Infinite Jest: YDAU I

Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment I

Thinking back, he was sure he’d said whatever, which in retrospect worried him because it might have sounded as if he didn’t care at all, not at all, so little that it wouldn’t matter if she forgot to get it or call, and once he’d made the decision to have marijuana in his home one more time it mattered a lot. It mattered a lot.

In the same Charlie Rose interview I embedded in my last post, DFW is asked what he thinks about the reception and accolades that Infinite Jest was getting. He responded that he was surprised that so many people focused on how funny the book was. It seemed to me like Wallace was uncomfortable by people focusing on the humor of a book that really contained his heart and soul, like a mob laughing at a statement of truth.
If there are many more sections like this, I’m not sure that he had cause to worry. This section is both deeply funny and deeply dark. As it’s basically the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of an addict (repeating the mantra, “Where was the woman who said she’d come.”), it’s extremely closely observed, DFW leads us deep into oversharing territory. As a reader, I felt a strange and conflicting mixture of identification, reactionary disgust, and amusement. There are some of the narrator’s insecurities and coping mechanisms that feel so true, or that I experience to a different degree in my own life, that I can’t help but to identify with him. That feeling is counterbalanced by the part of me that can’t imagine living the way that the man does, in a world of self-delusion completely lacking in perspective. It goes beyond a voyeuristic disgust, I actually find it somewhat scary. And to top it off, it is also witty and funny.
Given what we know of DFW’s struggles with substance abuse and alcohol addiction, and the extensive self-help library he owned, I think it’s probably safe to say that some of the emotional and behavioral truths in this section contain some reflection of Wallace himself. And so you could easily see why he would be threatened by a public that seemed to not even acknowledge the true blackness of some of his writing. Like Hal, he knew the futility of the question, “So yo then man what’s your story?”

Stray Observations

  • In the quotation above, the narrator of the section shows that he too, like Hal, obsesses over the potential of language to betray communication.
  • Throughout the chapter, the narrator refers to a small insect, possibly a manifestation of his insanity (or addiction). One of the things that I love about it is that it pops up casually, like a non sequitur.
  • I imagine that DFW smoked some weed in his lifetime.
  • First appearance of a footnote.
  • Other potential DFW-ian character traits: a strange mixture of optimism and pessimism. A great amount of self-knowledge, coupled with a paralysis that prevents him from acting upon that knowledge.
  • The idea that perhaps the best way to treat a weakness by overindulging seems to be significant to the narrator on a personal level, and also perhaps apply to the broader culture. The way that the narrator treats weed and and entertainment are strongly linked: The moment he recognized what exactly was on one cartridge he had a strong anxious feeling that there was something more entertaining on another cartridge and that he was potentially missing it. He realized that he would have plenty of time to enjoy all the cartridges, and realized intellectually that the feeling of deprived panic over missing something made no sense.

New Vocabulary

  • Rapacious: aggressively greedy or grasping.

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