Week One – Page 3-63 (endnotes 1-21)

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.
onan_seal_print__span

Design by Chris Ayers

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)

42 comments

  1. Nick Parish

    Hi everyone! Checking in late but catching up fast now that this is my primary read.

    @Rob thanks for those definitions. The Kindle dictionary has a lot but stands no match for Wallace’s vocabulary.

    Funny many of us share backgrounds. Comp Lit major, former NY sports tabloid journalist (Bill, I was an agate guy / fill-in reporter at the Post from like ’03-07, we probably share several acquaintances).

    Excited to climb this mountain with you guys.

    Initial impressions: What a wild and anxiety-inducing first few pages. Incredible so far, and at the end of every session where I see how much more is left to go I’m filled with promise of how this world will resolve.

    Will hopefully be catching up to the pack soon.

    • Johanna Schwartz

      Welcome Nick! Glad to have you on board.

  2. Cat Cortes

    Hello Everyone,

    I’m far behind based on the schedule, but I wanted to introduce myself since I have read up to this part at least–and most of you took the time to write about who you are and why you’re here. I’m Cat and I’m twenty-six. I hate that I’m a close fit to Dave Egger’s profile of new readers, but here I am, the man seems to be a clairvoyant.

    Infinite Jest has been on my book bucket list for a long time since around 2008/2009 when I first learned of its existence. I also knew about the Infinite Summer project when it started but wasn’t compelled to read just then. Finally, this year, I made the commitment to tackle it along with a friend’s heavy egging. (He’ll join us soon.) It’s perpetual summer where I live (Singapore) so I wasn’t even sure when the readings would start exactly and if the old project was still around. The same friend who encouraged me to finally read it this year, was the same person who pointed me to this site. He’s Canadian- lucky me to have intel in North America.

    So hi, hello and I’ll catch up as soon as I can.

    • Johanna Schwartz

      Welcome Cat! Here in Canada summer happens between June 21 – June 29, but I’ve extended the season to accommodate the book. 🙂

      • FINALLY CAUGHT UP TO THE LATEST WEEK. Thanks for organising all this Johanna! 🙂

  3. Bonnaventure

    I didn’t introduce myself, I’m Bonnaventure. As mentioned in another comment, I met Johanna through a mutual friend who knew we were both avid listeners to WFMU.

    My English major girlfriend has inspired me to read a lot more since moving in together, and last summer I decided to take on the challenge of Dune. Needless to say it was a great summer, and I really enjoyed being immersed in such a long book as the summer went on. Though I’m dubious about my own reading level (Dune might have been the longest book I’ve read up to that point), Johanna’s pitch really pulled me in. So far I’m keeping my head above the water and really enjoying myself.

    Unlike Dune’s linear structure which could get dry, I’m finding the temporal bouncing around of the novel to be quite entertaining. I’m not sure I could endure any of the storylines for too long. I imagine how odd it might be to pick this book up at a bookstore, read a paragraph or two from a random page and think “Could I possible read 1,000+ pages of that?”. In more than a few cases, I’m almost certain I could not.

    I like how the book challenges and rewards me as it shifts perspective, style, and voice. The ETA story reads like any story about a teenage prodigy does, nice and easy, addictive. (Was DFW precient of the eventual rise of teenage supernaturally themed books that would take books and then film and television by storm?) The marijuana habit this young man has gives it a bit of an edge and I’m hooked like Junky or Fear and Loathing (I live vicariously through books, it’s cheaper and safer than real drugs).

    Other parts of the book are much more challenging, yet very fun to read in their own right. If I’m reading at night, I will occasionally put the book down if I’ve come to a section that’s too advanced for my degraded state. Between the dense language and the sheer volume of words on the page can get overwhelming right before bed. After a few hours of rest the book is a different beast and I have great fun deciphering it’s complexity, trying to piece together fragments of the world and connect the dots between the storylines. I’m afraid to miss a word, or even misread a sentence and realize I’ve missed a key element and I’m scrambling back trying to figure out what I missed!

