Infinite Jest

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Infinite Jest
Infinite jest cover.jpg
AuthorDavid Foster Wallace
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreHysterical realism, satire, tragicomedy, postmodern, science fiction
PublisherLittle, Brown
Publication date
February 1, 1996
Media typePrint (hardcover, paperback)
Pages1079 pp
ISBN0-316-92004-5
OCLC32738491
Dewey Decimal813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3573.A425635
Preceded bySignifying Rappers
Followed byA Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
 
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Infinite Jest
Infinite jest cover.jpg
AuthorDavid Foster Wallace
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreHysterical realism, satire, tragicomedy, postmodern, science fiction
PublisherLittle, Brown
Publication date
February 1, 1996
Media typePrint (hardcover, paperback)
Pages1079 pp
ISBN0-316-92004-5
OCLC32738491
Dewey Decimal813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3573.A425635
Preceded bySignifying Rappers
Followed byA Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Infinite Jest is a 1996 novel by David Foster Wallace. The lengthy and complex work takes place in a semi-satiric future version of North America, and touches on substance addiction recovery programs, depression, child abuse, family relationships, advertising, popular entertainment, film theory, Quebec separatism and tennis, among other topics.

The novel includes 388 numbered endnotes (some of which have footnotes of their own) that explain or expand on points in the story. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Wallace characterized them as a method of disrupting the linearity of the text while maintaining some sense of narrative cohesion.[1]

The novel was included by Time magazine in its list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.[2]

As of 2006 (ten years after its publication), 150,000 copies of Infinite Jest had been sold and the book has continued to sell steadily.[3]

Wallace was 33 when the novel was published.

Title[edit]

The novel's title is from Hamlet, Act V, Scene 1, where Hamlet holds the skull of the court jester, Yorick, and says, "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!"[4]

Wallace's working title for Infinite Jest was A Failed Entertainment.[5]

Setting[edit]

In the novel's future world, the United States, Canada, and Mexico together compose a unified North American superstate known as the Organization of North American Nations, or O.N.A.N. (an allusion to onanism).[6] Corporations are allowed the opportunity to bid for and purchase naming rights for each calendar year, replacing traditional numerical designations with ostensibly honorary monikers bearing corporation names. Although the narrative is fragmented among several years, most of the story takes place during "The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment" (Y.D.A.U.). On the orders of U.S. President Johnny Gentle (who had campaigned on the platform of cleaning up the USA while ensuring that no American would be caused any discomfort in the process), much of what used to be the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada has become a hazardous waste dump, an area known as the "Great Concavity" by Americans and the "Great Convexity" by Canadians.

The novel's primary locations are Enfield Tennis Academy ("ETA") and Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House (separated by a hillside in suburban Boston, Massachusetts), and a mountainside outside of Tucson, Arizona. Many characters are students or faculty at the school or patients or staff at the halfway house; a conversation between a quadruple agent and his government contact occurs at the Arizona location.

Plot[edit]

The plot partially revolves around the missing master copy of a film cartridge, titled Infinite Jest and referred to in the novel as "the Entertainment" or "the samizdat". The film, so entertaining to its viewers that they lose all interest in anything other than viewing it and thus eventually die, was the final work of James O. Incandenza. He completed it during a stint of sobriety requested by its lead actress, Joelle Van Dyne. Quebecois separatists are interested in acquiring a master, redistributable copy of the work to aid in acts of terrorism against the United States. The United States Office of Unspecified Services (U.S.O.U.S.) is seeking to intercept the master copy of the film to prevent mass dissemination and the destabilization of the Organization of North American Nations. Joelle and later Hal seek treatment for substance abuse problems at The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House [sic], and Marathe visits the rehabilitation center to pursue a lead on the master copy of the Entertainment, tying the characters and plots together.

Characters[edit]

The Incandenza family[edit]

The Enfield Tennis Academy[edit]

Students[edit]

Prorectors[edit]

The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House [sic][edit]

Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents[edit]

Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents (A.F.R.), the Wheelchair Assassins in English, are a Québécois separatist group. (The incorrect "rollents" is in keeping with other erroneous French words and phrases in the novel.) They are one of many such groups that developed after the United States coerced Canada and Mexico into joining the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.), but the A.F.R. is the most deadly and extremist. While other separatist groups are willing to settle for nationhood, the A.F.R. wants Canada to secede from O.N.A.N. and to reject America's forced gift of its polluted "Great Concavity" (or, Hal and Orin speculate, is pretending that those are its goals to put pressure on Canada to let Quebec secede). The A.F.R. seeks the master copy of Infinite Jest as a terrorist weapon to achieve its goals. The A.F.R. has its roots in a childhood game in which miners' sons would line up alongside a train track and compete to be the last to jump across the path of an oncoming train, an activity in which many were killed or rendered legless (hence the wheelchairs).

Only one miner's son ever (disgracefully) failed to jump – Bernard Wayne, who may be related to ETA's John Wayne. Québécoise Avril's liaisons with Wayne and with AFR leader M. DuPlessis suggest she may have ties to the A.F.R. as well. There is also evidence linking ETA prorector Thierry Poutrincourt to the group.

Other characters[edit]

Subsidized Time[edit]

In the novel's world, each year is subsidized by a specific corporate sponsor for tax revenue purposes. The years of Subsidized Time are listed here:

  1. Year of the Whopper
  2. Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
  3. Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
  4. Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
  5. Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
  6. Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office Or Mobile [sic]
  7. Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland
  8. Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
  9. Year of Glad

Most of the events in the novel take place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (YDAU), and critics have debated which year this coincides with in the Gregorian Calendar.

