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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: The Story of O

September 28, 2011

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


September 28, 2011, pgs 283-306. Orin Incandenza is in the running for saddest guy in this book, which is saying a lot when your dramatis persona is almost entirely comprised of drug addicts, alcoholics, suicides and the suicidal, cripples, violent criminals, the physically and sexually abused, militaristically drilled adolescents, the developmentally challenged and others. Orin actually has some measure of tangible success, including excellence in his field, financial security, casual abstinence from substances, ability to seduce nearly any woman, health and more — which only amplifies the fact that he wakes up each morning on soaked sheets, paralyzed with fear, rarely alone but lonely as hell.

Here, then, is some of the back story of how all that came to be: how Orin left home, left tennis and got involved with Joelle van Dyne aka Madame Psychosis aka the Prettiest Girl of All Time, or PGOAT. Orin bears strong similarities to Mike Pemulis, as both have phenomenal lobs but limited tennis games otherwise, and “Orin was Eschaton’s first game-master at E.T.A.” It’s not hard to see how the young man found his way into serious adult unhappiness, with the glimpses of a home life with his mother, whom he described to Hal as “a kind of contortionist with other people’s bodies,” and Charles “CT” Tavis, who is without question the most tiresome and blandly sinister person in “Infinite Jest,” if not all of American literature. The fact that he lays out the whole Hamlet-esque family drama in E.T.A.’s convocation ceremony speech each year is spreading more than enough crazy seed to grow flowers.

I haven’t figured out, other than the all too obvious reason, why Orin traces the symbol for infinity on his “subjects,” but I’m pretty sure it’s not good. He is some kind of preternatural genius at punting a football, which is interesting because, given his father’s and his father’s father’s pursuits of success, Orin’s greatest and most celebrated achievement comes only in the event of failure. What he seems to really enjoy about his job is the ability to shut off his head in the thrum of thousands of cheering fans, which he describes as “the sound of the womb” and “amniotic,” with just about the right level of Oedipal creepiness.

Then it’s off to Poor Tony Krause, which, again, usually means something unpleasant and gross is about to happen. Probably involving bodily fluids. This time it’s a seizure that comes after a headache-inducingly vivid description of pure addictive desperation and heroin withdrawal. But even with all the soiled clothing and incontinence and pain and fingers bit off during Tony’s lowest moments, he still seems somehow better adjusted than Orin. Tony has a bathroom stall and a steady supply of NyQuil and he calls it getting by for a few days, whereas Orin’s misery manages to permeate every surface of his well-ordered life.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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