Week Four – Pages 211-283 (endnotes 73-92)

Week Four – Pages 211-283 (endnotes 73-92)

This week we get a deeper introduction to DMZ, follow Madame Psychosis as she has Too Much Fun one more time, discover the gruesome details of JOI’s suicide, and spend more time both at E.T.A and Ennet House. We also now know what B.S. years the book is occurring in. And there are a lot of wheelchairs.

So to recap:

DMZ is seriously dangerous stuff, but with bellbottoms!

Pemulis has secured a fairly large amount of DMZ, in tablet form, from Antitoi Entertainment, run by a couple of Nucks (*any Canadians consider that a slur? I know I don’t).  I wanted to yell at Hal as he was considering what constitutes a dose. NO – Don’t take two!

It’s November 7th YDAU and Joelle van Dyne, aka Madame Psychosis, is planning on killing herself
In a large three-part section, JvD is going to kill herself at Molly Notkin’s party.  The first section is a description of her walk through Boston collecting  the equipment she needs to freebase (cigar tube, pepsi bottle, etc)…

Until we are briefly interrupted to discover…

We now know what year it is:
As I mentioned last week, with the full list of subsidized years published (p. 223) we can now place the novel in actual time. Unless my math is poor, James Incandenza, born in 1950, died at age 54, in the year 2004, aka Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar. That means subsidized time began in 2002, with the Year of the Whopper, and most of the book takes place in what would have been 2009, the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.

Endnote 78, which infers that the Year of Glad has yet to be ratified, implies the book itself is being written in YDAU?

Back with Joelle, she passes a cardboard cutout of a legless man in a wheelchair, with a face frozen in ecstatic rapture, and in his cardboard hand a labeless black cartridge case, which Joelle takes out, looks at and puts back in the display…

Until we are briefly interrupted yet again for…

“Helen” Steeply’s CV, including brief romantic interludes. We find out Moment magazine is based in Arizona, where Steeply has been talking with Marathe.  Pemulis also mentions Moment as the source of the story about the soldier who dropped DMZ and went off the rails.

The party at Molly’s place used to be Joelle’s apartment, when she was with Orin, and is the possible  location where she filmed JOI’s last work (the “allegedly fatally entertaining and scopophiliac thing Jim alleges he made out of her unveiled face here at the start of Y.T.S.D.B” – p. 230 + also more details in endnote 80). I love how DFW skewers academic parties (I am sure based on his own experience) as snippets of the party are peppered through the description of JvD freebasing Lady Delphina’s coke in the bathroom. We get a brief look into JvD’s past, her own Personal Daddy, the lowPH chemist, a sense of her startling beauty, and her relationship with JOI.

A conversation between Hal and Orin reveals much about JOI’s death
In preparation for his interview with Helen Steeply, which now appears to be more about James Incandenza’s legacy than Orin’s punting skills, Orin calls Hal to find out more details about his father’s death. The fact that Orin knows so little speaks volumes about the family dynamic.  Orin also reveals that he is afraid he is being followed by many men in wheelchairs (p. 244), including one wearing a domino mask.  We also learn that Helen is apparently ‘weirdly sexy’ which goes against the descriptions we have had of Steeply’s disguise, from both Marathe and our unreliable narrator, who calls her “enormous, electrolysis-rashed” on p. 142.

This section also contains the brilliant piece about Hal dealing with the grief therapist.  Also the end of the conversation is very odd. Hal starts talking about human nails being vestiges of talons, etc and Orin starts asking “What’s the matter? Is this meant to make me feel bad? I can call you back when you are more yourself” (p. 257), which are reactions very out of place to what Hal is  discussing.



  1. That’s a great idea. Oh and also, I forgot to share this…I was watching Mythbusters with my lil guy and they did the bucket of bricks myth! It could totally happen (poor Buster got hurt pretty badly), and the urban legends lady said the first mention of it is in a joke book from 1918. Fun fact.

  2. I thought I’d share something that I found to be an interesting exercise… i.e. re-reading each of the prior Weekly Discussion summary’s. It provided context for some of the connections we are now seeing and showed that we have covered a lot of ground. Looking forward to tomorrow’s installment.

