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IJ Notes and Speculations

Infinite Jest News Archive

NB: The non-link content of this page has not been updated in a long time.. As such, a lot of the speculations below have been fleshed out in a variety of publications and by the online community at wallace-l. By no means consider the notes and speculations below final, if anything, they'll have you hungry for more.



SPOILER WARNING!!!! Seriously, reading all the stuff below could give serious things away about IJ if you have not read it yet.

There has been much discussion on wallace-l concerning what happened in IJ.
On this page is the beginnings of what will hopefully be a coverage of all the theories and evidence put forth by all those posting to wallace-l, and talking in other sources.
The foundations of this page are based in Dan Schmidt's IJ Notes page and from block quotes from wallace-l, hopefully it is readable!
If anyone has any corrections to suggest or ideas to submit please email me.

Further Note: Some of the discussion below is well and truly out of date, to keep up with any discussion subscribe to the wallace-l mailing list.


and excellent Infinfite Jest Resources check out the online IJ resource links (including and Index, 'Chapter' Guide, Glossary, Character Profiles) over at the Infinite Jest page. (also partially reproduced below)

Infinite Jest Reading Resources:

Who is Mario's father?

I think Mario is one of the most interesting characters in IJ. Even though I always thought he was Tavis' son I had trouble deciphering the evidence. Below is a post to wallace-l from Michael Briggs on 22 Oct 97 which I think covers the topic quite well.

>From Michael Briggs:

For the record, at any rate:

1. I'm almost certain that Mario is CT and Avril's son. True, on page 451, CT refers to Mario as "the thing it's not entirely impossible he may have fathered," but the text elsewhere suggests that it's way more possible than Charles admits.

On 312, the narrator refers to Mario's surprise arrival as "the first birth of the Incandenza's second son" -- since, evangelism aside, it's not possible to be born twice, this implies that there are two "second sons": Mario (Avril's second son) and Hal (Himself's second son). On the same page, we learn that Mario is born in November, in "the seventh month of a hidden pregnancy" -- which means he was conceived in the spring, about the time Charles moved in with Avril and JO for an "extended and emotional-battery-recharging visit."

Are Mario's birth defects the result of an incestuous relationship? As seems to be the case with almost everything in the novel, there is a lot of ambiguity on this topic: CT is "either Mrs. Incandenza's half-brother or adoptive brother, depending on the version" (81). On page 900, we learn that Hal leans toward the latter: he thinks CT and Avril are "probably" not related "by actual blood" (like Molly, they are "Not-kin"). Also, Hal remembers learning -- from "a distraught CT in the waiting room of Brigham and Women's OB/GYN while the Moms was prematurely delivering Mario" (901)

-- that CT's mother had dwarfish/homodontic features. It is genetically plausible that CT passed those recessive genes along to Mario -- which might explain why Mario is the "object of some weird attracto-repulsive gestalt for Charles Tavis" (316).

Not that important, but interesting: both Orin and Hal (whose middle name is James) have parts of their father's name in their own, while Mario is named for his paternal great-grandfather (p. 313). Mario's middle initial is M. (p. 316) -- from Mondragon, Avril's original surname?

I need to look more closely at Himself's relationship with Mario and Charles before I can guess whether JO had any suspicion about all this. What do you think?

From: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Joelle: Beautiful? Deformed? Both?!

It was August-September last year (97) that wallace-l flared up with discussion concerning whether the PGOAT (Prettiest Girl of All Time, aka Joelle, aka Madame Psychosis) is scarred, or beautiful.

There are two main arguments:

1. Joelle is so beautiful that she may as well be deformed. Thus wearing the UHID veil to hide her beauty. This theory is based upon references to things Joelle said herself, and supported by the lack of integrity of Molly Notkin's responses when being interviewed.


2. She is deformed. Got splashed with acid etc. just as Notkin claims.

Below I have set out a few very interesting posts to wallace-l with evidence and views to both sides of the argument. Subsequently I have found two passages that have (as far as I can find) not been quoted on wallace-l. I think they both confuse the issue more... I am beginning to think there is no answer...

The first quote comes from the interview of Joelle by Steeply (p. 940) , Joelle speaking:

'When he talked about this thing as a quote perfect entertainment, terminally compelling - it was always ironic - he was having a sly little jab at me. [This is the important bit... I think] I used to go around saying the veil was to disguise lethal perfection, that I was too lethally beautiful for people to stand. It was a kind of a joke I'd gotten from one of his entertainments, the Medusa-Odalisk thing. That even in U.H.I.D. I hid by hiddenness, in denial about the deforminty itself. So Jim took a failed piece and told me it was too perfect to release - it'd paralyse people. It was entirely clear that it was an ironic joke. To me.'

