Infinite Jest, 2nd Half

Infinite Jest: The Second Half Okay, allow me to make a comment that anyone else who has “finished” this book will understand: What the fuck? What the hell kind of “ending” is that? I understand bucking all conventions, but refusing to have a real ending? No freaking fair!

Now I’m done complaining, and I’ll actually talk about this beast of a novel. The men and women who populate Wallace’s masterpiece are crazy, addicted, complicated, weird, and deeply screwed-up. Every single one of them, no matter how together they think they have it.

People like Pat, CT, Avril, Pemulis, and Lenz all think they have total control over themselves and their situations. They all organize their lives around maintaining this control, performing complex maneuvers to allow themselves to do whatever the hell they want. And they pretty much all fail. God only knows what Lenz’s killing now, but Pemulis lost everything, CT and Avril both think they control knowledge of drug use and sex but have no idea what’s going on among their students. No one is in control, everyone’s just tumbling down the tunnel.

Addicts reach for control, devote their lives to control, but can only gain that control once they have hit bottom, once all their agency has been surrendered to their substance.

And although everyone is an addict to one thing or another, there are only two points on which everyone agrees, on which everyone feels the same level of addiction: Joelle’s beauty and the Entertainment. Both of these things have to be hidden, have to be cloaked from view in order to allow the unsuspecting to continue their lives. The Entertainment enslaves everyone, removes any semblance of control. And Joelle’s beauty drives people she loves and people she doesn’t know at all to do insane things.

Joelle is the central female character of the novel, and although no character fails to combine masculine and feminine traits, she is the most intensely gendered. Her beauty as a woman, her stunning power, made her the object of everyone’s gaze, and utterly removed her personhood. Her own father was powerless to resist. Joelle’s use of the veil is a fascinating twist on the subject-object dichotomy, allowing her to stop being merely an object and become a subject. Joelle’s desire to be the gazer, to be the subject, was clear in her resistance to acting, in her desire to be a filmmaker, and she rejoices in her ability to look at everyone through her veil without them being able to tell where she was looking. It was her inability to stop being an object, to keep people from continuing to stare at her and think about what’s under her veil, that drove her to suicide.

And Joelle’s femininity, her intense genderness, is the only known element of the fatally addictive Entertainment. This idea that a mother has a single, essential role in her children’s lives, that the most important female in anyone’s life both creates and destroys her offspring, is, I think, a commentary on how gender can function if too tightly constrained, if it becomes too intensely one-or-the-other. A mother’s destructive love is at the center of this novel, of Hal’s problems and of the Entertainment’s threat. A mother’s lack of love made Gately what he is. Ultimate gender roles, tightly constrained mother-child relationships, are utterly seductive. They form the crux of the Entertainment, but they also make it deadly. Perfect gender roles are ultimately destructive, and nothing shows that better than Joelle’s plot.

Also, I didn’t get Luria P at all—someone wanna maybe help me out?

Update: I figured out what happened to Lenz! He and the alcoholic transvestite–the one who spent most of his narrative on a toilet in the Armenian library–both got locked in with the Entertainment, and Lenz cut off the transvestite’s fingers. Sucks for Tony, but if anyone deserves the Entertainment it’s Lenz, fuck yeah!


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