Tag Archives: infinite jest

Infinite Words #9: Depression

Here’s post No. 9 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

Infinite Jest talks a lot about tennis. It also talks a lot about depression. Here are some passages relating, loosely, to that:

Everyone should get at least one good look at the eyes of a man who finds himself rising toward what he wants to pull down to himself.

On a psychiatrist
You go in there with an Issue and all she’ll do is make a cage of her hands and look abstractly over the cage at you and take the last dependent clause of whatever you say and repeat it back to you with an interrogative lilt – ‘Possible homosexual attraction to your doubles partner?’ ‘Whole sense of yourself as a purposive male athlete messed with?’ ‘Uncontrolled boner during semis at Cleveland?’ ‘Drives you bats when people just parrot you instead of responding?’ ‘Having trouble keeping from twisting my twittery head off like a game-hen’s?’ – all with an expression she probably thinks looks blandly deep but which really looks exactly the way a girl’s face looks when she’s dancing with you but would really rather be dancing with just about anyone else in the room.

There’s something elementally horrific about waking before dawn.

It has been everyone’s failure to press any charges that had liberated the mother from Southeast-KY custody and allowed her access once again to her home’s kitchen, where, apparently despondent, she committed suicide by putting her extremities down the garbage disposal – first one arm and then, kind of miraculously if you think about it, the other arm.


Infinite Words #8: Telephony

Here’s post No. 8 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

Here’s another set from a single section, this one describing the rise and fall of videotelephony:

A traditional aural-only conversation – utilizing a hand-held phone whose earpiece contained only 6 little pinholes but whose mouthpiece (rather significantly, it later seemed) contained (6^2) or 36 little pin holes – let you enter a kind of highway-hypnotic semi-attentive fugue: while conversing, you could look around the room, doodle, fine-groom, peel tiny bits of dead skin away from your cuticles, compose phone-pad haiku, stir things on the stove; you could even carry on a whole separate additional sign-language-and-exaggerated-facial-expression type of conversation with people right there in the room with you, all while seeming to be right there attending closely to the voice on the phone.

Try looking in the mirror and determining where you stand in the attractiveness-hierarchy with anything like the objective ease you can determine whether just about anyone else you know is good-looking or not.

Callers of course found that they were once again stresslessly invisible.

Infinite Words #7: Things

Here’s post No. 7 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

We covered descriptions of individuals earlier this week. Now, things:

The early-November day is foggy and colorless. The sky and the street are the same color.

Hal listened to a few minutes of the [music] and told his brother it sounded like somebody’s mind coming apart right before your ears.

The same three or four booger-shaped clouds seem to pass back and forth overhead.

On a new paint job
Its black has the bottomless quality of water at night.

Gately’s always thought dark beer tasted like cork.

Avril’s office’s blue-and-black-checkered shag is deeper than the waiting room’s shag, so that the border between the two is like a mowed v. unmowed lawn.

‘I like the fans’ sound at night. Do you? It’s like somebody big far away goes like: it’sOKit’sOKit’sOKit’sOK, over and over. From very far away.’

The sky’s combustionish orange had deepened to the hellish crimson of a fire’s last embers.

It’s like a big wooden spoon keeps pushing him just under the surface of sleep and then spooning him up for something huge to taste him, again and again.

The turn-signal red of the stairwell’s lit EXIT sign.

A noteworthy thing turned out to be that the mound of earth on a freshly-filled grave seems airy and risen and plump, like dough.

It was somehow sadistic-seeming, like drilling a peephole in the wall of a handicapped bathroom.

Infinite Words #6: Sports

Here’s post No. 6 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

We covered tennis earlier today. Here are a few notes on other sports:

On golf
Billiards on a big table. A bodiless game of spasmodic flailing and flying sod. A quote unquote sport.

On college recruiting
Ohio State flew him out to Columbus for such a weekend of ‘prospective orientation’ that when Orin got back he had to stay in bed for three days drinking Alka-Seltzer with an ice pack on his groin.

It was, pretty obviously, the start of football season. Crisp air, everything half-dead, burning leaves, hot chocolate, raccoon coats and halftime-twirling and something called the Wave. Crowds exponentially larger and more demonstrative than tennis-tournament crowds.

The murmurs in the bleachers were like a courtroom at an unpleasant revelation.

Infinite Words #5: Tennis

Here’s post No. 5 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

I was a competitive junior tennis player on a very regional, mostly local level, which made Infinite Jest all the more enjoyable (it centers, in large part, on a junior tennis academy). Here are my favorite tennis-related passages:

Competitive junior tennis is meant to be good clean fun.

Jim, a tennis ball is the ultimate body. Perfectly round. Even distribution of mass. But empty inside, utterly, a vacuum. Susceptible to whim, spin, to force – used well or poorly. It will reflect your own character. Characterless itself. Pure potential.

Courts 13 to 24 are Girls’ 18’s A and B, all bobbing ponytails and two-handed backhands and high-pitched grunts that if girls could only hear what their own grunts sounded like they’d cut it out.

At late seventeen, Orin was ranked in the low 70s nationally; he was a senior; he was at that awful age for a low-70s player where age eighteen and the terminus of a junior career are looming and either: (1) you’re going to surrender your dreams of the Show and go to college and play college tennis; or (2) you’re going to get your full spectrum of gram-negative and cholera and amoebic-dysentery shots and try to eke out some kind of sad diasporic existence on a Eurasian satellite pro tour and try to hop those last few competitive plateaus up to Show-caliber as an adult; or (3) you don’t know what you’re going to do; and it’s often an awful time.

