Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp27-42

Well, now we’re getting to the real shit, aren’t we? It was incredibly hard for me to stop reading and I probably could have gobbled down another 25 pages before stopping, but then that would have been a whole lot o’ reading to somehow review.


I haven’t quite figured out the specifics of the way dates are named, but I’ve surmised that they’re based on products, that years might actually be named after them. Maybe? I’m sure in my head that makes sense, but until I actually start mapping them out, I won’t be completely positive.

We’re back to Hal again, and DFW immediately drops us into his fantastically fluid style of dialogue as Hal is forced to sit in a meeting of some sort with a professional conversationalist. If that very concept seems absurd to you, then DFW certainly delivers on that aspect, giving us one of two entertaining and hilarious passages we’ll be covering today. Hal is hyper-aware of his surroundings, has a nearly photographic memory, and interacts with every adult (so far) with an ongoing sense of contempt. Right off the bat, he’s wondering why on earth he’s even talking to this man:

‘But I rode my bike all the way up here against the wind just to converse with you? Is the conversation supposed to start with me asking why?’

And a fine question indeed. (FUCK BIKING INTO THE WIND, BY THE WAY.) What transpires, then, is a battle of wits, as the professional conversationalist slowly begins to realize what a handful Hal actually is.

‘I’ll begin by asking if you know the meaning of implore, Hal.’

‘Probably I’ll go ahead and take a Seven-Up, then, if you’re going to implore.’

‘I’ll ask you again whether you know implore, young sir.’

‘Young sir?’

‘You’re wearing that bow tie, after all. Isn’t that rather an invitation to a young sir?’

‘Implore’s a regular verb, transitive: to call upon, or for, in supplication; to pray to, or for, earnestly; to beseech; to entreat. Weak synonym: urge. Strong synonym: beg. Etymology unmixed: from Latin implorae, im meaning in, plorae meaning in this context to cry aloud. O.E.D. Condensed Volume Six page 1387 column twelve and a little bit of thirteen.’

‘Good lord she didn’t exaggerated, did she?’

No, “she” did not. (Who is she?) (Also, there’s O.E.D. again.) At first, it seemed that Hal was being contrary for the sake of it, but as this section continued, I got the distinct sense that maybe he couldn’t actually help it. Words and phrases that the conversationalist spoke triggered any number of tangents and Hal made it appear as if he almost had to talk about those things.

Hal refers to his dad as Himself. Ok.

He really likes Seven-up. Who doesn’t? (Ok, admittedly, it’s been a long time since I had any, but that’s a separate point. I used to love it quite a bit.)

Hal has a healthy distrust for things. I like that.

‘I know only one person who’d ever use full-bore in casual conversation.’

‘There is nothing casual about a professional conversationalist and staff. We delve. We obtain, and then some. Young sir.’

‘Okay, Alexandrian or Constantinian?”

‘You think we haven’t thoroughly researched your own connection with the whole current intra-Provincial crisis in southern Quebec?’

‘What intra-Provincial crisis in southern Quebec? I thought you wanted to talk racy mosaics.’

HAL, I LOVE YOU. The conversation (professional or casual) quickly turns to Hal dismantling as much of the focus as possible. (A side note: I feel like the conversationalist’s reference to the Quebec conflict is important, especially since it relates to Hal and his family, but since it’s so early, I have about a 1% certainty that I know what it means.) Once it’s clear the conversationalist has been properly offended and feels the need to justify who he is and what he does, Hal resorts to what can best be called as trolling, using a selection of well-placed bits of inanity to further piss off this man.

‘Gee, is that the exit over there I see?’

‘Would it be rude to tell you your mustache is askew?’

‘As a matter of fact I’ll go ahead and tell you your whole face is kind of running, sort of, if you want to check. Your nose is pointing at your lap.’


Bless Hal.


So I assume this takes place in another year, not the same as the last section.

It’s Hal again. But with a younger brother, named Mario, and a phone call from another brother, Orin. Mario asks a lot of questions, but not as many as he will soon.

DFW likes to write from the very distinct point of view of his characters, doesn’t he? His styles only match when they’re from a specific point of view.


I like Mario.


Just in general?

