Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 70 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
11 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Mario is making a documentary about E.T.A., and has taken to walking around campus with a camera that James made called the Bolex H32 strapped to his head. He goes into Schtitt’s room and finds the coach asleep in his chair, with Wagner blaring. Mario films him for a while and then leaves, falling over twice as he does, yet without waking Schtitt. Mario then goes to the third-floor dorms, which mostly house boys under 14. He films LaMont Chu, who asks if he should say something “for posterity” and then can’t think of anything to say.
Mario has a somewhat hapless style of filmmaking, shooting random, uninteresting scenes and being rather clumsy as he does so. Yet perhaps Mario’s innocent, unscrupulous eye is exactly what is needed to capture the reality of life at E.T.A. Because they do not feel intimidated by his presence, people may act naturally around him and his camera.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
LaMont then asks that Mario put the camera aside so they can discuss the mysterious meeting Hal and Pemulis had in Charles’s office, which Hal left totally white-faced. LaMont wants Mario to find out what happened from Hal, and although Mario agrees, it seems that he doesn’t entirely understand the request. Mario then goes to Avril’s office, where his mother greets him joyfully and immediately abandons her phone call. Mario tells her that he saw her light on and wondered what she was doing in her office so late. She invites him to join her and Charles for dinner.
LaMont’s intense curiosity about what happened to Hal in the meeting suggests that Hal’s behavior has been disturbing the other E.T.A. students, perhaps especially the younger ones who look up to him and see him as a model of success. In a boarding school environment free of parents, relationships to older students become very important.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Mario says that he’s heard about the journalist who’s looking for Hal. He tries to question Avril about Charles and Hal and the Eschaton punishment, but she asks him about his day instead. Avril says that she won’t bug Hal about what happened in the aftermath of Eschaton but will instead patiently wait for him to tell her himself. Mario says he’s spent the day wondering how you can tell if someone is sad. Avril offers signs such as crying or being unusually quiet. Mario asks how you can tell if the person’s acting normal. Avril asks if Mario is talking about Hal, but he insists he’s just asking in general.
Avril’s confidence that Hal will tell her what happened at Charles’s office and if anything is wrong may appear to contradict her image as an overly intense mother. Perhaps she is more laid back and “hands-off” than it first appeared. On the other hand, she seems to believe that she has such an absolutely close and honest relationship with Hal that he would never lie to her—which we know to be completely false.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Avril and Mario discuss dissociation; Avril says that some people are “deeply afraid of their own emotions.” She tells Mario about her father and grandfather’s struggles with depression and alcohol. Avril is 56 and is still as beautiful as she was when she was young. Mario was incontinent into his early teens, and Hal and James would always happily change his diapers without a hint of sadness or disgust. Avril, however, was always too upset to do it. Avril asks if Mario is trying to tell her that he is sad, saying that “the sun would leave my sky” if she realized she couldn’t intuit such a thing herself.
This passage confirms the sense that Avril’s over-attachment to her sons actually inhibits her ability to be a good mother. Because she is so emotionally overinvested in them, she can’t actually take care of them, as shown by the fact that she won’t ask Hal what’s wrong and used to be unable to change Mario’s diaper. In this sense, a level of disconnection is sometimes necessary to being a good parent.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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It is early morning, before dawn, and Hal tells Mario that he just had a terrible dream. Mario says that Hal kept repeating “Thank you sir may I have another” in his sleep. Mario says he’s found someone who has old tapes of Madame Psychosis’s show, but he needs Hal’s help in asking if it’s okay to listen to them. Hal says he dreamed that his teeth splintered and crumbled out of his mouth. Mario says everyone’s been wondering what happened with Hal’s urine test, and that he promised LaMont Chu he would find out for him. Hal asks if Mario remembers S. Johnson, and says he can’t stop thinking about how Orin lied to Avril about S. Johnson’s death.
After the previous passage in which it was made clear that Avril is unable to connect with and properly parent her sons, this scene is a moving moment in which Hal and Mario are open, honest, and vulnerable with one another. Previously, Hal seemed to feel more loyal to and protective of Orin (as shown by the fact that he claimed his phone conversation with Orin was with someone Mario didn’t know). Here, however, he admits to being disturbed by his older brother.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Hal tells Mario that the man from O.N.A.N.T.A. didn’t actually take urine samples from him and the other boys, because Pemulis persuaded him to conduct the test in a month’s time. Mario suggests that they call Orin and ask him to come to WhataBurger. Hal discusses different types of lies, even sorting them into subtypes. He stresses that no one would be able to detect every single lie, as some types are just too convincing. Hal recalls his childhood fear of monsters, and says he now feels that the only real monsters are people who lie so well that it’s impossible to know that they aren’t telling the truth.
