Infinite Jest Infinite Jest discussion


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does anybody want to talk about Infinite Jest?

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message 1: by Robin (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robin Please?


Pewterbreath Heck yeah--it's my favorite book, and I've been DYING to have it analyzed.


Aaron I will.

I have a theory about what it all means. I'd love to hear yours.



message 4: by Robin (last edited Jan 07, 2008 04:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robin I don't know if I have any theories. I just really loved it. I read it in about a month like four months ago, and I actually just started reading it again, this time more slowly so I can really digest it.

I'm open to any other interpretations, but re-reading it, I'm struck by how many possibly crucial plot points are in the first 50 pages, before you even know which details might be crucial. Especially in that weird appointment Hal has with the 'conversationalist' that turns out to be his dad, which probably isn't really happening anyway.

Another discussion possibility is the long ongoing scene with Marathe and Steeply in Arizona.
A lot of people complain about how boring this ongoing exchange is. I personally think their conversation is hilarious. I especially love the french-to-english translation idiosyncracies Wallace ascribes to Marathe when writing from his POV.
What do you think?



Pewterbreath I don't exactly have the book wide open in front of me so forgive me if I get a bit messed up.

It seems to me that the movie list in the appendices is key to understanding the book. The conversationalist piece is one of the movies in the set, and it seems like Hal's father is making movies FOR Hal---a sort of desperate cry for his attention.

Also, I've heard a lot of mention comparing Hamlet to Infinite Jest--I understand why, I mean Hal's father is dead and also "Infinite Jest" comes from a Hamlet quote. However, couldn't it be more apropo to compare it to Henry IV? That play is about the end of an era and the beginning of another--the Prince's name IS Hal, who also seems terribly bored of his family. Also the three different "places" that Henry the IV is set in (The tavern, the palace, and the battlefield) roughly correlate to the three places in infinite jest (the house, the tennis academy, and various scenes involving political intrigue).


Scott How about that Mario, huh? I read the book about 4 years ago, and I have been meaning to read it again with a pad of paper to write down all of the descriptions of this character. A few that I can remember are, "all of his teeth are second bicuspids," and something about his skin being gray.



message 7: by Chuckell (new)

Chuckell Purchasing this book and Delillo's Underworld are the two greatest crimes I've ever committed against the innocent trees of the world. Big fat books that I couldn't finish and couldn't bear to inflict on anyone else, so I just threw them away.


message 8: by Shula (new)

Shula I still have it. Never finished it. I remember as i was reading this, I really got into each story but, of course, as you probably remember, there are many and it takes a while before they all start to come together. Now that I have seen that other people have actually finished it and enjoyed it, perhaps I will pick it up again

I particularly enjoyed the way the years are referenced as though, in the future, each year has a sponser, like the olympics. Or bowling.


Blackest Soul Ever hell, i read it over and over. every time i've picked it up i figure out more about each character and the fucked up things that have happened to them. i can't believe someone threw it away. :(
wallace is a genius. i don't have any theories about it, but it's funny, and tragic, and challenging, and frustrating all at once. i doubt i'll ever stop reading it, or any of his other works.


grantonio Loved it, it's genius. Top five favorite books. I'm still reeling a bit, actually. I'm not going to bother typing out my review again though!


message 11: by Jesse (last edited Feb 08, 2008 12:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jesse You can find some great ideas/theories about the book here:

http://www.thehowlingfantods.com/dfw/...

I also have a personal theory about who is narrating the book. but it's about three pages long, so let me know if you wanna read it and I'll email it to you. I agree that Wallace is a genius and this is one of the best novels I've ever read, although I do see why alot of people don't like it, it can be very idiosyncratic. For those you didn't like Infinite Jest I suggets A Supposedely Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, his book of non-fiction. The title essay is unforgetable.


message 12: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom One of my all-time absolute favorite novels. A thrilling and moving read, occasionally frustrating but never for a moment boring.

Has anyone noticed that the essay on this book in 1001 BOOKS YOU MUST READ BEFORE YOU DIE is almost completely inaccurate?


message 13: by Andy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andy What do you all think about the acid incident w/r/t to Joelle v. D., the Prettiest Girl of All Time?

Veiled because she's perfect? or because she's seriously acid burned?


Jesse I really think this is something that has no answer or, rather, the answer is gleaned through your own views on beauty and the pros and cons of containing it. Wallace is purposefully vague, saying things like Joelle was "grotesquely lovely" and "hideously attractive" (290) when describing her pre-veil. And also UHID had a term for her kind of beauty (290) meaning that they had encountererd people with her kind of beauty before. Also he mentions her beauty "getting visibly worse" (298) and "repelling every comer". For more references to her face and its effect on people see:

footnote 134, pg. 538 (Joelle saying her face is perfect and thus deformed), 613-619 where Gately almost sees her face.

There's more too. let me know if you want to here the rest. oh yeah, and personally, I think she is dazzlingly beautiful and that she has had so much trouble with her beauty (specifically with her dad) that she wants to hide her beauty and not have to deal with it.

IJ has many more mysteries like this and this is part of why I love it so much: every reading yields new insight.


Sophia I took a seminar class from DFW at Pomona (the syllabus was 7 pgs, with footnotes and a Caveat Emptor page) -- probably one of my best academic experiences (and I was a bio major). Unfortunately it was an unspoken rule to never ask him these burning questions... That would kinda ruin the whole "inifite jest" experience of reading it though -- these questions remain to get us ADDICTED to this book! (Fiction = drug)


Christian McKay You guys just restored my faith in this website.

I'm reading IJ now. I'm about a third of the way through. I'll jump on when I'm done.

I hope you're still talking then . . .


message 17: by Matt (new) - rated it 2 stars

Matt Dietrich OK, I really like David Foster Wallace's magazine pieces. And I loved "Infinite Jest" for the first few hundred pages. I made it into the 700s before I finally bailed. (It was at the point where the Irish father is abusing his son.) What I found frustrating was that it seems like there is a really great book here dealing with drug/alcohol recovery and a certain portion of the criminal underground, with the Quebec revolutionaries and the addictive entertainment "cartridges" mixed in. But what lost me were the science fiction elements that popped up throughout -- the fans, the hamsters, etc. I also think DFW's writing affectations -- the footnotes, especially -- ultimately detract not only from his narrative but, in this case, from his meaning as well.

