Category Archives: Posts from the Guides

You. Me. And Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest Project: Phase 3 (p 1-200) photography by PD Rearick
Infinite Jest Project: Phase 3 (p 1-200)
photography by PD Rearick

Drano with the blue like glitter shit. blue string. turned light blue. Orangeline. green pastures. Mmyellow. orange peels.

That, there, is a delicious line-up of images. This stuff gets me right back to feeling so fine, even though I have no idea who all these characters are—and how they can possibly fit into what seems to be a series of story lines flying by me at an almost standstill Kate Gompert pace.

I’m cool. Well, I think I’m gonna be cool—gonna be cool if I just focus in on remembering if my memory of drano includes…blue glitter?

I’m fucked.

red. and gray. school colors. undulating systems of flesh-colored squares.

Love it.

flesh-colored squares. blacktop. discolored. yellow balls.

What?!

brown color. dull-colored. Original color. bit-lip red. red of a well-bit lip.

This is so good! But wait.

I don’t actually know what this book is even about. No, wait. Hold on. I remember something crazy:

Someone stole someone’s heart, literally. But no one understood.

I do know some of what happened.

Someone died. Someone didn’t. Someone didn’t die, yet. Someone wished they were dead. Someone felt alive.

Someone seemed all consumed with waiting.

Waiting. Wait, are you waiting as well? Waiting for what, waiting to understand?

Waiting to understand. Wait, about the book, Infinite Jest—or your real life?

Both. Both?! Me too!

Ok then, let’s keep reading.

Thanks for doing this with me. Really. Thx.

A Question of Less Talent Than Temperament

Vertiginously sequestered, their Bröckengespensted shadows distending and returning, monstrously, far below, Remy Marathe and Hugh/Helen Steeply’s double-/triple-/quadruple-crossing, mutually quasi-interrogative (maybe) and (definitely, very) discursive conversation seems outside of time, somehow.

Time is, of course, relative; and Wallace achieves this sense of timelessness (partly) by contrasting S&M’s (how can I not call them that? It’s worth it just for the effect it’ll have on search results) suspended night against the way the book’s section’s other scenes jump, latter season Lost­-like, from date to date, period to period.

But a text is not a self-contained thing. It has to be read, and in being read is reshaped. Our experience of time in Infinite Jest is also relative to our experience of time outside it.

With Infinite Winter’s brisk elevenish pages a day pace, that means that S&M’s night over the desert distends to more like a week. At just one page per day – my pace for Drawing on the Infinite – what we’ve read so far of this conversation was spread over 40 days.

I think these scenes can be challenging enough at our Infinite Winter pace, but when you read as slowly as I do for my drawing project (or Jenni does for Erasing Infinite), knowing how far these scenes stretch out in front of you – in days and in weeks – puts you in a very strange headspace.

When I was just one month into Drawing on the Infinite, I wrote that the project was not quite about drawing and not quite about reading, but the two working somehow in tandem. And I didn’t quite know how at that point.

The same stretch of pages we’ve just read last week – including Steeply & Marathe, including Kate Gompert, the locker room scene, the Big Buddies – saw me start to peek over that wall of understanding and hop some of my own reading and drawing plateaus (plateaux).

I want to share a couple of photos that, I hope, will illustrate what I mean.

Katherine Gompert was the first character whose head I truly got into, drawing-wise. Wallace renders her depression so acutely (there are some striking parallels w/ his early and quite autobiographical The Planet Trillaphon as it Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing) that it’s almost impossible to not to feel it right along with her. This is the first time I feel like I really succeeded in capturing a character’s emotion, but she still seems kinda 2-D.

73/1079 "It's like horror more than sadness. It's more like horror."
73/1079 “It’s like horror more than sadness. It’s more like horror.”

In stark contrast, it’s not easy to even know what Steeply & Marathe are thinking and feeling at any time. If your whole aim is to depict how they’re feeling, this can pose a bit of a challenge. Here’s how I saw Marathe throughout his talk with Steeply (you can probably tell I read a couple of “How to Construct Head” tutorials around this time).

"Marathe's eyes looked nearly closed."
“Marathe’s eyes looked nearly closed.”

