David Foster Wallaces Infinite Jest: A Readers Guide (2nd Edition) (Continuum Contemporaries)

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The cruelty of Steeply's father, by contrast, is more emotional, as he shuts out his family so that he can catalog insane details from the television show he is addicted to. It is, of course, not coincidental that these destructive characters are both addicts. Encyclopedic data storage is, for Wallace, another potentially dangerous addiction, and their attempt to control data leads to larger slippages in their lives. Wallace sets against them his more positive characters, like Mario and Lyle, who "take data pretty much as it comes" p.

David Foster Wallace

They may seem to know less, but they are in many ways more alive than the other "data-entry drone [s]" p. There is something similar in William Vollmann's You Bright and Risen Angels 1 , which mocks the desire for inclusivity by incorporating a detailed list of contents for a second volume that does not exist, and features as one of its two narrators a writer who 22 Continuum Contemporaries admits that "this is a bookish novel because I, the author, know little of life" p.

But perhaps a more revealing comparison comes from a nineteenth-century writer. The roots of the term encyclopedia lie in a misreading of the Greek enkylios paidefa, and denote the circle of learning, but the many circles in Infinite Jest the "circular routine" of addiction [p. This is even stressed by the largest circle of all, the book itself. As the narrative approaches its inconclusive final stages Wallace, in a metafictional remark, observes that it is moving "toward what's either a climax or the end of the disk" p.

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But as the reader who reaches page 98 1 realizes, the final pages are not really the climax Wallace has already related the novel's end on page , but an invitation to circle back to the beginning of the narrative disk to review the crucial information from the Year of Glad.

As November snow begins to fall, one of the younger players, J. A map, as Pemulis realizes, is subject to all kinds of distortions and local disturbances that may have no relation to the complex topographies of the territory. But is it possible for some sort of perfect map to escape these limitations? Map and territory coincide point for point. The lessons of Borges's parable, though, apply not only to this scene, but also to the outline of the novel that this book offers.

While such a plan is obviously not feasible, without some help the reader faced with the novel's tangled narrative lines and scattered Infinite fes t 25 chronology may feel like they need the sort of "genius for navigating cluttered fields" p. This has apparently even been the case for professional readers. As the survey of the novel's reception in chapter three shows, reviewers perhaps understandably struggling against deadlines with such a long and complex book made both factual and interpretative errors.


  • Bibliography of Secondary Criticism.
  • Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies.
  • Vanity Fair (Penguin Classics).
  • The Phoenix.

And even so perceptive a reader as Frederick Karl has noted that, in the face of Infinite Jest's narrative looping, "a reader's guide to the novel would be helpful" p. But i f Infinite fest eludes total mapping, a small guide to this big novel is still possible because the larger outlines of the structure and chronology of Wallace's novel are themselves quite suggestive. As this is the first book to be devoted to Wallace's fiction, however, the sane cartographer has to recognize that his map will necessarily be partial, and that the collaborative work of later mapmakers will add detail and revise the terrain.

In providing this outline, though, I hope to show that, as Hal argues, "the map speaks for itself" p. To begin to map the novel itself a similar strategy is necessary. The reader has to refine much of the novel's complex plot out of their field of vision to perceive the larger skeleton of the work. Although on page 22 3 Wallace offers a chronology of the nine years of "subsidized time," the date that this sponsorship began is never explicitly given in the text.

Faced with this uncertainty, most reviewers and critics of Infinite Jest have speculated about the precise dating of the novel's action. In Tom LeClair's informative essay, for example, the novel's action is located at "about 20 1 5 " "Prodigious Fiction," p. In spite of Peck's claim, though, it is possible to precisely date the action, but to do so it is necessary to cross-reference two endnotes referring to the fictional M. Language Riots. These riots which, given that they occur in DeLillo's Ratner's Star [p. A little later in the novel, in a section from the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment abbreviated in the novel to Y.

Language Riots of twelve years past" p. From this we can deduce that Y. Although characters recall events from further back such as the career-ending knee injury which James lncandenza's father suffered in 1 9 3 3 , the earliest action which is dramatized in the novel is from 1 on pages 1 , so the temporal brackets of the novel can be set around a fifty-year period extending from 1 to 20 1 0.

This is again important because so many readers of the Infinite Jes t 27 work have found Infinite Jest diffuse, and random. Wallace's mind" p.

In fact, the divisions in the text are of more than usual importance because they allow Wallace to signal to the reader that the novel is about to shift between narrative lines, or between locations, or to move forwards or backwards in time. Wallace uses three distinct methods to mark these divisions in his text.

The first way he signals a break is by a capitalized heading which is either a date or a title. The second is by the resumption of a narrative after a clear break such as on page after a letter, or on page where an endnote intrudes. And the third is by the insertion of one of the 28 circles that interrupt the main text. Now if the novel, as I suggested in the last chapter, partly explores the encyclopedic urge to understand, measure, and categorize, then numerology is certainly one of its procedures, and it makes sense to search for some deeper significance that would explain Wallace's choice of the number One of the most suggestive occurrences of the number is revealed toward the end of the book, when the ghost of James lncandenza explains that he "spent the whole sober last ninety days of his animate life" p.