I am still willing to pick it back up and finish. Somebody will have to give me a reason, however. What am I missing?


message 18: by Andy (last edited Apr 27, 2008 07:10AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andy Spoiler Alert!

@Jesse You're right that there's no answer to a lot of questions in the book. Joelle's beauty or disfigurement is ambiguous. If we believe Molly, then she's got crazy acid burn, but DFW deliberately set Molly up as an unreliable narrator.

@Sophia Right on! Taking a course from DFW would be great. The unspoken rule not to ask him questions like this seems reasonable, but would be hard not to! Was in a literature course? If so, what books did you read?

@Matt If you got 700 pages in and quit, then I'm not sure I'm the right person to convince you it's worth it... at that point in, I was hooked. Like Sophia said, IJ is almost a drug...


Laura I'm ridiculously excited to have found this discussion thread. Does anyone have an idea about DFW's use of the detail that one of his characters (book on other side of room and too lazy to get up for page number...) gave the impression of smoking several cigarettes at once? It's an obvious allusion (or outright theft if you want to look at it that way) of J.D. Salinger, though I'm interested in hearing someone else's interpretation. IJ is one of my favorite books and, in my humble opinion, genius on the part of our friend Mr. Wallace. But I've been itching to hear someone's take on this specific bit. Let me know!


message 20: by cathleen (last edited Apr 14, 2008 10:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

cathleen andy, you should have labeled your comment with a "spoiler alert." i'm still reading the book.


cathleen matt, do you have any links to any of his magazine pieces? and sophia, i'm interested too in hearing more about your seminar taught by DFW.


Monty Merrick I loved this book. Wallace reminded me of every writer I've ever liked rolled in to one, sometimes without those writers less redeeming qualities, and others with. One of the things I really liked was that Wallace introduced a sort of post-modern sensibility and play to a work that he wanted to be very sensetive and spiritually searching, the exact opposite agenda that most "metafiction" seems to want.

I also felt funny about the science fiction elements to the story at first, like they were out of place and didn't belong. He was painting this beautiful picture of Boston, and I know some people might cringe when I say this, in the same way Joyce tried to capture Dublin in his works, then all this very real sort of romanticism about Modern Boston gets muddled with this futuristic babble. I changed my mind about midway though, and decided that it wasn't just some little quirk for critics to site over and over in reviewing the book to make it sound whacky and satirical. Instead, I ended up greatly enjoying that aspect of the novel because Wallace seemed to be creating this very mythological north America and these events that were sort of isolating the main location, Boston, from what was happening. It seemed very real the further I read into the novel, and less cute like I thought originally. Just look at some of the descriptions about what the chemical effects of the Great Concavity/Convexity do to the sky and forests.

The end reminded me, in a way, of Gaddis's The Recognitions (that work in particular Wallace said was an influence on him). It has a lot of the same fragmentation, where all this information is given to you in snippet paragraphs, and all of it seems unrelated to each other to the point where it MUST be related. Very mysterious. I'll end up reading it again in a few years or so.


Michael Part 1: Reading "Infinite Jest"

Like so many I've heard from or read on pages such as this one, I too failed to finish it on my first effort. I began reading it not long after it was first published, lugging that 7lb. monstrosity all over New York -- even taking it with me to Boston(!) for the 4th of July weekend that year on a solo excursion, where I holed myself up in my aunt's empty house and read DFW and sipped whiskey until loneliness sent me forth into the humid Boston nights -- until i quit, guiltily, just shy of the 400th page.

I started again little more than a year ago, determined to read the book no matter how difficult it might be. The amazing revelation is that, save for a few sections (mostly having to do with the Wheelchair Assassins), this book moves! Yes, sometimes the footnotes interrupt the rhythm -- but they also get you to stop and think -- and, sure, you need a dictionary -- but think of all the cool words you learn! I know I need to read it again, but I also know (which I tell all potential readers) that you absolutely must read the first 30-50 pages as soon as you finish the novel. I think the novel really "ends" on page 30 or so.

Part 2: "Underworld" and "The Lost Scrapbook"

I was amused to see that someone in this thread highlighted DeLillo's and Wallace's tomes as unreadable. They have some similarities -- the seething, swirling, swinish undercurrent of American greed and waste and stuff-lust -- but they are markedly different reading experiences. I think DeLillo's novel is much more readable; while Wallace's has much more heart. (These are, of course, oversimplified descriptions: Forgive me.) DeLillo has written a pitch-perfect epic where sentences crackle on the individual level and his lyrical images resonate, repeat, refract and resolve. (Think of the baseball; think of the planes in the desert; think of Lenny Bruce; my god, think of the hardcover jacket design.) Wallace has written something that, while it all fits, doesn't worry for a moment about boondoggling the pitch. Which brings me to Evan Dara's "The Lost Scrapbook." If you like Wallace and you like DeLillo, then it's one hell of a mind-bender. It's not an easy read -- just try to figure out who's talking sometimes -- but it rewards the diligent, and it too has something to say about the way we live today.

That far, far too often we don't listen to one another, that we ignore the stories that need to be heard, that taking the easy route whenever it appears is a sure way to our own destruction.

But, hell, they're just books right? Entertainments? Distractions?


Justianna Birzin I'd like to marry David Foster Wallace. However, except for the fact that he's a famous author, I'd avoid Don DeLillo at a cocktail party. I loved your post, Michael.