When (I confess) I had drawn, alternately, Marathe and Steeply as many times as I felt I was able, I started to focus on the line work and slightly more abstract style I had begun experimenting with around the time of the “TE OCCIDERE POSSUNT SED TE EDERE NON POSSUNT NEFAS EST” drawing. The little accountant’s ledger, for soberly deciding what to love, was drawn the morning after my son was born.

108/1079 "You sit down with your little accountant's ledger and soberly decide what to love?"
108/1079 “You sit down with your little accountant’s ledger and soberly decide what to love?”

To this day, Steeply’s hand (!) is one of my favourite drawings, and possibly the one I’m still proudest of. Not least because it’s a drawing of a hand (!), but because the narrow anatomical focus let me get past Marathe’s perception of Steeply’s “grotesque” disguise and capture something about this (in my opinion) sad, Self-sacrificing (capital intended) and probably fairly lonely man.

"Steeply flicked some ashes from his cigarette with a coarse thumb-gesture that was not yet feminine."
“Steeply flicked some ashes from his cigarette with a coarse thumb-gesture that was not yet feminine.”

My opinion: this last picture shows some decent line work (certainly a lot more confidence than the pictures in last week’s post), better construction and three-dimensionness (I’m sure real artists have a real word for this) and some pretty good character insight; but I need to qualify this with a stronger opinion.

I don’t think I have any particular talent for drawing – it’s just (as Chu says Wayne says) a question of less talent than temperament. If I had to break up my drawings so far into three phases (like J.O.I.’s film career divides into three clear phases), I’d do it like this:

  • P3-73: slog

  • P74-127: progress (I)

  • P128-186: plateau (I)

And, yeah, I’d say that plateauing is frustrating, and humbling and everything that Chu says Wayne says it is. But rereading these pages reminds me that only by hanging in, being patient and putting in the practice will I get to see progress (II).

One way my project has evolved since the beginning of phase 3 is the occasional use of watercolour, so to end this week’s post I have a reissue of page 122’s – and I think maybe Corrie’s favourite – drawing (now in glorious colour!) from a scene whose tenderness I didn’t notice till I read and drew it one page at a time.

122/1079 "a Husky VI-brand telescoping tripod, new and dully silvery-looking and set up on its three legs, right in the middle of the thicket."
122/1079 “a Husky VI-brand telescoping tripod, new and dully silvery-looking and set up on its three legs, right in the middle of the thicket.”

A Face to Meet the Faces That You Meet

A few weeks ago, as I was preparing to record an episode of The Great Concavity podcast via Skype, I exchanged the following message with one of the show’s hosts:

Me: Is this call audio-only or do you turn your cameras on?
Matt: We turn the cameras off. No awkward videophony allowed.

Because, of course, what I was really asking was, “In addition to worrying about sounding interesting and likable in this audio recording, do I also have to worry about visually hiding this worry from you so that I seem like a completely relaxed, well-adjusted person?” 

"Monstrous," erasure from pg. 147 of Infinite Jest.

This kind of questioning plays out in this week’s readings on both the macro level — when we hear about the rise and fall of videophony — and the micro level, as we get some additional exposure to Hal’s inner thoughts in the locker room and Big Buddy scenes.

On a first reading, we might be tempted to write off the teleputer users described in this section as simply vain. Yet, the desire to look “incredibly fit and attractive” to others is about more than aesthetics.

Even with high-end TPs’ high-def viewer-screens, consumers perceived something essentially blurred and moist-looking about their phone-faces, a shiny pallid indefiniteness that struck them as not just unflattering but somehow evasive, furtive, untrustworthy, unlikeable….Almost 50% of respondents who received visual access to their own faces during videophonic calls specifically used the terms untrustworthy, unlikeable or hard to like in describing their own visage’s appearance.

In other words, we feel that what we look like physically says something about the nature of our character (see: every Disney film) and how others will perceive us. Complicating matters is that it is “weirdly hard to evaluate what you yourself look like.” If we can’t accurately assess our own appearance, how can we know how others will view us and, in turn, our character?

Eleven-year old E.T.A. student Evan Ingersoll is Hal’s videophony.

Hal is in the middle of a big change. Having previously “identified himself as a lexical prodigy…plus a really good tennis player,” he is now being “encouraged to identify himself as a late-blooming prodigy and possible genius at tennis who is on the verge of making every authority-figure in his world and beyond very proud indeed.” There are a lot of eyes on him right now, including his own.