    This forum for discussion is definitely helping. Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the story so far, and read everyone’s thoughts I’m finding it ever easier to organize the information in my head. Sadly, the discussion does little for the eventual struggles with eye fatigue that make reading slow and challenging.

    • Ok, I’m definitely glad to know that I’m not alone in the deciphering and the “eventual struggles” that you mentioned.

  4. Darcy Frisch

    Hey everybody, pleased to meet you all, nice to see the interesting comments so far made. I love this novel. Due to some vision problems I am having at the moment, I am actually listening to the audiobook this time around, which isn’t as enjoyable because because I don’t get to savour those beautiful sentences (sure, the writing is occasionally overblown or “virtuosic,” but it’s still quality stuff). The thing I am noticing this time is that for a novel full of so many ideas, it is still very cohesive, and the themes remain oomplimentary to each other, with none hogging the limelight for too long. It’s a big messy book, but I don’t see how it could have been crafted any better. Cheers!

    • Johanna Schwartz

      Hi Darcy! Does the audio version have the endnotes as well? If not, I can call you and narrate them to you over voicemail 🙂

  5. Aaron Baker

    I’ll introduce myself. I’m 33 years old and live in Columbus, Ohio USA. I love reading and have been a long time fan of DFW’s essays and short stories. I never thought of IJ like I do other books. It was always a challenge to face or some mountain to climb, rather than a book to read for enjoyment. Now that I’m getting into it, I find it to be somewhere in between. Although I found a lot of useful resources at http://www.infinitesummer.org, I really wanted an active group to read, explore, dissect the novel with. I was thrilled to find this group. I started the book a couple of weeks early, but paced myself as to not get too far ahead. I’m around page 100 now. I’m so thrilled to see the feedback and discussions from the the first week. I also have a friend of mine reading the book. I don’t have a lit degree, but I have a passion for postmodern literature, and said friend and I are currently working on a writing project that somewhat relates to it. I’m SO happy to have other like minds to delve into this fascinating work with.

    • Jane Doughnut

      Welcome Aaron – I’d love to read your finished project! I believe there are a few other members of the group who are working on, or have completed, IJ related works.

      • Please share the finished project with us. I’m intrigued.

  6. Bill Sweeney

    Hi. Sorry I’m late. I lost track of where this discussion was to take place (i thought on facebook, which where I learned about it) and then got sidetracked.
    Until sort of recently I was a copy editor in the sports department of a NY tabloid. I was never that much of a sports fan, sort of just wandered in there as a copy boy when a position opened. However, I’ve long been a tennis devotee, and so has my wife, who played in a London area high school as an army brat. Me i never played nothing but bass guitar. Sick of letting others take credit for my work, I now consider myself a struggling writer. Is there any other kind?
    I am also big follower of WFMU, a New Jersey-based weirdo radio station. This forum vaguely seems connected to it because I came across it on the Facebook page of a book group tenuously tied to its alternating wavelength.
    So … Infinite Jest … I’m on P. 64 so I am qualified to discuss it but my cartridge concern has already been voiced. Somehow I missed it happens in the future. I have a hard time following books with plots, let alone these meandering treatises, but this does power and that drives me back, albeit at a moderate pace. The genius aspect is also involving. I like tennis players who radiate intelligence and the game has its share. Hal (HAL?) could be an exaggerated John McEnroe, my favorite player and one described as Einstein with a racquet.
    That’s probably enough for 63 1/2 pages. See you Friday.

    • Jane Doughnut

      Perfect Bill! We will lean on you for any tennis-related questions. Besides myself, we also have Bonnaventure (a Best Show caller) in the club! Any other WFMU nerds out there?

      • (I’d never heard of WFMU, until now. Listening while I contribute my first “official” contribution to the discussions.)

        I’m sorry if I’m spamming your Dashboards.