I was really disappointed with Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, because I felt like it occasionally simplified the complexities of Infinite Jest. I could suddenly understand the sullen conversations with therapists and pseudo-therapists when I read the story which discusses how being smarter than your therapist defeats the purpose.


message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul It's a slightly-askew alternate universe, IMO. The Boston in IJ is Not-Quite-Boston, there are minor geographical discrepancies that might seem radically confusing only to a native Bostonian, e.g. the lumping together and re-mapping of the Common and Gardens, or the thoroughfares passing by accurate landmarks except for a glaring exception here and there. With a handful of noticeable exceptions, DFW's pre-future Boston is accurately mapped. And we're not talking about O.N.A.N. reconfiguration or other random future events changing Boston, this is an already warped Boston DFW is working with. IMO, that means it's also an overall warped future, an alternate dimension, a la "many-worlds", where some of the 1997-2009 technology is sickeningly accelerated and surreal, some of it is lagging woefully behind our world's pace, some of it is right on schedule. Therefore, BU's being in a future college bowl game is just one of the many quirks of this alt-world, quirkier than even DFW had intended since BU's football program was suddenly cancelled just like Syracuse's is in IJ, and this all happened years after IJ was published. Same thing with Cheapo Records, as a Boston-bred reader living in 2008, there are two scenarios where that incongruity (in real life Cheapo's been out of business a good while) doesn't upset one's suspension of disbelief: #1, future IJ-land Cantibrigians have opened a new music store in honor of old Cheapo's, or #2, it's just one of many slightly askew alternate universes. #3, DFW-just-made-a-bad-prediction, isn't very interesting, and DFW makes a point during the Mario puppet movie that there's basically little difference between the parodic and the factual in the alt-universe. It doesn't really matter whether he made good calls or bad calls (although he did make many a good call), the whole sci-fi angle rests on what-might-as-well-be, and the specific what-might-as-well-be in IJ just "happens" to sync up symbolically with so many of the book's themes, a la Feral Infants, and part of DFW's genius is that he crafts thoroughly plausible and intricate mundane-life explanations for the surreal symbology-vehicles. Unlike, say, the movie Magnolia, or whatever. Although I found it hard to visualize Marathe's wife, I just can't see how such a device would work.


message 26: by Nate D (last edited Aug 26, 2008 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nate D Laura -- I just read Franny and Zooey last Thursday, so now I get the Salinger reference in the description of someone "giving the impression of smoking several cigarettes at once". Wallace jacked that detail, I think, in one of the AA scenes, in regards to an audience member. One other strong parallel to Franny and Zooey and the AA scenes leaped out at me, which I assume is what DFW was underscoring: Franny's mantric prayer recitation supposedly worked through repetition and internalization, whether it was initially believed or not. This is precisely how Gately describes the repeated cliches of the AA. He hates them, he doesn't believe they'll work, but he says/lives them anyway, and somehow they do. This also contributes to the AA as religion/cult/mysticism sub-theme.

Thanks so much for spotting the allusion, as I might have missed it, had I not read this thread some time ago.

EDIT: oh wait, I just noticed that he pulls the "multiple cigarettes" reference out again in a scene with Avril on the phone. Weird. Now I have no idea.

Paul -- It's like DFW wrote an entire world into existence in great detail, one which references our own heavily, but is ultimately an act of intricate creation. The little discrepancies also contribute to that feel. I guess that's what you were getting at with the "many-worlds" reference.


Christian McKay Hey Jesse.

I'm totally interested in your "Who's narrating Infinite Jest" paper. Can you send it to my goodreads account as a message?

Also, is your theory Lenz? That's the one instance I noticed the narrator refer to a character as "yrstruly"


message 28: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Jesse's theory is pretty spot on, IMO. Lenz isn't the narrator. But he demonstrates perfectly who IS the narrator: J.O.I. Only J.O.I. could get inside Lenz's head, or anyone's for that matter. There is no other way the multiple 1st person perspectives in the book could be accessed, no other way we could know what's happening in disparate locations simultaneously. There's only one way: Everything is ultimately narrated by a wraith. J.O.I. translates and conveys all characters' perspectives for us ("and but so" etc. isn't some annoying gimmick to lend the book hip informality, it's a glimpse of J.O.I. in the process of translating POV's and dialects), and he even *enhances* their OWN perspectives for them, giving them normally-impossible insight and eloquence, just as we see him do with Gately in the end, just as he probably does with Hal. DFW gives us the most sublime and plausible (if you think ghosts are plausible, which I now do) justification ever for the omniscient God POV employed in the majority of all novels ever written. It amazes me that something so obvious as who-is-narrating could be unclear to anyone who's read the book thoroughly. There are so many other obvious macro and micro interpretations that I have yet to see expressed online, it makes me wonder if maybe the people who best understand the book are purposefully keeping their mouth shut out of reverence for what DFW accomplishes, like some kind of Hemingway honor code cadets, lol. Because the only alternative to that, is that I'm in, like, the 99th percentile of People Who Understand Infinite Jest, and that's just f***ing preposterous. Anyway, looks like I'll have to start a blog (with some kind of anti-spoiler safeguard) to air my thoughts on the book, just in case. I'll link to it here when it's up, sometime in the next couple of weeks.


Jesse At work right now but I'll send it when I get home.


Nate D I've been mulling this over for a few days. I'd looked over Jesse's theory back in May (thanks Jesse!) but had held off on close reading of the entire thing until I read Pale Fire, which he uses for comparison (and so gives spoilers of). I read Pale Fire in June, and now have remembered to re-read the theory, and at this point I've got to agree that J.O.I. is the best choice for universal narrator. Among other evidence Jesse gives, it seems like there's simply not any other reason for his late-stage appearance and extensively described abilities. Still not convinced that Hal is a necessary link in the narratorial* chain, but I will certainly continue to reflect on this.

*not an actual word, though neither is "narrational".


message 31: by Jesse (last edited Aug 20, 2008 05:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jesse I think I'll just post the essay here and then it will be easily accessible. Warning once again about the "Pale Fire" references - they are spoilers - but I have clearly marked where they begin and end. The essay has been proof read and the formatting updated since I sent it out to a few people in Spring. Hopefully this will help make the theory a little easier to understand. Once again, please point out any flaws or contradicting evidence, or hopefully, more examples to refine and imrove the theory. Well, here goes:


*********PALE FIRE SPOILERS START HERE*********

After finishing IJ for the second time, I have noticed a few clues about the narration and have come up with a theory. I encourage all to point out flaws or add to the evidence supporting the theory. Of course with a novel like this there is never really an answer, as we traditionally know them. Any way here's my theory: Warning: contains vital plot points about Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. If you have read the novel or do not care about knowing some of the plot points, read on. The idea came from the critical interpretation in Nabokov's Pale Fire by Brian Boyd, which posits the theory that the actual poem "Pale Fire" was written by John Shade with some help from his deceased daughter (who killed herself) while the commentary is written by Bodkin (Kinbote) with help from, at first, John Shade's deceased daughter, and then, after his death by the hands of an escaped madman from the mental institution (whom, as you'll remember, was portrayed by Kinbote as the assassin coming to kill him, the exiled king of Zembla), from John Shade himself, who also helped inspire the index at the end of the book. Boyd's book goes much deeper into the actual evidence for all this (and I would highly recommend it), but I'm here to write about IJ.