To further the idea that DFW specifically adapts his style to his character, the entire next section, which was a bit difficult to get through, completely meshes with what this character seems like. The sentences are long, filled to the brim with what seems like an endless number of clauses, going on and on in banal, minute, and specific terms. It reads like a legal document, one the attaché it focuses on might actually write himself. It’s particular. Detailed. It lays things out logically, one after the other, as if it is obeying some unspoken textbook of grammatical rules and professional formats.

Will he have something to do with southern Quebec? Hmmm.

If anything, this section is an introduction of sorts to the ordered and robotic life of the attaché, whose wife is less of a wife than something to be planned for and planned around. We get much more focus on those entertainment cartridges mentioned earlier and I’m curious as to how they’ll play into the story. There’s no live television in this fictional world? Is everything planned out through these cartridges?

The attache’s anger is expressed through complicated diction:

So on 1 April, Y.D.A.U., when the medical attaché is (it is alleged) insufficiently deft with a Q-Tip on an ulcerated sinal necrosis and is subjected at just 1800h. to a fit of febrile thrushive pique from the florally imbalanced Minister of Home Entertainment, and is by high-volume fiat replaced at the royal bedside by the Prince’s personal physician, who’s summoned by beeper from the Hilton’s sauna, and when the damp personal physician pats the medical attaché on shoulder and tells him to pay the pique no mind, that it’s just the yeast talking, but to just head on home and unwind and for once make a well-deserved early Wednesday evening of it, and but so when the attaché does get home, at like 1840h., his spacious Boston apartments are empty, the living room lights undimmed, dinner unheated and the attachable tray still in the diswasher and –worst—of course no entertainment cartridges have been obtained from the Boylston St. InterLace outlet where the medical attache’s wife, like all the veiled wives and companions of the Prince’s legatees, has a complimentary goodwill account.

One amazing sentence. DFW makes it sound like it’s the end of the world. I love it.

As for what those cartridges hold, it doesn’t make it any easier to understand what they are when we finally get some examples:

There is an O.N.A.N.M.A. Specialty Service film on actinomycete-class antibiotics and irritable bowel syndrome. There is 1 April Y.D.A.U.’s CBC/PATHE North American News Summary 40-minute cartridge, available daily by a wife’s auto-subscription and either transmitted to TP by unrecordable InterLace pulse or express-posted on a single-play ROM self-erasing disk. There is the Arabic-language video edition of April’s Self magazine for the attache’s wife, Nass’s cover’s model chastely swatched and veiled.

WHAT. This is what people watch? Man, I don’t get it.


Well, I made it to page 37. I’m going to say that it does make me uncomfortable that a white dude uses ebonics like this, but, on the surface, he’s actually quite good at it. I didn’t like that the Infinite Summer guide said that the section was “potentially offensive (if one wants to be offended)” because….yeah, that’s not how it works. I don’t want to be offended by things. It happens.

That being said…I’m willing to give this the benefit of the doubt for now. Wardine’s story is convoluted, sure, but to me, it sounds like her mother is worried about her daughter’s safety because of a man named Reginald. (Wardine’s boyfriend, yes?) Wardine’s mother beats her, and beats her often. And then Roy Tony might kill them all?

Oh, and Wardine is pregnant. Hmm. I think I’ll revisit this section later when we learn more.


Bruce Green’s story wasn’t that interesting to me. He fell for Mildred Bonk, who grew up in high school to become (basically) one of the cool kids. And Bruce changed in order to impress her. And “for a while life was more or less one big party.”

DFW sure is introducing a whole lot of characters.


Mario is my favorite character so far. It’s not hard to take this next segment and substitute in a younger brother or sister or cousin or niece or nephew and imagine the endless game of questions that we play. Since we move back to Hal, it’s also back to DFW’s dialogue style, which might help accent why this section is also quite entertaining.

‘Hey Hal?’


‘Hey Hal?’

‘It’s late, Mario. It’s sleepy-time. Close your eyes and think fuzzy thoughts. ‘That’s what the Moms always says, too.’

‘Always worked for me, Boo.’

They all seem to have nicknames and terms of affection for each other. I like this family so far.

‘When I asked if you were asleep I was going to ask I you felt like you believed in God, today, out there, when you were so on, making that guy look sick.’

‘This again?’