    • Jane Doughnut

      Also, I think by now, 2014, the book happened in the technical past, but at the time it was written, in 1996, it was the ‘future’ – early 2000s?

      • Aaron Baker

        I apologize for not remembering the source, but while reading about the book I remember some scholarly consensus that it probably takes place between 2006-2015. I will be more diligent in the future about sourcing should I come across such ideas.

  7. Hi all.

    I’m am voracious reader that has recently retired and now have the time to get at some of those books on the shelf that have intimidated me. I read of Johanna’s club in “Swerve” magazine (an insert in “The Calgary Herald” a daily paper out here) and it caused me to go for it. So far so good. For all the advance press on how difficult this book is to read I’m finding it entertaining. Much as Caitlin describes it… “fun, freewheeling”. Recognizing it is early days, does the novel get way harder later?

    For those that may not have seen the article I offer the following excerpt as I found it amusing:

    “Johanna Schwartz loved David Foster Wallace’s 1,079-page magnum opus Infinite Jest, but she had no one to share it with. She struck a deal with her partner: she’d read Stephen King’s entire Dark Tower series and he’d read Infinite Jest. She bought the whole series (up to eight books now), read them all “and he has yet to pick up his copy of Infinite Jest,” she says. She founded Infinite Summer YYC, a book club designed to complete the book over a summer at a rate of about 80 pages per week, partly out of frustration with not having anyone to talk to about the book.”

    • Jane Doughnut

      Welcome DJB – I’m not sure if the book gets ‘harder’ as I have always found it to be so compelling to read, and by my definition a ‘hard’ book is both dense AND boring, whereas IJ is dense in places, but only boring when talking about math (to me…). It does get very dark in places.

      After this summer is over, maybe I can start a Dark Tower reading club. 🙂

      • Ha Ha… a Dark Tower reading club, good one. Perhaps Johanna’s partner can be a keynote speaker?

    • DJB – glad to hear that you are “recently retired”; perhaps we will be the elder statesmen of the group? I’m leaving for Seattle tomorrow so will miss posting on Friday, but have done the reading and am mindful of spoiler alerts.

      I’m finding it somewhat reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut or John Irving, and love some of the more obscure pop culture references. As in the filmography footnotes – p. 987 narrated by Charles Nelson Reilly, really? And this guy was definitely ahead of his time – p. 988 the Homo Duplex interviews with men named John Wayne who were not the film star reminded me of the recent Taco Bell commercial about men named Ronald McDonald.

      (and I just have to say that “The Howling Fantods” would make a great name for a band).
      MsM

  8. Caitlin Crockard

    Hi everyone, I’m Caitlin and I’m a CBC producer in Ottawa. I actually heard about this “book club” because a freelance piece on online book clubs, featuring Johanna, passed through my hands at work. I have a bachelor’s degree in English, but since moving into the journalism world a decade ago I find my fiction reading to be really embarrassingly spotty, and this was one work I’ve always been curious about but knew I’d never have the discipline to finish on my own. Although, I think my hesitation to pick up this book was mostly by its “difficult” reputation, and so far I’m finding it a really fun, freewheeling read. Lots to think about and re-tread, yes, but it’s very easy to just get lost in its flow. The Erdedy section was so compelling to the point of me squirming a bit when I read it — not because I related to the exact situation, but the description of the mindset and how the brain justifies certain behaviours — yikes, that was bang-on.

    Sometimes I’m a little shy about jumping in with my own analysis so I may just lurk sometimes, but I’m always very eager to place a work in time/history, so I’m finding the naming of the years (I assume a near-future time where years are bought/sponsored by corporations), and the sort of clunky-sounding technology to be very interesting. Why “cartridges,” for example? That seems like a very retro word, even at the time DFW would have written this.

    Anyway, really enjoying everyone’s thoughts so far.

