Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 58 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Selected Snippets From the Individual-Resident-Informal-Interface Moments of D.W. Gately, Live-In Staff, Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, Enfield MA, On and Off From Just After the Brookline Young People’s AA Mtng. Up to About 2329h., Wednesday 11 November Y.D.A.U. In the transcripts from these “interfaces” between Don Gately and the Ennet House residents, the residents complain about mundane things, usually voicing their irritation with other people or features of the house. One resident complains that the “H” faucet on one of the taps should stand for “Holy Cow That’s Cold.” Another, Yolanda, has been sexually harassed by a man in her AA meeting. Gately advises her to avoid him at all costs, before realizing she’s referring to Randy Lenz, though Yolanda refuses to confirm if this is true.
This passage confirms the earlier implication that a culture of sexism makes AA an unwelcoming (and even dangerous) place for women. As Yolanda’s story shows, it is not easy to avoid the man who has been harassing her. Not only do they attend the same meetings, but they are both residents at Ennet House. Avoiding him could mean jeopardizing her sobriety (and potentially leave her homeless).
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
In a hotel room, Orin is having sex with a Swiss hand-model he met in Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport after dropping off Helen Steeply at departures. (An endnote here provides more transcript fragments of Steeply’s interview with Orin for Moment magazine. In the interview, Orin insists that James was insane in the last years of his life, which is demonstrated by his chosen suicide method. Orin no longer speaks to Avril because he doesn’t trust her. He believes that she has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder but that because she is so high-functioning it has never been diagnosed. Orin’s former doubles partner also had OCD, but in that case the man’s life fell apart because of it.)
Although there can be no denying that Orin had a strange and difficult childhood, he seems to be stuck in a rather immature habit of blaming and shunning his family while refusing to reflect on his own flaws. Furthermore, he dismissively diagnoses his parents of being insane and having OCD respectively, as if these diagnoses alone were grounds to condemn them. (Of course, we know that there are solid reasons to condemn both Avril and James, but Orin doesn’t mention these.)
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
(In the same endnote, Orin also accuses Avril of “worship[ing] Mario,” treating him as a “secular martyr.” However, he then starts refusing to answer Helen’s questions, pointing out that Hal will read the article and then show it to Mario. He suggests that Hal and Mario won’t understand how insane their mother is until they finally leave E.T.A. He then tells the story about Hal eating the piece of house mold as a young child. He recommends that Helen get in touch with a man called Bain if she wants more information about Avril and James.)
Orin comes across as even more childish here through his blatant jealousy of Mario. Even though Orin resents Avril’s attention, he is clearly resentful of Mario for getting so much of it. This is a typical paradox when it comes to the way that children feel about their parents, craving their love and pushing them away at the same time.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Back in the main narrative, it is noted that the Swiss woman approached Orin at the airport and asked him to sign a football for her “toddler-age son.” Orin was sure this was the universe’s way of saving him from any negative feelings triggered by Helen’s departure.
Recall that Orin has a fetish for married mothers, which is assumedly rooted in his own complex and tortured relationship to Avril.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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Idris Arslanian, Ted Schacht, and others are blindfolded in the hall by the weight room. They can hear Anton Doucette crying to Lyle; apparently some of the other boys are watching him “like it’s entertainment.” Troeltsch and Pemulis are there too. The boys discuss other E.T.A. students, then nuclear fusion. They then discuss annular medicine, which involves practices like “treating cancer by giving the cancer cells themselves cancer.” This medical breakthrough is now seen as normal, but was once unimaginable. There is now a theory that a similar principle could be applied to the Great Concavity—that injecting toxic material into an already toxic site could actually de-toxify it.
Yet another disturbing aspect of the human desire for entertainment lies in the fact that this desire often functions as a sadistic pleasure in seeing others suffer. Of course, many people would deny that they find the suffering of others entertaining, yet evidence suggests that in reality, people tend to be drawn to this sight (even if this attraction takes the form of fascinated horror).
