Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Rating: 10/10

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High-Level Thoughts

It's incredibly written, deeply complex, confusing as hell, and you'll probably throw it at the wall when it's done. But then you'll kinda go "okay... I'm glad I did that" and maybe start it again.

Summary Notes

Not for nothing did Orin say that people outdoors down here just scuttle in vectors from air conditioning to air conditioning.

He had never been so anxious for the arrival of a woman he did not want to see.

The moment he recognized what exactly was on one cartridge he had a strong anxious feeling that there was something more entertaining on another cartridge and that he was potentially missing it.

She was the kind of fatally pretty and nubile wraithlike figure who glides through the sweaty junior-high corridors of every nocturnal emitter’s dreamscape.

I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I, Boo.’

Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It’s hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency.

Nor that jokes and sarcasm were here usually too pregnant and fertile with clinical significance not to be taken seriously: sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them.

‘I didn’t want to especially hurt myself. Or like punish. I don’t hate myself. I just wanted out. I didn’t want to play anymore is all.’

‘The feeling is why I want to. The feeling is the reason I want to die. I’m here because I want to die. That’s why I’m in a room without windows and with cages over the lightbulbs and no lock on the toilet door. Why they took my shoelaces and my belt. But I notice they don’t take away the feeling do they.’

Like most clinically depressed patients, she appeared to function better in focused activity than in stasis.

‘When I am boyish, training to compete for best, our training facilities on a sign, very largely painted, stated WE ARE WHAT WE WALK BETWEEN.’

Mrs. Incandenza’s half-brother or adoptive brother, depending on the version, C.T. had taken down Incandenza’s founding motto—TE OCCIDERE POSSUNT SED TE EDERE NON POSSUNT NEFAS EST 32—and had replaced it with the rather more upbeat THE MAN WHO KNOWS HIS LIMITATIONS HAS NONE.

A U.S. of modern A. where the State is not a team or a code, but a sort of sloppy intersection of desires and fears, where the only public consensus a boy must surrender to is the acknowledged primacy of straight-line pursuing this flat and short-sighted idea of personal happiness...

The true opponent, the enfolding boundary, is the player himself.

Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms. The competing boy on the net’s other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self. As you are his occasion. Tennis’s beauty’s infinite roots are self-competitive. You compete with your own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution. Disappear inside the game: break through limits: transcend: improve: win.

You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned, over and over again.

...junior athletics is but one facet of the real gem: life’s endless war against the self you cannot live without.

But then is battling and vanquishing the self the same as destroying yourself?

...what’s the difference between tennis and suicide, life and death, the game and its own end?

This (the sunset) more resembled an explosion. It took place above and behind him, and he turned some of the time to regard it: it (the sunset) was swollen and perfectly round, and large, radiating knives of light when he squinted. It hung and trembled slightly like a viscous drop about to fall. It hung just above the peaks of the Tortolita foothills behind him (Marathe), and slowly was sinking.

Sometimes he finds out he believes something that he doesn’t even know he believed until it exits his mouth in front of five anxious little hairless plump trusting clueless faces.

Hal’s next-oldest brother Mario doesn’t seem to resemble much of anyone they know.

Marathe leaned again forward on his stumps. ‘Make amusement all you wish. But choose with care. You are what you love. No? You are, completely and only, what you would die for without, as you say, the thinking twice. You, M. Hugh Steeply: you would die without thinking for what?’

‘His point is that progress towards genuine Show-caliber mastery is slow, frustrating. Humbling. A question of less talent than temperament.’

...because you proceed toward mastery through a series of plateaus, so there’s like radical improvement up to a certain plateau and then what looks like a stall, on the plateau, with the only way to get off one of the plateaus and climb up to the next one up ahead is with a whole lot of frustrating mindless repetitive practice and patience and hanging in there.’

Marathe, who could remember several incidents of crucial observations he had failed to later recall, knew this was not true.

Everyone should get at least one good look at the eyes of a man who finds himself rising toward what he wants to pull down to himself.

Good old traditional audio-only phone conversations allowed you to presume that the person on the other end was paying complete attention to you while also permitting you not to have to pay anything even close to complete attention to her.

This bilateral illusion of unilateral attention was almost infantilely gratifying from an emotional standpoint: you got to believe you were receiving somebody’s complete attention without having to return...

Regarded with the objectivity of hindsight, the illusion appears arational, almost literally fantastic: it would be like being able both to lie and to trust other people at the same time.

...though also because Mario’s notoriously fond of undulating flesh-colored squares and will jump at any opportunity to edit them in over people’s faces.

Mario’s the only other person sharing the optic-and-editing labs off the main tunnel, and the two have the kind of transpersonal bond that shared interests and mutual advantage can inspire...

She’s never learned that treating things in the gentlest most relaxed way is also treating them and your own body in the most efficient way.

A point I could have more than afforded to concede. But that’s not the way I… that’s not the way a real player plays. With respect and due effort and care for every point. You want to be great, near-great, you give every ball everything. And then some. You concede nothing.

I’m… I’m just afraid of having a tombstone that says HERE LIES A PROMISING OLD MAN. It’s… potential may be worse than none, Jim. Than no talent to fritter in the first place, lying around guzzling because I haven’t the balls to… God I’m I’m so sorry. Jim.

...helped in by cabbies at night, I’ve seen your long shadow grotesquely backlit at the top of the house’s stairs I helped pay for, boy: how the drunk and the maimed both are dragged forward out of the arena like a boneless Christ, one man under each arm, feet dragging, eyes on the aether.

Have Himself hunch down to put a long pale arm around your shoulders and tell you that his own father had told him that talent is sort of a dark gift, that talent is its own expectation: it is there from the start and either lived up to or lost.

Have a father whose own father lost what was there. Have a father who lived up to his own promise and then found thing after thing to meet and surpass the expectations of his promise in, and didn’t seem just a whole hell of a lot happier or tighter wrapped than his own failed father, leaving you yourself in a kind of feral and flux-ridden state with respect to talent.

Be on guard. The road widens, and many of the detours are seductive. Be constantly focused and on alert: feral talent is its own set of expectations and can abandon you at any one of the detours of so-called normal American life at any time, so be on guard.

Learn to care and not to care. They mean the rankings to help you determine where you are, not who you are. Memorize your monthly rankings, and forget them. Here is how: never tell anyone where you are.

Not six weeks ago, a huge stolen HELP WANTED sign was found attached to #4’s siding right below the retired shrieking nurse’s window, and #4’s director was less than amused...

‘Well suppose’—Pemulis can just make out Lyle—‘Suppose I were to give you a key ring with ten keys. With, no, with a hundred keys, and I were to tell you that one of these keys will unlock it, this door we’re imagining opening in onto all you want to be, as a player. How many of the keys would you be willing to try?’

‘Then you are willing to make mistakes, you see. You are saying you will accept 99% error. The paralyzed perfectionist you say you are would stand there before that door. Jingling the keys. Afraid to try the first key.’

That purposeful sleep-deprivation can also be an abusable escape. That gambling can be an abusable escape, too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and abstention, and masturbation, and food, and exercise, and meditation/prayer, and sitting so close to Ennet House’s old D.E.C. TP cartridge-viewer that the screen fills your whole vision and the screen’s static charge tickles your nose like a linty mitten.

That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it.

That logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.

That cliquey alliance and exclusion and gossip can be forms of escape.

That it is possible to learn valuable things from a stupid person.

That evil people never believe they are evil, but rather that everyone else is evil.

That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them.

That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.

That most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking.

That other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid.

That having a lot of money does not immunize people from suffering or fear.

That ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.

That everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That this isn’t necessarily perverse.

That God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.

You can be at certain parties and not really be there. You can hear how certain parties have their own implied ends embedded in the choreography of the party itself.

The encaged and suicidal have a really hard time imagining anyone caring passionately about anything.

...when the lady, no person’s doormat, informed him with prim asperity that he appeared to be woefully inebriated—made the anecdotally famous reply that while, yes, yea verily, he was indeed inebriated, he would the following A.M. be once again sober, while she, dear lady, would tomorrow still be hideously and improbably deformed.

‘This ultimate cartridge-as-ecstatic-death rumor’s been going around like a lazy toilet since Dishmaster, for Christ’s sake. Simply make inquiries, mention some obscure foundation grant, obtain the thing through whatever shade of market the thing’s alleged to be out in. Have a look. See that it’s doubtless just high-concept erotica or an hour of rotating whorls. Or something like late Makavajev, something that’s only entertaining after it’s over, on reflection.’

Schtitt’s philosophical stance is that to win enough of the time to be considered successful you have to both care a great deal about it and also not care about it at all.

Orin Incandenza, who like many children of raging alcoholics and OCD-sufferers had internal addictive-sexuality issues, had already drawn idle little sideways 8’s on the postcoital flanks of a dozen B.U. coeds.

She made the Moms look like the sort of piece of fruit you think you want to take out of the bin and but then once you’re right there over the bin you put back because from close up you can see a much fresher and less preserved-seeming piece of fruit elsewhere in the bin.

...both destiny’s kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person’s basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: 100 i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it.

Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.

...we will force nothing on U.S.A. persons in their warm homes. We will make only available. Entertainment. There will be then some choosing, to partake or choose not to.’

This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose—this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death.

Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do. It is this meaning only, this freedom from constraint and forced duress.’

‘But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?’

The bitch of the thing is you have to want to. If you don’t want to do as you’re told—I mean as it’s suggested you do—it means that your own personal will is still in control, and Eugenio Martinez over at Ennet House never tires of pointing out that your personal will is the web your Disease sits and spins in, still.

...what if a viewer could more or less 100% choose what’s on at any given time?

Something they seem to omit to mention in Boston AA when you’re new and out of your skull with desperation and ready to eliminate your map and they tell you how it’ll all get better and better as you abstain and recover: they somehow omit to mention that the way it gets better and you get better is through pain. Not around pain, or in spite of it. They leave this out, talking instead about Gratitude and Release from Compulsion. There’s serious pain in being sober, though, you find out, after time.

It starts to turn out that the vapider the AA cliché, the sharper the canines of the real truth it covers.

On the tennis court the you the player: this is not where there is cold wind. I am saying. Different world inside. World built inside cold outside world of wind breaks the wind, shelters the player, you, if you stay the same, stay inside.’

‘If it is hard,’ he says softly, hard to hear because of the rising wind, ‘difficult, for you to move between the two worlds, from cold hot wind and sun to this inside place inside the lines where is always the same,’ he says, seeming now to study the weatherman’s pointer he holds down and out with both hands, ‘it can be arranged for you gentlemen not to leave, ever here, this world inside the lines of court. You know. Can stay here until there is citizenship. Right here.’ The pointer is pointed at the spots they’re standing at breathing and blotting their faces and blowing their noses. ‘Can today put up Testar Lung, for world’s shelter. Sleep bags. Meals brought to you. Never across the lines. Never leave the court.

‘Simple,’ Schtitt shrugs, so that the upraised pointer seems to stab at the sky. ‘Hit,’ he suggests. ‘Move. Travel lightly. Occur. Be here. Not in bed or shower or over baconschteam, in the mind. Be here in total. Is nothing else.

‘The analogous part is how even the ones who know the pleasure of it will kill them, they go ahead anyway.’

‘You seem like you drift in and out of different ways of talking. Sometimes it’s like you don’t want me to follow.’

‘Don, I’m perfect. I’m so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they’ve seen me they can’t think of anything else and don’t want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. Everything. Like I’m the solution to their deep slavering need to be jowl to cheek with perfection.’

‘I am so beautiful I am deformed.’

Gately’s snapped to the fact that people of a certain age and level of like life-experience believe they’re immortal: college students and alcoholics/addicts are the worst: they deep-down believe they’re exempt from the laws of physics and statistics that ironly govern everybody else. They’ll piss and moan your ear off if somebody else fucks with the rules, but they don’t deep down see themselves subject to them, the same rules. And they’re constitutionally unable to learn from anybody else’s experience: if some jaywalking B.U. student does get splattered on Comm. or some House resident does get his car towed at 0005, your other student’s or addict’s response to this will be to ponder just what imponderable difference makes it possible for that other guy to get splattered or towed and not him, the ponderer.

...nobody but Ludditic granola-crunching freaks would call bad what no one can imagine being without. are doomed if you do not have also within you some ability to transcend the goal, transcend the success of the best, if you get to there.

‘One, one is that you attain the goal and realize the shocking realization that attaining the goal does not complete or redeem you, does not make everything for your life “OK ” as you are, in the culture, educated to assume it will do this, the goal. And then you face this fact that what you had thought would have the meaning does not have the meaning when you get it, and you are impaled by shock. We see suicides in history by people at these pinnacles; the children here are versed in what is called the saga of Eric Clipperton.’

The idea that achievement doesn’t automatically confer interior worth is, to them, still, at this age, an abstraction, rather like the prospect of their own death—‘Caius Is Mortal’ and so on. Deep down, they all still view the competitive carrot as the grail.

It may well be that the lower-ranked little kids at E.T.A. are proportionally happier than the higher-ranked kids, since we (who are mostly not small children) know it’s more invigorating to want than to have, it seems. Though maybe this is just the inverse of the same delusion.

If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain, a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one.

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

We’re all a lot more intuitive about our lovers’ families than we are about our own families, she knew.

...he spent the whole sober last ninety days of his animate life working tirelessly to contrive a medium via which he and the muted son could simply converse. To concoct something the gifted boy couldn’t simply master and move on from to a new plateau. Something the boy would love enough to induce him to open his mouth and come out—even if it was only to ask for more. Games hadn’t done it, professionals hadn’t done it, impersonation of professionals hadn’t done it. His last resort: entertainment. Make something so bloody compelling it would reverse thrust on a young self’s fall into the womb of solipsism, anhedonia, death in life. A magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy, to make its eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh. To bring him ‘out of himself,’ as they say. The womb could be used both ways. A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard. A life-long dream. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.

We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately—the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person.

Because, Gately realized even then, this was your drug addict’s basic way of dealing with problems, was using the good old Substance to blot out the problem.

Questions like these become almost koans: you have to lie when the truth is Nothing At All, since this appears as a textbook lie under the therapeutic model. The brutal questions are the ones that force you to lie.

99.9% of what goes on in one’s life is actually none of one’s business, with the .1% under one’s control consisting mostly of the option to accept or deny one’s inevitable powerlessness over the other 99.9%...

Why do many parents who seem relentlessly bent on producing children who feel they are good persons deserving of love produce children who grow to feel they are hideous persons not deserving of love who just happen to have lucked into having parents so marvelous that the parents love them even though they are hideous?

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