Week Five – Pages 283-358* (endnotes 93-140)

Week Five – Pages 283-358* (endnotes 93-140)

Wherein we traverse 47 endnotes (!), get some perspective on Orin and JvD’s relationship, shudder in a bathroom stall with Poor Tony Krause, brush up on our Quebecois separatist history, understand the extent of Mario’s disfigurements, check in with Marathe and Steeply, and learn about Eschaton.

*The reading schedule for this week ends abruptly in the middle of our first real dive into Boston’s AA community. If it is alright with everyone, I would like to hold off on that section until next week so we can talk about it as a whole, and constrain ourselves this week by ending at the disastrous Eschaton game, (so up to page 342 instead).

 We learn more about Orin’s transition from tennis to football, and his relationship with P.G.O.A.T. Joelle van Dyne (aka  Madam Psychosis).

The way that Avril plays Orin to go to Boston U. is a very clear view into their distorted relationship. Orin describes Avril as “a contortionist with other peoples bodies.”

Ugh – I just think CT is a mealy-mouthed usurper.

We move very quickly in this section from Orin’ full ride to Boston U, his transfer from tennis to trying out for football because of a certain baton twirler, the moment of fate that reveals his true talent at punting, the courtship of JvD (who approached him), their moving in together, her budding drug addiction, finally to  her later film work with JOI. It’s a very dense, and narratively traditional, excepting the 11 endnotes that are peppered throughout.

Some notes on the endnotes in this section:

  • I love the description of Avril and CT colliding in the hallway as they avoided Orin and Mario, respectively (e. 98)
  • I know who Andrea Dworkin is, but is Pizzatola anyone I should have head of? No google results found (e.105)

It’s November 14, YDAU, the last day of Poor Tony Krause’s life.

There is only one endnote in this section, so there is very little to break the grotesque description of Tony’s withdrawl and resulting death on the subway, though the one endnote on “Then he had a seizure”  (p. 305)  jumps us out of the frame, just to learn the scientific definition of a seizure, before we jump back into the subway car. This section is so moving, so heart-breaking. We also learn it was Tony indeed who stole the heart in the purse, and know that he also has a connection to the Antitoi Bros. The German word Zuckung, which means convulsion, is somehow put in his head.  Poor Tony Krause.

While ETA has rigorous academics, the prorector’s classes are a bit…off.

We get another peek into ETA which starts from the perspective of Ted Schacht, and then seamlessly moves into Hal’s POV.

E. 110 includes the phone message from Orin, the letter from Avril and Orin’s form letter response. and Hal and Orin’s phone call about why Quebec would make an abrupt right face and fight O.N.A.N. ‘for” Canada, and mention of Steeply’s questions about the samizdat, as well as twelve subnotes to the endnote.

Poor Mario Incandenza…


Tim Kreider | thepaincomics.com

The description of all of Mario’s birth defects just goes on and on. [Rob – you’ll look up all the medical terms for us, right?] The section opens with the odd sentence “The first birth of the Incandenza’s second son was a surprise” (emphasis mine).

We also learn that optics have played a role in the history of the Incandenzas going way back (his great-grandfather invented xray specs), and an odd endnote (e. 114) shifts time by announcing that the Year of Glad was indeed the last year of subsidized time, assuming a historic perspective from the author.

There are also the two “overshot the chance to add….” endnote addendums. I can’t articulate why that is funny to me.

Back to the ledge with Marathe and Steeply

This conversation seems to basically re-summarize the 18 page endnote  phone conversation of Orin and Hal. Do we really learn anything new from this section?


Twenty-one pages are dedicated to the description of a game of Eschaton gone horribly, horribly wrong. It’s a huge section that just whipped by for me (much like the next one on AA meetings did, which we can talk about as a whole next week). It’s also Interdependence Day (apt to be posting this on July 4), and there is a stranger in a green car watching the game.

It’s another great piece that really fills out the ETA universe, with detailed descriptions of the students and the game.