And yet, he finds it hard to evaluate what he himself looks like. Only when he’s high and talking to Orin do we start to see him question “whether or not he was really all that intelligent.” And when it comes to Hal’s urge to be cruel to Ingersoll, it’s Lyle the guru who has to point out what Hal can’t see:

Hal some weeks back had acquiesced to Lyle’s diagnosis that Hal finds Ingersoll – this smart soft caustic kid, with a big soft eyebrowless face and unwrinkled thumb-joints, with the runty cuddled look of a Mama’s boy from way back, a quick intelligence he squanders on an insatiable need to advance some impression of himself – that the kid so repels Hal because Hal sees in the kid certain parts of himself he can’t or won’t accept. None of this ever occurs to Hal when Ingersoll’s in the room. He wishes him ill.

Like the teleputer users who engaged in videophony, Hal suddenly spots parts of himself that he finds unlikeable, and tries to advance an impression of himself that disguises those parts. The challenge, as we’ve already seen in the opening Year of Glad section, comes when the impression you’re trying so hard to advance doesn’t match what other people see.

TUESDAY, 3 NOVEMBER YDAU LOCKER ROOM POST-MATCH POP QUIZ

Opening this post by telling you that week two’s reading contains one of my favorite passages in all of Infinite Jest seems ill-advised and like I’m jumping the superlative gun. It seems pretty likely I’ll repeat this statement anywhere between one and, oh, 11 more times, it being so early in the game, but I can’t resist.

1640h.: the Comm.-Ad. Bldg.’s males’ locker room is full of clean upperclassmen in towels after P.M. matches…

At this point, we’ve already seen a bit of Hal, but this post-match banter fest in the locker room is our first real view into the kaleidoscopic range of personalities that are the ETA upperclassmen – at least the ones we’re currently concerned with. Here are Troelsch, Pemulis, Wayne, Stice, Struck, Freer and Hal (with “distant ghastly sounds from T. Schacht over in one of the stalls off the showers”) sprawled out in white towels (Stice in black) just shootin’ the tennis and high-level esoteric optics breeze.

We learn a few things here. Not the least of which is that Canadians, generally speaking, lift one leg slightly when farting. Which fact, as an American, I was wholly ignorant of.

We also learn a bit about these ETA boys. To continue a metaphor introduced by my Canadian friend Dave, we begin to fit together the puzzle pieces of their characters and the (frequently hilarious) interplay between them.

Not everything here is what you’d call a defining characteristic – some of it is downright minutia – small like the size of the boil on the inside of Schacht’s thigh. Just the right size for a pop quiz.

TUESDAY, 3 NOVEMBER YDAU LOCKER ROOM POST-MATCH POP QUIZ
You are cordially invited to answer any questions you wish in the comments below (no peeking).

  1. Who loves to sing around tile?
  2. Who suffers from arthritic gout in his right knee?
  3. Who always buttons his shirt right up to the top button?
  4. Whose nickname is The Darkness?
  5. Who can stand only about ten seconds of communal silence?
  6. Whose locker is neat and organized?
  7. What exactly does “slip on the old environmental unit” mean? Seriously, can somebody please tell me? Because I’ve got some atonal jazz cued up right here.
  8. Name one Lemon Pledge devotee.
  9. Who looks like he’s always getting shocked or throttled?
  10. Define acutance. Anybody?

Bonus questions from big buddy sessions:

  1. Which little buddy has a faint hot doggish smell about him?
  2. Name one player who can sleep with his eyes open.
  3. Who speaks for Wayne about tennis mastery plateaux?
  4. Who wears Mr. Bouncety-Bounce shoelaces?
  5. Name the three types of players who don’t “hang in there and slog on the patient road to mastery.” Or name one.
  6. Who worries about having to fart on court?
  7. Name two players who fantasize about hurting Evan Ingersoll.
  8. Who demonstrates proper oral hygiene for his ephebes?
  9. Who says “E Unibus Pluram” and what is it in reference to?
  10. Who tells Kent Blott to purchase a clue?

slip on the old environmental unit and listen to some atonal jazz

None Shall Pass

 

I feel like such a latecomer to the Infinite Jest party. I had not even heard of David Foster Wallace until the spring of 2009 – about six months after his death – when my wife’s book club read Consider the Lobster. And it would be another three and a half years before I would finally finish reading Infinite Jest. But it was not for a lack of trying.

