INFINITE JEST readalong week 2 #InfiniTC


All right, who’s still with me?

This week, after page 63 in Infinite Jest is where the rubber hits the road. Shit hits the fan. Pick your metaphor and run with it. Or roll with it, like the Association de Fauteuil Rollents, the Canadian wheelchair assassins.

And it’s on page 64 that I’m convinced that many people give up on this book. They’ve muddled through the out of sequence stuff and the years with names not numbers, and that Wardine chapter, then BOOM. Page 64 with note 24, eight and a half pages of TEENY TINY type on the filmography of James O. Incandenza, Hal’s dead father.

And even if you make it past that challenge, say by skipping or skimming it (because while valuable, it’s OK to refer back to later when you’re feeling more situated in the book) then you get to the Marathe and Steeply passage, with a guy in a wheelchair up on a desert ledge joined by another guy in drag, and both are spies, and then you get to note 39 that has subnotes, and one of those says to go to note 304, which is seven and a half pages, also has sub notes, about a student plagiarizing a paper from DFW’s imaginary future online that is actually pretty close to how the internet turned out. And that’s where I think many other people throw in the towel. You know, the towels that are wrapped like kilts around the boys in the locker room after there late, exhausting practice.

But if you can manage to read note 304, and learn about the history of Canada’s wheelchair assassins, then it’s hard not to be amazed by the bat$hit crazy imagination of it all.

It is very important, I assure you, to keep reading. Don’t give up! Do not let these end notes freak you out. Skim them, skip them if you want. There’s gold in them there end notes but if you’re not feeling up for it, they’ll still be there later in the book. This book is fascinating, and fun, and true and sad, but you have to keep reading.

For now, let me be super reductive:

End note 24: James O. Incandenza made a lot of films, both technical and artistic. He worked with a lot of actors and other people who have been and will be mentioned. His films often had to do with his personal obsessions: teeth, spiders, tennis, fatherhood, and his wife’s infidelity, a callback to Bloom in Ulysses.

End note 304: In Canada’s poor mining towns, the young men play “The game of the next train,” a coordinated type of Chicken in which a group of boys tries to jump in front of a train and not be the first, and not die. Many do die, many lose limbs, and some lose legs and become members of the AFR, the Canadian wheelchair assassins.

Now, back to the pages of the actual book we read this week, chapters 8-11, which I only know because I’m also reading Elegant Complexity, which helpfully keeps track of all those little moons, or meniscuses, if you will. Meniscii? (Meniscus, or moon, is one of the names of JOI’s film companies.)

I did a summary and list of characters in the earlier post, here. I remember having a hard time on my first read of IJ with the Marathe and Steeply sections, with all the politics and intrigue of the future dystopian-ish society, in which Canada gets stuck with all the dead, contaminated territories, and there are feral hamsters and infants.

I’ll say again that my best advice is just to read. Don’t panic. I bet I can find that somewhere on the internet written in large, friendly letters…


Or, in the timeless words of REO Speedwagon, “Hold On Loosely”. There is so much going on, and it will all come together, but if you’re not getting it, or can’t remember Struck from Stice, it’s OK. Just read.

I was most enthralled by the sections about Kate Gompert and her marijuana use and desire for suicide. It is hard not to read that section and think on the future suicide of the author.

It’s not wanting to hurt myself, it’s wanting to not hurt. (78)

Thankfully, though, there’s plenty of things to laugh about, as well, like the use of Pledge as a sunscreen, one that later can be peeled off in strips.

There are also lots of references, especially to Hamlet. Both Poor Yorick and Infinite Jest, mentioned in note 24, are from that play. The section that switches without breaks among the elder students and their little buddies reminded me of the chapter(s?) of Ulysses where it jumped from mind to mind for the stream of consciousness.

DFW was trying to challenge the reader, just as Joyce was with Ulysses. He’s telling a tale out of order, not giving us years to count by, skipping in and back in time and in and out of people’s lives and thoughts. He is NOT going by a straight line.

I’ll stop here for now. What did everyone else think? You can also tweet comments and questions with the hashtag #InfiniTC.

The rest of the schedule:

Tu 7-7 discuss and tweet to 181. Stop at: LATE OCTOBER Y.D.A.U. “Open me anothowone”

Tu 7-14 discuss and tweet to 258. Stop at: 6 NOVEMBER Y.D.A.U. “White halogen off the green”

Tu 7-21 discuss and tweet to 321. Stop at: 8 NOVEMBER Y.D.A.U. INTERDEPENDENCE DAY GAUDEAMUS IGITUR

Tu 7-28 discuss and tweet to 398. Stop at: “FREAK STATUE OF LIBERTY ACCIDENT”

Tu 8-04 discuss and tweet to 489. Stop at: PRE-DAWN. 1 MAY Y.D.A.U. OUTCROPPING

Tu 8-11 discuss and tweet to 538. Stop at: “It is starting to get quietly around Ennet”

Tu 8-18 discuss and tweet to 619. Stop at: “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment: Interlace TelEntertainment, 932/1864”

Tu 8-25 discuss and tweet to 686. Stop at: 11 NOVEMBER Y.D.A.U. “First thing after supper”

Tu 9-1 discuss and tweet to 755. Stop at: 11 NOVEMBER Y.D.A.U. “Part of Mario’s footage”

Tu 9-8 discuss and tweet to 808. Stop at: “The ceiling was breathing”

Tu 9-15 discuss and tweet to 896. Stop at: “I was going to go back up”

Tu 9-22 discuss and tweet to 981. THE END!

3 Responses to “INFINITE JEST readalong week 2 #InfiniTC”

  1. David Says:

    I find myself comparing how much I hated Ulysses to how much if loving this. I gave Ulysses so much gruff about being obscene, yet Jest has enough on it’s own and I’m fine with it. It’s funny how we let something we connect with slide that we wouldn’t let otherwise pass.
    It is also really clear that Wallace had a connection with depression and addiction that is fascinating and unsettling at the same time.
    All in all I love the humor so far and sort of feel like Im in the middle of a Wes Anderson movie.

  2. Steven McPherson Says:

    There is definitely something Wes Anderson-ish about Infinite Jest in its self-containment as a universe that still seems adjacent to the real world. And I feel like its natural to read some kind of connection between Richie Tenenbaum and the tennis players of IJ.

    But now I can unleash my biggest problem with IJ overall which is the Marathe and Steeply sections. The voluminous endnotes — for all their ridiculousness — exist outside of the flow of the narrative. I love the JOI filmography because it’s so hilarious and yes, it has some clues about what happens in the book, but it’s also sort of a sui generis work you could see as a standalone parody of an artistic filmmaker’s filmography.

    M+S on the ledge in the desert, though, is just deathly slow and goes nowhere. It includes important information, but I’ve completely skipped these sections the last two times I’ve read the book and haven’t missed them, now that I have a firm grip on what we need to know about the two characters. It’s just narratively awkward and the scene never builds to anything — it just evaporates after the info dumping is done. Of course, if you’ve gone in on Wallace’s writing, it’s going to carry you through those sections, but that’s the stuff in the book that I think could have been cut to get it to something more like 800 or 900 pages.

  3. Janet Says:

    Ok, I will admit now that I didn’t finish Ulysses…I just couldn’t do it! I am doing better on IJ and will probably finish it (unless I can’t renew it enough times at the library). I want to feel like I accomplished something this summer! And this one does make me laugh more. I don’t have to decipher all the Irish puns. I like a story that can be bleak and hilarious at the same time.