"Infinite Jest: Reviews, Articles, and Miscellany"

'Infinite Jest' spoofs culture's future


Kathleen Scheiner
The Daily Iowan
March 27, 1996


In the tradition of Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace takes the trappings
of a postmodern culture and warps them into a futuristic society where the
race is on to find the most perfect form of entertainment: a top-secret
video cassette of the movie "Infinite Jest."

Once viewed, the entertainment turns a spectator into a catatonic vegetable,
with the only life-sustaining movement begin a finger on the rewind button
(the faster, the better) after the tape has played through.

In the brave Year of the Adult Depend Undergarment (the standard of dating
-- B.C. and A.D. -- eschewed for a more modern system where a product
sponsors a year, with said product nestled in the crook of the Statue of
Liberty's arm), the Northeastern tip of the United States has been lost to
nuclear waste. The flag bears only 49 stars as Maine has been abandoned.
This area is now called the concavity and has become a no man's land where
packs of feral hamsters roam the countryside, keeping all would-be visitors
at bay.

The current president of the United States, an ex-Las Vegas lounge singer,
has foisted this piece of useless territory off on Canada in a false gesture
of good will. (Americans are now rabid about the environment and won't put
up with such a toxic dump.) The citizens of Quebec, having once tried to
secede from Canada to become a separate state, take this particular gesture
-- and its acceptance -- as a personal affront.

A political faction, similar to the postmodern IRA, springs up with the
nickname Wheelchair Assassins, and the Assassins duke it out with the United
States' new-and-improved Secret Service to gain possession of the dangerous
movie "Infinite Jest." (One group is trying to protect citizens from the
video's allures, the other attempts to decimate the U.S. population with
it.)

In this tense political arena, a wonderful and seemingly diverse cast of
characters play out their daily lives. There are the rich, spoiled students
of Enfield Academy, a prep school designed especially to cultivate the
talents of young tennis virtuosos; the late auteur of the movie --
resembling the lion of pop art himself, Andy Worhol -- and his dysfunctional
family; the residents of Ennet House, a halfway house for recovering drug
addicts; and addicts on the street still yet, or not wanting, to kick junk.

The unifying thread connecting these characters is that they are all in the
throes of some sort of addiction, or in the process of trying to kick it,
when this pleasure-promising-beyond-all-pleasures videotape hits the
streets. The denizens of this new world are either wholly absorbed in
seeking pleasure or abstaining from it, using Alcoholics Anonymous and its
various splinter groups as a crutch (the self-help movement is still alive
and kicking in Y..A.D.U.).

Wallace takes many risks as a fiction writer in presenting this wickedly
funny comedy. The technical jargon can become wearying -- though
interspersed with light, witty prose -- but is necessary for background and
illustrates fully in a thick cache of end notes. However, with the theme of
addiction aiding in this quest for "Infinite Jest," the doublespeak becomes
part of the joke in the end. The climactic finale of "Infinite Jest" proves
the gamble was well worth taking.

Wallace eviscerates the most despicable, and at times hilarious, parts of
our current culture and drapes a future world with vaguely recognizable
glimmers of its decoration. With the distance between times, the reader can
laugh with impunity at a tragic situation, which seems so much to reflect
our culture caught in a fast-forward loop. Wallace cleanly cuts out the
diseased parts of society, pumps them up with endorphins and delivers a
whopper of a novel in the end with "Infinite Jest."

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Title: 'Infinite Jest' spoofs culture's future
By: Kathleen Scheiner
Page: 9B
Date: 3/27/96
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Copyright 1996 The Daily Iowan. http://www.uiowa.edu/~dlyiowan/