The reading schedule says that we should be at page 94 by Friday. In the main text that’s just 31 pages, less than 10 pages a day from yesterday to Friday. But the total page count is a lie because, one page into this second stage of #InfiniteWinter, we hit the dreaded Footnote 24. In the footnotes at the back of the book, it’s eight pages long in 8-point font. Which means it’s really something like 15-20 pages long. So it’s a real bull when trying to get it in and keep to the weekly reading targets.
But! Having read IJ before, rereading this footnote is actually quite revelatory. If this is your first time reading IJ, pay attention to this filmography! It seems to be a random collection of weird, dismissive, and funny movie summaries, but it actually reveals a lot about this book.
First, there’s the subsidized time decoder. The filmography’s intro says this is in chronological order, with “B.S.” (heh) used to denote “Before Subsidized.” After that, we can see what the year order is (to an extent): The Man Who Began to Suspect He Was Made of Glass comes out in the first subsidized year, Year of the Whopper. Then, on the next page, Blood Sister: One Tough Nun comes out in Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad.* Dial C for Concupiscence on page 992 came out in Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar. This is the last year there’s an entry, and, in fact, we see on page 933 that Infinite Jest (V?) is the last film Incandenza makes before his death.
From our reading in the main text and page 987, subsidized time starts in the late 90s/early 2000s. Using clues in what we’ve read, we now know that, once it starts, the subsidized time year names are:
- Year of the Whopper
- Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad (page 27, Hal is 11)
- Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar (Incandenza dies)
- Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
- Year of Glad (“beginning” of book, seven years after YotTMP when Hal is applying for college, aged 18 (?))
So, as confusing as this subsidized time is, DFW is leaving clues in the main text and lots of clues in this footnote to help us decipher the timeline. Of course, once you get to page 223, this is all moot.
The second thing we get from the footnotes is a rough history of the New England area and larger geopolitical events. There was the Bay Area health care reform riots of 1996 in Union of Nurses in Berkeley. There was the M.I.T. language riots of 1997 in Union of Theoretical Grammarians in Cambridge. There’s more references throughout the footnotes–waste disposal incidents, a giant feral baby, &c–which I leave as an exercise for the reader to find.
And then there’s Incandenza’s personal history. Almost every entry reads as a thickly obscured, thinly veiled, or outright obvious metaphor for something that happens in his life. And, clearly, the transition from Year of the Whopper to Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad was a dramatic one in his life, as can be seen from all the horrendous typos and misprints on page 990. The name of the company producing the films goes from Latrodectus Mactans Production** to Poor Yorick Entertainment. (I leave the significance of the names as an exercise for Canelli.) Soon after the switch to the new production company name, there’s a new person listed in the film notes: “Madam Psychosis.” All the movies afterwards that include her have her play as either Death, an object of great (sexual) desire, or both.
There’s other things: multiple mentions of perspiration as a major theme in movies, reviewers’ cynicism towards all the “parodies” that Incandenza makes, and deep allusions to father-son interactions. How many more there are to find depends solely on how close you pay attention in your reading.
So this footnote is the key to unlocking this book’s backstory and themes. On first read, it’s easy to dismiss it for its length and clutter. But second time through and you actually see how much work DFW was doing in this footnote to illuminate the backstory, to tell us who James Incandenza was, and what most likely drove him to eventually stick his head in a microwave and kill himself.
* The page this listing is on, page 990, is suddenly full of tons of typos and printing errors. More on that later in this post, but note No Troy is listed as Year of the Whopper. It’s a movie listing not given in chronological order. Is this an error made by the “author of the footnote,” or is this a real “whopper” of an event?
** Latrodectus Mactans is a black widow.