Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Dr. James Incandenza / Jim Character Analysis

James is Avril’s husband, the father (or presumed father, in the case of Mario) of Orin, Mario, and Hal, and the Founding Director of E.T.A. As a child, he was a promising junior tennis player, before going on to gain a PhD in Optical Physics. He eventually left scientific research to found E.T.A. and, later, began working as a director of avant-garde film. Aside from a few exceptions, James’s films were not particularly famous or successful, although they are very popular among film fanatics and scholars. James’s masterwork is a lethally compelling film called Infinite Jest, referred to as “the Entertainment” (and sometimes “the samizdat”). He made it in order to connect with Hal, whose emotionlessness and inability to communicate was deeply disturbing to James. An alcoholic with clinical depression, James managed to get sober with the help of Joelle and the goal of connecting with Hal. However, unable to bear sobriety, he committed suicide by sticking his head in a microwave at the age of 54. His sons nicknamed James “Himself” or “the Mad Stork.”

Dr. James Incandenza / Jim Quotes in Infinite Jest

The Infinite Jest quotes below are all either spoken by Dr. James Incandenza / Jim or refer to Dr. James Incandenza / Jim. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay Books edition of Infinite Jest published in 1996.
Chapter 3 Quotes

“I'm ten for Pete's sake. I think maybe your appointment calendar's squares got juggled. I'm the potentially gifted ten-year-old tennis and lexical prodigy whose mom's a continental mover and shaker in the prescriptive grammar academic world and whose dad's a towering figure in optical and avant-garde film circles and single-handedly founded the Enfield Tennis Academy but drinks Wild Turkey at like 5:00 a.m. and pitches over sideways during dawn drills, on the courts, some days, and some days presents with delusions about people's mouths moving but nothing coming out. I'm not even up to J yet, in the condensed O.E.D., much less Québec or malevolent Lurias.

Related Symbols: Substances
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 69 Quotes

Was amateurish the right word? More like the work of a brilliant optician and technician who was an amateur at any kind of real communication. Technically gorgeous, the work, with lighting and angles planned out to the frame. But oddly hollow, empty, no sense of dramatic towardness - no narrative movement toward a real story; no emotional movement toward an audience.

Related Symbols: The Entertainment
Page Number: 740
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Infinite Jest LitChart as a printable PDF.
Infinite Jest PDF

