10 Mar 2010, 3:50pm
4 comments

end notes

well, it took me just over a month, but i’ve finished infinite jest. i read the last 300+ pages in two days. partly because i wanted to be done with the book so i could move on and read something (frankly) more cheerful (the book remains funny throughout, but cheerful, no), and partly because i wanted to know what was gonna happen. i still don’t know what was gonna happen. i guess it’s not that kind of book. i don’t know why i thought it would be.

when i was reading it i was sort of vaguely seeking out discussions of the book online (there is a truly mind-boggling amount of discussion of infinite jest on the internet), and every once in awhile i would run across some mention of “the last line” of the book and i would quickly click away because if it was some sort of epiphanic moment i didn’t want to ruin it for myself. but last night at the end of my 300-page reading binge the ending did not feel epiphanic. maybe it will kick in later. it didn’t feel like a bad ending, and the questions it left unanswered didn’t make me want to throw it across a room, but.

so, some things about the book:

dfw has this way of conveying character through (mostly third person) narration that i really admire. like, the narration itself takes on the qualities of the central-to-that-section character’s voice or thought patterns. little details like using señorio for scenario if the character’s not super well-educated but thinks he’s hot shit, and so on. he even adds occasional endnotes like, “Marathe’s malentendu of live-in” i guess when he thinks we won’t get it otherwise, or when he feels like reminding us that there’s a presiding author writing all of it. or sometimes he doesn’t do this and then there’ll be endnotes like, “She didn’t literally say shitstorm” or “Actual term employed is downer-type” or “The speaker doesn’t actually use the terms thereon, most assuredly, or operant limbic system, though she really had, before, said chordate phylum.”

oh, here’s another one, wrapped up in a (long!) section i dogeared, which i will use this excuse to share with you (incidentally it also illustrates the funny-but-hardly-cheerful thing quite well):

And the wraith on the heart monitor looks pensively down at Gately from upside-down and asks does Gately remember the myriad thespian extras on for example his beloved ‘Cheers!,’ not the center-stage Sam and Carla and Nom, but the nameless patrons always at tables, filling out the bar’s crowd, concessions to realism, always relegated to back- and foreground; and always having utterly silent conversations: their faces would animate and mouths move realistically, but without sound; only the name-stars at the bar itself could audibilize. The wraith says these fractional actors, human scenery, could be seen (but not heard) in most pieces of filmed entertainment. And Gately remembers them, the extras in all public scenes, especially like bar and restaurant scenes, or rather remembers how he doesn’t quite remember them, how it never struck his addled mind as in fact surreal that their mouths moved but nothing emerged, and what a miserable fucking bottom-rung job that must be for an actor, to be sort of human furniture, figurants the wraith says they’re called, these surreally mute background presences whose presence really revealed that the character, like any eye, has a perceptual corner, a triage of who’s important enough to be seen and heard v. just seen. A term from ballet originally, figurant, the wraith explains. The wraith pushes his glasses up in the vaguely snivelling way of a kid that’s just got slapped around on the playground and says he personally spent the vast bulk of his own former animate life as pretty much a figurant, furniture at the periphery of the very eyes closest to him, it turned out, and that it’s one heck of a crummy way to try to live. Gately, whose increasing self-pity leaves little room or patience for anyone else’s self-pity, tries to list his left hand and wiggle his pinkie to indicate the world’s smallest viola playing the theme from The Sorrow and the Pity, but even moving his left arm makes him almost faint. And either the wraith is saying or Gately is realizing that you can’t appreciate the dramatic pathos of a figurant until you realize how completely trapped and encaged he is in his mute peripheral status, because like say for example if one of ‘Cheers!’’s bar’s figurants suddenly decided he couldn’t take it any more and stood up and started shouting and gesturing around wildly in a bid for attention and nonperipheral status on the show, Gately realizes, all that would happen is that one of the audibilizing ‘name’ stars of the show would bolt over from stage-center and apply restraints or the Heineken Maneuver or CPR, figuring the silent gesturing figurant was choking on a beer-nut or something, and then the whole rest of that episode of ‘Cheers!’ would be jokes about the name star’s life-saving heroics, or else his fuck-up in applying the Heineken Maneuver to somebody who wasn’t choking on a nut. No way for the figurant to win. No possible voice or focus for the encaged figurant. Gately speculates briefly about the suicide statistics for bottom-rung actors. The wraith disappears and then reappears in the chair by the bed’s railing, leaning forward with its chin on its hands on the railing in what Gately’s coming to regard as the classic tell-your-troubles-to-the-trauma-patient-that-can’t-interrupt-or-get-away position. The wraith says that he himself, the wraith, when animate, had dabbled in filmed entertainments, as in making them, cartridges, for Gately’s info to either believe or not, and but in the entertainments the wraith made himself, he says he goddamn bloody well made sure that you could bloody well hear every single performer’s voice, no matter how far out on the cinematographic or narrative periphery they were; and that it wasn’t just the self-conscious overlapping dialogue of a poseur like Schwulst or Altman, i.e. it wasn’t just the crafted imitation of aural chaos: it was real life’s real egalitarian babble of figurantless crowds, of the animate world’s real agora, the babble342 of crowds every member of which was the central and articulate protagonist of his own entertainment. It occurs to Gately that he’s never had any sort of dream where somebody says something like vast bulk, much less agora, which Gately interprets as a kind of expensive sweater. Which was why, the wraith was continuing, the complete unfiguranted egalitarian aural realism was why party-line entertainment critics always complained that the wraith’s entertainments’ public-area scenes were always incredibly dull and self-conscious and irritating, that they could never hear the really meaningful central narrative conversations for all the unfiltered babble of the surrounding crowd, which they assumed the babble(/babel) was some self-conscious viewer-hostile heavy-art directorial pose, instead of radical realism.

342. Or possibly Babel.

(pages 834-6, & endnote)

that looks like a long paragraph, but actually it’s just a chunk out of the middle of an even longer paragraph.

(and there is one endnote referencing a “Coatlicue Complex” that just reads “No clue.” the internet’s done the a lot of work for me w/r/t to that: here. but i’d be pretty interested in exploring why the heck the “no clue” endnote, when, obviously, yes clue, dfw…)

and so now i am sharing quotations:

Then the number of times I would have to repeat the same processes, day after day, in all kinds of light until I graduated and moved away and then began the same exhausting process of exit and return in some dormitory at some tennis-power university somewhere. Maybe the worst part of the cognitions involved the incredible volume of food I was going to have to consume over the rest of my life. Meal after meal, plus snacks. Day after day after day. Just the thought of the meat alone. One megagram? Two megagrams? I experienced, vividly, the image of a broad cool well-lit room piled floor to ceiling with nothing but the lightly-breaded chicken fillets I was going to consume over the next sixty years. The number of fowl vivisected for a lifetime’s meat. The amount of hydrochloric acid and bilirubin and glucose and glycogen and gloconol produced and absorbed and produced in my body. And another, dimmer room, filled with the rising mass of the excrement I’d produced, the room’s double-locked steel door gradually bowing outward with the mounting pressure…. I had to put my hand out against the wall and stand there hunched until the worst of it passed. . . .

It now lately seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately—the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into. Flight from exactly what? These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat? To what purpose? This was why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions why and to what grow real beaks and claws. It was kind, in a way. Modern German is better equipped for combining gerundives and prepositions than is its mongrel cousin. The original sense of addiction involved being bound over, dedicated, either legally or spiritually. To devote one’s life, plunge in. Stice had asked me whether I believed in ghosts. It’s always seemed a little preposterous that Hamlet, for all his paralyzing doubt about everything, never once doubts the reality of the ghost. Never questions whether his own madness might not in fact be unfeigned. Stice had promised something boggling to look it. That is, whether Hamlet might be only feigning feigning. . . .

(pages 897 & 900)

oh here is another thing about the book: every time i tried to read it while eating something, i sort of regretted it.

infinite jest college paper topics (heh):
*infant imagery and wildness, humanness, naïveté
*the concavity/convexity w/r/t to the above
*maps: map v. territory, “demapping,” one’s “own personal map”/face/life
*something about narration (’cause, dang)
*something about annulation and all of that (which i need to reread the whole darn book if i want to figure out)
*endnotes (their purpose in the narrative, etc)
*human-as-machine? (the whir in mike pemulis’s head v. the lack-of-whir—according to one of the ennet house residents; i can’t remember who—in marathe’s?)