After spending the summer of 2009 binge-reading Wallace’s nonfiction and some of his short stories, I took the plunge and bought a copy of IJ. I started reading it that fall, but standing in my way was Ken Erdedy. Like the Black Knight in Monty Python blocking King Arthur’s way, Erdedy stood there proclaiming, “None shall pass.” Hal’s interview at UofA and its ensuing chaos were no problem, but Erdedy was too great an adversary. [1]

Image 69 Ken ErdedyCall me a lightweight; call me a noob; call me whatever you want, but those twelve anxiety-filled pages of Ken Erdedy waiting for the woman to bring him the dope proved to be too much for me. So many have said that Wallace becomes the voice in our own head as we read him, and this was certainly the case during the first… and second… and third times I attempted to read Infinite Jest. Erdedy’s anxiety became my anxiety. And each time, I was putting down the book before the phone and doorbell could simultaneously ring at the end of that section. Erdedy – the Black Knight – firmly stood his ground.

“None shall pass.”

But you know what they say, the fourth time’s the charm. A few years later, [2] after reading almost everything in Wallace’s canon but Infinite Jest, I decided to tackle it again. And somehow, I made it past the Black Knight and into the rest of the book. [3]

Image 02 Hal InterviewBut it’s not just the Ken Erdedy passage that resonated so deeply with me. Like Hal, I have been frustrated by my inability to communicate with those around me. [4] Like Hal’s father, I have felt the desperation of not being able to effectively communicate with my own children. [5] And like the medical attache, I too often feel the need to unwind after a long day’s work with some mindless entertainment. [6] And I have felt Hal’s frustration with Mario as I lie in bed trying to sleep, only to have someone wanting to talk my ear off. [7]

Image 05 JOI GraveAs I embark on this attempt to read Infinite Jest a second time, it is these moments that draw me deeper into the book. These characters, who will seem like family in a few weeks, beckon me to join them once again on this epic journey. I’ve made it past Sir Ken Erdedy, and I’m ready for what’s in store.


 

[1]  My response was likely caused by – or at least strongly tied to – my own struggles with anxiety. This was right about the time that I was formally diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorders.

[2] By this time, with the help of a good therapist and the right medications, I had my own anxiety issues under control. Perhaps this was what enabled me to conquer the Erdedy section.

[3] I will leave that statement as vague as possible so as not to be accused of publishing any spoilers.

[4] However, I’ve never been tackled in a men’s room and hauled off in an ambulance. I speak more metaphorically here.

[5] Again, speaking metaphorically. I’ve never been so desperate as to pose as a “professional conversationalist.” Although I wonder if such a job exists. What do you think a professional conversationalist might get paid? What kind of medical benefits might they get? Just wondering.

[6] But once again, not to the extreme that he unwittingly does.

[7] And although the sections about Don Gately and Kate Gompert are some of my favorites – or at least they are two of my favorite characters – I have neither burglarized the house of a Quebecois terrorist, nor been placed on suicide watch in a mental hospital.

Into the Fray

Okay, so we’re definitely all doing this thing, yeah? Cool.

So now that all the preparatory hype and fanfare have cooled off and we’re in the textual trenches, who needs a drink?

It’s a hard assignment to write a guiding post about the first 63ish pages of Infinite Jest, as the level of guidance it really requires entails a gross amount of spoilage. We’ve been served a collection of disparate vignettes so far, from Hal’s psychic meltdown or whatever that is, to a flashback about mold ingestion, a dude called Erdedy losing his mind while trying not to lose his mind while waiting for weed, a weird psychiatric role-play between Hal and his dad, a nameless medical attaché going catatonic watching some unmarked cartridge, an eyebrow-raising Ebonics passage that comes off in 2016 as perhaps being racially distasteful (not that the year makes any difference [there’s a great BBC The Office bit about this]), a pretty good joke about a dyslexic insomniac agnostic, a remarkably fraught NFL kicker, another big thing about weed (this time in subterranean tunnels), another drug addict named Don Gately accidentally murdering a Canadian and probing himself anally with the toothbrushes of B&E victims, a sick kid named Jim who plays tennis, some very specific stuff about Canada (like, more than most of us would probably care to know [I say this as a Canadian]), and finally to some unsettling dreams about tennis and evil. And yes, that was a long sentence, but you’re conditioned to those now, I would imagine.

