Garbage Cans are Portraits

Its glass was green and its bottom over his head was pebbled and the light inside p 971
Its glass was green and its bottom over his head was pebbled and the light inside was…green.
p 971

The thing about seeing is that we see more than is possible to understand.

I was once asked to be a part of a conversation that involved looking at a mesh garbage can as a piece of art.

I was sitting in a semi-circle across from the artist that was sitting next to the smallish mesh garbage can. He didn’t make the garbage can, but I estimated that he crumpled up the three pieces of typing paper that I could see clearly, through the dark gray mesh, from about 15 feet away, where I was sitting and staring in disbelief.

The garbage can was his final project for our first year of undergrad. We talked about it for 15 minutes, and I almost didn’t try to understand that it was art. I didn’t say very many things aloud. I was busy thinking about all the ways it wasn’t art.

Turns out it was art, but it took me 15 years to piece the message of those three crumpled pieces of typing paper together. At the time though, I just didn’t get it. We finished talking about the garbage can, and the next day, the artist sitting next to it dropped out of school.

Art is a reflection of a particular time and place. Not understanding it may just mean that I don’t see the same reflection of that particular time and place. The awesome thing is that by looking at art that I don’t understand I might somehow see part of a place and time that I didn’t realize was there.

Beyond popular belief, next to Enfield tennis academy, there is a guy sitting in front of a garbage can in his seminary dorm room. He is launching playing cards into the can. This is the only thing he is doing. Across from him, sits his brother.

…he managed to engage the brother in some rather heated and high-level debates on spirituality and the soul’s potential…

At Enfield, at a particular time and place, Hal is also sitting in front of a garbage can attempting to launch his toenail clippings into it. Across states, his brother Orin is with him on the phone.

Like the guy in my freshman class, Wallace has a lot to say about brothers sitting with garbage cans between them.

Dorm garbage cans are sometimes cylindrical like glasses or…


The last room we are in in Infinite Jest transforms into both an enormous garbage can of humans, entertainment, and one explosively colorful lens centered around Gately’s changing point of view.

Orin is elsewhere surrounded by a cylindrical green glass, magnified to his scale, not unlike the small suffocating scale of the clear drinking glasses that he uses to trap and discard the cockroaches in his bathroom. Green being solipsism. Like Green (the person) being the sounding board for…Lenz.

Lenz’s Lens.

And we are back with Gately.

The A.M. sun hung in the window, up and past the tree, yellowing.
Days go by.
Everything came at too many frames per second.

it was dawn outside, a glowing gray

If colors themselves could catch fire.
The air in the room got overclear, a glycerine shine, colors brightening terribly.

Seeing colors, as the most readily available form of coping.


Don’t worry about getting in touch with your feelings; they’ll get in touch with you.

This is maybe pretty close to verbatim what we hear during one AA scene (much) earlier in Infinite Jest and it seems that, as Gately recovers from a gunshot wound, he’s visited by more than candid AA-ers and wraiths.

Gately’s being contacted by (I’m [understandably] not quite comfortable with “being got in touch with by”) plenty of feelings, which he has to find a way to deal with. It makes an interesting contrast to Hal who, as he encounters Kenkle and Brandt (perhaps the book’s most Pynchonesque hat-tip, after the explosive and parabolic trajectory of Orin’s incredible punt [which, if you haven’t read Gravity’s Rainbow, you probably won’t quite get what I’m getting at – though it has something to do with long, encyclopedic novels with annular structures in which something taking a parabolic trajectory has some structural importance. Ahem, sorry.]), is experiencing either some disconnect with either his face or the actual feelings that are determining his face’s output.

What makes this interesting, in a more parallelish-rather-than-contrasty way (cf. Jenni’s awesome post yesterday) is that Gately is able to “abide” his most severe (albeit physical) feelings by essentially erecting internal walls around their (the feelings’) moments.

But where they do actually contrast in quite a significant way is around one of the book’s key – yet very under-explored – themes: memory.

From the discomfort of his hospital bed Gately gets to relive the memory (among others) of his bottom, as it’s known in Boston AA. Reading the story of Kite and Fackelmann and 60s Bob and the bet and match-rigging that went so horribly wrong and then so right and even more horribly wrong again and the Dilaudid in mountain form, the skittles and the Linda McCartney and the eyelid thing – well, it seems like there’s just so many opportunities for Gately not to take responsibility for it all. For his bottom.