*************PALE FIRE SPOILERS END************

So, the Pale Fire theory got me thinking after reading through the JOI-wraith section, and my theory is that the whole of IJ is written (or transcribed or "thought") by a completely mute Hal, with the help from his wraith father. Here is some of the evidence that got me to this conclusion:

Pg. 17 - "It will be someone blue-collar and unlicensed, though, inevitably - a nurse's aide with quick bit nails, a hospital security guy, a tired Cuban orderly who addresses me as jou - who will, looking down in the middle of some kind of bustled task, catch what he sees as my eye and ask So yo then man what's your story?" This is a technique that DFW applies elsewhere where he uses a future tense for something that will most certainly happen. The sentence then is also a virtual invitation for Hal to explain his story, or how he arrived at this critical juncture, to the cuban orderly. However, since Hal can't speak the novel is a relaying of the story concerning how he wound up in the U of A office flailing around (With JOI as wraith supplying the missing info to Hal). The italics stand out in that he asks "what's your story?" as IJ decidedly revolves around Hal. The following are examples of how and why the wraith and Hal can communicate:

Pg. 830 - "because Gately, if he'd bothered to notice and appreciate it, at least didn't have to speak out loud to be able to interface with the wraith-figure." Since Hal can't talk (pg 10-13) this would be a manner of communication which Hal could be operational in. So Hal could interface with the JOI-wraith by only thinking, which he still seems to have no problem doing, it's only when he tries to speak out loud that he's nonsensical.

Pg. 831 - "Even a garden-variety wraith could move at the speed of quanta and be anywhere anytime and hear in symphonic toto the thoughts of animate men, but it couldn't ordinarily affect anybody or anything solid, and it could never speak right to anybody, a wraith had no out-loud voice of its own, and had to use somebody's like internal brain voice if it wanted to try to communicate something, which was why thoughts and insights that were coming from some wraith always just sound like your own thoughts, from inside your own head, if a wraith's trying to interface with you." This sentence is key to the theory, as it shows how JOI-wraith is able to add the element of omniscence to Hal's "telling" of the story that is IJ. Because JOI-wraith can virtually be anywhere he has the ability to fill in for Hal many of the influential happenings that affect his "story". It all rings of Found Drama (pg. 1027-1028) in which stories that Hal has never seen nor ever could see, become a major part of his "story" that is IJ. The obvious litmus test for this is: Are there any examples of omnisence before April 1, Year of the Trial Size Dove Bar (the date of JOI's death (pg. 64, 249))? Which is kind of tricky in that sometimes JOI-wraith could be present and "listening" as someone is recalling an experience before YTSBD i.e. Fackleman's demise being recalled by Gately while JOI-wraith is hanging around. Other earlier sections are flashbacks to JOI's childhood so JOI-wraith would obviously be able to convey those stories to Hal. The section narrated by Clennete (pg 37-38) takes place in YTSDB which is the year JOI killed himself. But there are two lines that say, "Wardine say she do not feel nothing in her back ever since spring", and, "She let Reginald take her shirts to see how Wardine momma beat Wardine". This hints at the section being conveyed in the winter of YTSDB, because of the layered clothing and mention of a past spring, which would make it come after JOI's death. The section immediately following, concerning Bruce Green, conveys information from before JOI's death; however, there is no real omniscence and this section sounds like it is told by someone who was told this information by Bruce himself. And, because JOI-wraith can hear people's thoughts, it would not be surprising if he came across Bruce while he was thinking about Mildred, which seems to be always, and obtained this information. The evidence for last two examples is, of course, circumstantial and there is no real textual evidence stating exactly when they took place.




message 32: by Jesse (last edited Aug 20, 2008 05:36PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jesse Essay Continued part 2

I believe the whole of the book "Infinite Jest" takes place in Hal's so called internal brain voice. However, Hal might not even know that JOI-wraith is giving him all this information about his "story". Wraith's can ordinarily not affect anything solid but JOI-wraith obviously can as evidenced on pg. 830-831 as he gets a photo from Gately's Ennet House room and a Coke bottle with Oriental writing apperently from an Oriental country. Deducing from this, it was probably JOI-wraith mucking around with all the objects at ETA. He could be trying to get Hal's attention or trying to somehow prepare Hal for the coming of some real supernatural shit. JOI-wraith feels the situation is dire enough that he'll stand still for months at a time so Gately can see him
(pg. 831: "very few wraiths had anything important enough to interface about to be willing to stand still for this kind of time"). JOI-wraith either wants Hal to find IJ the movie so that he'll break out of his communicative shell (remember JOI made IJ when he was having delusions that Hal wasn't speaking and he thought the movie would break him out of that (pg. 838-839)), or because he realizes the danger the movie poses if the Master Copy is obtained by the AFR. Evidence of this follows:

Pg. 832: "into Gately's personal mind, in Gately's own brain-voice but with roaring and unwilled force, comes the term PIROUETTE, in caps, which term Gately knows for a fact he doesn't have any idea what it means and no reason to be thinking it with roaring force". This is more evidence of JOI-wraith's ability to communicate through the "brain-voice". This also addresses sections that offer problems like when Hal is spoken of, but is not narrating, at least not in the 1st person (i.e. pg. 49-54). However, because JOI-wraith can introduce words and thoughts into another's mind, this could be why Hal is presented in the third person even though the novel takes place in his head.