Now read the passage on p 538 (Joelle talking to Gately), Joelle speaking:

"Don, I'm perfect. I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. Everything. Like i'm the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to cheek with perfection."

Is she lying? What is the truth? To make matters worse there is the whole Molly Notkin thing (p. 787-795), true or false given that she lies in the interview as pointed out by Michael Briggs in a post to wallace-l.

-- Notkin is not the world's most reliable storyteller. One example: she says on page 787 that JO's belief in "a finite world-total of available erections rendered him always either impotent or guilt-ridden." On page 220, though, the narrator tells us that it was Molly's former lover -- a "GW Pabst scholar at New York University" -- and not Himself who suffered from this neurosis. [quoted from Michael Briggs]

But as well as this, just a few pages after the interview with Steeply (p. 958), Joelle:

' She'd been close to removing the veil to get away from the outside-linebacker of a federal lady anyway.'

Arrgghhh!!! more ambiguity. Why would removing the veil help her get away? Because she is so deformed that it would terrify Steeply? Because she is so beautiful Steeply would have been paralysed?

I just don't know anymore. Somehow I see her as being both hideously deformed AND beautiful at the same time. I think DFW has constructed it this way, and performed it perfectly.

Anyway onto a semi-random selection of quotes from wallace-l...

>From Dave Lynch:

On Wed, 20 Aug 1997, Bob Skinner wrote:

> I'm on my second pass at IJ and a nagging PGOAT question still stumps me. > Maybe it's because I was reading pretty fast the first time through but > didn't Joelle v.D. get acid thrown in her > face when nimble Orin ducked? If so, then how come "Gately can see up at > what looks like a regular human > female chin and makeupless lower lip under the veil's billowing hem." (p. > 616) after being shot by the F.L.Q.?

Note that this testimony was given by Molly Notkin, who it's pretty much obvious DFW intends to have absolutely no credibility with the reader whatsoever, even aside from her obviously bullshit post-Marxist film theories. F'rinstance her rendering of the the pee goat's name as "Lucille Duquette". Whether this was the result of the pee goat lying through her teeth to Notkin or Notkin's own apparent utter stupidity is open to question- it's notable that an "E. Duquette" is mentioned as the author of comments about the nature of the Entertainment in one of the footnotes, in one of the cartridge art-mags. It's possible that she knows more than is apparent, though; her strategic misrendering of "her" as "their" at one point in the interview would be just the sort of thing that would prick up the attentions of any soap opera fan, Freudian psychiatrist, or professionally paranoid investigator, as well as any hapless reader trying to suss out the sum "meaning" of a lengthy and contrary book. However, as far as Notkin's explanation of the pee goat's disfigurement, I regard it as more or less truth within the context of the narrative (given that everything in it is pretty much made up), simply because the total absurdity of it is just the kind of event apropros to the narrative (JARS OF ACID IN THE BASEMENT?).

The question of whether the pee goat is REALLY disfigured or not then becomes a question of her basic character- is her adoption of the veil one of those pathetic "Oh pity me I'm so beautiful" things that when you get right down to it underlies the entire motive of the UHID, the desire for pity? Or is it just some sort of an attempt at a coping mechanism? Maybe it's just that I'd prefer to think of it as the latter, the former idea being one of those irritatingly obvious and not all that correct to boot themes of the type that Hal found so mortifying in "Blood Sister: One Tough Nun". [Dave Lynch 26 Aug 97]

>From John Byrd, 27 Aug.

Somewhere it was written, last week on this list, > >> Of course, thinking it over in light of the posts on this subject, DFW does >> seem to have hinted around enough to leave adequate evidence for a theory >> that the acid story was a red herring. > >there's a reference on someone's part to the whole acid scene being a >confabulation on Orin's part to excse his fear of commitment, isn't there? Many other conjectures as to whether Joelle were actually deformed or so unutterably beautiful as to be stupefying, etc..

Here's what I find in the text: The most explicit description of the acid-throwing scene is Molly Notkin's interview w/ U.S.O.U.S. But also, Joelle, on her way to Molly's party where she is trying to freebase herself to death , ruminates on JOI (p. 225): "For a while, after the acid, after first Orin left and then Jim came and made her sit through that filmed apology-scene... for a while, after taking the veil..." (On first reading I thought this passage referred to LSD insteady of low pH chemistry.) Further (p. 230): "There was nothing coherent in the mother-death-cosmology and apologies she'd repeated ..."

