“This is going very well!” (Infinite Jest, pp.759-801)

I’m not sure why, but the conversation Mario has with the Moms about how you discern sadness is one of the most tragic moments in the novel for me. This is a story packed with grotesque death and unspeakable sexual violence, yet this relatively quiet, slouching-toward-earnest scene between mother and son resonates deeply with me. I Identify with it, I suppose. It’s Mario that does it. Characters invariably express their frustration with him (e.g. Lamont Chu on p.759: “Jesus, Mario, it’s like trying to talk to a rock with you sometimes.”; Hal on p.784: “Be a fucking human being for once, Boo. I room with you and I hid it from you and let you worry and be hurt that I was trying to hide it.”) because he behaves unknowingly like some malformed Second Coming. I mean, at least Christ knew he was Christ. Mario is just there, Pure Empathy. It would give you the howling fantods if it weren’t so incorruptibly sincere and real. He hides nothing because he has nothing to hide. He loves unconditionally because, based on his conditions, he’s a miracle. He is Love incarnate. And it’s a fucking beautiful and annoying mystery. The Moms performs love and empathy, but it’s to hide unresolved pain. She is Pain, which is why she terrifies so many people and unsettles her own children. She wants to be their savior, but she’s yet to save herself. So when you look at her, you see a mirror into your own abyss. She is the darkness before reconciliation. Mario is the light of Atonement. He is the Unity of the Moms and Himself. A strange Holy Trinity packed into a single deformed creature.

Why would he be bothered by secrets? There is no such thing. Everything is good in Mario’s world because life is good. Everything beckons his compassion because of this fundamental goodness. The problem with pain for Mario isn’t pain itself, but his inability to perceive it clearly. His blindness invites others to see their own pain anew, but few follow the path. The Moms can speak eloquently, abstractly about her own pain. She can convince herself that she’s doing everything right to shield her children from pain, but in the process, paradoxically, she’s causing the very pain she hopes to prevent.

There are, apparently, persons who are deeply afraid of their own emotions, particularly the painful ones. Grief, regret, sadness. Sadness especially, perhaps. Dolores describes these persons as afraid of obliteration, emotional engulfment. As if something truly and thoroughly felt would have no end or bottom. Would become infinite and engulf them. (765)

Hence why she prefers the emotional facade of constant contentment and calm. Her equanimity is a veil over the storm inside. She fears It. If this book shows us anything, it’s the paramount importance of testifying to our own experience. All of it. It all matters. It all happens. It’s all real. Whatever we feel is fact. But it is not eternal. Whatever we think is true. But it is not Truth. We must accept all feelings and thoughts. We must feel them completely. There are no escapes from utter Commitment. From making peace with the unity of all experience that forms what we call a life. The characters in this book, Mario excepted (maybe), struggle with such reconciliation and surrender. They become fragmented from the whole of themselves, confusing the various broken parts with who they are. Existential, positional reality becomes their essence, and they forget the part that existence plays in essence. They become the part.  Hence why they never feel whole. But becoming whole is recognizing your essential nothingness. It’s staring into the abyss of infinite possibility. Obliteration is Truth. It’s Freedom. The Entertainment thrives on false freedom, the right to be entertained (to escape truths and never even realize that Truth was a thing).

So what then? Do we pity Avril’s avoidance of her father’s drunkenness (on the lower scale of “poor” Fatherly teaching in this book), that she’s “frozen inside, emotionally,” that there’s nothing there behind her loving artifice (766)? Or do we learn to love her for it? To forgive her, and so to forgive ourselves. In this absolution, perhaps we no longer need to turn to Abusable Escapes, e.g. “the drugs both blunt the real sadness and allow some skewed version of the sadness some sort of expression” (767). Drugs aren’t alone in facilitating our departure from ourselves and our core emptiness (which, again, is liberating). Tennis can do it. Writing too. If we’re attached to the identities that come with such activity. If they’re just parts of life, then we have nothing to lose, nothing to fear, and everything to commit to. We’d have nothing to repress, nothing to judge. We wouldn’t be judged, or feel judged. We wouldn’t dream of losing our teeth (770). We wouldn’t fear change. We wouldn’t lie pathologically. There would be no pathology to enact. There would be nothing “fabricated, misrepresented, skewed. Hidden” (772). No circumlocution, no desperation in the quest for meaning. Just the quest. Just the exploration, the curiosity. There would be no monsters, nor monsters that come from the sheer possibility that there might be monsters (774). We would not be Marathe: “I am unable to will my death. The more pain in my self, the more I am inside the self and cannot will my death, I think. I feel I chained in a cage of the self, from the pain. Unable to care or choose anything outside it. Unable to see anything or feel anything outside my pain” (777). We might feel despair, but we would not become despair.

Mario has no self. And so he has no self over which to despair. Everyone else can’t let themselves go.

Perhaps we start by choosing life that isn’t ours. Marathe chose his wife’s life to affirm his own: “without the choice of her life there are no other choices” (781). But then he just wants to get to the “pleasure of not choosing” (781). Enter Netflix. We enjoy not having to choose. But that’s in the realm of pleasure, not of life. To Kierkegaard, faith (and life) was a daily choice, a constant affirmation. That’s why living so difficult. You always had the choice to say no, so why do we keep saying yes, especially when there’s so much pain that follows our affirmation? Our rejection would be a moment of pain and then the nothingness we seem to long for, so why not choose that? Better to let our Entertainment make the choice for us. The Entertainment is no different than religion then. It’s a savior we can surrender to. We can choose it at the beginning, and leave our freedom to it from that point forward. We die in its loving arms. We never live in Love.

We live as liars. In bad faith. Pathetic actors. Spectators. We witness our decay and take no part in our re-creation. And yet we remain as Total Worry, anxious about our surrender, not knowing that we could reclaim our lives. But “could” is a heavy burden. And so we choose Death, no matter the form. Be it Avril or Madame Psychosis or a chemical compound, deliver us from evil. This “self-erasure” is our only option (791). Please, turn that pencil around and erase me. Blow away the shavings. I want nothing to remain.

But why the suicide by kitchen appliance motif? Death by convenience? (Convenience as pleasure proxy?) By the tools that facilitate consumption and waste, the vicious physical cycle that forecasts and foregrounds our finitude?

Is it really all just Daddy issues?

Abandon All Hope.


  1. dasfuller

    Just before all this, Marathe, while at Ennett, is approached by that whackadoodle who says most of the people in the world are robots, and that you can tell by the whirring sound they make when you get up close. It’s ironic that the dude tells Marathe he’s not a robot (no whirring sound) when DFW makes clear that Marathe is indeed an unfeeling machine of death immediately afterwards. Then the callback to all this with Mario: he really is whirring and clicking what with that Bolex on his head. But it’s the Moms who seems to simulate love and affection. And it’s Hal who, even though he accuses Mario of not feeling anything or being human, it’s Hal who is completely disassociated from his emotions. So, you know, DFW was sure to put in some irony there.

    1. dasfuller

      Right, and don’t forget the whole Brothers Karamazov connection here. Mario is supposed to be Alyusha, remember? So he feels the feels even when nobody else has feels.


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