The Infinite Jest Deathmarch: Stage 1

Begin: Page 1 (“I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.”)
End: Page 49 (“…shaving upward, with south-to-north strokes, as he was taught.”)

Start Date: 10/1/10
Finish Date: 10/7/10

And we’re off.

I shan’t waste your valuable reading time with a lot of extra words.

Leave your comments below.


25 Responses to “The Infinite Jest Deathmarch: Stage 1”

  1. Julian Murdoch Says:

    Thanks for the start/end sentences. That’s location 1200 were ending on for anyone else reading on a kindle or iPad.

  2. Macroe Says:

    Thanks Julian, weird to see that now we talk about locations instead of page numbers. Reminds me when my 5 yr old –who sometimes plays on my iPhone– grabbed an older Nokia cell phone, tried to tap the icons on the screen with no results until he concluded “It’s broken dad!”.

  3. bill Says:

    Only 10 pages in, but found those pages very promising. Some drama, some comedy, some mystery…and then silent Hal finally opening his mouth at the end of the section. I’m hooked.

  4. Computilo Says:

    Found the “surrounded by heads and bodies” an interesting jumpstart to the book. Isn’t the head part of the body? So it’s clear that the author thinks the head should be considered on its own merits and not just lumped in with the rest of the parts. When I’m in a crowded store or on a commuter train or plane, I think about and “feel” the bodies (smell, clothing, shape, size), but rarely pay attention to the heads. Willy Loman was right: “Attention must be paid!” (at least to the heads….)

  5. TheChaz Says:

    I’m very interested in the time frame. I went in assuming the book was set in the present day and it took me a while to realize differently. It seems we’re actually in some middle-future, which is fascinating. I wonder if there’s a specific reason, as so far everything could just as easily be happening today.

    On a side note, I feel like precious-based-on-the-novel-push-by-sapphire was essentially cribbed whole-cloth, and completely outshone in the space of three pages by the Wardine/Ray Tony chapter.

  6. Molly Says:

    I assume the details Wallace includes throughout are like little snapshots of how his own brain must have worked. I wonder if he had a photographic memory, as is revealed about Hal later in the book. As I read I find myself wondering again and again just how much of this is autobiographical, especially since reading Eggers’ foreword which pointed out the parallels to Wallace’s own life: tennis etc. Parts of it just feel very lived in or lived through – and other parts don’t, like the spy stuff (I’m a little ahead right now but I’m sure that won’t last!).

    My husband is reading my copy too, we have duelling bookmarks, and I keep having to grab it away from him when I get chances to read!

  7. Matt Root Says:

    Starting out a book of this magnitude I always find myself going through a learning period on two fronts. The first is gaining familiarity with the voice(es) that are being put forth by the author. Depending on the quality of the writer and complexity of the prose this can sometimes take quite awhile for me. It took me about 700 pages of Ulysses before I settled into a groove with Joyce’s voice. Lacking that familiarity can make for painfully slow reading. Thankfully, with respect to Infinite Jest, I’m finding the voices easy to relate to and the book is already flowing for me. I get the sense reading DFW’s writing that he is incredibly smart but I have yet to see him wield his brain just because he can; this makes me happy.

    Second, being only 49 pages in, is the feeling of standing on the tip of an iceberg. We’ve been shown snippets of several characters and have begun to find out more about Hal but there’s this sense of so much more to come. This is arguably fueled by the weight of the paperback in my hand and the knowledge that we’re just beginning a 1,000 page journey but the feeling is there nonetheless. Getting glimpses of so many characters early on has me excited to find out where this is going and how they will connect as we progress.

    Other random thoughts:
    -I really enjoyed the opening scene of Hal’s university interview. It was a good presentation of the idea that something is amiss.
    -Appreciated the accuracy of the marijuana addict chapter. Whether the details of that section came from personal experience or research is unimportant. Getting it right is what matters and it furthers my trust in DFW to write accurately about everything else in this book.
    -Had to look up Toblerone after it was mentioned several times. It’s a Swedish chocolate for anyone else that was wondering.

  8. Matt Root Says:

    @TheChaz Interesting observation there. I was struggling to place the time myself but my jury is still out. I agree that the events thus far could have taken place right now or in the near past/future. The book was written in 1996 so I had been mentally defaulting to that time period. Some oddities were throwing me off such as multiple references to the ‘teleputer.’

    Would you care to elaborate on your reasons for thinking this is going on in the near future? I’m intrigued.