The Libertarians chew their hands in envy as the Dems and G.O.P.s stood on either side watching dumbly, like doubles partners who each think the other’s surely got it.

Clippterton by this time must have had a whole mantel plus bookcase’s worth of tall U.S.T.A. trophies, each U.S.T.A. trophy a marbled plastic base with a tall metal boy on top arched in mid-serve, looking rather like a wedding-cake groom with a very good outside slider.

‘I am one of the seldom of my home nation whose talents are weak in science, unhappily.’

‘This is why God also gave you quick hands and a wicked lob off the backhand, though.’

Steeply’s face looked as if the journalist were trying to think of pithy images for a motion as unexceptional and fluid as Hal’s serve. At the start a violinist maybe, standing alert with his sleek head cocked and racket up in front and the hand with the ball at the racket’s throat like a bow. The down-together-up-together of the downswing and toss could be a child making angels in the snow, cheeks rosy and eyes at the sky. But Hal’s face was pale and thoroughly unchildlike, his gaze somehow extending only half a meter in front of him. …The service motion’s middle might be man at a precipice, falling forward, giving in sweetly to his own weight, and the serve’s terminus and impact a hammering man, the driven nail just within range at the top of his tiptoed reach.

Off down the Weston street a church with an announcement-board in the grass out front – white plastic letters on a slotted black surface – and at least once Mario and I stood watching a goatish man change the letters and thus the announcement. One of the first occasions where I remember reading something involved the announcement-board announcing:


Dressing and stretching, wrapping grips with Gauze-Tex or filling a pouch with fuller’s earth or sawdust, getting taped, those in puberty getting shaved and taped. A ritual. Even the conversation, usually, such as it is, has a timeless ceremonial aspect. John Wayne hunched as always on the bench before his locker with his towel like a hood over his head, running a coin back and forth over the backs of his fingers. Shaw pinching the flesh between his thumb and first finger, acupressure for a headache. Everyone had gone into their auto-pilot ritual. Possalthwaite’s sneakers were pigeon-toed under a stall door. Kahn was trying to spin a tennis ball on his finger like a basketball. At the sink, Eliot Kornspan was blowing out his sinuses with hot water; no one else was anywhere near the sink….Troeltsch sat up against his locker near Wayne, wearing a disconnected headset and broadcasting his own match in advance. There were fart-accusations and -denials. Rader snapped a towel at Wagenknecht who liked to stand for long periods of time bent at the waist with is head against this knees. Arslanian sat very still in a corner, blindfolded in what was either an ascot or a very fey necktie, his head cocked in the attitude of the blind…Schath entered a stall and drove the latch home with a certain purposeful sound that produced that momentary gunslinger-enters-saloon-type hush throughout the locker room.

Serious juniors never pick up tennis balls with their hands. Males tend to bend down and dribble the balls up with the face of their stick; there are various little substyles of this. Females and some younger males less into bending stand and trap the ball between their shoe and racquet and bring their foot up in a quick little twitch, the stick bringing the ball up with it. Males who do this trap the ball against the inside of their shoe, while females trap the ball against the outside of the shoe, which looks a bit more feminine. Reverse-snobbism at E.T.A. has never reached the point of people bending way down and picking balls up manually, which, like wearing a visor, is regarded as the true sign of the novice or hack.

Infinite Words #4: Things you learn in rehab

Here is post No. 4 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. Buy the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

All of today’s entries come from a single section section, pages 200 to 211. It isn’t titled, but I will title it “Things you can learn in rehab”:

Things you can learn in rehab

That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That loneliness is not a function of solitude.

That logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.

That Nyquil is over 50 proof.

That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.

That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness.

That concentrating hard on anything is very hard work.

That it is simply more pleasant to be happy than to be pissed off.

That everybody’s sneeze sounds different.

That pretty much everybody masturbates. Rather a lot, it turns out.

That trying to dance sober is a whole different kettle of fish.

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.

That it is permissible to want.

That God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.

Infinite Words #3: More sex!

Here’s post No. 3 in the Infinite Words series. An explanation, if you missed it, is here. But the book here. Add your personal favorites in the comments.

We dealt with attraction earlier today, now sex: good, bad, and weird.

Molly Notkin often confides on the phone to Joelle van Dyne about the one tormented love of Notkin’s life thus far, an erotically circumscribed G. W. Pabst scholar at New York University tortured by the neurotic conviction that there are only a finite number of erections possible in the world at any one time and that this tumescence means e.g. the detumescence of some perhaps more deserving or tortured Third World sorghum farmer or something, so that whenever he tumefies he’ll suffer the same order of guilt that your less eccentrically tortured Ph.D.-type person will suffer at the idea of, say, wearing baby-seal fur. Molly still takes the high-speed rail down to visit him every couple weeks, to be there for him in case by some selfish mischance he happens to harden, prompting in him black waves of self-disgust and an extreme neediness for understanding and nonjudgmental love.

He bears her to bed as would a waiter a tray.

On stupid men, after sex
[He] lay there stunned under his own stomach’s weight, his eyes narrowed to piggy slits and the faint smirk on his face that of a gorged predator.

An incredible female body, an inhuman body, the sort of body Gately’s only ever seen with a staple in its navel.

The girl was the single passivest person Gately ever met. He never once saw P.H.-J. actually get from one spot to another under her own power. She needed somebody chivalrous to pick her up and carry her and lay her back down 24/7/365, it seemed like. She was a sort of sexual papoose.