  3. Johanna Schwartz

    Also – DJB, I think the Unexamined Life would be too full of young smartass kids for me…

  4. Johanna Schwartz

    A few quick comments – first, thank you Rob, et al for letting me know that the posts I’ve been launching each week with are proving useful. I consider it practice for my dream job of writing tv show recaps for the AV Club 🙂

    Second, I am so excited every week by the ideas that are being brought forward. We are a very smart bunch.

    Third, I apologize for how clunky the comment system is. I threw this website together quickly, and may spend some time in the next month upgrading it, or tweaking the CSS so the comment threads work better (I’ve turned nested comments off for now, because the columns become too small to contain all of our amazing thoughts!!). So instead of commenting on each post, I will address all thoughts here.

    Darcy – Glad you pointed out that Gately is less caricature and more character, and I would say he is the most reliable of all so far, because he has truly recognized “the spider” or the “dis-ease” and is now living inside of a new, truer self.

    As far as JvD being beautiful or deformed, I think Benjamin’s point about the grotesque and the sublime being two sides of the same coin is really apt. And though we are given clues as to JvD’s potential deformity (Orin being called a “dodger of flung acid extraordinaire” (p. 223) and the mention of JvD’s own Personal Daddy a low-ph chemist), we also know that she worked unveiled for JOI’s last film, and it would make sense from the sake of the Entertainment that JvD is beautiful beyond compare.

    Adrienne – Thanks for the clarification on the W-S Hypothesis, and while I agree that language is messy, (beautifully messy, I would say), at least it is accessible. For me, the elegance of mathematics is obscured by an insurmountable barricade of, well, math. More of which I believe is coming up soon…

    And to Rob and Andrienne’s comments on dialogue, I agree that one of the key reasons IJ is so immersive and feels so personal is the lack of “he said” or “she said” I also love his use of ” — ” to indicate a lack of response, especially between Hal and Orin. Those pauses are FILLED with subtext.

    Talk to you all tomorrow! We have a whopper of an endnote and will talk more about separatism, Orin and JvD and ol’ Poor Tony.

  5. Adrienne

    Well this is a real late in the week comment but I just got back from vacation. I think the comments about the “shakiness” of the book plus grotesqueness/beauty as two sides of the same coin really are spot on. IJ is just so convoluted and narratively all over the place. It almost feels a bit like thinking about life to me. I know, that sounds weird, but if you think about your life, just sort of in general, doesn’t it sort of share some of the qualities you might recognize from reading IJ? A mass of unrelated characters, incidents, and times that are somehow contained in an overarching and connected whole, a search for meaning that may or may not be present, a distinct lack of purely he said/she said dialogue (as mentioned in a comment below)… I might be a little zonked from a week at the beach so feel free to ignore this rambling but trying to make sense of this book sometimes just feels so vast to me, in the same way that trying to get a sort of meta-grasp on life also does.

    I def got the sense that Joelle is too pretty and that’s why she wears a veil. I was interested in a line from her section on p. 223, “She had in a way done what they’d made Jim do near the end and admitted powerlessness over this cage, this unfree show, weeping, literally clutching her heart”. Joelle is referring to her addiction, but what was Jim’s cage and who are “they”?

    I’m noticing the phrase “and yet” being used often in the book. I’m taking it as a sign of the refusal of the narrator/book in general to make pronouncements with any certainty. I guess? Oh man, I literally just refused to make a pronouncement. Jeeze.

    More about the whole self/erasure of self dichotomy here I think on p. 269, “As Schacht sees it, Schtitt’s philosophical stance is that to win enough of the time to be considered successful you have to both care a great deal about it and also not care about at it at all”.

