The pursuit of intense pleasure is only enjoyable as long as it meets our expectations. For Joelle van Dyne (aka Madame Psychosis), Too Much Fun just isn’t fun anymore. “It no longer delimits and fills the hole. It no longer delimits the hole” (p. 222) Molly Notkin’s party is going to be her OUT, her true exit from the cage. Here we are treated to another beautifully cinematic segment, as JvD walks the streets of Boston gathering the items she needs to freebase cocaine one final time. Echoing Erdedy’s habitual tossing of all paraphernalia (itself done with the short circuited expectation that this action will somehow influence one’s willpower), she rebuilds her weaponry – ready to aim it squarely at herself and eliminate her own map.
“Joelle has never seen the completed assembly of what she’s appeared in, or seen anyone who’s seen it, and doubts that any sum of scenes as pathologic as he’d stuck that long quartzy auto-wobbling lens on the camera and filmed her for could have been as entertaining as he’d said the thing he always wanted to make had broken his heart by ending up” (p. 228)
Peppered within this lengthy section are many significant details about Infinite Jest V, that most fatal of all entertainments. Here we are party to practically the entirety of the sum of the details we receive throughout the novel. That they are delivered to us through JvD’s own words and reflections puts its own wobbly lens on the information.
She knows that it is an “allegedly fatally entertaining and scopophiliac thing” and coupled with the snippets of conversation at Molly’s party, it is revealed that the existence of IJ is known to the general public, and that it has already had a fatal impact on more than just the medical attaché’s household (“He said a good bit o Berkely isn’t answering their phone” – p. 233).
What does Joelle feel overhearing these conversations? Does she feel complicit in the creation of this deadly film? She does question her role in his suicide (“Did she kill him somehow, just inclining veilless over that lens?” – p. 231) Her own expectations in becoming JOI’s muse may have begun as a way to better learn film techniques from a master, but it is apparent that the relationship (though platonic) grew into something much, much heavier, ruining her relationship with Orin and further enabling her addiction.
The phone conversation between Hal and Orin also serves to further the narrative of the death of James, and also illuminates the incredibly broken family dynamics of the Incandenzas. Orin did not attend his father’s funeral, and did not have even the most rudimentary information about how he died. The reasons for Orin to break with familial (and social) expectations of mourning must be incredibly significant.
Hal’s encounter with the grief therapist is, obviously, all about expectations. The counselor flummoxes Hal. Hal wants this to be over, but he can’t seem to offer up the appropriate responses. Hal, the golden child, he of perfect test scores and a constant need to meet the expectations of teachers, parents, etc, is at a total loss. As he describes it to Orin, Lyle gave him some solid advice, and Hal was able to turn the tables and serve up what the therapist wanted.
[Side note to Orin’s statement that the advice Lyle gave Hal doesn’t jive with the Lyle that Orin knew (p. 255) further serves the unreliable narration that infuses IJ, playing with our expectations of linear and trusted narration. Additional side note to this point is the end of the phone call, when Hal starts speaking of nails as the vestiges of talons and Orin’s reaction “I can call back when you are more yourself” (p. 258) is so out of whack with what Hal is saying that we are asked to question if Hal is actiually saying something else, or if Orin is hearing something else].
- With the full list of subsidized years published (p. 223) we can now place the novel in actual time. James Incandenza, born in 1950, died at age 54, in the year 2004, aka Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar. That means subsidized time began in 2002, with the Year of the Whopper, and most of the book takes place in what would have been 2009, the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Endnote 78, which infers that the Year of Glad has yet to be ratified, implies the book itself is being written in YDAU.
- In her wanderings, Joelle passes a cardboard cutout of a legless man in a wheelchair, with a face frozen in ecstatic rapture, in his cardboard hand a label-less black cartridge case, which Joelle takes out, looks at and puts back in the display. The case is empty.
- We learn that Orin thinks Helen is “weirdly sexy” (p. 247) which goes against the descriptions we have had of Steeply’s disguise, from both Marathe and our unreliable narrator, who calls her “enormous, electrolysis-rashed” on p. 142.
- The introduction of DMZ is another critical plot-forwarding moment. Pemulis is (thankfully) taking it very seriously, but Hal’s guess that “two, or even three tablets maybe” (p. 213) could be an appropriate dose scares the hell out of me!
- I love spending time in Ennet House, with Gately supine on the couch and the residents nattering all around him, especially Day’s simpering complaints about his expectations of what rehab would be vs the realities of AA.