But Hal sure is acting strange, and we are kept at a distance from his thoughts that we aren’t accustomed to. He seems to be struggling to articulate his ideas, the narrative voice just scratches the surface, and never dives deeper, and near the end, Hal feels at his face to see if he is wincing (p. 342), a gesture we saw in the opening section of the book in the Year of Glad. It’s November 8, YDAU. Have we started to lose Hal already?


This section was pure joy for me to read as it was a prime example of DFW’s playful fuckery w/r/t the endnote structures. We are tossed all around in terms of voice, time, perspective. It’s a complete, beautiful mess. I was tickled by Pemulis’ narrative on the Mean-value formula, as told to and later transcribe by Hal, who interrupts editorially. It assumes Pemulis/Hal are indeed writing this to someone – are they speaking directly to us? Endnote 127 seems to be written entirely by Pemulis, who can’t help himself by adding a “P.S. Wolf-spiders Ruleth the Land.” Also, what on earth did Pemulis do to the mirror to torment M.H. Penn?

Whew, ok so that’s all I have so far. I wish I could eloquently describe just how tickled i am by the endnote structure.

And I want to leave you with this:


  1. Caitlin Crockard

    I’m exactly a week behind, and people have likely already moved on to the Week 6 post, but felt like chiming in for the first time anyhow.

    This was alternately a very frustrating and almost exhilarating section to read. The straight-up narratives and descriptions of Orin’s move to football and relationship with Joelle, Poor Tony Krause’s fate (I have never felt so squirmy and awful reading a passage before), and Mario’s physical disabilities all moved very quickly and compellingly. But then I got totally bogged down in first the conversation between Orin and Hal about Quebec separatism, and the Eschaton section.

    I don’t quite know what to think of Orin and Hal’s telephone conversations. I feel as though they are a way to fill in plot points, and it’s an interesting choice but I’m not always entirely sure why DFW made the choice — Mario’s birth story was told by a narrator (and I loved the “overshot the point to tell you this” footnotes that Johanna pointed out), while the details of James’ suicide were covered in a conversation. I mean, I get that the conversation shows how Orin had been absent from the family and didn’t know the details of his own father’s death, but something about both extended conversations I’ve read now just seem a little forced, or something. I can’t quite explain it. It’s like Orin is standing in for the reader on plot points and political context that we’re supposed to pick up, and these conversations are a handy summarizing way to do it. I don’t know why this is bothering me when we get tossed around all the time in this book to different narrative formats and narrators and so on, but for some reason it’s something that stood out to me.

    I loved the structure of the Eschaton section — the build up from extremely technical and precise game set up to all-out violent chaos at the end — but pretty much hated reading it. I skimmed the calculations and technical descriptions very quickly, unsure of what I could get out of even trying to follow it. I was much happier when just kind of floating above the detail and getting a more watercolour view of that section, if that makes sense.

    But back to Poor Tony Krause for a moment…I thought the descriptions of time passing, while he was undergoing withdrawal, were particularly brilliant: “time began to pass with sharp edges. Its passage in the dark or dimlit stall was like time being carried by a procession of ants.”….”After more time then ceased to move or be moved or be move-throughable and assumed a shape above and apart, a huge, musty-feathered, orange-eyed wingless fowl hunched incontinent atop the stall”…”time’s cadences–jagged and cold and smelling oddly of deodorant — entered his body via several openings — cold the way only damp cold is cold…time ambient and in the air and entering and exiting at will, coldly; and the pain of his breath against his teeth.” As I get tossed about this novel, sometimes willingly and sometimes less so, it’s lines like these that really ground the book, for me, in something both visceral and beautiful.

  2. Bill Sweeney

    I somehow locked myself out but with help of Joanna have returned to the fold. Funny how that coincided with falling behind on assignments but that is certainly a coincidence.
    It’s fairly late so I’ll only make up a few things and try to reconnoiter tomorrow.