But he does. He owns up to every choice that leads him to that situation and every opportunity to get out that he never took.

Circling forward to the book’s first scene (have you reread it yet?), let’s compare it to the way Hal “gets in touch with” the memory of one of his formative episodes:

It’s funny what you don’t recall. Our first home, in the suburb of Weston, which I barely remember – my eldest brother Orin says he can remember…

And if the point about Hal’s own distance from this memory hasn’t yet been brought home hard enough, there’s this:

O. says he can only remember (sic) saying something caustic as he limboed out a crick in his back. He says he must have felt a terrible impending anxiety.

So if you’re wondering whether Hal’s on an upward or downward trajectory I will leave you with this quote, from the end of the aforementioned Pynchon and, in honour of coming “full circle” (as Nick M. points out), a new version of the circle watercolour I closed my post #1 with.

And it is just here, just at this dark and silent frame, that the pointed tip of the Rocket, falling nearly a mile per second, absolutely and forever without sound, reaches its last unmeasurable gap above the roof of this old theatre, the last delta-t.


Seeking Order

The first thing that many people do after finishing Infinite Jest is hunt down (aka, do a Google search for) a chronological timeline of the events as they happened in the book. It’s natural to crave some order after 1000+ pages of bouncing back and forth between characters and years, and after an ending which provided more questions than answers. There are some good timelines out there — this one by Drew Cordes (PDF) is my favorite and the one that I deem most complete.

One difficulty I have with these timelines is that they present everything linearly, intermixing characters and scenes. What I’d like to see is more of a grid, where the  timeline is tracked on the Y-axis, with the novel’s key characters or settings mapped out across the X-axis. I think this format has a lot of potential to better show what’s happening around the same time frame in each location.

I tried this in a limited scope, focusing on what happens to Hal and Gately on November 6, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, and beyond. Viewed this way, we start to see some interesting parallels.

YDAU November 6 Hal participates in the Port Washington tournament. We hear he “has made a kind of quantumish competitive plateaux-hop” and is at the top of his competitive tennis  game. Gately remains at the top of his sobriety game, having been off substances for 421 days.
YDAU November 11 – early hours November 12 Hal plays a showdown-style exhibition match against Ortho ‘The Darkness’ Stice with everyone watching the match. Hal, nearly beaten, emerges the victor from the match, but walks away spiritually (existentially?) injured. We learn, through his conversations with Mario, that he is facing an arduous recovery – not just from the exhibition match, but from the Bob Hope, as he has 30 days to produce clean urine. Gately enters a showdown with the Canadians outside of Ennet House, with all of the residents watching on. He emerges a victor (in that he was not killed), but walks away from the encounter physically injured. We learn that he is facing an arduous recovery of his own, as he attempts to recover from his physical wounds without the aid of narcotics and painkillers. He, like Hal, has a lot of ‘feeling’ to get through.
YDAU November 12-20 The wraith (James O. Incandenza) visits Enfield Tennis Academy – Pemulis finds his DMZ missing, and Ortho Stice’s bed becomes attached to the ceiling. The wraith visits Gately, and talks about his horror in seeing his youngest son (“the one most like him”) slowly disappear and be unable to express himself. The wraith talks about his desire to create “The Entertainment” as a way of drawing Hal back out.
YDAU November 12-20 Hal inadvertently attends an “Inner Infant” meeting on November 17. Gately in the hospital becomes like an infant, unable to communicate his needs and forced to have others take care of him. He has a dream from the perspective of an infant, with Joelle (as Death) leaning over him.
YDAU November 20 Hal brushes his teeth (possibly getting dosed with the DMZ), and we see his slow descent into emotional affect and a panic attack – a series of events that we know will later end up with him being wheeled into the emergency room. I have to believe this is right around the same time that we see Gately going through the worst of his physical recovery and descending mentally through the worst days of his drug addiction. Both he and Hal are going through their respective bottoms.
Late YDAU / Early Year of Glad (?) Hal and Gately, who we can presume met in the hospital, are together with John Wayne in Quebec as they dig up the skull of James O. Incandenza.

I knew that Hal and Gately are our two protagonists in the book, but laying out these events side by side in this grid made me realize how similar their journeys and struggles are and how there is — underlying the book’s chaotic surface — an order and a purpose.

What parallels or similarities were you excited to find in your reading of the book?