. . . younger athletes who can’t help gauging their whole worth by their place in an ordinal ranking use the idea that achieving their goals and finding the gnawing sense of worthlessness still there in their own gut as a kind of psychic bogey, something that they can use to justify stopping on their way down to dawn drills to smell flowers along the E.T.A. paths. The idea that achievement doesn’t automatically confer interior wealth is, to them, still, at this age, an abstraction, rather like the prospect of their own death—’Caius Is Moral’ and so on. Deep down, they all still view the competitive carrot as the grail. They’re mostly going through the motions when they invoke anhedonia[*]. . . .

Deluded or not, it’s a lucky way to live. Even though it’s temporary. It may well be that the lower-ranked little kids at E.T.A. are proportionally happier than the higher-ranked kids, since we (who are mostly not small children) know it’s more invigorating to want than to have, it seems. Though maybe this is just the inverse of the same delusion. . . .

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip—and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté. Sentiment equals naïveté on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration). . . . Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically round the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.281

[*defined earlier as "a kind of spiritual torpor in which one loses the ability to feel pleasure or attachment to things formerly important. . . . It's a kind of emotional novacaine, this form of depression, and while it's not overly painful its deadness is disconcerting and... well, depressing."]

281. This has been one of Hal’s deepest and most pregnant abstractions, one he’d come up with while getting secretly high in the Pump Room. That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that he goes around feeling like he misses somebody he’s never even met? Without the universalizing abstraction, the feeling would make no sense.

(pages 693-5, & endnote)

but, ok, so, the ending. if you haven’t read the book and you’re planning on someday reading it and you think you might remember this ultimately insignificant little blog post of mine, you might want to skip the rest of this entry, because you may need the promise of the ending of this book (like, that it’s actually gonna be an ending) to act as your carrot on a stick to get you through the reading of it, though here too it is true that the wanting beats the having, maybe.

i don’t know how much my experience of the ending was influenced by my mood when i read it (more Hal than hale, if you catch my drift). i put it down and was like, oh. well, goddamn. and then i turned over and went to sleep, with way more questions that answers. namely: what happened to hal? what happened to gately? what happened to joelle, orin, mike pemulis, ortho stice, kate gompert, marathe? for that matter, what happened to lyle (is he dead? or has he always been a really-good-at-holding-still wraith?), Himself-the-wraith himself, steeply? (at least i know what happened to randy lenz, or at least i have a pretty good idea, and good riddance: i was so angry at dfw for making me feel even a moment’s compassion for that piece of crap. it’s a good thing the rest of the book was so good; i think i can forgive him, whereas i have yet to forgive haruki murakami for that one chapter in kafka on the shore.)

mostly: what happened? and damnit, dfw, why did you do this to me?

the internet (like my very own book club independent of time and space) wonders too (and parts of it are just as irate and annoyed), and has some possible answers, ranging from partial and resonant to complete and improbable. some partial and improbable and some complete and maybe not so improbable, too (one such fascinating explanation can be found here), but i hesitate to commit. what’s interesting (and a little frustrating) to me is that all this figuring out and whodunit-type-thinking is just to connect the end of the book back to its beginning, which events takes place a year after the events of the ending. the year-later section doesn’t offer any kind of resolution of its own, either… that is to say, things are far from okay. though neither has any kind of apocalyptic future (w/r/t to the lethal Entertainment, O.N.A.N., etc—the big things seem to be more or less as they always were) come to pass. but, i mean, poor hal!

