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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Justifying Your Seed

August 19, 2011

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 


August 19, 2011, pgs 157-176. In these pages we are wading through what I suspect are among the most referential and coded sections of the entire novel. Please chime in with comments if you see more than I will.

The sins of the fathers pile up here, with James O. Incandenza, Sr. giving a drunken lecture to his son, the future Himself, and focusing much of his attention on his own father, Jr’s grandfather, whom Sr also refers to as ‘Himself.’ Describing the whole thing gets convoluted even by David Foster Wallace standards. This is the point at which Sr, a failed tennis prodigy, decided he would go out in the garage and make a high-caliber youth tennis player out of his son. His increasingly drunken monologue begins with a little bit of caustic film theory (“Marlon Brando was the archetypal new-type actor who ruined it looks like two whole generations’ relations with their own bodies and the everyday objects and bodies around them”) and a resentful mention of Jr’s “quick little scientific-prodigy mind she’s so proud of” (“she” being Jr’s  mom and sounding here an awful lot like his future wife and her attitudes towards his son, another prodigy). The mention of black widow spiders is multi-valent, connecting to the ominous Avril Incandenza, counting as a Hamlet Sighting regarding dead husbands, and having something to do with Jr’s father that I haven’t figured out yet but is almost certainly what led to the later naming of  Jr’s Lactrodectus Mactans Productions. Recall from endnote 24 that the first Lactrodectus Mactans Productions picture is Widower, in which a father takes his son around the house burning up poisonous spiders. Apparently JOI Sr was phobic about black widows. There are also mentions of palm fronds that echo the putrid menace of Orin Incandenza’s introductory chapter way back when, and this chapter precedes the Incandenza family’s move back to California, where Sr would land a job as “The Man from Glad,” harkening back to the opening chapter in the Year of Glad. JOI Sr gives JOI Jr a drink from his flask, foreshadowing the alcoholism in Jr’s future. Then there is the whole thing about talent and achievement, and the need to fulfill your promise. As Sr tells his eleven year-old son, “I’m just afraid of having a tombstone that says HERE LIES A PROMISING OLD MAN.” This affliction seems to have touched the Incandenza boys all the way down the line, minus Mario. Basically, this chapter is like the source waters for the whole Incandenza genealogy of trouble, which may explain why, when he adapted this experience into a film in the Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, James O. Incandenza, Jr. gave it the mythological sounding name As of Yore.

Then a quick chapter about Pemulis buying drugs (on my birthday, just FYI), which I’m pretty sure is inserted here to throw readers off the obvious conclusion that the following section is the logical future extending from of JOI Sr’s lecture in the garage: a film made by his two grandsons that is more a less an instructional video on how to be a tennis prodigy. “Here is how to put on a big red tent of a shirt that has ETA across the chest in gray…Here is how to wrap your torn ankle…” all the way to “Have a father whose own father lost what was there. Have a father who lived up to his own promise and then found thing after thing to meet and surpass the expectations of his promise in, and didn’t seem just a whole hell of a lot happier or tighter wrapped than his own failed father…” Then a heavily weighted line, almost a pun if it wasn’t so damn serious: “Reaching at least the round you’re supposed to is known at tournaments as ‘justifying your seed.'”

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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