Considering that Hal is such a private, secretive, and thus fundamentally dishonest person himself, it is surprising that he is so upset by the issue of dishonesty. On the other hand, maybe his conclusion that convincing liars are “monsters” comes from a place of self-hatred. Perhaps he feels horrified and isolated by how much he lies to others and how little they actually know about his life.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Rémy Marathe is speaking to Kate, who expresses disbelief that she is drinking. They are sitting in Ryle’s Jazz Club in Inman Square, where Kate sought refuge after being mugged. Marathe tells her that she resembles his dying wife. Kate seems euphoric, claiming that this is the first time she’s felt okay in nine weeks. Marathe shares that he lost his legs as a teenager when they were run over by a train. He begins talking about the tensions between “Swiss” people and their geographic neighbors.
Both Kate and Marathe are engaged in seriously dangerous behavior. Kate is relapsing, and although she feels amazing in this moment, this feeling will not last when she comes to terms with the fact that she has jeopardized her recovery and thus her life. Marathe’s drunken flirtation and misremembering of his fake backstory also spells trouble.
Themes
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Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Marathe talks about a time in his life when he was suicidal, completely despondent and immersed in his own pain. However, one day he saw a woman about to be hit by a truck and risked his life to save her. The woman, Gertraude, became his wife, and Marathe was able to overcome his suicidal thoughts through his empathy for someone else. He explains that Gertraude had no skull as a result of being born near a toxic area in “Switzerland.” At first he didn’t think he loved her and briefly left her, but he found that as soon as he did, his suicidal depression returned.
Marathe’s story about Gertraude might superficially seem romantic. Yet actually, the fact that he only stays with her because she alleviates his depression is rather concerning. This is particularly true considering that Gertraude has severe disabilities, and is even in a coma. Marathe treats her as a source of inspiration and a “cure” for his mental illness rather than a person in her own right.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
It was at this point that Marathe realized he did love Gertraude. Kate objects to this twist in the story, saying that she does not believe that this is what love is. Gertraude is certain to die imminently unless she receives the Jaarvik IX Exterior Artifical Heart, although even with the heart she will still be “in a comatose and vegetated state.” Marathe admits that he is betraying his friends and country in order to secure the heart for her. Kate is adamant that Marathe is wrong to think of this as love, and he accuses her of just being drunk.
Kate may be drunk, but her repudiation of Marathe’s claim to truly love Gertraude is apt. While it may be true that Marathe is engaging in great personal self-sacrifice in order to help his wife, this doesn’t truly count as self-sacrifice if he is with his wife in order to save his own life. From this perspective, his actions are in fact ultimately self-serving.
Themes
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Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Kate becomes increasingly coherent; she mocks Marathe’s accent and admits that she’s only had sex twice. Eventually she stops responding to him at all. Back at E.T.A., Mario tells Hal that he seems sad, and Hal confesses to his secret marijuana use in the pump room. He tells Mario about Pemulis’s urine-selling business, and says that no one suspects he or Axford having been taking Substances. Rather, they are sure to blame Pemulis and expel him from E.T.A. by the end of the term. Furthermore, Pemulis secured the extra month before the urine test for Hal, not himself.
This passage marks a major shift, as Hal finally feels able to reveal his most protected secret to Mario. This decision perhaps emerges out of desperation and guilt, as Hal confronts the possibility that Pemulis will be kicked out in order to save Hal.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Hal seems petrified of the prospect of “flunk[ing] a urine” and wonders what the consequences will be. He thinks that something awful will happen to Avril if she discovers he’s been keeping a huge secret from her. He says he understands that Mario is hurt by this information, too, but Mario responds that he is actually “zero percent hurt." This angers Hal, who tells Mario that he has to get mad sometimes. He admits that he’s abstained from marijuana for 40 hours and is already going crazy. Hal asks Mario what he should do, and Mario replies “I think you just did it.”
While Hal is angry with Mario’s reaction in this passage, once again Mario is actually shown to be one of the wisest characters in the novel. Hal is convinced that Mario will take his secrecy personally and be hurt by it, but in reality Mario knows that it is not a personal insult, which is why he is “zero percent hurt.” Meanwhile, he also realizes how much progress Hal has made simply by having the courage to be honest.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon