Mnemonic Steroids: Secrecy, Biopolitics, Performance

Hi Hals and professional conversationalists of the Infinite Jest Internet a.k.a. world! Here’s my first go at reading IJ using Lectio Divina, with questions from our guide of guides Emily Hoffman:


Lectio Divina leads me to page 30:

“…that her introduction of esoteric mnemonic steroids, stereo-chemically not dissimilar to your father’s own daily hypodermic ‘megavitamin’ supplement derived from a certain organic testosterone-regeneration compound distilled by the Jivaro shamen of the South-Central L.A. basin, into your innocent-looking bowl of morning Ralston.”


1)   What is literally happening in the text?


Hal talks to a professional conversationalist who tells him that his mother was lacing his cereal with steroids made to increase his memory and recall capacities.  At this point in the novel, we don’t yet know that Hal knows it’s his father in disguise, but it’s clear that Hal’s aware something’s askew.


2)   What is happening on an allegorical level?


The themes of secrecy, biopolitics, and performance recur throughout Infinite Jest. This passage makes me think of Hal’s secrets with himself and the secrets within his family. It also makes me think of the various ways that the pressure to perform and compete is internalized by the characters.


The range of global connections within that sentence (i.e. history of chemical makeup of steroid that’s added to Hal’s cereal) is characteristic of IJ for me; I often feel that one thing leads to another but that it’s nowhere as clear as cause-and-effect, and that IJ’s sentence and narrative structure acknowledges this overwhelming complexity that is impossible to grasp.

3)   What does this remind me of from my own life?


This sentence reminds me of the various substances I’ve ingested to conform and perform. It also makes me think about the personas that people may need in order to speak to those they care about.


4) What action does this call me to do?


The range of connections of each thing to another, and the vast complexity of trying to understand and trace these connections urges me to accept people as they are, and to acknowledge that I will never be able to know someone fully.


The fact that J.O.I. can’t talk to his own son as himself leads me to question the many ways that our conversations with each other are mediated. It reminds me try to speak openly, especially to those I love, regardless of how corny some things may sound.

One thought on “Mnemonic Steroids: Secrecy, Biopolitics, Performance”

  1. I really love that you happened to land on this sentence. This sentence kind of escaped my notice on past readings, but this time through it really caught my eye. I wonder whether Avril really is giving Hal performance-enhancing drugs, or if this is just one of JOI’s alcohol-induced delusions. I also really love what you point out about JOI’s disguise representing the way in which we perform for each other, even our closest loved ones. Great stuff.


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