    I meant to post something about the funny accident claims report from earlier in the book. I am familiar with it as song by the Irish folk group the Dubliners. Here’s a clip:

    I talked to my wife – who having played in high school (in England!) and on organized recreational basis is a knowledgeable tennis fan, as opposed to ordinary tennis fan me – about this made up game, specifically the use of lobbing in it and throughout the book. She said there is nothing in the world like hitting the ball the and making it where you want it to go. After a while you feel it is less you and more magic.
    Speaking of tennis, we were both sad to see Roger Federer lose and talked about the book during match.
    In a more serious fiction vs. fact development, Israel’s nuclear reactors came under fire yesterday. Eschaton awaits.
    Oh maybe most important is i bought a Kindle version of the book. Just handier to carry around on my iphone and the pages surprisingly jibe. And the page margins have not been gnawed off. And the footnotes are clickable. And you can read in the dark, which is quite fitting.
    Also as I left my dentist’s office today, there was a young man with an appropriately worn copy of Infinite Jest. I thought for a second that being happy with the kindle version, i had somehow handed off my chopped up copy. Realizing somewhat immediately that could not be the case I was going to ask if he were in the Infinite Summer reading group but that would have taking a lot of explaining. I also decided against, hey I’m reading that too and took my aching jaw out to 54th and Park.

  3. Ev Matrick

    Hello all,

    First time commenter, second time Infinite Jest reader, friend of Cat among other things. There are, of course too many subjects to cover, given we’re already a third of the way through the book, but here’s what I can parse out at this moment.

    One thing I wanted to say, (somewhat jokingly) and perhaps some of you can relate, is that when sharing DFW with friends, I immediately worry that I will somehow seem less smart to them, in an “Oh that’s where he got such and such idea from.” Not that I go around parroting my favorite authors, but I think, if you spend the amount of time it takes to read IJ, some of it is bound to rub off on you.

    On this week’s content:

    The scene with Poor Tony Krause has got to be the most affecting thing I’ve ever read. It’s a combination of abjectly terrifying and heart breaking. After reading it for the first time, it actually made me feel (nauseated is perhaps a touch too strong a word) light headed. No book has ever really done that to me before or since.

    I love the Eschaton section. For me, it’s a perfect example of what DFW does best.. The way he sets up a situation so pristinely, with a borderline-omnipotent attention to detail most people could only hope to attain with a prescription and then allows the whole thing just detonate.

    On previous weeks’ content:

    Did anyone pick up on the reference to Helen of Troy in the Steepley / Marathe conversation as being a nod to David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress?

    The Kate Gompert section was also quite affecting. While the dialogue and behavior of the characters in IJ is occasionally taken to the extreme, I can say that when I’ve felt melancholic in the past, I’ve definitely thought the things she says to some degree. It’s a very accurate description of what depression feels like. Probably the most accurate I’ve come across.

    On a lighter note, has anyone else read Don Delillo’s End Zone? I’m sure it’s been cited as an influence somewhere, maybe in Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story… It’s definitely worth reading. I’d say much IJ’s ETA / combination of sports/philosophy draws heavily from it.

    And of course, thank you Johanna for organizing this online literary event. You’ve put a lot of work into making a difficult novel easy to read, and it’s been a blast to read the section summaries and comments so far.

    • Ev- for the record, I think you’re brainy enough to carry your own kind of torch–even if it is DFW inspired–it’s still yours.

      I haven’t yet read Don Delillo (though you’ve recommended him before), nor picked up on the ‘nod’ to David Markson. There is the advantage of knowing where the author’s come from. After my first Infinite Summer, I’ll read those then re-visit this book again and hopefully catch what you’ve spotted.

      • Ev Maverick

        Nice of you to say so.

        Ah yes. This community has me flexing my nerd muscles something fierce. So much trivia, so many references!

    • Johanna Schwartz

      Hi Ev! Thanks for weighing in! I hadn’t thought about the Helen of Troy connection, but I was thinking about how Wittgenstein’s Mistress’ unreliable narrator holds a lot of resonance for me when reading IJ. I haven’t read that particular DeLillo. I’ll check it out.