  9. Other Dan Says:

    1. i’m not happy that eggers in the introduction mentions jonathan franzen in the same breath as t. pynchon, w. gaddis and e. leonard. why the flip would someone give that hack franzen the time of day. hopefully i’ll get over it shortly. if i see that book ‘the corrections’ on your bookshelf it’s likely i will try and burn it or at least place it firmly in your toilet.

    2. i think there have only been two footnotes up to 49, which as footnotes go, appear at the end of the book. it would be much easier if footnotes appear at the bottom of the page I.M.H.O. [take that wallace]. hopefully i’ll get over it shortly.

    3. i hope to become a fan of redundancy or at lest hope to get over it shortly.

  10. Jeff Says:

    Loved this first section. I know a lot of the blurbs on the cover mention the book’s humor, but I was happy to find it there were genuine laughs in it (Hal’s academic record). That small Wardine section I found rather painful. I hope that that was *supposed* to be a bad rendition of “ebonics” and not a genuine attempt at capturing that lingo. ( Because if so, it’s kind of embarrassing.) Since it’s unclear who is narrating that scene at this point, I can’t tell–I’m hoping we’ll find out later that that is a purposely humorous attempt.

    The marijuana addiction scene was incredible.

  11. Asphodelia Says:

    I have to declare first of all that when The IJ Deathmarch was announced, I had already been reading the book for the best part of 3 months, so I’m near the end now, but I have started the re-read concurrently and promise I won’t give out any spoilers!

    My brother in law had been badgering me to read IJ for months; I was reluctant because of the tennis – something I had no interest in. However as soon as I started the first chapter, I KNEW that it was going to be something special. That first chapter is DFW in a nutshell: literary genius, moving, getting a character to think things that you’ve always thought and suddenly you feel that DFW is in your head. May I also add that English is not my first language so apology if I use it creatively!

    I was lucky enough to have stumbled across the ‘How To Read IJ’ page on the Infinite Summer website. I wholly recommend anyone who hasn’t read that page, do so now:
    It basically said, persevere until page 200; it warned you about the Wardine section too. So I knew that there would be a bit of hard work ahead, but that it would be rewarded.

    Like others said here, I too struggled with the time placing myself. I had avoided reading anything about the plot (I hate spoilers) so I didn’t realise that the novel was set in the future. Therefore, when he was talking about ‘cartridges’ and ‘TP’ I thought it was the author’s own ‘lingo’ for VCR and PC etc….! Luckily eventually I had a quick look at the Wikipedia page…!

    The pot addict chapter – I admit I struggled with that. I had no idea of what was going on and I was really hoping that the novel wouldn’t all be written in that style. I’m still reading now (page 850 or so) so draw your own conclusions.

    Finally, for those who have an iPhone or iPod Touch, there’s an Infinite Jest app you can buy from the App Store, just type in Infinite Jest and it’s £10.99 (UK Store). Sounds expensive when you’ve already paid for the book but it has proven invaluable to be able to read when out and about, in my lunchbreak, on public transport etc. The endnotes are all clickable so even easier than on paper.

    To Other Dan I would say (w/r/t footnotes -> see what I did there?) – the actual ‘footnote’ format wouldn’t have worked, because you will soon come across endnotes that are pages and pages long, basically they make up whole new strands within the narrative. It would have been impossible to add them at the bottom of an existing page without doing what Susanna Clarke did with ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ – i.e. interrupting the book mid-flow.

    Jeff – I don’t think the Wardine section is meant to be funny. It’s easy with the PC-obsessed mentality of 2010 to cry for complete accuracy, but IJ was not an episode of ‘The Wire’. It’s just written as a white person would have ‘heard it’ I think, DFW being white, most of the characters being white – even if the chapter is in the first person. Later on in the novel you might find that race is seen through the eyes of the various characters and that might seem un-PC but that’s the way the characters see it, so it’s straight-down-the-line, no irony.

  12. Matt Root Says:

    @Jeff I’m with you on the Wardine section. I kept my mouth shut because someone else mentioned they enjoyed that seen and I didn’t want it to seem like I was making a personal attack on them.

    That was the only part of the book so far that I haven’t enjoyed. It seemed to me that DFW could do much, much better. Faulkner is rolling over in his grave.

  13. Matt Root Says:

    *scene. Ugh, should not comment before breakfast.

  14. bill Says:

    Ah, diversity of opinion. This is why I love a Deathmarch.

    I winced a few times when starting the Wardine section, but it ended up compelling somehow…evocative. Any connection to the word jazz of Ken Nordine? Probably not.