Critic Stephen Burn, in his book on Infinite Jest, argues that YDAU corresponds to 2009: the MIT Language Riots took place in 1997 (n. 24) and those riots occurred 12 years before YDAU. Also, if the "2007" in "Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile" refers to the pre-subsidization-style numerical date convention, then YDAU (which comes two years later) is 2009. And Don Gately is 9 years old at the time of the LA riots (903) and 17 years old in the "last September of Unsubsidized Time" (906), which makes YDAU 2009.

But it is also possible that YDAU is 2008, as Matty Pemulis turns 23 in YDAU and Matty and Mike Pemulis's father immigrated from Ireland in 1989 when Matty was "three or four" (p. 683). If Matty had been three and four in 1989, he was born in 1985, which means he turns 23 in 2008. Also, James Incandenza was ten years old in 1960 (p. 157), which puts his suicide at age 54 in 2004, four years before YDAU (p. 142). And on page 63 the Enfield Tennis Academy is said to have been open as of YDAU for "three pre-Subsidized years and then eight Subsidized years," while on page 949 the character Hal recalls the March 1998 blizzard that came "a few months" after ETA opened. This means the Academy opened at the end of 1997 or very early in 1998 and Subsidized Time began three years later on 1/1/2001.

Another theory holds that YDAU is 2011. The most compelling evidence for this is Don Gately's age in the Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland (27). Gately was 9 during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, placing his birth around 1983. This identifies the Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland as 2010 and YDAU as 2011, meaning that Subsidized Time began in 2004.

But November 4, YDAU, falls on a Wednesday (176) and November 8 on a Sunday (325). If Subsidized Time is parallel to real-world time, this means that YDAU would be either 2009 or 2015.

Locations[edit]

The fictional Enfield Tennis Academy is a series of buildings laid out as a cardioid on top of a hill on Commonwealth Avenue. This detail has certain thematic resonance, as ETA is in many ways the heart of the novel's setting, and a permutation of the American maxim of a "city on a hill". Ennet House lies directly downhill from ETA, facilitating many of the interactions between characters residing in both locations.

Orin lives in Arizona, the state where much of the dialogue between Helen Steeply and Remy Marathe takes place, and the student union of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – in the novel the structure is built in the shape of the human brain – is both the broadcasting site of Madame Psychosis's radio show and the location of a potentially devastating tennis tournament between ETA and Canadian youths.

Enfield is largely a stand-in for Brighton, Massachusetts. Wallace's description of life in Enfield and neighboring Allston contrasts with the largely idyllic life of students at ETA. The real town of Enfield is now submerged under the Quabbin Reservoir.

Critical reception[edit]

Early reviews contributed to the book's hype, describing it as a momentous literary event and focusing on Wallace's writing ability.[9] Rolling Stone sent the reporter David Lipsky to follow Wallace on his "triumphant" book tour – the first time the magazine had sent a reporter to profile a young author in ten years.[10] The material of the interview became Lipsky's New York Times bestselling account of the trip, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.

In the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Steven Moore called Infinite Jest "a profound study of the postmodern condition."[11] In 2004, Chad Harbach declared that, in retrospect, the book "now looks like the central American novel of the past thirty years, a dense star for lesser work to orbit."[12] In a 2008 retrospective by The New York Times, Infinite Jest was described as "a masterpiece that’s also a monster — nearly 1,100 pages of mind-blowing inventiveness and disarming sweetness. Its size and complexity make it forbidding and esoteric."[13]

In 2005, Time included the novel in its list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.[2]

As Wallace's magnum opus, Infinite Jest is at the center of the new discipline of "Wallace Studies", which, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, "... is on its way to becoming a robust scholarly enterprise."[14]

Not all critics were as laudatory. Some early reviews, such as Michiko Kakutani's in The New York Times, were mixed, recognizing the inventiveness of the writing but criticizing the length and plot.[15] In the London Review of Books, Dale Peck wrote about the novel, "... it is, in a word, terrible. Other words I might use include bloated, boring, gratuitous, and — perhaps especially — uncontrolled."[16] Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University,[17] described the book as "... just awful" and written with "no discernible talent."[18]

Translations[edit]

Infinite Jest has been translated into:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "An interview with David Foster Wallace". Charlie Rose. Retrieved 2011-12-26. 
  2. ^ a b Grossman, Lev; Lacayo, Richard (2005). "TIME's Critics pick the 100 Best Novels, 1923 to present". TIME 
  3. ^ Max, D. T. (2012). Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story: A Life Of David Foster Wallace. U.S.A.: Viking Penguin. p. 288. ISBN 978-0-670-02592-3. 
  4. ^ "Shakespeare Online: Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1". 
  5. ^ Lipsky, David (2008). "The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace". Rolling Stone. pp. 6 of 11. Retrieved 2011-03-26 
  6. ^ Nazaryan, Alexander (February 21, 2012) "David Foster Wallace at 50." New York Daily News. (Retrieved 8-21-13).
  7. ^ "What Happens at the End of Infinite Jest?". Aaron Swartz. Retrieved 2014-2-6. 
  8. ^ Tortorici, Dayna (2009-09-11). "n+1: Posthumous Gratitude". Nplusonemag.com. Retrieved 2011-12-26. 
  9. ^ "AtlanticMonthly". 
  10. ^ "NYTBR". 
  11. ^ "Infinite Jest". 
  12. ^ "N+1". 
  13. ^ "NYT-review". 
  14. ^ "The Afterlife of David Foster Wallace". 
  15. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (February 13, 1996) “Infinite Jest.” New York Times.
  16. ^ Peck, Dale (18 July 1996) "Well, duh." London Review of Books. (Retrieved 4-23-2013.)
  17. ^ Department of English | Yale University
  18. ^ Koski, Lorna (2011-04-26). "The Full Harold Bloom". Women's Wear Daily`. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

In-depth studies[edit]

Interviews[edit]

External links[edit]