“excruciatingly alive and encaged” (Infinite Jest pp.219-242)

Unlike Fuller, I actively remember very little about what happens in this novel, i.e. plot-wise, so I’m not sure if I’m right in calling Joelle’s situation in this section an attempted suicide or just suicide. Regardless, it’s a beautifully conceived piece of the novel. There are so many sections in this story that would function well independent of the rest of the tapestry that DFW creates; this is definitely one of those sections.

It starts out harmlessly enough, with a relatable declarative statement/Seinfeldesque observation: “You can be at certain parties and not really be there” (219). Credulous me dumbly responds: “Yep! I’ve been there! Or should I say, NOT there! Good one, Lou.” And then the next paragraph shifts to Joelle about to kill herself. Such is the juxtaposition of the banal and tragic all around us. The scene flourishes with this dynamic, cutting in and out of Joelle’s day, her private thoughts, the insipid conversation and action at the party; it’s masterfully structured and paced (although the cutaways – serving some rhythm purpose, no doubt – are irritating).

Leading up to the party, “her legs on autopilot, she a perceptual engine,” Joelle (aka Madame Psychosis) experiences quite the heightened perception (221). Resulting from her willed throes of life? Complete presence in anticipation of irrevocable absence? Not that the presence endures, even if she “is excruciatingly alive and encaged, and in the director’s chair” (222). Whatever life is or might be, it’s become “Too Much,” and so now it’s time to have “Too Much Fun” in order to escape the excess of her existence, or as she thinks of it, “the predicament that she didn’t love it anymore she hated it and wanted to stop and also couldn’t stop or imagine stopping or living without it.” There’s the frustrating “powerlessness over this cage, this unfree show” (223). Like Sartre knew all too well, there’s No Exit from the hell of living with other people, or really, the hell of living with yourself.

But even when she tried living with other people, like Orin and/or “Infinite Jim,” the “infinite jester” Himself, she was used. Used to make the infamous Entertainment, her face the unshrouded epiphany that ushers people to their final destination with infinite grace and compassion. But “was the allegedly fatally entertaining and scopophiliac thing Jim alleges he made out of her unveiled face here at the start of Y.T.S.D.B. a cage or really a door?” (230) Is life a cage or a door? If it’s a door, does it only open into another cage? That is, if I “eliminate [my] own map,” what awaits me there in that great unknown (231)? The uncertainty is what kept Hamlet (and others, since he universalizes his particular in the most grandiose style) from committing suicide. It’s appropriate that Infinite Jest finds its origin in Hamlet’s tale.

If life is a “technologically constituted space,” by what technology (231)? Whose technology? To what end? All Joelle knows is this: “I occupy space and have mass. I breathe in and breathe out” (234). But what does it mean to know this? An epistemology of thought or feeling? Who gives a shit? That’s the same duality that leads to arguments about convexity or concavity, as if they’re really different.

So screw it. Get into “Too Much Fun.” For Joelle, “The stuff had been not just her encaging god but her lover, too, fiendish, angelic, of rock” (235). What’s your drug of choice? What’s your temple? What’s your path to “Too Much” where you forget what the “Fun” part is? When does this cosmic joke end? Is there a way out?

What are you “taken care of” by (237)? Films? Drugs? What’s your escape? It’s of little consequence, the choice. Choice. “These are facts…It was an idea but now is about to become a fact. The closer it comes to becoming concrete the more abstract it seems. Things get very abstract. The concrete room was the sum of abstract facts. Are facts abstract, or are they just abstract representations of concrete things?” (239) What is Real? What is reality? Go ahead, turn to Lacan and the like for answers. As if they’ll save you. But from do you even need saving? What misguided idea about the world and/or yourself have you used as an anchor? It’s got you stuck. It’s not helping you. And don’t expect anything out there in the world to save you. All those facts that conspire to keep you in the loop. In the cage. It’s all “medical, corporate, and spiritual facilities,” fighting to keep you in. Get out.

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