Pg. 375-376: "avant-garde journals were complaining that even in his commercially entertaining stuff Incandenza's fatal Achilles' heel was plot, that Incandenza's efforts had no sort of engaging plot, no movement that sucked you in and drew you along. Mario and Ms. Joelle van Dyne are probably the only people who know that Found Drama and anticonfluentialism both came out of this night with Lyle." The actual novel IJ is chocked full of Found Drama and anticonfluentialism - that's part of what makes it so entertaining. The whole method of telling Hal's "story" is so much like what came out of this night (Lyle's advice to JOI and his creation of Found Drama and anticonfluentialism) that JOI had to have had some kind of hand in the telling of this story.

Pg. 820: "Gately had been lying there passed out, wedged between two full filing cabinets to keep him from rolling off the couch he was wider than, and was bleeding in a very big way, and nobody knew how to, like, affix a turnipcut to a shoulder" The novel is peppered with examples of characters mispeaking words that are subsequently not changed when the narrator is relaying them through the actual text. This is one example and there is, of course, no "sic" involved so the narrator is either claiming ignorance of this mistake or is trying to make it appear as if there are different narrators for different sections of the book (and this narrator doesn't know a turnicet from a turnipcut) . But what throws this off is the way that sections will switch from this proclaimed ignorance to complete erudition in a matter of a few pages. As appears on pg 823 "Gately's eyes were rolling around in his head and he was making pathetic little scared aspirated sounds as he pictured himself with a hook and a parrot and patch making piratical 'Arr Matey' sounds" or "his hat's shadow cast in a kind of parallelogram across the open doorway". If a narrator knows what a parallelogram is, knows the correct usage of "aspirated" as well as how to spell "piratical", then he can't much claim ignorance on turnicet (turnipcut). I believe this is Hal trying to lend some verisimilitude to his story, or trying to tell it more realistically, by making different sections sound as if they are narrated by diferent people when in reality it is him, with the help from JOI-wraith, who is narrating the whole "story". In the end it is the constant erudition in syntax, grammar and most of all diction (remember Hal read the whole O.E.D and could recite chunks verbatim (pg. 28)) that gives him away. Examples:

Pg. 6: "then, because the facial creases of the shaggy middle Dean are now pursed in a kind of distanced affront, an I'm-eating-something-that-makes-me-really-appreciate-the-presence-of-whatever-I'm-drinking-along-with-it look that spells professionally Academic reservations." compared with pg. 469, "Randy Lenz up at the north-east corner likes to raise his can of tonic and say that Don's food is the kind of food that helps you really appreciate whatever you're drinking along with it." These two lines were what initially tipped me off to the idea that Hal is really narrating the whole book. The reason is this: the first quote is from the first section which is clearly narrated by Hal from his perspective. But the second quote is from a section narrated by the general narrator who seems to take over whenever there is a section that is not in first person (besides the brief switch to second person that starts on pg. 200). So it seems that Hal, in narrating the first section of the book, (which, remember, happens chronologically after the rest of the book including the above quote from pg. 469) took a quote from one of the characters which JOI-wraith had heard and relayed to Hal and used it to describe the facial expession of one of the Deans. Of course that could be seen as a reach and some might say that DFW just forgot that he had used it before and used it again, (like he did with full-bore something "only JOI would use" (pg. 29), but then Hal uses when talking to Orin about the hypophalangial Grief-Therapist (pg. 252)). But I think this book is full of hidden clues like this one and the above connection was used with purpose. Some other examples of things used in the first section (pg. 3-17) showing up later, being used by the general third person narrrator are:

1. "double-windowed" (pg. 3), "double-sealed windows" (pg. 827)

2. "I am in here" (pg. 3), "he can manipulate them well enough to satisfy everyone but himself that he's in there, inside his own hull, as a human being -- but in fact he is far more robotic than John Wayne." (pg. 694)

3. "My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it" (pg. 5), "his heart sounded like a shoe in the Ennet House basement's dryer." (pg. 716)

4. "I compose what I project will be seen as a smile ... 'is Hal all right, Chuck?' Athletic Affairs asks. 'Hal just seemed to ... well, grimace." (pg. 5), "Avril said, 'That's the old tum making those sounds then, and not the air conditioner?' with that smile that was also kind of a wince." (pg. 522)

5. "My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room, the bits of dust and sportcoat-lint stirred around by the AC's vents dancing jaggedly in the slanted plane of windowlight," (pg. 6), "the interval had the silence and stillness of dusty rooms immersed in sunlight.", "The direct light through the master bedroom's window swam with rotating columns of raised dust." (pg. 497)





Jesse Essay Continued part 3

There are others but these are the most convincing in my opinion. A couple more points outside of the text and I'll be done. On top of this textual evidence there also seems to be some pretty undeniable links between IJ and "Pale Fire", which could be just coincidence, however, I'm pretty sure that DFW is familiar with "Pale Fire". The first is the structure of both novels. They both center around the creation of a work of art: Pale Fire is a poem and Infinite Jest is a movie. Both novels are named after the the work of art that is created within their pages. They both contain footnotes or an index that seem to be written by an external force outside of the narrator. Also the artist that creates the work of art has died at the very beginning of both stories as they both begin in the present and then the rest of the novel is an explanation of how they arrived at that beginning situation. These could of course be all coincidences and they very well may be, but I think there is just too much that is connecting these two novels. And in my opinion both have elements of the supernatural that are driving the narration (This is a technique that Nabokov also used in some of his short stories). That is the conclusion of my theory. I hope that anything overlooked will be pointed out to me and I encourage everyone to let me know about any holes in the theory in order that I can find an excuse to read my favorite novel again.

Thanks,

Jesse Simms



message 34: by Andy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andy Good theory Jesse. I believe that J.O.I. is the narrator, not Hal, this thesis is quite good.
http://www.thehowlingfantods.com/thes...

To quote

The revelation that something in the text has mystical control over the sound of textual voices raises the spectral possibility of something wholly un-chaotic behind the novel’s various ambiguities; and that while an Author created the specter of James Incandenza, the supernatural quality of his (Jim’s) linguistic influence unleashes an overarching ambiguity of authority: while characters’ voices may have influenced Joyce’s prose, the characters’ voices that influence Wallace’s prose are themselves under the influence of a character, who is, of course, heavily ‘influenced’ (created) by Wallace. This circular dynamic of voices confounds priority: the novel’s narrator infiltrates (by creating) the mind of James Incandenza, who infiltrates the mind of Don Gately, who, like nearly all the novel’s characters, infiltrates the mind of the narrator. To the extent that Wallace is distinct from his narrator, or that the entire cycle hinges on his creation of characters, he retains some prior authority; but it is impossible to determine whether any piece of narrative signifies an exercise of creative authority, or of deference to the authority of creations.