Temporal Shift

I’m not finished. Armed with every readerly intention of closing the Infinite Jest covers today, I didn’t pull it off. I’ve got a whole slew of excuses as to why that is, but I’m guessing that you’re not particularly interested in hearing them. And who knows – maybe you’re not done either.

I’m close, though. I’m on page 963, and frankly I’m not sure how I feel about finishing. A little ambivalent, I’d say. As you know, I read Infinite Jest once before, and if I recall correctly, I wasn’t terribly satisfied with the ending. As I’m sure you know by now, this is not a book that gets wrapped up with a bow. Questions are left unanswered and, as we approach the finish line, new ones emerge.

For instance, in the opening Year of Glad pages of Infinite Jest, we find Hal thinking of he and Don Gately digging up JOI’s head while a masked John Wayne stands watch. But on page 934, we have a gun-shot and delerious Don Gately in his hospital bed wracked with feverish dreams containing accurate details about this future event and about Hal, who Gately has yet to meet:

He dreams he’s with a very sad kid and they’re in a graveyard digging some dead guy’s head up and it’s really important, like Continental-Emergency important…and the sad kid is trying to scream at Gately that the important thing was buried in the guy’s head and to divert the Continental Emergency to start digging the guy’s head up before it’s too late, but the kid moves his mouth but nothing comes out…

Of course, Wallace has slowly nudged our suspension of disbelief ever further so that now we’re Abiding with big Don Gately in his hospital bed while JOI’s wraith holds forth on the temporal shift between the world of the living and the dead while balancing an East Asian can of Coke on Gately’s forehead, and I’m quibbling over the alignment between dreams and (what might be perceived by Hal as) reality? I think not. In truth, I’m eating all of this up, loving the connective tissue emerging between different parts of the story.

Reading Gately’s backstory has been particularly fascinating. While reading the early bits about his childhood, I realized that a whole novel could be devoted to pre-YDAU Don Gately, as is the case with many of Infinite Jest‘s characters, and further that one of the reasons I love IJ so much is the intricacy with which Wallace has created these characters, the extent to which they are built out. Whether elaborated upon in the text or not, each one of their stories has the potential for an ancillary novel (Is there IJ fan fiction out there?).

More connective tissue: In the later bits of Gately’s story, I recognized Sixties Bob as the tie-dyed old man who, much earlier, traded the DMZ to the Antitois brothers, and (as a segueless aside) I looked on jaw agape as a mentally-buckling Ortho Stice, still not underestimating objects, stands on a chair betting Kyle Coyle that he can lift it into the air at the same time.

Of course agápe is just one of four Greek words for love, and I am nothing if not still very much in love with this book. I’m 20 pages away and a little anxious about the idea of it all coming to an end, so maybe I’m allowing a little temporal shift of my own to forestall that moment.


Nick Maniatis: Coming Full Circle

And but so in what seems like no time at all we’re done.

Mark and his team of bloggers have delivered to us all yet another incredible read of Infinite Jest. One that brought new insights, created new communities and fans. I am humbled that Mark asked me to write something to help introduce and to help conclude this read because, really, all I have done is sat back and read, posted, Facebooked, re-posted, and re-tweeted.

Oh, and I also lurked.

Lurked in the very sense of the word. I sat back in the shadows and made the most of (kind of) creepily watching how other people responded to my favourite book ever. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not the one to draw all the threads of this read together, but I will share with you some of the threads of my 20 years with this novel.

But first: How many of you have finished and decided to re-read the first 17 pages? No? Go and read them now and then pop back and join me.

Right, good to have you back!

If that’s the first (or second? Or third?) time I’m sure you have some pressing questions. Maybe continuing reading past page 17 feels a little tempting right now. Very tempting? If not for you, it was for me.

I know I was sure I’d find out/understand/solve Infinite Jest if I just read it a little more closely. Thinking back to my younger self I’m tempted to laugh at how naive I was to think I could make some sort of peace with what it all meant.

In my first Infinite Winter piece I wrote a little about how I had to go ‘cold turkey’ on Infinite Jest because it had an unusual, possibly unhealthy, hold on me. Truth be told, and exposed, and acknowledged, I’ve spent most of my adult life connected to this book. I might even be dependant on it. Maybe addic… How about we avoid that word.

Dependence? I once thought that David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest made me re-read it and re-read it and re-read it. Until the re-reading made me realise the I was the one choosing. It was my choice to re-read it and re-read it and re-read it.