    At the risk of making an already too long post borderline unreadable I wanted to try to answer Johanna’s question to me from last week about the Wolf-Sapir Hypothesis. That is what I was generally talking about re: “messy” verbal systems vs. “elegant” mathematical systems. The W-S Hypothesis can get tricky because a lot of people view it as potential “evidence” for some miserable things like eugenics and social Darwinism. I respect that but also, coming from a cognitive science background, I think it’s a very important question to grapple with, i.e. how does our language intersect with our consciousness? I actually think it does a lot, if they don’t exactly overlap completely. And both are so airy and illogical, in a way. Even if you diagram language or neural circuitry all out I really think we experience both language and consciousness as messy and murkily referential, they’re not like a mathematical proof at all. I’m just talking about our first person experience here. So when we read that Pemulis prefers the elegance of math I was thinking that it made sense because there’s a sense of security in clear cut, totally circumscribed referential equations and statements that are in no way up to interpretation (I think? Any math people who can clarify this maybe?). Language and consciousness are, by my definition, experienced as messy and weird and contradictory and confusing. Math and logic are clear. It makes sense to prefer to latter perhaps, especially if you live in a state of generalized anxiety and uncertainty, which seems to be the case with many of our friends at good old ETA. So then how does this all relate to DFW’s use of extremely murky verbal and referential systems in IJ? I’m not totally sure yet and at this late hour of 9:15pm it’s basically my bedtime so things are def going south intellect-wise. It’s percolating though, maybe I’ll get there next week.

  6. Rob Hinchcliffe

    Hey everyone

    Not loads to add this week, other then I’ve been spending the past couple of weeks working with the guys at the Warner Bros Studio Tour (Making of Harry Potter) in London, so my hour commute on the train is spent reading IJ, then i go talk about butter beer and muggles – suffice to say I am having some weird dreams right now.

    I just want to echo what someone said last week – thanks for these posts – just the reminders of who’s who and what they’ve donw before keeps me same and excited – so thanks a lot for putting the time in.

    Loads of great passages this week – the DMZ conversation was great, and the whole tennis section I found really interesting (even though it’s written in that very matter of fact style some of the more technical sections are written in_ and I”m writing this on my sofa in front fo the TV where Andy Murray is playing at Wimbledon – so that’s a nice bit of synchronicity.

    My main thought while I was reading this week was about DFW’s dialogue style. I caught myself thinking “there’s not a lot of dialogue in this is there” the other day and then I realised, well yes there is a lot of dialogue it’s just ‘different’ type of dialogue – there’s a lot of ‘inner dialogue’ but there’s also a lot of speech that doesn’t sound like anyone normal speaking (Hal and Orin are the extreme example of that of course), and there’s not a lot of speech which is just allowed to be speech – it’s always surrounded by something. There’s never “he said… she said…he exclaimed” it’s always buried in observations and asides – not sure what any of that means other than I guess it adds up to the whole feeling of ‘carefully constructed overload’ that the book creates.

    See you next week 🙂

    (Murray just lost)

  7. Darcy Frisch

    I’m failing at keeping myself from jumping ahead in the novel, so I’m not going to say much else – I think I’m a week or two ahead. And loving it.

    Here’s an interesting interview with DFW about Infinite Jest. There are no real spoilers in this interview, but DFW does talk in general terms about what he feels the novel is “about”.

    • Johanna Schwartz

      (full admittance that I haven’t yet listened to the interview)…and I started this post last night and finished it this morning on the sunny back deck with a morning coffee ☺

      I have just returned from a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert. For me, Cave’s music evoked, emotionally and intellectually, many ideas about IJ, as I sat in my comfy seat and watched the show. Afterward, I cycled home through deserted residential streets, coasting through the cool air (it’s about 10C/50F tonight) watching sheet lightning go off, and thinking about what IJ is ‘about.’

      Now that we are just shy of a third of the way through, I think DFW has set in motion most all of the elements of the novel. We have a good sense of the environment, most key players, the majority of the major plot elements, all the basics.

      But what we don’t have, or what I don’t have, is a sense that we have been party to the truth at any level. Have we met one person in this world who is a reliable narrator, who isn’t navigating a complicated second self, who isn’t in denial about their reality, who is truly living an honest life? Every member of the Incandenza family is duplicitous or in a state of detente. Hal, we know ends up unable to communicate in any way, but even now, (before the ‘event’ that has occurred in the opening of the book), is secretive, and we have been given many clues (reliable ones? hard to tell) that he is already moving towards incomprehensibility. It’s unclear what the true nature of Mario’s intellect is, there is something remaining unsaid about CT and Avril’s relationship, Avril is almost paralysed by her need to appear 100% supportive, Orin has deliberately maintained ignorance over his family’s tragedy, and James has changed careers over and over again, never mind leaving behind the question always left in a suicide’s wake – what compelled him to do such a thing?