Jesse On the whole I found the thesis frustrating as it regards the theory of whose narrating IJ. The thesis revolved around literary theory not theories about a work of literature. Also Mr. Hager made numerous statements concerning the text without backing them up with examples (like why does he think that polysyllabic words are the characters and not DFW's? From the interviews I've read, the prose, diction, and syntax of IJ is very similar to the way DFW talks, right down to all the hemming and hawing and qualifications).
I think there is a case to be made for the wraith as narrator, but I haven't seen anyone actually plot out all the evidence and see if it points toward that conclusion. I'm interested in what makes you guys think JOI is a better candidate for narrator than Hal. Mr. Hager's thesis did have something going concerning the string of words that popped into Gately's head and how they concerned important points in JOI's life (but once again he didn't back it up with examples and pg. numbers), and also the idea of Stice being haunted by JOI in order to shake Hal "out of himself", but why wouldn't JOI just haunt Hal?
This discussion is great, I love talking abut this novel, it is just jam packed with some great literary cud. I mean most of this has been about the narrator, we haven't even gotten into the most pressing question of all: Just what the hell happened to Hal?

Jesse S.


message 36: by Chuckell (new)

Chuckell Man, and I thought nothing could be longer or more tedious and pointless than Infinite Jest. I see now that I was wrong.


Aaron ******SPOILERS LIE HEREIN******

Myself, I don't believe that Don Gately even exists. Or rather, it seems possible that the Gately portions of the novel might be the movie itself unraveling as Hal watches it in real time. Consider the possibility that Gately is an actor in several of Himself's films. He's around the house quite a bit as Hal grows up. Hal knows him as Gately and refers to whatever character Gately is playing as Gately just as a personal frame of reference.

Consider this as well:

pg 31: Himself dresses up as a professional conversationalist in order to talk to Hal and in that conversation mentions "...cartridge implanted in your very own towering father's anaplastic cerebrum..." (which explains why he chooses such a bizarre method of suicide -- to destroy the film once and for all)

and even earlier, on page 17: Hal says that John N.R. Wayne is "...standing watch in a mask as Don Gately and I dig up my father's head." This could be a direct reference to actually watching the film.

I don't have page numbers for this, but it is said that there is only one scene from IJ that anyone can describe, that of Madame Psychosis coming to Gately while he lies in a hospital bed. I don't have page numbers for this either, but this very thing happens to Gately in the novel.

I realize that none of this theory actually gives a greater understanding of any of the questions some of you have, but I think it's interesting to consider nonetheless.


Jesse @ Chuckell: if you think "Infinite Jest" and/or discussion of it is long, tedious, and pointless, just don't read it.

@ Aaron: I have heard some similar theories about Gately not being real, or more specifically the whole book being a sort of fever dream of Hal's (which really isn't much different frm him narrating it in his "internal brain voice", which is what I think). The idea is certainly interesting, but the evidence is really only centered in the first 17 pgs and not the rest of the book. And as far as pg. 31 the cartridge implanted is described as "priapistic-entertainment" that was implanted along with a "gyroscopic balance sensor and mise-en-scene appropriation card". This was done after his detoxes and gastrectomy, so toward the end of his life when he was editing IJ. I think this is why he had it implanted so that he could edit the movie without anyone (i.e. Mario) accidently walking in while he's editing the movie in the underground film area and then realizing that it worked and that the film was devastatingly addictive he left it in his head and tried to destory it in the microwave. This is not directly stated but just my interpretation. Also on pg. 934 Gately in one of his hospital dreams sees Hal ("a sad kid") and they're trying to dig up JOI's head, but when they do, Hal holds up the head and says too late (meaning the original is gone, thus Gately couldn't watch it). This all makes me believe that Gately is real, because it doesn't make sense that you would have a made up (or dreamed up) character who is then visited by a wraith, that then gives him a preview of IJ (the movie, this is the dream where MP comes to him pg. 850) in his dreams, and also has him dream of trying to stop and impending "continental emergency". But I think it's an interesting way to approach the novel, to try and gain some new insights. Thanks.

Jesse S.




message 39: by Chuckell (new)

Chuckell Chuckell: if you think "Infinite Jest" and . . . discussion of it is long, tedious, and pointless, just don't read it.

Oh mercy me, believe it--I don't. I just come in here to make fun of anyone misguided enough to think this book deserves any thought or recognition whatsoever. As for the book itself, I read about 150 pages of it before the pain grew too intense and I was forced to--literally--throw it out the window.

Needless to say, I thoughtfully checked to make sure there were no innocent passers-by below. To be killed by this heavy, rotten book would a grave injustice.


cathleen to jesse: apparently this narrator doesn't know the difference between a tourniquet and a "turnicet." but i loved your essay, and i think you make quite a strong case for hal

****SPOILER ALERT*****

a couple of things i wondered about. when the doctor and nurse are setting up an elaborate brace/halo device in the bed next to gately's, who is set to occupy it? marathe's wife? are we to assume he has finally sold out to steeply and his wife is coming into the states for the promised medical care? but would they room a male and a female together? even if the female was in a vegetative state? i think not. and the ETA student with the monitor about his head has already come and gone from the adjacent bed. (i don't have my copy out, so i don't have page numbers or direct quotes, so bear with me. it's late and i wanted to write these up before i forgot them.) gately notices a kid with some kind of box on his head in the next bed sitting very still. another theory is that the intended bed with brace and metal ring is for hal, to immobilize him. this would explain how hal and gately team up together to dig up JOI's head.