    • Jaron James

      Re cartridges: my guess is that CDs, MiniDiscs, and cassette tapes were all new formats battling for supremacy in the 1990s, while video game systems like the Sega Gensis and Super Nintendo all used cartridges. I guess DFW gambled and assumed a video game cartridge would stick around in to the 21st century. While I’m reading my minds eye pictures something closer to a minidisc, but the size of a postage stamp. This is mostly due to bias, I was an active member of a MiniDisc forum in my youth, and is invested a lot of my part time job earning investing in what I assumed was the future of media. Sadly, my hours and dollars were squandered as MP3 players became the format of choice and now streaming from the cloud has made storage somewhat obsolete. Now I’m reading the book as if I’m in some sort of alternate future where my faith in the doomed format wasn’t squashed by Steve Jobs, and this online book club is a reintroduction to being obsessive online with a bunch of relative strangers.

      • Arif Ansari

        I like the anachronistic take on technology here, it adds a nice dystopian feel, kind of like the tech in Blade Runner or Brazil. For me, the focus is how important entertainment is – it provides a form of release/escape that nicely parallels the drug usage that’s so prevalent in this book.

      • Jane Doughnut

        That is the saddest story ever. And also the best.

  9. Royal Stuart

    Hi all,

    This morning I finally caught up to where I should have been this past Friday — up through page 63. Based on the other comments, I feel I will be unlike the rest of the group. I do not have an English degree, and I actually have not read a novel for what feels like a decade. I’ve tried to pick up and read IJ once before, last summer, but did not have the structure of a guided tour at that time. This feels much nicer, a group walking hand in hand through the thick of it.

    It’s difficult to have immediately put the book down and to not write in long, winding run-on sentences.

    I am a classically-trained but no-longer practicing daily Graphic Designer at a design firm in the Seattle area. I have a son and an ex-wife. I first heard of Infinite Summer back at its inception in 2009, as I was following its creator, Matthew Baldwin, on Twitter. I bought the book that summer, but did not read. I have since become friends with Matthew IRL, so if anyone has any questions for the originator of the Infinite Summer idea, let me know! Incidentally, he says Erdedy Waits For Pot is “probably my favorite short story ever,” and I have to agree. It was exhilarating to read what felt like a true capture of the stream of consciousness that is the human brain.

    I’m not sure how much I’ll be contributing to the notes and such over the summer, but I’ll be avidly reading your comments as we progress. Thank you for everything to date!

    Royal

    • Jane Doughnut

      I love thinking of the Erdedy chapter as a short story. How is ends, with Erdedy torn between opening the door and answering the phone was so dark and funny and nerve wracking.

  10. Rob Hinchcliffe

    Hello everyone

    So I’m Rob. 38 years old In London UK. I first read IJ just after leaving university and treated it almost as a task that needed to done. A rite of passage almost, like those children in Amazonian tribes going out hunting after licking the back of psychedelic amphibians: I don’t remember much of it other than it was quite painful and I just needed to get through it in order to prove something to myself. I did the same with Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum which I have now reread three times and is one of my favourite books of all time. But I’ve not gone back to IJ… until now.

    Jane – I head about the project through (I think) The Morning News – one of the few sites I’ve been visiting consistently since the internet was mostly fields. And it spurred me to pick up my doorstop paperback copy of the book and a suitable bookmark to keep my place in the footnotes. Here’s my copy by the way (with bookmark) – has a great intro by Dave Eggers.

    So as I’m going through this time I’m keeping a note of the words I don’t know the meaning of. Here’s my tally so far…

    <b<Enfilade p13
    1 a volley of gunfire directed along a line from end to end.
    2 a suite of rooms with doorways in line with each other.

    Leonine p15
    1 of or relating to one of the popes named Leo, esp. Leo IV and the part of Rome that he fortified.
    2 Prosody (of medieval Latin verse) in hexameter or elegiac meter with internal rhyme.

    Hypophalangial p16
    Wallace made this one up – but thankfully there’s this site to tell us
    “Phalange suggests finger and the prefix hypo- seems to indicate fewer, less, below, &c. So perhaps less than the expected number of fingers”

    Amanuensis p30
    a literary or artistic assistant, in particular one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.