It was my choice. I was in control. I could break this obsession. So I did. But then I chose to dive back in after a break and I’m glad I did.

Infinite Jest has (literally) been with me through some pretty tough times:

I read it solemnly after David Foster Wallace died.

I quoted from from it while speaking at my mother’s funeral.

I lost myself in it while grieving the death of a student.

I drew strength from it when I finally sought the professional help I’d been avoiding.

I think about it after particularly successful bouts of meditation.

There’s a journey there, obviously, if you want to find one.

In October last year I discovered Casey Henry’s spectacular piece about the typographic circles that mark the ‘chapters’ in Infinite Jest. Casey Henry unearthed some correspondence between Michael Pietsch and David Foster Wallace that reinforced/confirmed just how important these circles (and the final occluded circle on p.981) are to Infinite Jest.

nathan seppelt - circle icon
Infinite Jest, circle – watercolour by Nathan Seppelt

To me, the circle symbol is a reminder of my continuing desire to re-read Infinite Jest. It is also a reminder of the growth and healing that I have experienced throughout these reads. I am not the first to express these emotions with regard to this novel and I know I will not be the last. As I said in my first post, this stuff is pretty much Infinite Jest cliché 101.

I did make a huge decision as a result of my multiple reads and Casey Henry’s paper; I decided to get a tattoo of the circle symbol on the inside of my left bicep. A place where I can see it when I need to but that isn’t obvious to the casual observer. It’s for me.

It reminds me of the afternoon I was tattooed – including trying to explain its origin to the tattoo artist.
It reminds me of my time with Infinite Jest without always having to be actively part of it.
It reminds me that sometimes things are just part of life. Cyclic. Annular.
It reminds me that my personal, private, experiences are things others have lived too.
It reminds me that healing takes time and that one is never the same as before.
It reminds me, “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.” (p. 204 IJ)

I haven’t stopped reading yet.

Have you?


Nick Maniatis is the owner of the David Foster Wallace web resource, The Howling Fantods, that has been dedicated to promoting the works of David Foster Wallace since 1997. He lives in Canberra, Australia, and teaches high school English. You can find him on twitter @nick_maniatis.

In the Recliner

InfWin Guide here. I got into this thing knowing that I had no business being here. I tried to hang in there, but have fallen embarrassingly behind in the reading. Now, I am grasping at straws (at least there are lots of straws) to produce something thoughtful and meaningful for each week’s blog post. So this week, I’m gonna pull one out of the pomo-meta hat and reflect a bit on this experience.

Image 48 EntertainmentI’ve begun to feel like the Middle Eastern medical attache. I – in a metaphorical sense – came home after a long day at work, popped in this unlabeled video cartridge, and sat back in my La-Z-Boy recliner to enjoy an evening of mindless entertainment. Except that the video cartridge is actually the novel, Infinite Jest, I have no recliner at home, and reading said novel is anything but mindless entertainment.

But I was greatly looking forward to the experience of reading Infinite Jest again, this time with hundreds of my closest friends.

Image 49 EntertainmentBut somewhere around week 5, I began to lose my way. And by lose my way, I mean that I got pulled in too many directions by all my various jobs and responsibilities, and but so my well-worn and well-loved copy of Infinite Jest found itself sitting on my end table or going for rides in my car, tucked away in my backpack with my laptop and my lunch box. The novel became like my tote bag of grading; I take it with me everywhere with the intention of doing some reading/grading, but it just sits in the back of my car or the corner of the living room.

Image 50 EntertainmentIt became like that unlabeled video cartridge sitting in the medical attache’s video cartridge player, set to play on an endless loop. Except that it wasn’t being played – or read – on an endless loop. It just sits there. Untouched and unread.

For weeks, I’ve been telling myself to just give up. Throw in the towel. Call it quits. Just tell Mark and the others that I can’t finish and that they need to find someone to pinch hit for me in these last three posts.

But I can’t do that. I can’t do that because I am a man of my word and I keep my commitments.

Image 51 EntertainmentAnd I can’t do that because I am in the metaphorical recliner. I sucked in. I can’t stop reading this damn book.

Image 52 EntertainmentJust pass me a napkin in case I start drooling on myself.

The Churchillian Fantods

One particularly striking feature of Infinite Jest is its odd blending of actual historical people with those of the fictional world that it presents. So far, we’ve seen the likes of Marlon Brando, David Lynch, Venus Williams, Jean Chretien, and now, recurring again this week, Winston Churchill. Wallace’s inclusion of these historical personages functions along the lines of theorist Brian McHale’s discussion of “transworld identities” in the world of literary fiction—in his 1987 book Postmodernist Fiction—whereby real-life people inhabit the world of fictional characters.

I wrote about this in my 2015 DFW Conference paper, in relation to Wallace and Infinite Jest’s cryptic inclusion in Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem. I said that Lethem takes this idea even further in his book by fictionalizing Wallace by naming him Ralph Warden Meeker, and calling his “opus” Obstinate Dust. Many other parallels abound, such as the book constituting a “heft” that “must have been a thousand pages long” and instilling in its readers the feeling they’d “incurred a responsibility, [were] somehow doomed to the book.” Feel familiar?

I’m thus curious this week about the invocation of Winston Churchill yet again, and wonder what Wallace’s fascination with the man’s aesthetic failure signifies. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the British WWII P.M., having heard the legend of U.H.I.D.’s name origin as being coined by him, and Ortho Stice’s perfect Greco-athletic body being stuck with the face of Churchill himself:

The Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed was unofficially founded in London in B.S. 1940 in London U.K. by the cross-eyed, palate-clefted, and wildly carbuncular wife of a junior member of the House of Commons, a lady whom Sir Winston Churchill, P.M.U.K., having had several glasses of port plus a toddy at a reception for an American Lend-Lease administrator, had addressed in a fashion wholly inappropriate to social intercourse between civilized gentlemen and ladies….W. Churchill — when the lady, no person’s doormat, informed him with prim asperity that he appeared to be woefully inebriated — made the anecdotally famous reply that while, yes, yea verily, he was indeed inebriated, he would the following A.M. be once again sober, while she, dear lady, would tomorrow still be hideously and improbably deformed. Churchill, doubtless under weighty emotional pressures during this period in history, had then proceeded to extinguish his cigar in the lady’s sherry and to place a finger-bowl napkin delicately over the ruined features of her flaming visage. (226)

Hence, the U.H.I.D. veil.


Stice is one of those athletes whose body you know is an unearned divine gift because its conjunction with his face is so incongruous. He resembles a poorly spliced photo, some superhuman cardboard persona with a hole for your human face. A beautiful sports body, lithe and tapered and sleekly muscled, smooth — like a Polycleitos body, Hermes or Theseus before his trials — on whose graceful neck sits the face of a ravaged Winston Churchill, broad and slab-featured, swart, fleshy, large-pored, with a mottled forehead under the crew cut’s V-shaped hairline, and eye-pouches, and jowls that hang and whenever he moves suddenly or lithely make a sort of meaty staccato sound like a wet dog shaking itself dry. (636)

From what I can gather, Churchill actually did say something to this effect to the politician’s wife, but it appears Wallace may have taken creative liberties with that last part, from which U.H.I.D. gets its name. And we can just picture Stice now, forehead fastened to the window, Hal trying to defenestrate him, and the Churchillian visage pulling away to reveal “for a second…what might be considered Stice’s real face, his features as they would be if not encased in loose jowly prairie flesh: as every mm. of spare flesh was pulled up to his forehead and stretched, I got a glimpse of Stice as he would appear after a radical face-lift: a narrow, fine-featured, and slightly rodential face, aflame with some sort of revelation, looked out at the window from beneath the pink visor of stretched spare skin” (871).

And so Gately’s dream in this section about Joelle van Dyne’s undressing to disclose “an incredible female body, an inhuman body…this body to die for,” with the removed veil revealing the “historical likeness of fucking Winston Churchill, complete with cigar and jowls and bulldog scowl” (847), really drives the point home, visual fantods-wise.
Winston Churchill, 1929

As to what Wallace’s fascination with Churchill’s mug indicates, I know not, except that he continually mashes up the grotesque with the aesthetically desirable in a great many places throughout the book. Think of Orin with his gargantuan left side, forearm and thigh in stark disproportion to his starboard side, and E.T.A. players with gorilla-esque arms pasted on the bodies of children. I read a 2001 essay on this subject by Catherine Nichols in a directed studies class with my MA supervisors a few years back, entitled, “Dialogizing Postmodern Carnival: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” and I think she is very much onto something there.

Theorize what you think all of this Churchillian invocation might signify in the comments below.

Thoughts Capitalized

Having a person speak on your behalf is a powerful thing. A real potential game changer. A big scoot in a new direction.

Gately is in the hospital and he is getting vivid visits from Joelle. Some of the visits are so vivid they are revealed as imagined or hallucinated. Note that I am not labeling these visits as unreal.

After one particular visit from Joelle, Gately gets a chance to get his voice back. Well, not exactly. He gets a chance to create a new voice.

A written voice.

The feeding tube is still full on lodged in his throat, something he is at first extremely aware of and then basically almost always in disbelief about.

The visitor said you’d requested this, because of the tube.
p 884

Confirmation! Both Joelle and the tube have physically visited Gately’s body in the hospital (post a real big night of pavement and guns).

And Lo. Gately is handed a stenographer’s notepad and a blue pen.

Track back some hundred pages to another voice desperately trying to re-establish itself, with a blue pen, over at the Enfield cafeteria.

The sign used to say MILK IS FILLING, DRINK WHAT YOU TAKE until the comma was semicolonized by the insertion of a blue dot by a fairly obvious person.

Track back again to last week’s read and Hal is clutching the walls of the Enfield hallway imagining all the food he is going to live through eating, or a room full, chalked, stacked with fried, frozen chicken patties. I’m trying to figure out if it would be possible to squeeze in several thousand blue pens, you know in momentary pen-sized openings across and along the meat earth layers only appearing to 100% filling the room.

A cross section would look like a sequence of textured orange-tan line segments interspersed with the blue dots of the bic cap heads.

Maybe with the pens included, Hal has a chance.

AND things are manifesting into tangible space for Gately. At first, in trying to form his thoughts in the hospital, he has to imagine his thoughts as printed words.

He probably didn’t have permanent voice damage. Thank God. He made his thoughts capitalized.
p 859

Now, he is fumbling forward as well as a bed-ridden Gately armed with a pain (auto-correct selects “pain” and I’m trying to say, “pen”) – Armed with a pen.

Gately struggles with one hand to flip the notebook open and write ‘YO!’
in block caps.

p 884

Bonified legible, outside of the imagination, block caps. Hands are the machines that make ideas into words.

Except there’s nothing to really hold the notebook up against and write; he has to sort of balance it flat on his thigh…
p 884

And he really tries to manifest a new form of communicating.

more like drawing than writing
p 885

And wow, do I follow. I’m like leaning in to imagine see what he will write.

you feel…gratitude at your abstract distance from anything that doesn’t sit inside concentric circles.
p 891


This sounds like some sort of sense of calm?! In Infinite Jest?

Yes. Think back:

The easy squeak of your head’s blood is like bedsprings in the friendly distance.
p 890

Think back a little more and we get Ferocious Francis ringing with existential truth, or like some sort of really relevant quote to live by, there in the hospital:

He’s the one that’s feeling it. He’s the only one can decide.
p 889


Now. The idea of proceeding…

…right to the very finish.
p 892

Soak it up.

Paratext – Part I

So what I’ve heard is that this is somewhere around the hundredth post for Infinite Winter.

If it is number 100, I’m sure you’ll all admire the way I’m totally resisting the pressure of the big number; but the thing I notice is not whether it’s any specific big number, but is – in general – a big number. For me this can mean only one thing: we’re getting pretty much towards Infinite Jest‘s pointy end.

As the book hurtles (possibly) towards (again, possibly) some kind of conclusion, you’d probably expect us guides to (well) actually guide, dive deep into the text and clue y’all in to just WTF is going on. But the trend I’ve noticed this week is pretty much the opposite. Your guides’ gas pedals have been eased up on and we seem – for better or for worse – to be giving you some space to do what Wallace really, really (I think) actually wants you to do. Decide for your selves. In slightly more theoretical terms: construct your own meaning.

So instead of getting too far into the text this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of something called paratext.

It’s something a friend has got me really interested in, is far less spooky and far cooler than it sounds, and is something I’ve only really picked up from talking about it and reading vaguely related things. So forgive me if I get this definition totally wrong.

Paratexts are kind of these “peripheral” texts that surround a main text and shape the way it’s read and reconstructed. If the text is (hypothetically, of course) Infinite Jest, the paratext would include things like the book’s cover, the copyright pages, special forwards by people with names like Eggers and Bissell, drafts and even all the criticism and blog-type posts about it.

I’m going to touch on paratext properly in my very last Infinite Winter post, but this week – seeing as this may be post number 100 – I want to pick out five of my favourite Infinite Winter posts by our regular guides (excluding me, of course).