So the structure of the novel, far from being random, seems to be subtly arranged to parallel the composition of the film that it is about. At this scale we are faced with what Frederick Karl calls "an unsolvable, virtually impenetrable world of behavior" p. It is possible, though, to disentangle at least three major plot lines that unfold in Y.

By November Y. In November Y. Entangled in these two narratives is a larger political plot. The third narrative details the race between Quebecois separatists and American agents to gain a master copy of Infinite Jest 29 this film, with the separatists aiming to circulate the film to allow the American audience to fatally indulge their love of spectation, thus fracturing diplomatic relations between the United States and Canada.

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest A Reader's Guide Continuum Contemporaries

Separating the narrative out into three strands like this, however, produces a deceptively straightforward map of the work, and the novel quite explicitly resists this kind of reduction, asking "are you just looking for some Cliff-Note summary so you can incorporate the impression of depth into some new panty-removal campaign? Instead, the complex interactions of the novel's plot have more in common with the rejection of linear narrative in some of the most sophisticated post-war novels.

In terms of plot, Wallace has significant affinities with these writers. But to understand how carefully Wallace has interwoven his narratives to show this, it is necessary to analyse the plot's synchronous development according to the novel's carefully structured chronology. It takes some time to map out how this works, but I think it is worthwhile partly because what actually happens in the novel may be unclear for many readers, 30 Continuum Contemporaries but more importantly because the way events accumulate according to a tight temporal pattern tends to suggest interpretations itself.

But as the millennium approaches, Wallace begins to use temporal contiguity to subtly pair characters like Hal and Gately. For example, according to an anecdote related by his unreliable brother, Orin, in spring 1 Hal apparently eats some mold found in the basement of their Weston home. But it becomes apparent late in the book that this moment when Hal's later addiction is hinted at has been carefully timed to coincide with the failure of the "psychic emergency-brake" that has been controlling Gately's addiction p. In May 1 he fails Sophomore Composition, and as he drops out of school for a year he loses all self-control and plunges into athletically crippling drug abuse.

But this subtle doubling can, in fact, be seen to be the characteristic method of the novel, and this becomes apparent as Infinite Jest's chronology progresses.

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David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest : Stephen J. Burn :

After Christmas, Gately watches Orin Infinite Jest 31 punting, and the contrast with his own wasted football talent launches him into a depression that climaxes with his imprisonment for assaulting two bouncers. In the same holiday season a crisis point also comes for Orin's girlfriend, Joelle van Dyne. On New Year's Eve, Joelle uses cocaine in front of Orin for the first time, and it is this habit that climaxes with her attempt to commit suicide eight years later.

This personal unrest, however, is timed to coincide with political upheaval after Wallace's millennium. In this reconfigured map the United States has subsumed Mexico and Canada, with the leaders of these countries becoming secretaries of the larger entity. And again, this larger political action seems to be suggestively shadowed on the individual scale in the main narratives devoted to Gately and Hal.

But Fackelmann's bloody end with which Wallace significantly decides to close Infinite Jest is presum- 32 Co ntinuum Co ntempo rarie s ably intended to prophesize the violence which reconfiguration will bring.

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's Guide By Stephen J Burn (Englis

The next few years are punctuated with significant events, as the narrative gathers pace. In , James lncandenza films Infinite fest, commits suicide on April l, and is buried on April 5 or 6 in a small town called St. Two years later rumors of lncandenza's fatally-compelling film apparently begin to circulate, but it is in that the crisis that will ultimately entangle all three of the main narratives takes place. DuPlessis" p. But who could Kite fence them to? The obvious suspect is Dr. Robert "Sixties Bob" Monroe, "an inveterate collector and haggling trader of shit," who, Wallace tells the reader, sometimes "informally fenc ed] stuff for Kite" p.

DuPlessis's Infinite fest cartridge is "secured and verified" p. From the description given toward the end of the novel of Sixties Bob p. At the same time, a remorseful Gately becomes convinced that a vengeful attorney, who has been 34 Continuum Contempora ries waiting to settle a long-term grudge against him, will recognize his hand in this crime, so the penitent burglar decides to hide out in Ennet House.

In the same autumn Gately stops taking drugs, while Hal begins getting high every day. The consequences of this autumn begin to take shape in Y. On the fifth anniversary of James lncandenza's death, a copy of Infinite Jest is mailed to a Canadian medical attache whose affair with Avril had been "especially torturing" to her husband p. This last event, in particular, provides an especially neat demonstration of the way Wallace skillfully connects his narratives. Hal's first sight of the drug comes after Pemulis has purchased it on November 4.

Pemulis has bought the drug from Tony Krause's acquaintances, the Antitoi brothers. A further layer, though, is added by the fact that Moment magazine, for whom Steeply is posing as a journalist, has run an article on DMZ, so all three central narratives are carefully brought together around this incident. Steeply is also present at the Eschaton brawl on November 8, watching from his "mint-green advertorial Ford sedan" p.