I listened the Strange Projections podcast episode “Grinding It Out” this week about their experience reading the first quarter of Infinite Jest, and it reveals a certain kind of misanthropic nature to the novel, that it appears to be deliberately unpleasant to read in various extended sections. I see their point, and found their exposition quite humorous, even if I am one of those “fuckers over at InfiniteWinter.org,” haha.

My experience of Jest isn’t quite as negative as Lou and Adam’s, but I appreciate that the first read of this opening section is pretty disjointed and maybe even a little unfriendly. I’m sure we’ve all heard Wallace’s comments to Larry McCaffery that this is somewhat intentional, that serious art requires hard work to “access its pleasures,” but the extent of the difficulty here, according to Lou and Adam, is that Wallace wants to beat the readers into submission, to murder them, to have them die. I wouldn’t go this far, but I appreciate the comedic hyperbole of their claims.

At this point, we know that some of these things in Jest’s opening pages are connected. We know there are three brothers with varying levels of psychic and physical challenges, that weed and addiction appear to be a major themes, and that a trailer-dwelling, snake-handling drug dealer may be of some importance.

I wish you way more than luck in Week 2, and leave you with this parting gift named for the opening chapter you read this past week:

From Citrus Colors to Kate Gompert’s Gray Lonely

Infinite Jest Project: Phase 3 (p 1-100) photography by PD Rearick
Infinite Jest Project: Phase 3 (p 1-100)
photography by PD Rearick
Kate Gompert really knows how to sink her teeth and hands and heart and feet into things. She has extraordinarily displaced tenacity. AND she has a brooding sexiness. Kate is a form of stationary proof (that isn’t a term— I made it up) in Infinite Jest. Proof that tenacity is attainable. People care most about how to find tenacity, not necessarily what type of tenacity in the moments when they have forgotten how to have tenacity at all.

For humans being so recently nomadic, not moving (nearly at all)—definitely has boldness to it. It is contrast. It is the idea that a person will likely die from not moving before they would die from being attacked. David Foster Wallace uses contrast to emphasize how extreme we can be in our differences and motivations. What happened in your head when the story shifts from the hot, bright and active tennis courts to Kate Gompert’s gray lonely? Check out the shift of colors and subjects between the two stories:

citrus colors
blue-blazered
fresh yellow
white sun-umbrella
hair white
pink-cheeked

blue jeans
dark-blue boating sneakers
green or yellow case on the plastic pillow
black bangs
pink Quiet Room
blue gum
gray lonely

For the first forty-something pages, keeping track of the colors helped me focus my way into getting hooked on Infinite Jest. On my second read (I wasn’t kidding about getting hooked) the list of colors became a clearly condensed narration of Infinite Jest when paired with the nouns they described. They also became a condensed depiction of the extreme transitions between stories. I think, in a way, it made the stories unfold more rapidly than they would have if I were not taking notes.

So what is revealing itself as you read? Have you thought about keeping track of anything in particular as you read, and how? My notes started as a focusing device and became an art project. Then the Infinite Jest Project somehow got me to try social media, and Infinite Jest readers got me to stay.

And this is how and why I’m here.

 

Unafraid to Kill It

Has reading Infinite Jest been rewarding so far?

Go with your gut.

I am in here. (Hal, p3)

Your answer may very well be no (and that’s cool), but I want to pull this question apart a little and make a case for yes: at least, it can be.

11 i ate this

What’s so far? Readers of Infinite Jest can’t even agree on how long the book is, but I trust Wikipedia (they are, after all, peer-reviewed out the wazoo) when they put it at 543,709. We read 61 pages in week one. That’s only 5.6%, but based on Wikipedia’s unassailable figures that means we’ve read somewhere north of 30,000 words.

but he was afraid that if he came closer and saw it closer he would kill it, and he was afraid to kill it. (Erdedy, p17)

David Foster Wallace isn’t exactly (say) a Ludlum, King, Brown, or Larsson. He’s not going to start throwing out typical thank-you-for-reading-30K-words-of-my-fiction rewards like characters’ full emotional arcs, resolution of narrative tension (“story”) or even point out connections between individual characters and scenes this early in the novel. Nuh-uh. No way.