there is so freakin’ MUCH in the book beyond the crazy whodunit plot-type-stuff, and i’m sure a reread is warranted… eventually. that this book will enter the literary canon (if it can’t already be said to be there) is a given, for sure. it is mind-bogglingly well-written, but i suspect that it’s not flawless. like, anybody got an explanation for the wardine section towards the beginning? hmmmm? (or, like, what was the point of the matty-pemulis-the-prostitute section? and so on.) did i miss something? i mean, i know i missed a lot of things. hopefully the quotations i have shared have betrayed some of the depth that is in there. family, communication (”interfacing”), addiction, highs, purpose, happiness, competition, entertainment, choice, patriotism (sort of), politics, beauty, deformity, concealance (if i were dfw i wouldn’t have to use a made-up word to say what i mean), maybe kindness and/or love and/or duty, a little bit… lots of big abstract nouns. anything can be about anything. i say a reread is warranted but i also think dfw warns against obsessing over the details à la steeply’s father and his destructive and ultimately meaningless m*a*s*h addiction—obsession over details would reveal more about the reader than about the book, i think, in dfw’s view. and there’s also the quotation i shared a few weeks ago, about how everything has potential to be abused (but also that letting oneself be crippled into inaction by that potential is itself crippling).

so, the ending. the last, i dunno, few dozen pages of the book are really pretty horrendous. violent and cringe-y (kept thinking about un chien andalou during that one part; you know the image i’m talking about). and then in one final sentence the scenery changes completely:
“And when he came to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”
this scene as described so briefly is (to me) all of the following: melancholy, peaceful, lonely, cleansing, foreboding… the sea represents something dark and threatening, but also represents something that returns, over and over, predictably, that never abandons forever. the tide was way out = the tide will come back in. and then go out again. and then come back in. second chances? or we never learn/we make the same mistakes over again? or what? i dunno.

a few infinite jest resources and links:
infinite summer
infinite jest wiki
a blog entry i particularly like about the ending
“techno-curmudgeonly solutions for life in a wallacian dystopia,” i.e. the world we live in, from another blog

there are tons of thoughtful and sometimes beautiful reflections on the book out there in the blogosphere if you look for ‘em. me, i’m still practicing this writing-about-books thing. getting back in the habit (hah! the habit!).

Yeah, I had a similar reaction to the end. Actually, I was over a hundred pages from the end when I realized there was no way DFW could possibly wrap up all the dozens of loose ends. At then very end I wondered where the rest of the book was, the ‘what happened to so-and-so’ parts. It felt so unfinished I was left empty and unsatisfied, which might have been the point…

i am killing myself not to read the end spoilers here because IJ is one of the books that’s always been on my to-read list (maybe this summer, ha). and I know what you mean about the writing-about-books thing. LOL, the plight of the graduated literature majors…

Thanks for the ping! Glad you found my site (and others) useful. Wish you’d been around for Infinite Summer, when all that DFW/IJ interpretive work got done. Reading IJ in a month – well, that’s a serious month of reading. Best to you!

Liked reading your responses to IJ. After distancing myself from the book and thus any expectations of narrative conclusivness, I find the ending resonates quite a bit. The juxtaposition of Facklemann/Gately is an incredible image that casts its shadow over the rest of the book. Facklemann, forced out of his high with eyelids sewn open, is watching Gately given liquid sunshine, the best high available by the voltile Bobby “C”.
Lots of facets connect to the book here and examine/explore for me in these few pages- narrative wise Gately’s “bottom”, thematically Linda McCartney’s isolated vocals and fear of the rejection of sincere expression involuting itself preventing true self expression, death/rebirth, and on.

Each read seemingly reveals new depths. Last read, I was fascinated by the wordplay DFW employs surrounding “seeing”…i.e Bobby “C” referred to only as “C” for the rest of the chapter after being introduced with a DFW wink as “Bobby C. (”C”)”, Fackelman with his eyes sown open forced to “see” Gately in Sunshine bliss..and then the final image..”the Sea”. Not to deep of an observation but surely one of the many layers DFW and packed onto this book.

In particular I have two questions for you:
1.Everyone examines the last sentence, but noone (i have found) offers an interpretation of the passage before that, and frankly it confuse me a bit. Here is the quote:

“The last rotating sight was the chinks coming back through the door, holding big shiny squares of the room. As the floor wafted up and C’s grip finally gave, the last thing Gately saw was an Oriental bearing down with the held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced. And when he came back to…”

In particular he focuses on the “Squares of the room” mentioning it twice. What are these? Mirror’s..out of body hallucinations? Have any thoughts?

2.Also, what scene in Kafka on the Shore caused such ire with Murakami?

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