Joelle's ruminations support Notkin's testimony on both the acid incident and the nature of the Entertainment.

On her beauty, she later ruminates in Ennet house on meeting JOI (p. 743): "Jim'd told her later she'd seemed too conventionally, commercially pretty..." In other words, pretty, but not necessarily stunningly so (in JOI's mind, anyway).

I have to say, DFW leaves no ambiguity about the acid incident. It happened.

>From The Robot Vegetable (who?) 5 Sep 97

On Wed, 20 Aug 1997, donato wrote: > re Joelle v.D and her veil... > > I was always under the impression that she had no physical deformities, > but was hiding her intense beauty. > > At least that's the suspicion i got at one point in the book > (don't remember where. somewhat early on i think). The acid > business made me rethink my thoughts, but, and i'd have to go back > and check, maybe "acid hit my face when Orin ducked" was only what > she *said* happened, and not what really happened...

I pretty much think she got slagged by the acid. The incident would fit with Orin losing interest, remember part of his attraction was that her beauty and his mom's were on the same level of 'restaurant-silenciing.' Gately seemed to be hallucinating heavily in the hospital; he could have created his sense of regular looking lower features, or, as someone else noted concerning the effects of acid meling flesh, they could very easily be smooth. Gately was really out of it, he was talking with JOI and Lyle, for heaven's sake. That's pretty astounding. And JOI was talking about Hal not being able to talk. How did he do this? He must have known them from before. I confess I didn't try to track continuity very much, but knowing Joelle long after JOI offed himself clearly set these events long after he could have known JOI. Back to another point raised, there's ample evidence that Hal was autistic, maybe it even says this somewhere. Going cold turkey on weed could easily have driven such a fellow into a babbling silence. With his memory, and a dada who was flipping out over his silence when he didn't think he was silent, this all points to the possibility of an extreme breakdown, as is displayed in the Year of Glad. I don't think the DMZ needs to be introduced to explain it. Clearly someone found the stash; I don't have any clue as to who.


>From Brian Short 23 Sep 97

ok, so i've noticed that the number of postings on this list have gone *way* down, and that combined with new insights from my second reading of IJ prompt me to submit some ideas for discussion.

1. JvDyne is not in fact hideously deformed. She is an Odalisque. She wears the veil because:(IJ pg. 538 hardback) Joelle speaking:

"Don, I'm perfect. I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. Everything. Like i'm the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to cheek with perfection."

That seems to sum it up pretty well. I had noticed some discussion on l-wallace a couple of weeks (months?) ago and was frustrated that i couldn't find the reference. But there it is.

>From Michael Briggs (sorry lost the date):

3. Though Joelle is in all likelihood disfigured -- the best evidence in this ambiguity-fest being the Joelle-attuned narrator's statement on page 225: "For a while, after the acid, after first Orin left and then Jim came and made her sit through that filmed apology-scene" -- Notkin is not the world's most reliable storyteller. One example: she says on page 787 that JO's belief in "a finite world-total of available erections rendered him always either impotent or guilt-ridden." On page 220, though, the narrator tells us that it was Molly's former lover -- a "GW Pabst scholar at New York University" -- and not Himself who suffered from this neurosis.

>From Doug Denison, 18 Oct 97:

Hello, At 05:57 PM 10/17/97 -0700, Michael McAulay wrote: >I wonder if you or someone else could kindly summarize the discussion of >these topics. Or if anyone kept the stuff and could forward it to me >that would be swell too. > >Not yet tired of talking about Joelle or the narrator, >

Well, since I'm the 'you' in the above sentence, I will go ahead and try to summarize these topics thus far. But I'll insert right away a big caveat -- what I write may or may not be complete (well, certainly NOT); may or may not be accurate, and will probably lead to more discussion anyway. Oh well, call me crazy...

Joelle: Obviously two possibilities here:

1) J.vanD. is disfigured. This is supported in the text mostly by Molly Notkin's talk with Unspecified Services. Before Molly's revelations about the accident, there are some references in the text to the accident. Also there's the fact that Orin rather abruptly and inexplicably dumped Joelle, which many people think happened because he is either superficial and doesn't want to have to look at an acid- scarred face, or he feels guilty about ducking when the acid was thrown. There's also the possibility that Orin was jealous of Himself's relationship with Joelle, but that relationship actually seemed to result from Orin's breakup with her.