He was unsure what the thing inside him was and was unprepared to commit himself to the course of action that would be required to explore the question. (Erdedy, p20)

But I don’t think that’s entirely true.

but he’d just sat there squeezing the ball, looking at the bird, without a conscious thought in his head. (Orin, p44)

Wallace isn’t going to just hand you these things like a piping hot shari’a-halal dinner on a tray, but they’re there – or their seeds are being subtly sewn – if you’re willing to get close enough, flat-out full-bore delve into the text, and work for them.

which fact Hal obviously likes a lot, on some level, though he’s never given much thought to why. (Hal, p51)

Work-wise, I remember the Erdedy scene being a slog just to get through the first time I read Infinite Jest. I just wanted it to be over. Every word, every sentence – every page long paragraph was something to be endured. It was hard work, you know?

22 erdedy

It wasn’t until (at least) the second read that I started to recognise in poor Ken Erdedy himself my feelings about this scene: the dread, the impatience, anxiety, (a touch of boredom even?) and fatigue from just having to endure it.

E.T.A is laid out like a cardioid, with the four main inwards-facing bldgs. convexly rounded at the back and sides (p983)

What’s insidious is that these kinds of feelings are usually a push-from, not a pulling-towards. Have you ever said that you were bored or impatient or exhausted with someone and really meant that as in with them, like really with them, as in empathetically?

(Hal will descend and walk and then hunch [Hal, p52])

Power to you if you have, because I think it’s probably beyond my meagre abilities without help from an author of Wallace’s calibre. It sure can’t be easy to put these feelings down on paper and have them actually felt by Joe Reader sitting on the couch, the bus, Starbucks, under a solid wholesome tree (or whatever) either.

Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It’s hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency. (Hal, p54)

Despite (maybe) first appearances, Wallace doesn’t exactly stiff the reader when it comes to making connections either from the micro-level (think spiders, circles, Byzantine erotica, moustaches or Toblerone) expanding fractally ever outwards to the macro (I can’t tell without spoiling anything!) to the super-metafictionally-titty-pinching-Wallace-Special-macro level.

59 marathe

Here’s where my post’s own big emotional and epiphanic denouement would come if I wasn’t short-sheeting you.  But, okay, I don’t quite believe that either. Half the fun of Infinite Jest is in untying all its knots and I believe I’d be a pretty poor guide if I just went and did it for you. I’m just here to nudge.

The reason being it’s a lot easier to fix something is you can see it. (E.T.A., p55)

Why I’m here at all though is because Mark noticed my daily Infinite Jest drawings and recognised the true obsession that drives it (cf. last week’s post). There’s a slight problem with trying to mush-up these two projects though: Infinite Winter covers 75 pages a week, but my Drawing on the Infinite project only covers seven pages a week. Infinite Winter will outstrip me in two weeks (I actually am going to talk about my drawings next week: the project hits six months on Tuesday), so each week I’ll cap my posts off with a new drawing from that week’s pages.

People turned out so identical in certain root domestic particulars it made Gately feel strange sometimes, like he was in possession of certain overlarge private facts to which no man should be entitled. Gately had a way stickier conscience about the possession of some of these large particular facts than he did about making off with other people’s merchandise. (Gately, p57)

This week’s comes from Hal and Mario’s p42 conversation about The Moms and is an image that, for me, sums up the way Infinite Jest’s emotional energy in toto.

‘There’s another way though. You can also just raise the pole. You can raise the pole to like twice its original height. You get me? You understand what I mean, Mario?’
‘There’s another way though. You can also just raise the pole. You can raise the pole to like twice its original height. You get me? You understand what I mean, Mario?’

O, Anxiety

Orin is one of my favorite Infinite Jest characters.

I like Orin for many of the same reasons I appreciate Ben Linus from LOST and Snape in the Harry Potter series. He’s clearly got some issues and doesn’t always act in the most morally or socially upright manner, but from the beginning you know there’s something more lurking underneath the surface — something that presses you to look through the character flaws. I mean, who among us hasn’t had a bathroom full of roaches asphyxiating under tumblers at one point or another?

