14 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Following his seizure, Poor Tony had awoken in an ambulance feeling wonderful. He’d even flirted with the paramedic. Back in the day, Tony and a group of others did a job for Betraund Antitoi in exchange for drugs. They dressed up in the same all-red outfit of an androgynous Quebecer separatist, acting as decoys when the separatist threw acid in the face of the Canadian Minister of Inter-O.N.A.N. Trade. Now, Poor Tony considers stealing the purses of two women walking ahead of him. He is concentrating on this decision so intently that he does not even see “Mad” Matty Pemulis, his old crewmate.
Again, the enormous map of characters is shown to be more interwoven than the reader might have assumed. Through the odd jobs he did for Bertraund in exchange for drugs, Poor Tony is linked to the A.F.R. Meanwhile, his association with Matty Pemulis also means he has a connection to E.T.A. Finally, the fact that he is a drug user means he will have many connections to Ennet House residents.
At Ennet House, Geoffrey Day is surprised to find himself missing Randy Lenz. Meanwhile, Kate, like many psychiatric patients, knows that there are different kinds of depression. There’s anhedonia, the alarming experience of everything in the world becoming completely meaningless—a kind of abstraction effect. Many young E.T.A. students think James committed suicide as a result of anhedonia. However, this is a mistaken interpretation, based in the fact that these students are still immersed in a highly competitive juvenile world where rankings are everything. They cannot yet understand the reality that superficial achievements have nothing to do with “interior worth.”
E.T.A. students seem to assume that James developed anhedonia because his career as a filmmaker never took off. They believe that James’s failures caused him to feel that everything was meaningless because the meaning in their own lives is entirely dependent on their success in junior tennis. However, the novel implies that this belief cannot last long; they will eventually grow out of it (and find other, more profound reasons to be depressed).
This illusion is actually a nice way to live, because it creates a clear and constant desire for a particular goal. Hal knows that anhedonia wasn’t the cause of James’s suicide (although he does not know the real reason either). He hasn’t had an interior emotion in years. This disposition is seen as cool in contemporary American culture. In typically American style, Hal fears what he secretly wants: a sense of self, including the sentimentality and need that this inherently involves.
Infinite Jest may not be set at the time Wallace was writing (or in the real future that followed it), but this reflection on “cool” speaks directly to the culture in which Wallace was immersed. Indeed, Wallace himself has been accused of propagating a “cool” style of writing through irony, highly complex prose, and intellectual showmanship. At the same time, he was deeply concerned with the issue of sincerity and avoiding the kind of irony that leads to total disconnection. In Infinite Jest, this is shown in the tension between the novel’s own highly-intellectual style and its engagement with the seemingly banal but sincere clichés that end up helping so many addicts and athletes.
Hal doesn’t know it yet, but anhedonia isn’t the worst kind of depression. The worst is called clinical depression or “unipolar dysphoria.” It is an active feeling, a form of absolute torment that Kate simply thinks of as “It.” It is a psychic horror so painful that it is literally unbearable, and the loneliest feeling in the world. Kate suffers from psychotic depression, which is even lonelier because it involves delusion and thus isolates and disconnects her from the world.
Rather than emptiness, clinical depression takes the form of an active presence, which is part of what makes it so horrifying. Clinical depression can be conceptualized as a kind of pain that is comparable to physical pain. Yet unlike physical pain, clinical depression also makes the sufferer feel totally alone. Passages like this feel especially poignant considering that Wallace himself dealt with severe depression like Kate’s.
Back at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Kate befriended another psychotically depressed patient, a civil engineer who enjoyed model trains. His psychotic depression began 17 years before they met, when he had slipped, fallen on his head, and woken up “depressed beyond all human endurance.” He craved death but did not attempt suicide because his wife was a devout Catholic. Eventually the man underwent experimental psychosurgery, though Kate never learned the outcome of this. All the man wanted was anhedonia, but she never found out if he got it.
Mental illness, addictions, maladies, and disabilities are rife within Infinite Jest. Another trope is characters having terrible accidents through which they find themselves deformed, disabled, or mentally ill. We might not usually think of depression as being caused by an accident, but physical injuries can indeed result in neurological and psychological conditions.