    Phylacteryish p47
    Another Wallace-ism, but a phylactery is phylactery “a small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law”,this site has a stab at workign out what DFW meant.

    Favourite sections so far?

    The opening interview. You can see why he chose to start with this. It’s an incredible bit of writing. Funny as well. And disturbing, and it draws you right into this world. I read ‘Every Story is a Ghost Story’ last year and it mentions in there DFW’s terrible fear of interviews and public speaking, nd you can see him ploughing all that fear into the opening pages.

    The ‘conversationalist’ section is also brilliant in that funny/disturbing way.

    The marijuana addiction section is just like a tidal wave of prose that makes you feel high and addicted and disgusted/ing just by reding it.

    DFW loses me a bit when he gets into ‘descriptive detail mode’ (as opposed to ‘descriptive emotion mode’). The section where he maps out the architecture of ETA for instance (which is still great if only in the way it sets up the whole ‘respiratory syste,’ metaphor which chimes with all the head/illness/mucus stuff that’s everywhere else in the book – this novel should come with a free pack of Lemsip).

    I think it might be Hal in the first person section on p61-63. Only because he says he’s nearly 12 at the end of it and we’re introduced to his 11yo self earlier in the book?

    Thanks for doing this Jane, and thanks for gettign involved everybody – going to be a fun summer 🙂

    • Jane Doughnut

      Welcome Rob! I agree with you about the descriptive detail…I have to work.so.hard. not to glaze over those parts (especially later when it’s all about – ugh – math) because DFW almost always includes some really key info in those areas, much to my chagrin. We will see that next week with the filmography endnote too.

      As well as having to look up the words you included above, I also had to look up Lemsip (it’s Neocitran, for all you Canucks).

  11. MFleury

    I think I will be living vicariously through everyone else’s comments! I was just happy that “hypophalangial” jumped out at me on p. 16, leading me to believe that my English degree was not as many years ago as I’d care to admit… I’m reading it because of the excellent article in Swerve magazine, and because it seemed like a great thing to do this summer. I’m with Orin – my head is always filled with things to say – but they’ve already been said here and brilliantly. Looking forward to reading more.
    Ms. M.

    • Jane Doughnut

      Lurkers are welcome! I’m sure you will feel compelled to jump in in some places.

  12. Jill Jones

    Oh my, I’m a little overly-enthusiastic!! LOL

  13. Jill Jones

    Hello Everyone,

    I thought I would introduce myself and hope that you will do the same; I’d love to know everyone’s background (are we all lit majors? LOL) and maybe why you’re reading this book (now). Obviously, I tend to be an overly demanding, take-control kind of person but please don’t think of me that way; I’m actually easy to get along with and just intensely curious.  I am a close reader who loves finding obscure meaning in text. I have some of DFW’s essays, The Broom of the System, some of his short stories, and two biographies; I don’t think I can bring myself to see the film based on Lipsky’s book, The End of the Tour. I am reading this because I am not teaching over the summer and wanted a reading project, and Infinite Jest has been staring at me for some time; I knew I would need to talk to others who were reading it or who had read it in order to make sense of it all. I am a teacher of College writing and communications at St. Clair College here in Windsor, Ontario. I have three fantastic children, one husband, and no pets.

    I am so happy to have started this book, but one warning: I tend to over-think things and to go on and on. Ha!

    In these first pages, I was overwhelmed with the number of names and characters; I’ve started a list.

    I had not pulled out the theme of masks or faces although I clearly see it now. I understood the idea of being misunderstood more as a theme of secrecy: Hal gets high in secret, Erdedy does, too; the story of the attaché is secretive, along with his wife; Don Gately is a burglar, obviously a secret occupation; and, the whole story is told in a secretive non-linear way, where you need to keep reading to make sense out of it.