We first really get to know Orin and his anxiety in October of Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. The way Wallace shows rather than tells us about Orin’s dread is so good it belongs in any intro to creative writing textbook. The language too, contributes mightily. A few observations:

Unpack Your Adjectives

(Get my reference? Anyone? Okay, anyways.) The Orin section contains so many anxiety-ridden adjectives and adverbs it might as well be a thesaurus entry for the phase “THE WORST.”

Infinite Jest Orin Incandenza Wordle

The Long and Short of It

Next, while long sentences are a David Foster Wallace trademark (try your hand here), they take on additional significance in the Orin section of this week’s reading. Consider that this section of the book is composed in free indirect speech — in other words, written how Orin might think and speak. Combine that knowledge with the fact that racing thoughts are a common symptom of anxiety disorders, and you have another tack to investigate. Longer sentences = racing thoughts = anxiety.

Count the number of words in a sentence, plot it on a graph, and you’ll see a slowly rising tension throughout the section, with sentences containing increasing number of words towards the end.

Infinite Jest Sentence Length - Orin Incandenza

What are those peaks? When we look at the three longest sentences in the section, we see Orin referencing:

  • Flying roaches and dead-body mudslides in New Orleans (201 words, starting with “The parishes around N.O…”)
  • Subjects who are still there when Orin wakes up (139 words, starting with “It’s the mornings after…”)
  • Being forced to watch a CBC documentary on schizophrenia where a patient endures his worst fears via treatment doled out by medical professionals  (413 words, starting with “And so but since…”)

A Is for Anxiety

Finally there are a lot of “A” words in this section and, happenstance or not, a lot of these words correspond to people, places and things that compound Orin’s anxiety:

  • Academy (ETA)
  • Acid
  • Albertan(s)
  • Altitude
  • Ambush
  • Arizona
  • Avril

Needless to say, Orin is one of the characters I’ll be paying more attention to on this re-read, along with the language Wallace deploys when talking about him.

Catch anything else about this section of the book? I hope you’ll share your observations and insights with me in the comments section.

Dancing Cockroach GIF

Overheard Conversational Fragment , Denver, CO, Monday, 8 February – Year of the Hoverboard Dual-Wheeled, Self-Balancing Scooter

So. What’s that you’re reading?

Um. Infinite Jest.

Huh. Looks big. What’s it about?

Well, so far it’s about this pot-smoking, OED-memorizing, tennis prodigy type kid whose inability to communicate is like legendarily horrifying and otherworldly…

Huh. Sounds…

Except when it’s just not. And the OED-tennis kid’s psychically-dark, bizarrely roach-phobic, older brother is a pro football punter for the Arizona Cardinals slash serial Arizona womanizer with like mommy issues…

So, it’s…

And this huge drug addict slash burglar with a square type head who sort of accidentally offs this old, rhinovirally-afflicted Quebecois separatist person while robbing the guy’s house…

Quebecois…?

And then the ear, nose and throat medical attachê consultant to the personal physician of some Saudi Prince, who (the medical attachê) has  got to have his T.P. cartridges and shari’a-halal dinner arranged for him just so, or he goes apeshit…

Yeah, and tennis, though. Because the whole thing is so far largely set at this uppity, pedagogically-experimental Boston tennis academy evidently founded by the secretly high-getting OED-tennis kid and pro football brother’s family, which the father, now deceased, was some sort of optical physics slash conceptual film genius whose films include… Well, don’t get me started on endnote 24.

Endnote 24?

Yeah. With like the lexically-gifted tennis kid’s somehow damaged other brother who nevertheless being the father’s directorial assistant and also something of a filmic wunderkind in his own right, and the grammar-nazi moms who may or may not have connections in the aforementioned Quebecois separatist world to anti-O.N.A.N. wheelchair assassins, but evidently has had quote unquote 30 or more liaisons with these Near Eastern medical attachês, who, frankly speaking, probably should avoid the viewing of unlabeled T.P. cartridges of questionable origin like the post-annular plague. If you know what I mean.

… ?

So.

So… It’s about tennis?

Yeah… Pretty much.

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