Johanna Schwartz: Family, am I right?

Family, am I right? Hal and Orin flex and dance around each other, both more focused on being heard rather than listening. Poor Tony Krause has been abandoned by his street family, and is left to dissolve, liquified, bereft, and alone.

As can be said with any 75 page chunk, so much happens in this small space of Infinite Jest. We are party to two long conversations between Hal and Orin (in fact, much of this section is the Orin Show) that reveal a rich vein of familial information. We don’t get dirty details about the reasons for Orin’s beyond-strained relationship with Avril, as Orin mostly replies with “…” to any of Hal’s pointed comments.

This first conversation packs in the gruesome details of JOI’s death, as well as Hal’s experience with his grief counsellor. That Hal was able to remove himself from what should have been his actual grief over the death of his father and focus on his inability to “deliver the goods” to the therapist, his fear that he was going to “flunk grief-therapy” points to an on-going detachment on Hal’s part that will be the thread of much of the novel. When a rift is driven (or dropped) between Hal and Orin at the end of the first phone call with Hal’s about-face change of subject (“human nails are the vestiges of talons and horns”) and Orin’s out-of-place response to this (“Is this to make me feel bad?”) it feels like the beginning of what we know is the end of Hal – animal-mute and a prisoner in his own head.

Tennis sections are a study in making me care about something I don’t care about. What works for me is how they become character studies of the other students of ETA. Pemulis, Troelsch, Schacht, all grow deeper and more meaningful. Also, great words come from these sections, like “carom.”

I enjoy being in Ennet House. it has its gruesome moments, but because of Gately’s presence the space feels safe. I unfortunately see a bit too much of myself in Geoffrey Day’s exasperation at the workings of AA, his scoff-ability at the platitudes provided. Seen through Gately’s eyes, Day comes off as a total dick who is so purposefully blind to his own addictions. Gately, while maintaining his humility, reads him like a map.

Existing alongside Poor Tony Krause as he plummets ever downward is a sensory experience. A disgusting, chilling, sensory experience. This passage humanizes addiction, and paints a vivid picture of withdrawal. We see now that there will continue to be linkages between the street and Ennet House. I am going to propose that yrstruly (rom pp128-135) is Emil Minty – “Emil still had him marked for a de-mapping as a consequence of that horrid thing with Ho and Bobby C last winter” (p. 300).

After a slightly slow start to Orin’s transition from tennis to football, once Joelle and Orin’s relationship begins the space ramps up and we are given a breathtaking tour of their courtship, and quickly land on the creative relationship between Joelle and Himself, and their mutual love of substances. We learn that it was James who gave Joelle the moniker Madame Psychosis, and while several of the films Joelle worked on are mentioned if we refer back to the filmography we also see that Infinite Jest IV was this same year. And of course there is no coincidence that the aforementioned Low-Temperature Civics includes a very samizdat foreshadowing synopsis (“father has an ecstatic encounter with Death and becomes irreversibly catatonic”) and even Safe Boating is no Accident appears to foreshadow Madame Psychosis’ later donning of the UHID veil.

Further details regarding semi-fictional Quebec Separatist history are outlined (full disclosure, I am an Albertan). If I recall, we are about to get another large dose of this in the upcoming Marathe/Steeply section. We also learn that Orin is being stalked by the AFR.

And then there’s Mario. Thoughts on the odd opening sentence here? “The first birth of the Incandenza’s second son” (p. 312, italics mine). I think it is crystal clear that CT is the father of Mario, from both the suggested time frame (a “seven month term” ending in November, and CT had visited “the preceding spring” – ie: April), CT’s ongoing fear of Mario (one of my favourite endnotes is #98 which describes Avril and CT colliding in the hallway fleeing Orin and Mario respectively), and even the description of Mario’s hair’s similarity to CT’s combover. It seems that a lot of Orin’s anger towards his mother stems from her dalliances. A grad-student of psychology would want to point out that his promiscuity and obsession with married women with small children may be in some way connected.

Stray Observations (with apologies to The AV Club)

• The endnote 103 that pulls us out of the incredible cinematic experience of Poor Tony Krause’s seizure is a bit of a dick move.
• Tons of foreshadowing here – I’ll use the spoiler zone on Reddit to comment.. BUT..
• In Tony’s section please consider the personification of “time” that visits PTK in the bathroom stall. A physical being that seems to perch above him, placing foreign words in his mind (“Zuckung!”) will have resounding similarities to a situation in the final chapters. We can talk about that then.
• Troelstch reminds me of the Japanese “Howard Cosells” from the movie Better Off Dead.
• Can we talk about how the description of Steeply in drag from the Marathe/Steeply sections is incongruous with the apparent affect she has not only on Orin but other team members. Is she zaftig or monstrous?


Johanna Schwartz (@janedoughnut) is the grown up version of her nerdy kid self. She helps cooler people make cool things happen by writing grants and organizing stuff. She tears up every time she watches the Decemberists’ “Calamity Song” video.

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One thought on “Johanna Schwartz: Family, am I right?”

  1. This is a lovely wrap-up of this section, Johanna. “I hear you, Day man.”
    Esp. in regard to Geoffrey Day – who almost seems to mirror a kind of self-hatred of DFW’s former self.
    But anybody who waded through the bursting recovery book isles in the B/N bookstores had to be astounded at all the 12 Step rip-off artists.
    (My personal non-favorite was Artists-Way Julia Cameron, who I actually knew)
    Day channels Wendy Kaminer’s “I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional,” a good read from a sociological perspective.

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