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
After Orin leaves the hotel, he thinks about a man in a wheelchair he saw there, and reflects that this man and the Swiss model had the same accent. Meanwhile, Lenz continues to chatter away to Green, telling excessively detailed stories about his obese mother and her eventual death. Green’s own parents both died when he was a toddler, but he has deeply repressed this traumatic memory to the point that it is actually difficult to recall any details. Green’s father had been a highly successful aerobics instructor until one day, at the peak of his career, his legs became oddly mismatched in size.
Orin’s acknowledgment that the Swiss hand model and a nearby man in a wheelchair had the same accent should tell us that the model is likely not “Swiss” at all, but from Quebec. Indeed, the shady activities that seem to be surrounding Orin suggest he is being followed by the A.F.R. Perhaps he has been chosen as a target because he is more gullible than Hal, yet is older and more informed than Mario—or maybe the A.F.R already suspect that Orin has the master copy of the Entertainment.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Unable to continue teaching aerobics, Green’s father worked for a practical joke company instead. One Christmas, a very young Bruce played a joke on his parents, giving his mother a gift that she thought was her favorite brand of macadamia nuts, but which in fact contained a snake on a spring. Green’s mother’s shock at the protruding snake was so intense that it caused her to have a heart attack and die. Green’s father had a “psycho-spiritual” breakdown after the death of his wife. Not long after, he was arrested and given the death penalty for fatally putting real explosives inside his company’s “Blammo Cigars.”
Once again, the novel mixes silly humor with disturbing, dark ideas. The idea of someone dying from a practical joke toy is ludicrous; yet the suffering that this causes Green and his father ends up being strangely moving. Interestingly, Green’s father’s decision to put explosives in the “Blammo Cigars” is another example of entertainment being turned into a weapon.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
It is a very misty night, and Green keeps losing sight of Lenz before finding him again. Green recalls a Hawaiian beach-themed party that he and Mildred Bonk once went to in a Harvard dorm, where Green had got so drunk that he shit his pants. He now sees Lenz holding out a piece of meatloaf to a dog and then slyly retrieving something from his sleeve that Green can’t quite see. Lenz then picks up the dog by its throat, says something like “How dare you,” and dashes the dog down onto the yard.
Green is initially too wrapped up in his own psychological distress, stewing in memories of his childhood trauma and subsequent addiction to notice the equally distressing sight before him. Rather than dealing with his demons in a reflective way like Green, Lenz acts out, inflicting his inner turmoil in the form of external violence.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Green wants to call out to stop him but is strangely suffocated and can’t say anything at all. Lenz then stabs the dog with what Green can now see is a knife. People gather around the dog, shouting in distress and pointing out that Lenz is running away. Some of the surrounding people are in wheelchairs.
Green’s inability to speak recalls Hal’s own troubles communicating with his father and at the University of Arizona admissions interview.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
On November 25, Mario will turn 19. When he was six, the disability he’d had since birth was diagnosed as Familial Dysautonomia, a condition that means he doesn’t properly feel pain. Hal has always been slightly jealous of Mario for this. Mario is still distressed about the disappearance of Madame Psychosis and also worried about Hal, whose feelings he used to be able to intuit but who now seems distant and mysterious. Mario sometimes takes walks alone at night. Tonight, he walks past Ennet House and listens to the snippets of conversation emerging from behind its walls.
Throughout much of the novel, Mario is framed as a perpetual child and hanger-on; someone to be tolerated or taken care of rather than someone who takes an active role in caring for others. Yet here it becomes clear that Mario is very protective of Hal and has in fact been caring for him in his own way.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Suddenly, Mario hears the sound of a recording of Madame Psychosis’s radio show coming through an open window. He has noticed that more and more whenever he tries to talk about “real” things people around him get uncomfortable. Gately, meanwhile, has a long list of evening duties to complete, some of which are more pleasant than others. Checking if the bathroom cleaning chore has been completed inside the women’s bathroom provides a rude awakening that women behave just as disgustingly in the bathroom as men. Kate Gompert has been making allusions to self-harm, and Gately calls Pat to report it.