      • Ev Maverick

        You know, I get so caught up in the language/content that I think I take way too much of IJ at face value.

  4. Bonnaventure

    I’m a bit off schedule, but this week and last I feel like we’ve finally got to the meat of the book. All the pawns are in place and now we’re privy to the mid game. The fun part is trying to figure out who is a pawn, and who are the heavy pieces.

    Hal seems to be our main character, but it’s hard to say where exactly he’ll end up after what I’m assuming is going to be a near fatal series of events relating to the DMZ, that will find several of our characters sipping bad coffee in a Boston AA meeting.

    JvD is already there, something we learn in an endnote, nestled in the talk of Boston AA. I’ll save my comments for next week.

    Re: eschaton

    I was enamoured by the talk of the game and it’s obsessive love, and use of statistical analysis on what always appears in my minds eye as outdated technology. I get a William Gibson vibe from all of IJ’s technical descriptions. They are both hilariously outdated and strangely powerful at the same time. DFW had a decade or so on Gibson re: the internet, which he sort of nails, considering the publishing date, but the technology being used is so foreign and strange to me.

    While occasionally distracting I appreciate the thoroughness of the universe created. Pink2 is an example of something DFW had to invent essentially from scratch and then support with some backstory regarding microsoft’s post windows operating system, which has diverted back to command line operations for some unknown reason.

    In the same way I assume many reading this comment are now getting bored and or annoyed with my depth and detail, I found the eschaton section got tedious. My original love for the section is based on my love for nerdery. I love that someone can be so obsessed with something, that weirdos can find meaning in the world that is so foreign to them. Who cares if no one else gets it.

    Sadly, the case with most weirdos and castoffs, they can sometimes overdo it, not realize the story of their hobby is rambling, includes unnecessary details and is generally boring and annoying people. Sad.

    • Bonnaventure

      All that being said, I love how the entire debacle blows up and turns to anarchy!

    • Johanna Schwartz

      The diversity of opinions on the Escahton section intrigues me! I absolutely loved it, thought it started with just enough ‘nerdery’ to get a handle on what the game was about, and though my brain skimmed over all of the details outlined in Pemulis’ endnote, as it moved into a melee attack I held my breath as it all fell apart. As Pemulis would say – “Jaysus!”

      • I was going to say something similar to Bonnventure: I was not “bored” or “annoyed with [your] depth” – on the contrary it’s amazing that we have the same appreciation for DFW, despite our different levels of nerdery! 😀

      • Adrienne

        At least Lord didn’t die! Is that ok to say since we find out pretty soon afterwards that everyone involved is at the least alive? Over at the OG Infinite Summer there’s an entry by someone who actually wrote and produced a IJ play in college and he describes the Eschaton scene and there’s a blurry picture. http://infinitesummer.org/archives/1122. Related: I’m not real impressed in general with the stuff I read over at that Infinite Summer. I’m just browsing occasionally but it seems like most of the entries aren’t actually about the book itself but rather the experience of reading the book. Maybe there are comment boards somewhere I’m not seeing but the main part itself seems underwhelming to me, like where’s the stuff on what’s happening in the book? Were people reading it just to say that had? Was it not supposed to be an intellectual thing? How could it not be with a book like this??

  5. Adrienne

    You guys I just finished reading the Eschaton section and I don’t know why but it’s viscerally affecting me to the point that I don’t think I can really read any more IJ tonight. It started out hilarious and smart and complex in that very DFW way and then went downhill into still hilarious but heartbreaking territory, which I guess is also the DFW way. Something about all these whip smart kids (I mean, they’re playing Eschaton) beating the crap out of each other (is poor Lord even still alive?!) while Lord flicks his red beanie (never before done!), and it becoming increasingly clear that Hal et al are basically wrecks is just kind of leaving me stunned. I can’t even bring myself to watch the music video bc I just want what’s in my head to be on its own for a while. Whew. Weird. Especially since some others couldn’t even picture it and here I am more broke up about it than Poor Tony. Should I feel my face to see if I’m wincing? Get it?

    Other things I thought of this section:

    Are we pretty sure CT is Mario’s dad at this point? Or am I totally off on that which would be embarrassing?

    Interesting idea on p.291 – “almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it”. So everything is futile in a sense?

    As a nursing mom I wish to point out that “the toothless predator” in the title of Thode’s class is only toothless for a relatively short amount of time. HA.

    I thought the Marathe/Steeply section raised a salient sociological/philosophical point about Americans, choice, freedom, and passion. I recently read this article where the author argued that the Millennial Generation is basically infantile (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/08/beware-of-cupcake-fascism), which I think is related a bit. I didn’t love the article but still…that section did help me think about what something like the Entertainment might mean if it’s able to be used as a weapon successfully. I def don’t think I would have gotten to all that on my own 🙁

    • Adrienne

      Johanna – I’m with you on the whole math does not to ME equal clarity. I flunked out of calculus twice. Also, thanks so much for doing the great weekly posts! Useful and insightful!

    • “It started out hilarious and smart and complex in that very DFW way and then went downhill into still hilarious but heartbreaking territory, which I guess is also the DFW way”

      YES. That’s how I felt exactly.

    • Johanna Schwartz

      I think there are a lot of clues that CT is Mario’s father…

      And point taken that the Marathe/Steeply section does start the conversation about freedom, choice and whether if the Americans allow themselves to be ‘taken in’ by the Entertainment is it the fault of the AFR that they do?

      I will read that article when I have a moment. I am at work and only read the first paragraph. Is it bad that my take-away is that cupcakes are “low-fat?”

  6. “Eschatology – is a part of theology concerned with what are believed to be the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end time”.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eschatology

  7. As I’ve mentioned in my first ever post here on the ISYYC discussions, I’ve had this book on the back burner for a really long time and I’m so happy to have finally caught up with the group to share. I’ve read all comments (you guys are brilliant or what they would call you in my office: Superstars) and all the past weeks’ discussions. Sorry for spamming your dashboards–if that is the case.

    Back-story which you can skip: I found the book a couple of years ago in the bargain bin for SGD$5.90 (approx. CAD$5.05 and USD$4.72-a steal– kind of an unfair steal because it’s worth every penny) and have it on my Kindle. I didn’t used to be such a fan of e-books and digital reading devices but I must say that in this case, it’s been very convenient to click on an endnote instead of flipping over to the second bookmark in the actual book and finding the desired endnote on the page.

    I’m not going to lie but I tried my best to digest the Eschaton pages and really suffered. I’m still suffering. I feel as though an Eschaton game happened in my head and it has now been wiped out. I’m still not over it. The Decemberists’ video was great visualisation (thanks for sharing!) because until I saw that, when I was reading I could not even make out what the team names stood for. It was that dense for me.

    As someone had pointed out earlier, IJ is kind of like life – and in life, sometimes there are some aspects about it people/subject/things you cannot understand even if you try your best to, and that’s when you either turn off (kill yourself) or turn to other people (AA/here) to be part of a community.

    The Prorector’s classes were great. Also, because Prorectors are typecasted as burnouts – I imagine that the protectors see the classes as their “big break”/”a big deal”. This is a perfect example of what happens to people who’ve been living in the shadow of other people’s expectations and who have lost their momentum in life. I loved it.

    Also, it was great to learn more about O. + P.G.O.A.T. and Mario.

    • Johanna Schwartz

      Hi Cat! – your intro to IJ was pretty much the same as mine – a great big book too cheap to pass up! 🙂 I love the Decemberist vid for bringing the Escahton game to life (though I wish they would have cast Anne Kittenplan in all her crew-cut mustachioed glory, but I get how that would be confusing to the casual reader).

      The best thing about that section was the introduction of “going SACPOP” to my vocabulary.

      • Good point! And I agree. To the casual non-IJ viewer I can imagine that music video’s already pretty out there.

  8. MFleury

    Loved the endnotes also – loved the song, band, video – visuals help at this point!