2) She is not disfigured. The strongest argument for her not being disfigured comes from a statement by the narrator during J.'s freebasing overdose attempt. The phrase is something like, 'Unveiled, she is lethally beautiful'. Joelle herself tells Gately that she wears the veil because she is hideously beautiful, though this statement has been interpreted to be a sarcastic remark. When Gately is on his back after being shot, he sees Joelle's chin and thinks it looks like a very normal chin. Again, many people think her face is disfigured while the underside of her chin is untouched. Then there's the dicier issue of Joelle's performances in JOI's films, including the Entertainment. In one film -- I think Low-Temperature Civics -- Madame Psychosis is listed as playing a woman so beautiful she causes a man to lose all touch with reality, or something like that. Check the filmography. It seems unlikely that a disfigured Joelle could play the role of a beautiful woman in several of JOI's films.

So the conclusion was that Joelle's condition is mostly a matter of opinion, and seems to hinge on whether or not you believe Notkin. Which then leads to the issue of narration -- who's narrating what, can you believe the narrator(s), what's the deal with the footnotes, etc. There are simply too many permutations to list. I think that topic sort of fizzled out because it seems like there's no absolute answer, and maybe we shouldn't be trying to figure it out anyway.

I good point to finish on, I think.

What Happened To Hal?

Four possible ideas here. Either he consumed the DMZ via a laced toothbrush, Self-Synthesised DMZ after abstaining from drugs/going through withdrawal, less likely but still interesting, snapped due to knowledge of family based abuse, or, possibly watched the "entertainment".

  • The DMZ Toothbrush

    ...with the toothbrush business beginning on p. 864 with "I went down the hall to take out the tobacco and brush my teeth...." ? And then p. 896: "I was moving down the damp hall when it hit." Pemulis finds his stash missing on p. 916, the "relevant panel" of the ceiling having been disturbed. Is that where the DMZ was stashed? And is it possible that Hal -- going nuts with the detox business -- ripped off the DMZ and dosed himself?
    and later...
    re: toothbrush. The toothbrush really seems ominous and Hal has it [and the Nasa cup] with him for the longest time, even noting [p. 871] that "only the worst kind of naif leaves his toothbrush unattended around E.T.A." I have to agree with Kent that many signs point to a dosed t-brush. What we need to find is the "smoking toothbrush" -- the moment when the text lets us in on a possible moment when the drugging may have occurred. (Bob Wake)

    Hal (p.864) "went down the hall to take out (his) tobacco and brush (his) teeth..." I don't believe there is any mention of him *looking* for his toothbrush, although soon thereafter he does indeed mention the importance of keeping track of toothbrushes because of some odd dosing that happened at the academy before. But if I recall correctly (I may not), that dosing was more of a prank nature than a drug nature.
    I'm not saying his toothbrush wasn't dosed, but it is not clearly indicated in the text.(Duane Spani)

  • Internal Self Synthesis of DMZ theory.

    Dan Schimdt developed this idea fantastically, everything below is direct from his notes...

    It's my belief that Hal's body has itself synthesized DMZ, perhaps provoked by his marijuana withdrawal. It sounds farfetched, but check this out:
    • p. 10 "`I cannot make myself understood, now.' I am speaking slowly and distinctly. `Call it something I ate.'" This passage is followed directly by the story of Hal's eating the mold.
    • The mold is described (p. 10) as "horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red"; note that the yellow-orange-red mold is growing on the green mold. I believe that in Orin's own description of this scene (p. ??) he also talks about one mold growing on another.
    • On p. 170 Pemulis researches DMZ: "The incredibly potent DMZ is synthesized from a derivative of fitviavi, an obscure mold that grows only on other molds."
    • p. 1064, Pemulis again: "`Have I mentioned DMZ doesn't show up on a G.C./M.S.? Struck tracked this down off an obscure Digestive-Flora footnote. It's the fitviavi-mold base. If the stuff shows up at all it shows as a slight case of imbalanced yeast.'" Digestive-Flora: Hal ate the fitviavi mold years ago, and now it's living in his digestive system.
    • From the description of the medical attache on p. 33: "The medical attache's partciaulr expertise is the maxillofacial consequences of imblances in intestinal flora. Prince Q--- ... suffers chronically from Candida albicans, with attendant susceptibilities to monilial sinusitis and thrush, the yeasty sores and sinal impactions of which..." Note the intestinal flora-yeast connection again. Doesn't Hal have a toothache (p. ??)?