A Noise Like the Historical Sum of all Cafeteria Accidents Everywhere – Mark Flanagan

This (not short) sentence in particular rang some pretty significant cherries for me:

“And so this very explicit notion of map v. territory, this Aha! moment with regard to an individual’s map versus his or her own territory, is that the elimination of one’s map is (merely) the death of the human form (the map), as opposed to the territory, that which underlies the individual’s map for which the map was purely representational, the territory of the individual being the true essence – their inner selves or even their soul or spirit.”

Both Pretty and Not – Jenni Baker

“No matter how much she turns her life around and tries to distance herself from her painful past, there it is, following her.”

Jenni’s deployment of “turns her life around” in her amazing analysis of the left/right dichotomy in Infinite Jest is just a thing to behold.

Mario’s Prescription for Calm – Corrie Baldauf

Because Corrie showed me something of Mario’s humanity I’d never seen before:

“But Mario can’t be found in his bed. He’s with his headphones, trying to remove himself from the physicality of the room and perhaps his own physical self. But he isn’t finding what he’s looking for—that voice that helps him get away from the waking hours of evening.”

The Psychoaesthetic Line – Dave Laird

“I can just imagine the spattery offscouring of lingual gray matter on restroom mirrors (the reflection of which you can even see, at the right angle), all over mirrors all across a nation that’s been hypnotized into developing a phobia that wouldn’t even have occurred to the grand majority of people.”

Dave just gets how Wallace finds the grotesque and the comic in the everyday, you know?

Abused Cats and Dead Extra-Terrestrials – Ryan Blanck

There are so many of Ryan’s posts I wanted to list, just for their brilliant titles, but it’s this post that made me laugh the hardest I’ve laughed in a long, long time:

“And sure enough, there’s poor little Gertie with tears streaming down her face, convulsing as the scientists try to zap E.T. back to life with the electric paddles. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes not just in this film, but in all of American cinema. And that is the last image these kids have etched in their brains as they head off to Spring Break.”

Honourable mention to Mike Miley’s Filmography: I haven’t watched all the films I probably never will, but I like to think I would.

Do you have a favourite post? Has there been one that’s really helped your reading of Infinite Jest? Let us know in the comments below – it’s great for our egos!


Contest: #InfWin Meets #NaPoMo

 April marks not only the winding down of Infinite Winter, but also National Poetry Writing Month (abbreviated as NaPoWriMo, or NaPoMo for short). This month, writers around the country are challenging themselves to write 30 poems in 30 days, leveraging prompts like those we’re providing over at The Found Poetry Review for inspiration.

This week, I’m using my post to issue you a challenge: create a piece of found poetry sourced from or inspired by this week’s  Infinite Jest reading. Found poetry is the art of excerpting language from a source text and remixing it or transforming it to craft something new. Read more about found poetry.

Post your work (or a link to it) here in the comments section – I’ll choose my favorite piece out of those shared and send the author a signed Erasing Infinite print.


The inspiration for your piece of found poetry should come from this past week’s reading – pages 833-907. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Choose a character featured prominently in this section – for example, Gately, Hal or even the wraith. Compose a beau presente (or beautiful inlaw) poem for one of these characters using only words that can be made from the letters in his or her name. For instance, if composing a poem for “Don Gately,” you could use the words atoned, tangled, alone, daylong, delay notedly, only and alone. You can use tools like WordSolver or Litscape to generate a list of possible words from a character’s name.
  • Pick a letter of the alphabet and write down all of the words in this section starting with that letter. Compose a poem – known as a tautogram – from the words you’ve copied down.
  • Compose a prisoner’s constraint – a poem which forbids the use of letters with ascenders (b,d,f,h,k,l,t) and descenders (g,j,p,q,y) – in empathy with Gately’s and Hal’s struggles to communicate. Pull out words from the text containing only the following letters to craft your poem: a,c,e,i,m,n,o,r,s,u,v,w,x,z.
  • Select a series of twenty pages to focus on. Read through the text and copy down the first three words of every sentence. When you’ve finished, use what you’ve written as your word bank for crafting your poem.
  • Photocopy one or more pages from this week’s readings and make a visual collage incorporating the words and images from this section.

Post your completed work in the comments section below by Sunday, May 1, to be eligible to receive the print.  I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Read Infinite Jest with a few hundred of your closest friends: 75 pages per week, January 31 – May 2, 2016