INFINITE JEST readalong week 4 #InfiniTC

Oh, I am so nerdishly excited to pick this week’s image for our section of Infinite Jest, pages 181-258, chapters 16 to 18. (I am so glad I repaginated this readalong–the one from Infinite Summer is really wack. Or is it whack?) Speaking of w(h?)ack:

Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

[Joelle] always sees, after inhaling, right at the apex, at the graph’s spike’s tip, Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa,’ behind glass, at the Vittoria, for some reason, the saint recumbent, half-supine, her flowing stone robe lifted by the angel in whose other hand a bare arrow is raised for that best descent, the saint’s legs frozen in opening, the angel’s expression not charity but the perfect vice of barb-headed love. (IJ 235)

I love Bernini, and I got to see this sculpture in person the third time I went to Rome. The first time I didn’t know to look for it. The second time it was being restored. The third time I was able to see it in all its creepy, ecstatic, lovely weirdness. And isn’t that also a good phrase to describe Infinite Jest?

We spend a lot of time with Joelle is this section, even before we know who she is, which is an interesting, slow reveal, which actually started before this section, of the kind that is easy to spoil in summaries.

But let me back up for a moment, and ask, have you ever darned socks? It’s like weaving, where the threads are initially far apart, and then they cross, then they get pulled tight into a whole. Wait a minute, maybe weaving itself is a better metaphor. Nope, I’m going with darning, because I’ve done it before, though hey, Penelope and the weaving! Anyway, darning, which is basically just weaving in a small specific area, looks like this:


That’s how I’m picturing Infinite Jest, on this, my second reading. DFW sets out a bunch of horizontal lines, then starts putting in some vertical ones that cross, then starts moving them closer together. According to Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity (p20), DFW compared the book to a Sierpinski triangle, which is reinforced by that things mention on page 213 of IJ where Michael Pemulis has an “enormous hand-drawn Sierpinski gasket.” But to me, it feels like we’ve gotten all these threads that first seemed far apart, but then started to cross, and are now coming closer, and the design is becoming more evident, as in the section on tattoos in Ennet House when we learn we’ve met some of the residents before.

Madame Psychosis (a homophonic callback to the Ulysses mentions of ‘metempsychosis’) was one of the actors in the filmography of James O. Incandenza, detailed in the long and difficult note #24. MP started appearing in films during Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad.

In this section, late October of Year of the Depend Undergarment, first we heard the last part of the radio show that comes on before Madame Psychosis’. It’s an enactment of a memory of a son recounting his father’s story about seeing a memorable punt, likely by Orin, described later on page 223 as punter extraordinaire. MP is not seen by her sound engineer. She reads things over background music for an hour, and has five minutes of dead air both before and after. Her topics tend to include football, film, and physical deformities. The building they’re in is structures like a brain, compared to the heart design of Enfield Tennis Academy. Her show is intercut with scenes of Mario and Hall at Headmaster’s house listening to her show and having dinner with Avril and Tavis.

Another connection is that “Madame Psychosis” is another name for DMZ, the weird and powerful hallucinogen that Pemulis procured from some Canadians.

On 7 November YDAU (219), we meet a woman named Joelle at a party, “at the end of her rope and preparing to hang from it.” [FYI, Wallace died in 2008 after hanging himself.] We gradually learn bits about Joelle: she is from Kentucky, wears a veil, is connected to Orin and Jim and YYY, collected things in her purse on the way to the party, gave money to a guy in a wheelchair, and has an addiction with behaviors similar to Erdedy’s on page 17.

Then, like a gift from the narrator, comes a full listing of the subsidized years, and we learn what all the years stand for.

Usage nerds: What do you think the (sic) refers to in “Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade for Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems for Home, Office, or Mobile” Too many hyphens or possibly not parallel in Home, Office, or Mobile if mobile is adjective not noun?

Sweet baby Jay, I hope to never have to type that year out again.

The unfolding of Joelle’s background–e.g., it’s only on page 225 that it’s confirmed “Joelle Van Dyne, a.k.a. Madame P.”–is perhaps like the adage of a person who’s about to die seeing their life pass before her eyes.

The party is interrupted by the fake CV of Helen Steeply, then we are back to the party, and into the bathroom with Joelle, who has picked a ridiculous place to attempt suicide–the one bathroom at a party.

Why the weird interruptions?

The section ends with a conversation between Orin and Hal. We know both from what Hal has noted (he lies to Orin 60% of the time p. 136) and the section on the decline of videophony that all people are dishonest on the phone. So is he lying to Orin about any of the stuff about his father, since he admits he was lying about clipping the toenails of the second foot. Note how he dodges and feints Orin’s questions, getting in little jabs (with his talons?) about not calling or coming to the funeral. We get an explanation of how someone could commit suicide by putting their head in a microwave, and also that it might have exploded the body but left the head intact so it can be dug up in Year of Glad by Hal and Gately and John ‘No Relation’ Wayne on pages 16-17. (We learned what Wayne’s N.R. stood for this section, too.

The gradual accretion of details is strongly reminiscent of Ulysses, as was the use of words like ‘parallax’, ‘ineluct-’, ‘micturation’, and ‘telemachry’.

What did you notice, what stuck out for you? Is it becoming harder, or easier to read? Have you yet made it past whatever page (and what page was it?) when you gave up on previous reads? Did you find yourself happy to put it down, or want to keep going when you got to 258? And hey, is this entry too long?

Earlier this week I finished David Lipsky’s Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, the book, or perhaps more accurately transcript, of Lipsky’s days-long interview of DFW at the end of the Infinite Jest author tour (last stop was…Minneapolis for Hungry Mind reading and MPR interview!), and the basis for the soon-to-be-released (7/31) film The End of the Tour. It’s fascinating stuff, with lots that’s relevant to reading IJ but I can’t go into that now because I’ve got to go be a soccer mom.

Remember, comment here or tweet with the hashtag #InfiniTC. Don’t stop! Keep going!

The rest of the schedule:

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 4 #InfiniTC”

  1. David Says:

    I really think darning is a good way to describe how the story is unraveling (see what I did there?). It’s really enjoyable having the characters and story revealed it such a manner. As I said on Twitter IJ thus far is such a great collection of characters and macabre humor. Excited to keep on with it.

  2. Heidi Says:

    Just popping in to say LOVE the darning analogy, Kristin.

  3. Heidi Says:

    Re: Unfolding details. The Question of “Why does Joelle wear a veil?” was too much for me to wait for; I asked the Great and Powerful Googles. Now I will be patient w/ my hints & spoilers until we’re all discussing this freely.

    This book is oftentimes breathtakingly dark. Particularly on the subject of suicide. JOI’s, by microwave, definitely being no exception (Cf. p.250ff). Holey caw. Understanding the effed-upedness of the Incandenzas to a higher degree as the narrative moves onward.