    I also noticed an underlying theme of health or illness: Hal has an anxiety disorder from what I can tell (??), and Prince Q has digestive problems which require the services of the medical attaché. And, although I missed it, Johanna indicated that Hal’s brother Mario is seriously handicapped. Perhaps the real theme here is mental illness because, from what I can tell, all the characters could use the services of a good therapist. Ha! Hal is under the care of a psych-counselor at ETA (Delores Rusk) who seems to have no trouble discussing his care and treatment with his mother and CT; although she also discusses Avril’s private affairs with CT without any concern for privacy issues. This is interesting because Rusk reveals that one of Avril’s “phobic stressors” is “dread of hiding and secrecy in all possible forms with respect to her sons” (51) which is, of course, ironic. Also ironic: any form of therapy is supposed to be secret but is not, in this story.

    I noticed this same idea played out in The Broom of the System: Dr. Jay, Lenore’s and Rick Vigorous’ therapist, was completely without integrity.

    Along these same lines, DFW briefly explores the idea of whether mental illness is something one can overcome (or not) through the short story of “poor old Fenton” ; he concludes that science has determined that Fenton’s only worth was “studying him very carefully to help learn how schizophrenia manifested itself in the human body’s brain” (47-48). I suspect this is an outward expression of how DFW felt at the time given his own personal experience.

    DFW takes frame narrative to a whole new level, doesn’t he? The dream sequences are telling. Because Avril’s head is attached face-to-face with O’s, it seems as though O feels like he cannot get out from under Avril’s gaze; she is over-bearing. And I love the footnote (#2): O’s never seen a therapist, which of course leads me to believe the narrator thinks he should.

    Johanna asked about the section on pages 61-63 and suggested that it is Hal’s voice; I wonder if it is Orin because he has identified as having repeated vivid dreams and nightmares. What is equally (or more) interesting to me is the movement from third person narration into first person; while the only other first-person story-telling was in Hal’s voice, I still think it might be Orin. What if it is someone else altogether: an authorial voice (gah!!), or an unidentified narrator, an un-named child who goes away to any camp for the first time.

    On page sixteen, there is a strange statement: “I have become an infantophile.” The dictionary tells me that infantophilia is another term for pedophilia; but, I don’t think Hal is a pedophile. That would just be too creepy. I wonder if it means he wishes he could return to the simpler times, like childhood; he’s envying children, rather than desiring them. In any case, it’s a very curious choice of words. Can anyone help me out here??

    There is one final thing I noticed: on page seventeen, Hal mentions Venus Williams and speculates that she will attend “the 18’s Boys’ and Girls’ finals.” Although we all know Venus Williams today, she would not have been known in main-stream (mid -1990s) media at the time this book was originally published; DFW would have known her because (I think) he kept on all the news in the tennis industry. But it does do something very interesting: it dates the book’s writing, and DFW very much liked this. In his essay, “E Unibus Pluram,” DFW balked at “a certain gray eminence” who taught that good literature should never be dated, that “serious fiction must be Timeless” (A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again 43-44). I suspect there will be other small clues about the time at which this story was written.

    I think the chapter titles are indicative of what was happening at that time in Hal’s life (the main protagonist); I lived on a lake for about one and a half years and I refer to that as the beach-house years. I think these titles do the same except in a more obscure way.

    I will stop now. I feel a little strange offering these insights when only on page 63 of a 1079-page book. Ha! I will probably look back and laugh at this.

    Looking forward to the next section. 

    • Jane Doughnut

      I think you are spot on with a lot of your ideas Jill! The themes of illness, physical and mental, really wrap into the idea of secrecy as well as the threads about addiction. I think there is so much at play here that mirrors DFW’s own experiences with therapy, depression and addiction. It’s going to be a loooong journey!

      Also, yes let’s introduce ourselves! I would also be interested to know where everyone heard about the book club. A \ little about me -I have an english degree (natch) and work in communications in the nonprofit sector. I loved Broom of the System, and saw it in a way as a training ground for IJ – I believe the phrase ‘Howling Fantods’ even makes an appearance in Broom.

      I am reading a bio of DFW now, by DT Max “Every Love Story is a Ghost Story” – a pretty straightforward bio that has some good insights into how he had wrestled with editors, which makes some of the sprawl of IJ make a lot more sense. I was also fortunate to see the DFW collection at the Ransom Centre at the U of T at Austin during SxSW a few years ago – it had some great letters between DFW and his editors that showed how much he struggled to edit. As well he had tons of self-help books, many that I would consider really simplistic oprah-level stuff, that he covered with hundreds of notes in the margins. I thought that was interesting.

      I was thinking the voice on pgs 61-63 may be Troeltsch (?) just because of the mention of the mother packing a flashlight – why would Avril do that for Hal or Orin when ETA was essentially their home?

      it’s also interesting how he does date the work, while at the same time placing it in the near future, and is in many ways prescient about how we would deal with technology, but also keeps it very ‘dated’ with the idea of cartridges and players. Inter-lace is like Netflix w.out the streaming capability (though if i recall there are some streaming elements available on Interlace but it’s not very good stuff).

      And as to the use of “infantophile” I found this quoted on the ’09 Infinite Summer board (though the citation link is broken):

      “The secret is found in the definition of infant, which comes from a Latin word one of whose uses means “unable to speak”. Hence “infantophile” either means “lover of the inability to speak” or, more loosely, “lover of being mute”. This fits with Hal’s state on page 16.”

  14. Sue Hall

    Thanks Johanna for your post. There was a lot I missed that you helped to fill in. The feeling so far for me is one of alienation and detachment as has been pointed out by the face/ head imagery. They are disembodied. Or the way Orin has sex with “subjects” not persons with a name. I will be interested to find uour why the years are named as they are e.g. Year of the depend adult undergarment. I loved the part about Erdedy and marijuana. I think it describes anyone’s experience of addiction.

    • Jane Doughnut

      Totally agree on that Sue, re: detachment and alienation, which I think the narrative structure helps reinforce.

  15. Jane Doughnut

    Hey Jaron, I was immediately taken aback by the portrayal of marijuana as a pernicious drug, having always seen it as fairly benign.

  16. Jaron James

    I almost forgot about DuPlessis! I’m definitely getting a vibe of alienation and ailments of the face and head. The medical attaché’s main job involve flushing out the Prince’s nose, bizarre stuff.

    I’m interested by Erdedy’s relationship with marijuana, it’s very similar (if more dramatic) to my own. The thrill and excitement, the shame and loneliness, the ditching of old paraphernalia when a binge is through and never to be done again.

    Great stuff so far, thanks for doing this Johanna.

    • It’s odd that more hasn’t been made of the drug usage that’s rife throughout this book (even whatever it is that Hal eats at the start?). Johanna, reading your comments about the head, I wonder if this is also tied to that head theme – the drugs serve to alter reality or change the headspace of characters. Drugs provide an escape (like the addictive cartridge that the medical attache unwittingly starts watching) but also a distraction and disorientation (like the form of DFW’s actual book – how much of this is designed to keep the reader of his/her feet? From trying to sort out the timeline, figure out what ONAN is and how the world has changed, to flipping to the back of the book for footnotes (and later, footnotes within footnotes), it seems like DFW is purposefully trying to baffle the reader).

      • Jane Doughnut

        Arif -I think those are all really strong points. And the connection between Hal ending the first section with “Call it something I ate” to the flashback to lil’ Hal eating what appears to be a hunk of mould from his basement seems perfectly connected – BUT almost too perfectly, considering, as you mention, DFW’s propensity for baffling the reader.

  17. technical question:

    is the intent to finish reading through the indicated page by the given date?
    (ie today we should have completed reading through p.63)

    it seems fridays represent the END of the reading week. yes?

    • Jane Doughnut

      Great question, and yes, for all of the new members, we have just completed the reading for week one, up to page 63. The schedule shows where we should be by a given date.