    Note that Hal's behavior is somewhat consistent with the case of the guy who sings Ethel Merman tunes (p. ??); he tries to say something but is perceived as making another noise.
    We still need to figure out just what triggers the DMZ synthesis (I'm assuming it has something to do with marijuana withdrawal), but I think there are too many obvious clues here for it not to be connected.

  • The Abuse Idea

    Suggested by Bob Wake on wallace-l
    re: doubling. Has anyone proffered the idea of Hal or Orin having been sexually abused as kids by their father, as Pemulis's brother Matty -- and maybe Pemulis himself -- was by his father? [pp. 682-6.] Hal spends a long section [pp. 944-51] thinking about his father's film "Accomplice!," which involves a very sordid rape of a boy by an older man -- and which of course sort of parallels the business with Matty Pemulis and his father. Hal's remarks seem very portentious [p. 951]: "It was impossible to imagine Himself conceiving of sodomy and razors, no matter how theoretically. I lay there and could almost remember Orin telling me something almost moving that Himself had one told him. Something to do with _Accomplice!_ The memory hung somewhere just out of conscious reach, and its tip-of-the-tongue inaccessibility felt too much like the preface to another attack. I accepted it: I could not remember."
    Hal's remark that trying to retrieve the lost memory "felt too much like the preface to another attack" is very curious. So of course I'm wondering if Hal's seizures could just as easily be the result of some kind of psychotic break due to recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. Or am I stretching way out of bounds? It's certainly not uncommon for alcoholics -- like Hal's father -- to be sexual abusers of their children. Mightn't he have committed suicide out of remorse and guilt?(Bob Wake)

    but from steve (sorry no surname)
    I thought that the "attack[s]" referred to were the pseudo-panic attacks that Hal was having at his inability to concentrate or to call up specific facts, as a consequence (of questionable accuracy) of his marijuana withdrawal. (Different people will always react in different ways, but I've known a few hard-core smokers in my day, and I've just never seen anyone react in any of the ways that DFW describes, except for some trouble sleeping. Fortunately, I've never knowingly known [sorry] any cocaine or opiate addicts, so I can't judge the accuracy of those bits.)(Steve)

  • Did Hal Watch The Entertainment?

    I always had a feeling that Hal may have watched the entertainment and survived. When could this have occurred? Even though Bob doesn't suggest an "Infinite Jest" specific viewing as such, here is a possible place in time in which it may have happened:
    The other curious aspect of these Hal scenes -- while he is on his back on the carpet to Viewing Room 5 -- is that he is screening a number of his father's films. At one point Hal asks Pemulis to get a particular film ["Good Looking Men in Small Clever Rooms..."] down from the shelf -- "They've got all Himself's stuff together on the third shelf...Either it's mislabeled or the label's peeling..." says Hal [p. 910]. Then Hal begins watching a scene late in the cartridge, with actor Paul Anthony Heaven speaking "in a monotone as narcotizing as a voice from the grave," and then the actor begins weeping, and Hal says that "this too began to seem familiar" [How? Why?], which is the last sentence in the scene that then switches to Gately in the hospital. So my question is this: is there something here in the video cartridge -- maybe "mislabeled," so that Hal is actually watching a scene from a "loaded" IJ video -- that has tainted Hal?(Bob Wake)


What Happened between the physical end and Year of Glad?

I grabbed this off the salon message board...
It is quite interesting...

  • Christopher Dale - 01:22pm Jun 4, 1997 PST (#26 of 60)
    White..a blank page or canvas..So many possibilities

    My theory on the end of the story. Asterisks mark the steps supported by passages in the novel.

    1. Avril is captured by the wheelchair assassins and eventually tells the location of the body of Himself.

    2. The Wheelchair assassins get the master copy of IJ and use it to overturn the ONAN govt., thereby ending subsidized time.*

    3. Joelle informs the Incandenzas of her abduction.

    4. Jon Wayne knows the approximate location of Himself's body ( this from Avril - both Canadian and having an affair.) This i guess becausa of the following logic: Why would he go at all if an exact location were known? - certainly anyone could go to act as a watch. This leads to my theory that Avril was not available - therefore she was captured.

    5. Gately, Hal and Wayne arrive too late to obtain the copy.*

    6. The experience pushes Hal over the edge. We know he was susceptible to times of non-communication and panic attacks towards the end of the novel.

    This theory is certainly open for debate and comments are appreciated.
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