Mario’s observation that people are made uncomfortable by his attempts to discuss “real” things suggests that people expect him to play a certain role and are disturbed when he deviates from that role. This kind of behavior perhaps emerges from people’s prejudice about Mario’s disabilities. They will tolerate him as long as he conforms to their idea of what a disabled person should act like.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
A new resident has arrived named Ruth van Cleve, and Gately has to oversee her introduction and orientation to the House. In general, he has to intervene in the rumors circulating around the house, keeping speculation in check but encouraging anyone who has even the smallest hint that a resident might be taking Substances to come forward.
As we have seen, the policy surrounding substances at Ennet House is strict to the point of paranoia; however, it has also been made clear that such an approach is undoubtedly necessary when it comes to people with severe addictions.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Orin can only give and not receive pleasure, to the delight of many of his Subjects but not Orin himself. While he is still with the Swiss model, someone knocks on the hotel room door and the model hides under the bed, fearing that her husband will find out. The man at the door is in a wheelchair and announces that he is conducting a survey. He gives almost a dozen reasons for the survey, saying it is an academic project, a “commerce survey,” and a demographic evaluation. Orin happily complies, supplying basic information about himself.
The unidentified man in the wheelchair does a comically bad job of disguising himself and not seeming suspicious. Orin’s obliviousness further indicates that he is the perfect target for the A.F.R., as even in the face of highly suspicious behavior he has no clue what is going on.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
The man in the wheelchair asks Orin what he misses, elaborating that he wants to know what Orin feels nostalgia or yearning for. Orin comments that he misses TV and TV commercials, speaking at length about the specific aspects of TV culture that he recalls fondly. The man in the wheelchair then asks what Orin doesn’t miss, and Orin asks how much time the man has. The man in the wheelchair looks in Orin’s room and observes that he is perhaps currently “engaged.”
Orin’s nostalgic affection for TV and even TV commercials shows how widespread the desire for entertainment is. His comment also echoes a similar nostalgia that has occurred in real life. Although few people express appreciation for TV commercials when they are bombarded with them on a daily basis, it is easy to feel nostalgic for them as retro remnants of a previous era.
Themes
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Ennet House’s curfew is 11:30 pm, and at 11:15 Clenette and Yolanda return from Footprints (an endnote explains that this is “a depressing new Sober Club” in Davis Square). Two other residents return together, and Gately concludes from their body language that they may be conducting a forbidden relationship. Lenz slips in moments before Gately locks the door for the night, and by 11:30 Amy J. and Bruce Green are both still missing. At 11:36 pm Green shows up; Gately lets him in and gives him a week’s “Full House Restriction” while aggressively asking if there are any problems he should know about.
This is one of the moments where the resemblance between Ennet House and a boarding school (like E.T.A.) is most clear. Residents of Ennet House must submit to being treated like children in order to remain in the program. While this is fine in theory, situations like the one Green faces prove difficult. Rather than being able to explain himself adult-to-adult, Green must endure being treated like a disobedient teenager.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Gately dislikes the fact that he must now ask Green for a urine test, as the two of them are friends, but Green complies with reassuring speed. Meanwhile, several of the residents have left their cars in spots where they will be towed. Recovering addicts tend to be in a kind of denial about the law, and although other staffers recommend that residents’ cars should be towed “at least once” to teach their owners a lesson, Gately is determined to intervene. He assembles a group of car-owning residents, and in doing so notices that Lenz is clearly high.
Again, as a residential staffer Gately must navigate a fine balance between treating the residents like children and respecting them as adults. Indeed, the issue of whether or not to allow the residents’ cars to be towed is similar to dilemmas parents face about letting their children get into trouble in order to learn a lesson versus intervening and thus risking overprotecting their kids.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Despite his recent scolding, Green offers to move a mis-parked car belonging to a resident lying in bed with a fever brought on by diverticulitis, a condition suffered by alcoholics new to sobriety. Stepping outside, Gately sees Lenz being chased in a circle by two men with “vaguely non-U.S. beards.” A third man standing nearby is holding a gun, which seems to frighten some of the assembled residents but not others. Gately isn’t sure what he’s feeling. He approaches and sees one of the men pull out a knife.