at one point, it is mentioned that the AFR have three contacts within ETA. an instructor, a student, and worker. the instructor is obviously poutrincourt, although some might make a case for avril. i believe the student is john wayne, which would explain him silently watching as gately and hal dig up the head. also, during wayne's on air drug induced rant, he reveals during his impression of charles tavis' seduction technique in which he (tavis) is so insecure about asking the girl out that he begs the girl to come up with some excuse not to go out with him but realizes he is making such an excuse impossible to believe since he has just asked her to lie. hal recognizes this as one of orin's "stratgies" that orin had detailed to hal over the phone. listening in to hal's conversations with his brother on a dormitory line seems to me the kind of low-level surveillance the AFR would entrust to one of their youngest contacts. pure speculation on that part, of course. the employee contact, i believe, is clenette. in the scene when the ennet house residents are moving their cars, clenette's car is revealed to have been obtained through suspicious circumstances. there is also her inexplicable presence in tavis' inner office. hal mentions her later, i believe, as the girl in tavis' office upon whom he had "read fear." fear of what? there is just too much attention given to such a minor character for no apparent reason i can think of other than that she is one of the AFR's contacts, and purely for monetary gain.

what do you guys think? who is to be admitted to the bed next to gately with the elaborate metal supports? and who are the AFR connections at ETA? why else is john wayne so important? and why else is clenette so important?


Christian McKay So, Chuckles, is commenting on a book you hate not a waste of time?

Are you like the cast aside lover who realized the person was too good for you and now can't stop talking about how much they suck as overcompensation?




message 42: by Paul (last edited Aug 26, 2008 07:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Allow me, people.

Chuckell, shut the fuck up. Begone. Bye!


message 43: by Paul (last edited Aug 26, 2008 07:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul "a couple of things i wondered about. when the doctor and nurse are setting up an elaborate brace/halo device in the bed next to gately's, who is set to occupy it? marathe's wife?"

That was the impression I got. Gately, because of how he keeps "accidentally" (there are no coincidences, though) offing major separatist villains, is probably in a hospital ward where the government stashes their assets. It's totally likely that Marathe's wife (still can't wrap my head around her head's condition) would be put in the same place.

"are we to assume he has finally sold out to steeply and his wife is coming into the states for the promised medical care?"

Yes. He'd already sold out, though.

"another theory is that the intended bed with brace and metal ring is for hal, to immobilize him."

Absolutely not. Or, well, actually I'll have to look at it again, it's possible I guess.

"this would explain how hal and gately team up together to dig up JOI's head."

No, wraiths explain it.

"i believe the student is john wayne, which would explain him silently watching as gately and hal dig up the head."

I feel like maybe Wayne was there as a junior supervisor for the AFR as Hal and Gately are coerced into grave-digging, but he also could just be there to help them on their own wraith-inspired mission. I don't know. Somehow and for some reason, Wayne was incapacitated/killed, and that probably makes more sense if he was up to something villainous.

"also, during wayne's on air drug induced rant, he reveals during his impression of charles tavis' seduction technique in which he (tavis) is so insecure about asking the girl out that he begs the girl to come up with some excuse not to go out with him but realizes he is making such an excuse impossible to believe since he has just asked her to lie. hal recognizes this as one of orin's "stratgies" that orin had detailed to hal over the phone. listening in to hal's conversations with his brother on a dormitory line seems to me the kind of low-level surveillance the AFR would entrust to one of their youngest contacts."

The thing is, that's only an Orin technique by way of Tavis. Orin learned it from Tavis, directly or indirectly. Same with Wayne maybe. Or maybe Wayne picked it up during one of his Avril trysts. Because, you know, in those scenes was some creepy incestual stuff insinuated about Avril and Orin. I also like your wiretap theory, too. And of course, there's also the wraiths (there's always room in a theory for wraiths) who are a most perfect wiretap in a way.

"pure speculation on that part, of course. the employee contact, i believe, is clenette. in the scene when the ennet house residents are moving their cars, clenette's car is revealed to have been obtained through suspicious circumstances. there is also her inexplicable presence in tavis' inner office. hal mentions her later, i believe, as the girl in tavis' office upon whom he had "read fear." fear of what? there is just too much attention given to such a minor character for no apparent reason i can think of other than that she is one of the AFR's contacts, and purely for monetary gain."

Think back to the whole arrangement ETA has with employees about allowing them to take home trashed goods. Very likely that Clenette has an eye out for discarded videotapes.



message 44: by Nate D (last edited Aug 26, 2008 12:50PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nate D All SPOILERS.

I've got the book right next to me for once. So I just wanted to cite some pages for the John N.R. Wayne as AFR agent theory, which I'm fairly certain is accurate.

First, I have no idea where this was, but I thought the suggestion was made that there were two AFR agents in ETA, not three. Perhaps by Marathe. I could have this wrong, so if anyone has that page, I'd be grateful.

673 to 682: Poutrincourt spars with Steeply during the Hal/Ortho match, both recognizing eachother as agents through little linguistic and mannerism slip-ups. Especially key is note 276, pg 1052: where Poutrincourt missteps on a Quebecois phrase she'd have no reason to expect Steeply to understand with his Parisian French, and is described as "an almost professionally hypervigilant and suspicious person" herself.

So there's one. Besides being the only other Quebecois ex-pat at ETA besides Avril (who he is sleeping with, in true secret agent style), Wayne has a family history that puts him firmly in the pocket of the AFR. Note 304, pg 1060:

"Only once in le Jeu du Prochaine Train's extensive oral history has a miner's son not jumped... This player later drowned. [Losing heart] when it is mentioned at all, is known also as "Faire un Bernard Wayne".

It seems safe to assume that Bernard drowned himslf from shame, and this horrible shame has been passed down to his family as a kind of obligation. Note however, that whatever the relation, Bernard probably isn't John Wayne's father, as it is mentioned that John's still-living father objected to his appearing in JOI's film Homo Duplex at the time.

Trivial, incidental further evidence, pg 681: an unknowing deLint refers to Poutrincourt and Wayne as "fellow compatriots". He just means Quebecois, but if only he knew.

Random other detail that is neither here nor there, but interesting: Orin's impression of Avril, note 269, page 1052, sounds awfully reminiscent of the Cult of the Endless Kiss.

Ugh, I meant that to be a quick supporting evidence note. But you just get drawn back in.

Anyway. Jesse, it seems like you've done some excellent work backing up JOI as unifying narrator, but after much thought, I'm not sure your concept requires Hal as a link in the chain of voices. As a sort of Occam's Razor type case, it seems much easier to just drop Hal back into the pool of voices informing JOI's anticonfluential narrative. What specific evidence do you have for Hal-as-top-level-narator?


cathleen **************SPOILER ALERT***************

again on clenette...

do you mean she is supposed to have viewed infinite jest, or be aware of what it is, and thus her reason for seeming fearful around hal?

two women are seen walking to ennett house from ETA, one carrying a bag of stuff presumed to have been collected from discards.

johnette foltz mentions that "clenette h. brought back some donie cartridges from ETA", which marathe overhears. one of the cartridges he strains to see in pat's locker appears to have a smiley face on it.

and again, i can't remember when it is mentioned, but i'm pretty certain it's three contacts. it caught my interest because i then tried to figure out who they were, and i can't imagine i would misread something i spent so long pondering. but until someone finds the actual quote, i guess we won't know.

as for the theory about hal being in the hospital bed next to gately, i don't really believe that. i do think the bed is intended for marathe's wife, but i still find it really hard to believe that a male and female would room together, even if they needed to be under special surveillance. gately does not appear to be under any special surveillance other than the hat-wearing agent's personal step-working mission. and he's there of his own accord. and if gately is in a special wing, why would the kid injured with the monitor during the eschaton game originally be in the bed next to him? i think all clues point to marathe's wife, with DFW either willfully ignoring the fact that hospitals segregate male and female patients, asking us to employ our suspension of disbelief, or not thinking too hard about it.


cathleen **************SPOILER ALERT***************

again on clenette...

do you mean she is supposed to have viewed infinite jest, or be aware of what it is, and thus her reason for seeming fearful around hal?

two women are seen walking to ennett house from ETA, one carrying a bag of stuff presumed to have been collected from discards.

johnette foltz mentions that "clenette h. brought back some donie cartridges from ETA", which marathe overhears. one of the cartridges he strains to see in pat's locker appears to have a smiley face on it.

and again, i can't remember when it is mentioned, but i'm pretty certain it's three contacts. it caught my interest because i then tried to figure out who they were, and i can't imagine i would misread something i spent so long pondering. but until someone finds the actual quote, i guess we won't know.

as for the theory about hal being in the hospital bed next to gately, i don't really believe that. i do think the bed is intended for marathe's wife, but i still find it really hard to believe that a male and female would room together, even if they needed to be under special surveillance. gately does not appear to be under any special surveillance other than the hat-wearing agent's personal step-working mission. and he's there of his own accord. and if gately is in a special wing, why would the kid injured with the monitor during the eschaton game originally be in the bed next to him? i think all clues point to marathe's wife, with DFW either willfully ignoring the fact that hospitals segregate male and female patients, asking us to employ our suspension of disbelief, or not thinking too hard about it.


message 47: by cathleen (last edited Aug 26, 2008 03:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

cathleen nate, you mentioned that wayne is probably "the only other Quebecois ex-pat at ETA besides Avril."

well, i can't remember if the book mentions another canadian or quebecois student, specifically, but there is definitely at least another canadian at ETA. as far as i can recall though, the student is never identified or personified.

during a scene where hal is waiting for tavis and looking at the pictures on his wall taken by mario, one of the photos is of wayne and another canadian(quebecois?) student in maple leaf sweatshirts, facing north, with their hands over their hearts.

this is not important, and the other student doesn't enter into the narrative anywhere else, but i thought it interesting to note that wayne does have another student expat to relate to.

also, the football uniform he wears with avril is revealed to be orin's. pretty creepy.


Jesse @Nate: The reason I think it is Hal narrating the whole of the story is:

1. at the end of the 1st section, which is actually narrated by Hal, there is reference to someone actually asking him, what's his story.

2. Having read the whole OED and having been raised by a militant grammarian, he would be the only character with the lexical skill to narrate IJ with all it fancy words, and labrynthine sentences.

3. JOI being a wraith really doesn't have any audience toward which he can communicate the story (except for us, the reader, of course). And he complains about how long it takes him to stay in one place to communicate with Gately, imagine the horror of living in wraith time and having to read IJ.

But, in reality, I just find it more LIKELY that Hal narrates the whole of the book. JOI very easily could be some sort of meta narrator who visits both the novel and the reader's worlds. Or, as one someone suggested on the DFW listserv, IJ could just be a postmodern collection of different voices and myriad ways of communicating narrative info through those voices (1st hand accounts, movie plots, footnotes), all trying to mimic the information onslaught of the 21st century and how hard it is to read a story without projecting your own ideas onto the narrative. But all these ideas go back to lit. theory. And while they are probably the closest thing to what DFW meant in writing IJ, I'm a Nabokov man and I love coded stories, and riddles within literature, so that makes me want to solve all these problems that, realistically, don't have concrete answers.



Nate D Jesse: Well, I don't have any concrete evidence that Hal isn't narrating either. The best I can do is to jump off of your evidence for JOI as a step in the process and say that Yes, he is assembling his anticonfluential found-drama masterwork, even as a wraith. Against the specific points:

1. JOI could just as simply have found this a reasonable jumping-off point to begin telling his own decoupaged version of the story.

2. And yet, DFW probably neither read the entire OED, nor was raised by a militant grammarian. So it is possible. But I concede this is your most compelling evidence, by far. I also like that it provides a tidy explanation to people who complain about the excessively obscure wording.

3. Very few modern novels justify their narrator, let alone their audience. Not that IJ is just any book, but I also think JOI's film-making impulses are enough to explain why he would gather such a narrative together. For any audience.

Cathleen, you may be right about the number of agents, but I just refamiliarized myself with the last 250 or so pages of the book and couldn't turn up that scene. Isn't there a part where they describe the AFR commandeering of the bus to the exhibition match? I can't find it anywhere, but I think the reference is in there.


message 50: by Chuckell (new)

Chuckell Hating this book is a moral issue for me. The thought that good trees continue to die to print copies of this monstrosity causes me real pain.


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