Kinds of Redemption

*I’ve made a slight change to this since its first appearance on Friday, as Mark Flannagan, during our last video round table, brought to my attention a point I’d misinterpreted in Hal’s timeline. (Yes, even guides are fallible.) 

Congratulations; you’ve finished my favorite book of all time. I’m sure, as I claimed in my intro post, that we’re better able to understand each other now.

I found I read faster and more earnestly this week than any previous during Infinite Winter. The in-sight finish line goaded me on. I don’t think I recall feeling this way on my first read though, approaching 981 with fear and trepidation about how the myriad plotlines could even remotely resolve in the dwindling pages between my thumb and forefinger. I recall seeing there wasn’t a paragraph break after Gately and Fackelmann’s flashback of reckoning, and being so discouraged there wouldn’t be a final word about Hal, Mario, Marathe, and the fate of the samizdat and O.N.A.N. I recall being confused, and even dissatisfied with Gately out there alone on the freezing sand.

But time does good things for this book. As do conversation, Googling, and straight-up rereading it.

The thing is, there is a final word (to some extent) about those characters and things. There are clues littered everywhere in plain sight, but on first encounter we don’t have the equipment to recognize them. So I recommend that you read it again to find them (the clues), many of which you will, with great investigative relish.

The things I love most about this last section are the ways we see Hal, Gately, and Mario resolve. I’m currently in the final stages of writing a long academic thing about this, regarding how these three end up, in the context of theological salvation. Now that we’re done, we know that Hal’s ending is in the first pages of the novel, in the Year of Glad, the final Subsidized year we’re given, according to page 223, that great Rosetta Stone I referred to in my intro post as the beginning of the novel’s generous relenting.

Hal has a psychic meltdown in his judgement by the trinity of the three Deans, but we’re given some other details about what happens to him after the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. On 16-17, we see Hal, “NR” Wayne, and Gately in a graveyard, at some earlier point which must also be in Year of Glad (given Gately’s hospitalization and recovery time), digging up J.O.I.’s head looking for the master copy of Infinite Jest. This week we read of Gately’s proleptic vision on 934, that “he’s with a very sad kid and they’re in a graveyard digging some dead guy’s head up and it’s really important, like Continental-Emergency important,” which Mark pointed us to on Monday. So Hal appears to be out in Arizona, but we do have a few other details about what he gets up to after the novel’s main action in Y.D.A.U.

Then Gately’s in a kind of limbo state, Abiding and overcoming addiction one gleaming car at a time, though in a great deal of pain. Again, we can thank that cryptic glimpse about the graveyard to know that he ends up recovering from his wounds. Gately by this point has not only come to manage his addiction, but has heroically saved the despicable Randy Lenz from certain death in a staggering gesture of self-sacrifice, and has come full circle with the A.D.A. coming to ask for Gately’s forgiveness for his own unforgiveness for the unfortunate toothbrush and bottom incident way back on 56. The final pages revisiting Gately’s narcotic rock-bottom, with his kind of baptismal reawakening on the beach, actually feels satisfying to me now, like a very fitting ending.

And then we have Mario, certainly a less central character than Hal and Gately in terms of air time, but packing a serious final scene in the recollection of Barry Loach’s redemption from a fate “dangerously close to disappearing forever into the fringes and dregs of metro Boston street life and spending his whole adult life homeless and louse-ridden and stemming in the Boston Common and drinking out of brown paper bags” (970). Along comes guileless Mario, offering his semblance of a hand, extending basic human warmth to the socio-economic leper that is Barry Loach, pulling him out of what is indeed a very bleak future, necrotic rot of the soul and all.

So I argue in my thesis that Hal, Gately, and Mario represent a kind of figurative salvation spectrum, with Hal unresolved or even doomed, Gately a sinner-turned-redeemer, and Mario a savior, marking one interesting theological conversation the novel engages with. And there are many other conversations the book has with a variety of other faith traditions. In the 20th anniversary foreword, Tom Bissell claims it’s “a mistake to view him [Wallace] as anything other than a religious writer. His religion, like many, was a religion of language. Whereas most religions deify only certain words, Wallace exalted all of them” (xiii).

I trust we can all now say together, “Amen.”

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12 thoughts on “Kinds of Redemption”

  1. Tim, I’d be interested to hear more about what you think the Lyle quote is saying. What does it take for the truth to be finished with you?

    1. Well in the context where he says it, I think Lyle’s just forcing LaMont Chu to realize there’s always more to be taken into account and considered. “[T]he world is very old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded.”

  2. I have found your summaries very helpful. And have enjoyed reading all the posts about the book. It was a difficult book, so detailed, but DFW captured moments in words that seemed like recordings. I often thought, “That is so true!” as I read. Thank you!

    1. That’s so sweet of you to say, Allison! You’re very welcome. I’m so glad there we were of help to you in your read, as confused as we sometimes were ourselves as guides. There was a great discussion of this today on our video roundtable discussion. :)

    1. Haha! Since we were reflecting upon Wallace’s power of language religion, that was indeed how I’d read your statement. I could never get away with saying it that way though! Ain’t language grand? Not to mention exasperating. That’s maybe why Lyle mostly listens and doesn’t talk much.

  3. You can see the allegories of all the world’s well known religions in Infinite jest because they are, of course, universal. Faith is way bigger than its codification by religion, as Don Gately can attest. One thing that makes Infinite Jest so wonderful is that it addresses so many of them without the bullshit of dubious religious constructs. The attribution of “Amen” has become so bastardized by Christianity that it no longer carries its intended weight, so I won’t be saying that, but it does take faith in the story and storyteller to realize that a completed story really is there, in black and white, and always has been, whether we realized it as we read it or not, inviting us as readers to find it through simply being more aware and paying attention to everything going by. “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.” – Lyle (389)

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