Gately’s feelings of detachment suggest that he still has not reached the stage of recovery where he has regained a fear of violence and losing his life. As the book has shown, addiction sometimes causes recklessness that is felt as a lack of fear. The positive side to this is that Gately is now able to behave courageously in a dangerous situation, and to protect others from danger.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Gately explains to the non-American men that he is responsible for the people assembled there and that he doesn’t want to fight. The men curse him out in Quebecois French. A fight breaks out. Gately dislocates one of the men’s shoulders and is slashed in the calf in return. One of the men then breaks Gately’s toe. Gately manages to kick him, and then suddenly feels that he’s been shot in the shoulder. The fight continues with Nell Gunther and Green joining in as Joelle shouts something inaudible from her window. More residents get involved and Joelle climbs out onto her balcony, still holding a toothbrush, shouting Gately’s first name.
Wallace again finds humor here in subverting the expectation that Canadians are supposed to be nice and apologetic by depicting the Quebecois men as confrontational and violent. Indeed, the conflict escalates with frightening speed as Gately is shot. Yet there is still dark comedy to be found in the image of a group of newly-sober addicts fighting Quebecois men without knowing the reason for the conflict.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Joelle keeps climbing and ends up dangling and kicking her legs, while other residents keep fighting and Charlotte Treat repeatedly recites the Serenity Prayer. Joelle successfully lands on the ground and runs toward Gately, who’s decided he needs to immediately lie down on the ground. The residents crowd around Gately, frantically discussing whether they should call Pat, an ambulance, or someone else. Gately asks Lenz and Green to carry him inside and insists that nobody call anyone until this is done. He tells Joelle that he’s going to jail, but she assures him that he has dozens of eyewitnesses on his side.
Here we begin to see a blossoming romance between Joelle and Gately, formed in the dramatic circumstances of Gately’s injury and possible imprisonment. (Recall that Gately originally checked into Ennet House to avoid going to prison, because he knew he would be surrounded by drugs and alcohol there.) These dramatic surroundings escalate the suspenseful air of romance between them. 
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Despite Gately’s insistence, several residents are trying to make calls anyway. An Enfield Marine Hospital security guard strolls by and Gately forces Erdedy to go and distract him. Meanwhile, Gately tells Joelle that he’s realized she’s Madame Psychosis, and that he was sure he knew her from somewhere. Joelle squeezes Gately’s arm, and Lenz and Green lift him up.
In addition to Joelle and Gately’s feelings for one another, another moving element of this scene is the way that the Ennet House residents chaotically band together to help one another. There is a sense in which, despite their differences, they are a real community.
Themes
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Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
The next paragraph lists technological and cultural innovations that have emerged in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. These technological developments cannot be thought of as “bad” because, although they have their downsides, no one can now imagine living without them. Rodney Tine is standing in the State House Annex in central Boston, looking out at the Boston Duck Pond undergoing its annual draining. Tine’s son Rodney Tine Jr., who—like Hugh Steeply—is a O.U.S. operative, is sitting with Steeply in the same conference room as his father.
The impossibility of concluding that certain technological developments are “bad” profoundly resonates with the era in which we currently live. Technology is constantly transforming our lives, and clearly not always for the better. However, people adapt and become dependent on new technologies with frightening speed. Seen in this way, technology has an addictive quality, and it is certainly now just a fact of life.
Themes
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
The grad student WYYY engineer has been taking endless calls from worried listeners, neither confirming nor denying rumors that Madame Psychosis has committed suicide, been institutionalized, or undergone a pilgrimage. In reality, all the engineer knows is that she is receiving “treatment” somewhere. The engineer is standing out on the cold street when suddenly he is grabbed by a man in a wheelchair, who grabs the engineer’s glasses from his face and runs them over.
The ruthlessness of the A.F.R. is shown by the fact that, in the typical manner of terrorist gangs and cartels, they attack innocent civilians with only vague connections to their true target. It is not quite clear how the WYYY engineer is related to the goal of using the Entertainment as a weapon, but any connection is enough for the A.F.R. to go after him.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon