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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: ONANism

October 31, 2011

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


October 31, 2011, pgs 380-418/1028-1031.  I think I enjoy this section most as storytelling strategy. Wallace obviously had to at some point explain the development of his near-future reality of subsidized time and President Gentle and Interlace teleputers. He could have done it with a standard flashback, or obliquely through the development of other parts of the story. It’s possible that Hugh Steeply could have been a narrative vehicle, or James O. Incandenza’s ONANtiad. Instead, we get Mario’s puppet show spoof of his father’s film, viewed annually at Enfield Academy on Interdependence Day.  The format allows for a fleshed out telling of the story in a way that enhances, without undermining, the fundamental ridiculousness of a microbe-phobic ex-crooner maneuvering his party into governmental leadership and his struggling nation into the Organization of North American Nations. I was reminded of Homer Simpson’s rise to Sanitation Commissioner of Springfield, as captured in image and song below:

Then on to Lyle, whose relationship with the hyperhidrostic Marlon Bain seems to have been the basis for JOI’s movie Death in Scarsdale. As Mario’s film plays in the cafeteria, Lyle counsels various ETAers in the unlit weight room. His visitors include Ortho Stice who is struggling (along with this reader, so far) to understand why his bedroom furniture is being rearranged while he sleeps.

At the same time, Hal is ingesting massive amounts of sugar, noticing a toothache, and thinking about his father’s films, in particular The Medusa v. The Odalisque.  Again with the St. Therese, who in this case is “a character out of old Québécois mythology who was supposedly so inhumanly gorgeous that anyone who looked at her turned instantly into a human-sized precious gem, from admiration.”  A deadly, mythical, Canadian PGOAT.

I count TMvTO  as a credible but unconfirmed Hamlet sighting, or at the very least, a Hamlet reference, since it is a play within a play (or movie, as it were). Hal mentions that “it’s not clear what [Medusa and the Odalisque are] supposed to be on the level of the playlet, whether the audience is supposed to see/(not)see them as ghosts or wraiths or ‘real’ mythic entities or what. But it’s a ballsy fight-scene up there on the stage…”  and that the movie’s “own audiences didn’t think too much of the thing, because the film audience never does get much of a decent full-frontal look at what it is about the combatants that supposedly has such a melodramatic effect on the rumble’s live audience, and so the film’s audience ends up feeling teased and vaguely cheated…”

It seems not coincidental that this is followed by a description of THE JOKE.

During the puppet cabinet meeting, it becomes clear that the “de-mapping” or “eliminating his map” phrase that Wallace has been using is not just a clever invention of near-future slang. It’s something people would actually say in a nation where considerable portions of the geography have actually been removed from the map.

Then the Eric Clipperton saga, in which the obsession with achievement and victory is illustrated in its full pathology, and where we can learn, in an endnote, that many of JOI’s master cartridges and other such materials are buried with him in a region of Canada that is just over the border from the eastern Concavity.

Finally, the rise and fall of the television and advertising industries, which is a strange thing to read in the age of Hulu and Netflix and YouTube. With its anti-passive passivity and mass-marketed individual empowerment, this bit makes a nice complement to the TV essay from “A Supposedly Fun Thing…”

In closing, happy Halloween everybody:

So David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon walk into a party...

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2011 4:36 pm

    It’s worth pointing out that the term ‘onaninsm’ also means ‘masturbation’. I suspect this was intentional on the part of the author, especially since he once used the phrase “the tumescence of ONANism” (tumescence, of course, referring to an erection). I, personally, couldn’t stop laughing when I read it. Sorry to spoil your thoughtful post with my nasty mind. (:


  1. The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Interdependence Day « TRADE PAPERBACKS

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