    I’ve decided that Wallace is the love child of Thomas Pynchon and James Ellroy, with all the gifts and damage that implies. He combines the wild psychedelic scope of the Pynch with Ellroy’s sheer, relentless forward momentum. When reading Ellroy I would sometimes try to sneak in a few pages at bedtime, and next thing I knew it would be 3am and I would be sweaty and shaky and kind of dirty-feeling. I had a similar experience with Infinite Jest the other night.

    My favorite simile so far: “The tops of the palms like Rod Stewart’s hair, from days gone by.”

    Interesting that there have been only a couple short endnotes to this point. Almost as if DFW wants to be user-friendly at this early stage, then whack us with the big ones once we’re committed. I see that some of them are going to be ~10 pages of tiny type; maybe time to invest in a magnifying glass finally?

    And Matt, you’ve never had a Toblerone, you poor deprived child? That’s some good chocolate. Get thee to a confectioner.

  15. Asphodelia Says:

    I was very surprised to hear that Matt had never heard of Toblerone before, it’s a very well-known type of chocolate in Europe, and I had assumed that it was in the States, too!

  16. Debra Says:

    I have to say I’m finding the chapters a bit dis”joint”ed. Initially I had to go back and make sure the characters were the same and it wasn’t a bunch of short stories. I’m still with it…whew!

  17. JES Says:

    Having trouble with this comment section, but love the book so far.

  18. Julian Murdoch Says:

    I found wardine painful. But I found that the subtle discomfort built upnthe discomfort of the content in a way that made it not a caricature as much as an homage. I walked away feeling ashamed and alien. Brilliant. Hard.

    Hals grasp on reality feels like an epileptic aura (at least, like mine): real, but shifted 30 degrees off center half the time.

    I love all of the cast so far.

  19. ShingleSt Says:

    Words, words, and more words…Wallace sometimes seems to be suffering from an ongoing fit of graphomania. (It’s impossible for me to read this book without thinking of the unfortunate arc of his life. If you haven’t read the Rolling Stone article published after his death, it’s a very good examination of his personal demons. Unfortunately, it’s not available for free online.) Nonetheless, some of his writing is beyond compare; I particularly liked: “Orin wakes with his own impression sweated darkly into the bed beneath him, slowly drying all day to a white salty outline just slightly off from the week’s other faint dried outlines, so his fetal-shaped fossilized image is fanned out across his side of the bed like a deck of cards, just overlapping, like an acid trail or a timed exposure.”

  20. the RaptorMage Says:

    I was enjoying Toblerone before any of you whippersnappers were even a glimmer in your parents’ eyes. And I washed it down with Perrier when that used to come in *glass bottles*!!

    I instinctively cringed at the ebonics, but because I have been telling myself, over and over and over, “be patient”, I was able to hold down my gorge. I’m going to withhold a lot of judgments until we’re several weeks into the book. BUT THAT SAID: I’m already tired of bathrooms.

    Y’know, I didn’t know enough about American literature to know that Wallace was dead.

  21. Patrick Says:

    Second time reading this first 50 pages, I’m finding it much easier going. Pray that should continue.

  22. Delano Says:

    I little behind but, “I am in here.” What’s sticking out most for me is the possibility that he is a tennis player. Tennis is such a precise sport – Very objective – Not much room for interpretation – The ball is either in or out. Juxtapose that against very erratic and outside-of-the-lines thinking displayed during the rest of the 50 pages. Interesting.

    Unfortunately for me, his relationship with marijuana is vaguely familiar to me. I think I still have my digital equalizer from the 70’s

  23. BradH Says:

    The addict chapter captured my imagination. His writing style really tied into the content – whole pages of run-on paragraphs, obsessing about the bug (or hallucination) going in and out of the stereo shelf. And ending with the great vivid image of the poor guy standing “splay legged, arms wildly out as if something’s be flung, splayed, entombed between the two sounds, without a thought in his head.” Comic and heartbreaking.

  24. bobdee Says:

    In the opening scene, I was not sure how to take Hal. The only thing that seemed clear was that he was an awesome tennis player. It was not clear if he was stupid or not. The simplest interpretation, that he was a dumb athlete, was easy to draw. The essays would have been ghost written, the grades hugely inflated, but when he was on his own taking the tests, he was clueless. But the essays seemed to be over-the-top. Not something a coddling parent or relative would come up with. I suspected Hal had actually written these, was brilliant, and thumbed his nose at the test taking. Good for Hal! But alas, the opening scene ended with a surprise which indicated this was a much more complicated character that we were dealing with. So that pretty well hooked me at least for now. I have finished this weeks segment, and I know a little more about Hal but there are more questions than answers in my mind. But that is good since I notice we have just scratched the surface of this long book. I wonder if I should keep track of the chapter names – which seem strange at this point.

