Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Putative Curriculum Vitae of Helen P. Steeply, 36, 1.93 M., 104 KG., A.B., M.J.A. This chapter begins with Helen Steeply’s resume, which includes one year as a graduate intern at Time magazine, five years at Southwest Annual, one year at Ladies Day, and her current job at Moment magazine based in Arizona.
Helen Steeply is, as we know, a fake identity. Being in disguise as a journalist allows Hugh/Helen to pursue investigations without being outed as a spy.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Molly attends her party dressed as Karl Marx, a costume she originally donned in order to deliver a critique of post-millennial Marxist Film-Cartridge Theory from the perspective of Marx himself. Joelle arrives wearing her face veil. At the party, several guests are dancing the Minimal Mambo, an “anticraze” popular in Y.D.A.U. that basically looks like standing still. Joelle was Orin’s lover and James’s “optical beloved” for about two years each. Joelle thinks about James’s suicide, wondering how he made the microwave work with its door open, and wonders if she is responsible for his death.
It often seems that everything in the world of the novel is a slight twisted, exaggerated version of what exists in our own reality. For example, graduate students really do passionately critique Marxist film theory (yet usually don’t do so dressed up as Marx). Similarly, while the word “anticraze” is an invention of Wallace’s, many trends are formed as backlashes to existing trends in reality.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
A woman at the party seems to be “in love with her own breasts.” In snippets of conversation, the partygoers discuss cartridges, the cheese being served, Heideggerian philosophy, the Great Concavity/Convexity, and the “cartridge-as-ecstatic-death rumor.” In Molly’s bedroom Joelle spots her own monograph (an endnote details that it is entitled Theory and Praxis in Peckinpah’s Use of Red and that it is published as part of the series Classic Cartridge Studies). She thinks about how much fun freebasing was at the beginning. Neither James nor Orin showed any interest; Orin because of the urine tests he had to undergo for football, and James because his Substance of choice was alcohol.
Joelle’s decision to remove herself from the party highlights how isolated she feels due to her drug addiction. As an earlier part of the chapter noted, she finds it hard to understand how people care about things. This is a significant contrast to the excitement at the party over the “cartridge-as-ecstatic-death rumor,” which of course refers to the Entertainment. The film scholars’ excitement suggests that their passion for avant-garde film may be self-destructive, as they are not taking the threat of the Entertainment seriously.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
In Molly’s bathroom, Joelle has to improvise after throwing away her paraphernalia. When her hands first start trembling with excitement while preparing the crack and assorted equipment, she knows “she like[s] this more than anyone can like anything and still live.” As she gets to the end of her careful preparations, she finds the idea that she will never see all the people she knows again “sentimental and banal.” Through the door, someone asks if anyone is in the bathroom. Joelle inhales while the person continues knocking and complains about a weird smell emerging from the bathroom. After a few blissful moments Joelle vomits into the bathtub.
In the bathroom, Joelle has a similar realization to other addicts who hit “rock bottom”: it dawns on her that if she keeps using drugs, she won’t survive. Yet instead of taking this as an incentive to get clean, Joelle decides that she might as well die, and that she should do so by overdosing on the very substance that she loves too much. This is a similar to the idea of the Entertainment—death by “too much fun.”
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
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Enfield is “composed almost entirely of medical, corporate, and spiritual facilities.” The final passage of the chapter describes the geography of Enfield in detail, ending with a restatement of the proximity between E.T.A. and Enfield Marine.
Again, in this part of the novel many of the seemingly different strands come together, in part due to their geographic proximity.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon