Week One – Page 3-63 (endnotes 1-21)
Welcome to the first week of Infinite Summer, and to the first 63 pages of Infinite Jest.
As we go along, I will be interested in feedback from everyone as to the level of analysis you want to bring to each section. There are so many themes and connections that start with a bang in IJ…
Let me start the ball rolling:
A significant number of characters are introduced in this first section, and it can be difficult to determine who is key and who is secondary to the story. DFW is already making connections and links across quite a few characters, a technique that will continue through the book. I know I found it impossible to keep them all straight the first time I read IJ. So far we have met, in general order:
- Hal Incandenza, tennis prodigy and highly intelligent, who we meet at age 18, age 10-11, and age 17.
- Uncle Charles Tavis (CT), half brother of Hal’s mother Avril
- Hal’s older brother Orin, football player, promiscuous (with ‘Subjects’), previous tennis player.
- Erdedy – drug addict, buying from unnamed woman who buys from an unnamed man with a harelip and a snake in a trailer park.
- Avril Incandenza, mother, neurotically afraid of germs, secrets, ‘mover and shaker in prescriptive grammar world’ accused of cavorting with a series of political resistance agents.
- Himself, Hal’s dad (deceased) – serious drinker, ‘towering figure in optical and avante garde film circles” and founder of Enfield Tennis Academy.
- Hal’s seriously handicapped older brother Mario.
- The medical attache for Prince Q—- and his wife.
- The world of Wardine, Wardine’s momma,Reginald, Delores Epps (Dolores Epp), Clenette, Roy Tony.
- Bruce Green, Mildred Bonk, little Harriet Bonk-Green, and Tommy Doocey, their harelipped snake lover, drug dealer roommate.
- Residents of Enfield – Pemulis, Troeltsch, Stice, etc.
- Don Gately, petty criminal, and drug addict.
- M. DuPlessis, accidentally killed by Don Gately (and mentioned by Himself in ‘conversation’ section) and Luria P.
- Whoever is speaking on pages 61-63 – is it Hal?
The recurring instance of heads/faces/masks and the theme of being misunderstood
- From the very first sentence, Hal is first surrounded by “heads and bodies”, before they resolve into the Deans of the U of Arizona.
- Hal’s inability to articulate himself, and the intensely powerful descriptions of how he presents to the Deans “strangled series of bleats”…”subanimalistic”
- The stand-out sentence that seems completely out of place on page 16- 17 “I think of John N.R. Wayne, who would have won this year’s WhataBurger, standing watch in a mask as Don Gately and I dig up my father’s head”.
- Erdedy’s anxiety escalating because he worried he had presented his need much too casually, so she would not bring him the weed.
- The reveal that the ‘conversation specialist’ is in fact Hal’s father, as his disguise slides off of his face.
- That Himself does appear to hear Hal at the beginning of the conversation, but nearer the end, once revealed, can no longer hear/understand Hal, reverting back to the ‘hallucinatory’ state Hal has identified.
- Himself stating that a cartridge of identical material to tennis rackets has been implanted in his head.
- The phone conversation with Orin on page 32 when Orin says “My head is filled with things to say”, as well as the first mention of Mario’s oversized skull.
- Orin’s dream on page 46 of “the Moms’s disconnected head attached face-to-face to his own fine head” and the description of the paranoid schizophrenic’s treatment on the CBC program (pg 48).
- Don Gately’s “massive and almost perfectly square head“
- M. DuPlessis’s death from suffocation due to the gag and his terrible head cold.
- The terrifying “face in the floor” on page 62.
And finally, DFW provides many indirect pieces of information about the setting and place of the novel
- We know that years are now named instead of numbered, and are give some small details about the order – Hal is 10-11 during the Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, 17 during the Year of Depend Adult Undergarment and 18 during Year of Glad .
- Technology consists of Inter-Lace viewing cartridges, there is a differentiation made between calling someone using ‘just audio’ and presumably video
- There has been some sort of political rift between the US and Canada, now referenced as “O.N.A.N.” with a Pan-Canadian resistance seemingly coming out of Alberta and Quebec.
Whew!! That was a lot to get us started. Ok, let’s discuss!!!
(Seal of Onan by William Beutle)