Dr. James Incandenza / Jim Character Timeline in Infinite Jest

The timeline below shows where the character Dr. James Incandenza / Jim appears in Infinite Jest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...A young Hal has been sent to speak with an unnamed man by his father, James, who told the man that Hal is 11. The man insists that Hal drink some... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Hal explains that he calls James “Himself,” a nickname his brother invented. He adds that James experiences hallucinations. The man suggests... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Hal suddenly realizes that the man sitting opposite him is actually his own father, James, in disguise. Hal points out that while James has “rented a whole office” and even... (full context)
Chapter 7
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...Hal says that God seems to be “pro-death” while Hal himself is “anti-death.” Mario mentions James’s death. Hal says he will tell Mario a joke as long as he promises to... (full context)
Chapter 9
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...possible. Avril knows that Hal occasionally drinks, and while she worries about this because of James’s alcoholism, Hal’s achievements assure her that it is not a major problem. The presence of... (full context)
Chapter 12
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
As of Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. E.T.A. was first directed by James Incandenza, and after his death, by James’ brother-in-law, Charles Tavis. James’s father, James Sr., had... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
James was a tall and awkward alcoholic, yet still managed to marry Avril, one of the... (full context)
Chapter 28
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Winter B.S. 1960 — Tucson AZ. The narrator of this chapter addresses someone called Jim (James Incandenza). They discuss Jim’s mother, who was a “long-suffering wife and breadwinner.” She once... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
James Sr. trains Jim in tennis, teaching him to think of himself as a body and... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Mario Sr., who James Sr. also calls “Himself,” ended up coming to a match only once, accompanied by a... (full context)
Chapter 35
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...suicidal people find it hard to understand why anyone cares about anything. Before his death, Jim (Incandenza) filmed Joelle for many hours but never let her see the footage. Joelle nicknamed... (full context)
Chapter 36
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...“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... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 37
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
...asking about Orin’s family. He’s now realized that the story seems to mostly be about James. (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
...says he’s reluctant to discuss family matters with the journalist, and reviews the details of James’s suicide with Hal. Hal notes that no one except Mario really talks about James or... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Hal explains that James had sawed a head-shaped hole in the microwave door, and that there was a bottle... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...he would, dramatically confessing that the first thought he had on entering the room with James’s body was “that something smelled delicious!” He then acted out the process of grief he’d... (full context)
Chapter 38
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
On April 1 of Orin’s senior year of college (Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar), James killed himself. Later, in a Convocation address to E.T.A., Uncle Charles explained that it would... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...Via Orin she developed an enthusiasm for art films and soon after began acting in James’s productions. In her junior year, she skillfully films Orin playing a football game. (full context)
Chapter 40
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
(In the same endnote, Orin asks why James’s name would be associated with the word samizdat. Hal muses that it’s possible to interpret... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
...scraped out.” He was kept in an incubator for many weeks and was named after James’s grandfather, Mario Sr., who was the inventor of X-Ray Specs!, a mail-order novelty item. Mario... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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Entertainment Theme Icon
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...on the outside of life at E.T.A., although he had a special role in supporting James’s filmmaking. He continues to record E.T.A. students playing tennis as well as pursuing more creative... (full context)
Chapter 44
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
30 April / 1 May Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Many years ago, James sought advice from Lyle after critics kept saying that the fatal flaw in all his... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
(In the same endnote, Orin says that he and Hal always called James “Himself” or “the Mad Stork,” although when he first mentions this, he accidentally says “the... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
When James would go to seek help from Lyle, he spent hours drinking whisky while Lyle drank... (full context)
Chapter 45
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...introduction to the film, which is loosely based on a political propaganda film made by James called The ONANtiad. (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Lyle’s advice tends to be straightforward and effective. Back upstairs, Mario’s film features James’s signature blending of clips from real and fake news cartridges. The headers are listed side... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Mario’s interest in puppets is another thing he inherited from James, who once made a short film called The Medusa v. the Odalisque, which depicted a... (full context)
Chapter 46
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Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Clipperton wanted to speak with James. At some point during the conversation Clipperton shot himself in the head, killing himself for... (full context)
Chapter 51
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
...of the mattress that squeaks. At this point it is revealed that the narrator is Jim (and his father is thus James Sr). (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
At this point James Sr. is working as “the Man from Glad” and is made to wear a white... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Suddenly, James Sr. throws up, which happens quite often after he comes home from work. Jim tries... (full context)
Chapter 52
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...his family, he doesn’t spend much time thinking about them on an individual level. Like James, Charles has a career split between sports and science, two fields he has managed to... (full context)
Chapter 58
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 59
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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Entertainment Theme Icon
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...Hal thinks about the girl Orin was once “wildly in love with” who starred in James’s films and who ended up becoming disfigured. Orin has always kept a kind of diary... (full context)
Chapter 62
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
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...a result Bain left E.T.A. at 17. He adds that he doesn’t know much about James’ suicide. He knows that James cast Joelle in a “radical new type of filmed entertainment... (full context)
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...and are now strewn with random items and litter, including a microwave and TP cartridges. James’s old editing “facilities” are also located in the tunnels. The young Eschaton players spend much... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...player is John Wayne, and that Helen can see him play tomorrow. Helen casually mentions James’s filmmaking, but no one seems to notice. (full context)
Chapter 64
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...the rankings, where Hal’s used to be. Hal is feeling down, and watches many of James’s cartridges in a row. One called Wave Bye-Bye to the Bureaucrat features a bureaucrat who... (full context)
Chapter 65
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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Entertainment Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 66
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
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...around E.T.A. looking for Hal. Blood Sister, a “shocksploitation” cartridge, is one of very few James Incandenza films that saw commercial success. (full context)
Chapter 67
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...and snatches their purses with ease. The A.F.R., meanwhile, are considering two methods of locating James’s master copy of the Entertainment. They could track down James’s family members and Joelle and... (full context)
Chapter 69
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...Prochain Train,” Marathe had use of all his limbs. (An endnote here describes E.T.A. student James Struck Jr. conducting research on the A.F.R. for his History of Canadian Unpleasantness course. He... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
...Incandenzas, who are the “second-saddest” family she’s ever met. Orin once told her that while James just stared at him blankly, Avril told him she loved him roughly one hundred times... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Orin had predicted that James would want to cast Joelle in his films because of her extraordinary beauty, and it... (full context)
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After they became close, James confessed to Joelle that he didn’t know how to talk to Orin or Hal. Orin... (full context)
Chapter 70
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Chapter 71
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...peculiar lens. Molly explains that Madame Psychosis only had a sexual relationship with Orin, not James, and that she hadn’t attended James’s funeral. Madame Psychosis has never seen the Entertainment and... (full context)
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Entertainment Theme Icon
Molly says that Madame Psychosis was able to get James to stop drinking, and that he’d been sober for months by the time of his... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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Entertainment Theme Icon
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...its addiction to Wild Turkey. At this point it is clear that the wraith is James Incandenza. The wraith explains that it had always wanted to get through to its youngest... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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Entertainment Theme Icon
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The wraith/James hoped that the Entertainment would be so compelling that it would force Hal out of... (full context)
Chapter 74
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
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...between tennis and weed, he really doesn’t know which one he would pick. He and James used to have an odd issue around communication; whenever they would speak to each other,... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
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...to have, but Hal is reluctant to engage. Hal asks Pemulis to retrieve one of James’s cartridges from the shelf and cue it up to the last five minutes. Pemulis does... (full context)
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...appears, both of which are very simple. She also explains some of the visual techniques James used in making the film, including techniques to recreate the effect of a baby’s vision.... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...back to Hal’s first-person perspective. Kyle Coyle and Mario are watching an early film by James called Accomplice!. They discuss the incident of Ortho Stice’s face getting stuck to the window... (full context)
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Cosgrove Watt was one of the only professional actors James cast in his films. He appears in Accomplice!, a film about a sadomasochistic sexual encounter... (full context)
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Hal recalls when James’s obsession with making films began, shortly after E.T.A. was founded. Avril assumed it was just... (full context)
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After James’s funeral, Avril spent more and more time locked up inside the Headmaster’s House. This has... (full context)
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James told Orin that he wouldn’t ban him from watching hardcore porn, but that he would... (full context)
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Orin thinks that James was still a virgin in his late 30s, when he and Avril met, and also... (full context)