      Joelle is veiled, and is both persona and person, all of the residents of Ennet House are undergoing the transition of self that comes with shedding addiction, Steeply is in disguise, Marathe is a double/triple agent. The students of ETA may be their most authentic selves, but isn’t that mostly because they are children? They are also running towards ‘the show’ as their ultimate achievement.

      And then we have the book itself – we are sent to endnotes that can seem laughingly superfluous, there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to why the larger notes are contained in that manner, rather than inserted into the text, as DFW has no issue shoehorning information into the middle of a narrative (see the way JvD’s story was broken up this week), the narrative tone of the section headers, the ALL CAPS set ups, wobble between academic and casual (see all the, like, likes in the intro to the Videophony piece), and the words he chooses are deliberately (?) obscure, like the vocabulary of a crackerjack spelling bee champ. The structure of the book is meant to send the reader into a state of discombobulation.

      All of this connects to the Entertainment. If Infinite Jest (V) is what is sending people into a blissful catatonic state, the description we get of unveiled JvD filmed with a wobbly lense saying “I’m-so-terribly-sorry” in some way speaks to our need to be relieved of the sense of duplicity we spend our lives wrapped in.

      • Darcy Frisch

        Well said – there is an air of shakiness to the whole thing. In addition to all the characters and their “second selves” you mentioned, the are a few other elements of the book itself that border on the farcical, leading us to question the authenticity of even the most offhand descriptions. Conjoined twins playing tennis, their disability subverted into a winning advantage? Giant feral babies roaming the irradiated Convexity/Concavity? Or the absurdity of the Eric Clipperton situation, which of course could never occur in any sort of “real” world. (Sorry, I think we meet Eric Clipperton next week or the week after).

        Just when we begin to believe in the possibility of the crazy world of subsidized time, DFW make sure to push it just slightly beyond credulity. Which is a brilliant maneuver. We may connect with the people and scenarios in the novel, but we can’t do so fully because there is so much secrecy, duplicity, and outright absurdity. With the arguable exception of Don Gately, pretty much everyone is more caricature than character.

        I have one question that I wonder if anyone has input on. At the point in the novel, we don’t really know why Joelle wears the UHID veil. Is anyone thinking that she wears it because she is TOO beautiful? We know she was PGOAT when Orin meets her. I’m just curious to see what first-timers feel about her.

        • Benjamin Sherlock

          Re: your last question, it’s definitely a possibility, I think: especially after Madam P.’s earlier suggestion that the “fatally pulchritudinous” and “Actaeonizing” are welcome to attend UHID meetings along with the tri-nostrilled and carbuncular and whatnot else.

          And I forget whether it’s ever explicitly spelled out in the book, but the Actaeon myth itself (hunter stumbles on a naked Artemis, sees her, is transformed into a stag by her, is chased and ripped apart by his own hunting dogs) holds some parallels to The Entertainment/to addiction in general: i.e. the risk of one’s self being irreversibly transformed and then destroyed by something too beautiful (too much fun? too psychically potent, à la the DMZ?) to be seen by mortal eyes.

          Plus then the fact of the Medusa and the Odalisque being mentioned in the same breath earlier — in both the filmography and during Madam Psychosis’s show — seems to suggest that, at least in the book’s eyes, the grotesque and the sublime are two sides of the same coin, and that maybe to some viewers they’re even the same side of the same coin, depending.

          So maybe it’s irrelevant whether Joelle’s too ugly or too beautiful, in the end. We’ve definitely seen a lot of grotesque/mutated/mutilated people in the book already (Mario, the Vaughts, C.’s death, U.S.S.M.K., Steeply, Marathe and all the Prochain Train survivors), and I think there is a kind of voyeuristically fascinating, transfixing quality to them. And c.f. Cage III (Free Show), of course, for more on that.

      • Johanna, I enjoyed your tie into Nick Cave, cycling through the city night, etc. If only you were able to stop into the Unexamined Life night club on the way home.

    • Benjamin Sherlock

      Just listened to the interview, great find. His last comment was a little brutal, with hindsight, though.