  25. Del Says:

    notes for Infinite Jest

    to p. 49 for 10-8-2010

    i’m taken in from the beginning. yay. it grabs my attention and pretty much doesn’t let go – very, very entertaining. a very good and quite surprising start (to me). here are just a few notes i’ve taken – random order, random stuff, just to start to get a feel for the story, its characters, and its styles.

    all the acronyms. for example, C.T., O.N.A.N.C.A.A., E.T.A., N.A.A.U.P., RICO, O. (for Orin), PJs, ROM-drives, E.R., M.D., O.E.D., Q&A, E.W.D., TP, Y.D.A.U., U.S.A., E.N.T., O.N.A.N.M.A., O.N.A.N. (now it’s just funny), A.M., N.O., P.E.T.

    among some words & phrases that have me doing double-takes: ‘wen’ ‘presbyopic squint’ ‘Rototrembling’ Kekulean (after the chemist, presumably, who worked on the structure of benzene), ‘enfilade’ ‘martinet’ ‘watching an espadrille pivot’ ‘incisionish’ ‘hypophalangial’? ‘Tommy Doocey’ ‘serial-cartridges’ ‘Leisure Time Ice’ ‘Spontaneous Disseminations’ ‘absolutely top-hole’ ‘while I, sedated will have slept like a graven image’, ‘seemed to do only German plays, dark smeary sets.’ ‘the DeBakey of maxillofacial yeast.’

    ‘…multiple eyebrow-tics and capillary webs in the oysters below his eyes…’ p. 9

    Hal Incandenza. Italian (or in any way not white?)? Brothers Orin (disfigured) & Mario (nickname “Booboo”).

    the stunning developments within each story, and how i start rooting for characters. e.g., for a moment I was really hoping that Hal was actually stupid or illiterate in some way – the geniusy Hal revealing himself amongst all the author’s lovely, dense paragraphs was a bit of a let-down. but then the alarming descriptions of the noises he makes as he attempts to communicate.

    juxtapositions. a simple sentence like “The sun is a hammer.” practically abutting “The blue sky is glossy and fat with heat, a few thin cirri sheared to blown strands like hair at the rims.” not even beginning to be the best example.

    the tableaus become very vivid and remain in my memoryless mind (the guy stabbing the sky with a mobile phone antenna as Hal is ambulanced up).

    random word repetitions. Edredy ‘considered himself creepy when it came to dope’ (the word ‘creepy’ gets used again in a different context soon thereafter, perhaps thematic). the word ‘queer’ gets used a couple of times “Cacti in queer tortured shapes” is one. repetition of words & phrases in the Orin Jacuzzi story. (which reminds there are interesting and particular shifts in style from section to section, for example the jarring but poetic & brilliant wardine, reginald & roy tony section)

    footnotes! the first one which basically defines methamphetamine hydrochloride as crystal meth – is that a joke? seems a very good long-paragraphed introduction to an addict but seems more almost of a description of a meth addict than a pot addict?

    halfway thru i find a website i’m sure i’ll be using a lot:

    typo or intentional misspelling of majuscule, an initial capital letter, often large-type to introduce a section of written material; Wallace’s use of the noun in a verb form is likely a neologism (especially if the alternate spelling is retained)

    “‘Dr. Zegarelli says that’s one reason for all the caries, is that I have low salivary output.’” Hal on p. 27, to which the response:

    “ ‘Those dry sticky salivaless sounds which can be death to a good conversation.’

    the section with the words that are sounds: SPFFFT. SHULGSHULGSPAHHH. MYURP. (the burp warned of ahead of time) SHULGSPAHHH. Mmmyellow (Hal answering phone)

    “Himself” and “Moms”

    “You think we don’t delve full-bore into the psyches of those for whom we’ve made appointments to converse?” if only

    the idea of 5-walled rooms. an attempt at anachronistic with ‘teleputer’ with ‘entertainment cartridges’. vcr/tv/computer?

    ‘…and but so when the attache does get home…’

    the ‘attache’ section was the least attention-grabbing for me

    description of Mildred L. Bonk on p. 39 – fabulous – reminds me this entire reading assignment has been very palpable, delicious descriptions, in the moment, real.

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