugging may have occurred. (Bob Wake)

    Hal (p.864) "went down the hall to take out (his) tobacco and brush (his) teeth..." I don't believe there is any mention of him *looking* for his toothbrush, although soon thereafter he does indeed mention the importance of keeping track of toothbrushes because of some odd dosing that happened at the academy before. But if I recall correctly (I may not), that dosing was more of a prank nature than a drug nature.
    I'm not saying his toothbrush wasn't dosed, but it is not clearly indicated in the text.(Duane Spani)

  • Internal Self Synthesis of DMZ theory.

    Dan Schimdt developed this idea fantastically, everything below is direct from his notes...

    It's my belief that Hal's body has itself synthesized DMZ, perhaps provoked by his marijuana withdrawal. It sounds farfetched, but check this out:
    • p. 10 "`I cannot make myself understood, now.' I am speaking slowly and distinctly. `Call it something I ate.'" This passage is followed directly by the story of Hal's eating the mold.
    • The mold is described (p. 10) as "horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red"; note that the yellow-orange-red mold is growing on the green mold. I believe that in Orin's own description of this scene (p. ??) he also talks about one mold growing on another.
    • On p. 170 Pemulis researches DMZ: "The incredibly potent DMZ is synthesized from a derivative of fitviavi, an obscure mold that grows only on other molds."
    • p. 1064, Pemulis again: "`Have I mentioned DMZ doesn't show up on a G.C./M.S.? Struck tracked this down off an obscure Digestive-Flora footnote. It's the fitviavi-mold base. If the stuff shows up at all it shows as a slight case of imbalanced yeast.'" Digestive-Flora: Hal ate the fitviavi mold years ago, and now it's living in his digestive system.
    • From the description of the medical attache on p. 33: "The medical attache's partciaulr expertise is the maxillofacial consequences of imblances in intestinal flora. Prince Q--- ... suffers chronically from Candida albicans, with attendant susceptibilities to monilial sinusitis and thrush, the yeasty sores and sinal impactions of which..." Note the intestinal flora-yeast connection again. Doesn't Hal have a toothache (p. ??)?

    Note that Hal's behavior is somewhat consistent with the case of the guy who sings Ethel Merman tunes (p. ??); he tries to say something but is perceived as making another noise.
    We still need to figure out just what triggers the DMZ synthesis (I'm assuming it has something to do with marijuana withdrawal), but I think there are too many obvious clues here for it not to be connected.

  • The Abuse Idea

    Suggested by Bob Wake on wallace-l
    re: doubling. Has anyone proffered the idea of Hal or Orin having been sexually abused as kids by their father, as Pemulis's brother Matty -- and maybe Pemulis himself -- was by his father? [pp. 682-6.] Hal spends a long section [pp. 944-51] thinking about his father's film "Accomplice!," which involves a very sordid rape of a boy by an older man -- and which of course sort of parallels the business with Matty Pemulis and his father. Hal's remarks seem very portentious [p. 951]: "It was impossible to imagine Himself conceiving of sodomy and razors, no matter how theoretically. I lay there and could almost remember Orin telling me something almost moving that Himself had one told him. Something to do with _Accomplice!_ The memory hung somewhere just out of conscious reach, and its tip-of-the-tongue inaccessibility felt too much like the preface to another attack. I accepted it: I could not remember."
    Hal's remark that trying to retrieve the lost memory "felt too much like the preface to another attack" is very curious. So of course I'm wondering if Hal's seizures could just as easily be the result of some kind of psychotic break due to recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. Or am I stretching way out of bounds? It's certainly not uncommon for alcoholics -- like Hal's father -- to be sexual abusers of their children. Mightn't he have committed suicide out of remorse and guilt?(Bob Wake)

    but from steve (sorry no surname)
    I thought that the "attack[s]" referred to were the pseudo-panic attacks that Hal was having at his inability to concentrate or to call up specific facts, as a consequence (of questionable accuracy) of his marijuana withdrawal. (Different people will always react in different ways, but I've known a few hard-core smokers in my day, and I've just never seen anyone react in any of the ways that DFW describes, except for some trouble sleeping. Fortunately, I've never knowingly known [sorry] any cocaine or opiate addicts, so I can't judge the accuracy of those bits.)(Steve)

  • Did Hal Watch The Entertainment?

    I always had a feeling that Hal may have watched the entertainment and survived. When could this have occurred? Even though Bob doesn't suggest an "Infinite Jest" specific viewing as such, here is a possible place in time in which it may have happened:
    The other curious aspect of these Hal scenes -- while he is on his back on the carpet to Viewing Room 5 -- is that he is screening a number of his father's films. At one point Hal asks Pemulis to get a particular film ["Good Looking Men in Small Clever Rooms..."] down from the shelf -- "They've got all Himself's stuff together on the third shelf...Either it's mislabeled or the label's peeling..." says Hal [p. 910]. Then Hal begins watching a scene late in the cartridge, with actor Paul Anthony Heaven speaking "in a monotone as narcotizing as a voice from the grave," and then the actor begins weeping, and Hal says that "this too began to seem familiar" [How? Why?], which is the last sentence in the scene that then switches to Gately in the hospital. So my question is this: is there something here in the video cartridge -- maybe "mislabeled," so that Hal is actually watching a scene from a "loaded" IJ video -- that has tainted Hal?(Bob Wake)

What Happened between the physical end and Year of Glad?

I grabbed this off the salon message board...
It is quite interesting...

  • Christopher Dale - 01:22pm Jun 4, 1997 PST (#26 of 60)
    White..a blank page or canvas..So many possibilities

    My theory on the end of the story. Asterisks mark the steps supported by passages in the novel.

    1. Avril is captured by the wheelchair assassins and eventually tells the location of the body of Himself.

    2. The Wheelchair assassins get the master copy of IJ and use it to overturn the ONAN govt., thereby ending subsidized time.*

    3. Joelle informs the Incandenzas of her abduction.

    4. Jon Wayne knows the approximate location of Himself's body ( this from Avril - both Canadian and having an affair.) This i guess becausa of the following logic: Why would he go at all if an exact location were known? - certainly anyone could go to act as a watch. This leads to my theory that Avril was not available - therefore she was captured.

    5. Gately, Hal and Wayne arrive too late to obtain the copy.*

    6. The experience pushes Hal over the edge. We know he was susceptible to times of non-communication and panic attacks towards the end of the novel.


    This theory is certainly open for debate and comments are appreciated.

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