‘Really don’t think midnight in a totally dark room with me so tired my hear hurts and drills in six short hours is the time and place to get into this, Mario.’


‘You ask me this once a week.’

‘You never say, is why.’

Man, this is realistic as all hell. Reminds me of a friend’s cousin who has the tendency to ask increasingly difficult questions.

‘So tonight to shush you how about if I say I have administrative bones to pick with God, Boo. I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. I’m pretty much anti-death. God looks by all accounts to be pro-death. I’m not seeing how we can get together on this issue, he and I, Boo.’

‘You’re talking about since Himself passed away.’

Firstly, that statement by Hal makes me smile. I think there’s a part of me that still believes that, that maybe there is a god and I actually am in defiance of him/her/it, but that was mostly from a long time ago. I think it’s more interesting to learn that Himself (the father?) has passed away, and that the whole family seems to have the same nickname for him. Hmm.

‘I’m going to propose that I tell you a joke, Boo, on the condition that afterward you shush and let me sleep.’

‘Is it a good one?’

‘Mario, what do you get when you cross an insomniac, an unwilling agnostic, and a dyslexic.’

‘I give.’

‘You get somebody who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there’s a dog.’

‘That’s a good one!’




‘Hey Hal? What’s an insomniac?’

“Somebody who rooms with you, kid, that’s for sure.’

KJASKL;FSDJKLFDSAKLJFSDFDS I LOVE THIS KID SO MUCH. I’ve talked about it a few times, but I’m now running a kid’s site as a community manager, and it’s hard not to think of the sheer joy working with kids has been giving me. The natural inquisitiveness, the sense of humor that seems so endless, and the way that the world makes perfect sense…and yet they still have another question.

‘Hey Hal?’


‘How come the Moms never cried when Himself passed away? I cried, and you, even C.T. cried. I saw him personally cry.’

So I feel very positive that Himself was Mr. Incandenza.

‘Hey Hal, did the Moms seem like she got happier after Himself passed away, to you?’


‘It seems like she got happier. She seems even taller. She stopped traveling everywhere all the time for this and that thing. The corporate-grammar thing. The library-protest thing.’

Ah, so now we’re getting some more history. There’s a point I can remember in my life when it seemed my mom was happier after my father passed away a few years ago. I don’t think it’s the same thing here, but I think most people reach a point where the grief leaves and the joy can finally come back. Hal, however, disagrees that his mother is happy:

‘Now she never goes anywhere, Boo. Now she’s got the Headmaster’s House and her office and the tunnel in between, and never leaves the grounds. She’s a worse workaholic than she ever was. And more obsessive-compulsive. What’s the last time you saw a dust-mote in that house?’

Perhaps their mother buried herself in work, in keeping busy as a distraction. That’s certainly what I did for a long, long time.

‘Now she’s just an agoraphobic workaholic and obsessive-compulsive. This strikes you as happification?’

‘Her eyes are better. They don’t seem as sunk in. They look better. She laughs at C.T. way more than she laughed at Himself. She laughs from lower down inside. She laughs more. Her jokes she tells are better ones than yours, eve, now, a lot of the time.’


‘How come she never got sad?’

‘She did get sad, Booboo. She just got sad in her way instead of yours and mine. She got sad, I’m pretty sure.’

It’s fascinating how their perspective’s focus so differently, with Mario choose to aim more for her physicality. He can’t believe she’s sad because she’s physically not showing it, where Hal believes her actions give her away.

We all grieve in our own ways, Mario.

‘She’s plenty sad, I bet.’

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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35 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp27-42

  1. Matthew says:

    One thing about all the characters that are being introduced is it is not always absolutely necessary to remember who they are. Sometimes a character and their situation and dialog is brought in more to give a feeling or atmosphere, rather than because it is loaded with meaning.

    Of course, it is also loaded with meaning…the characters will be interacting with each other in a variety of convoluted ways. But don't pay attention to EVERYONE. Try to pick out the most important characters.

  2. heatherfeather says:

    I'm so glad you're reading this. I reread this in bits and snippets every year and a half or so, but hearing it through your perspective makes me remember what a profound experience this book had on me the first time I read it. Team Mario!

  3. Mitch says:

    "DFW sure is introducing a whole lot of characters."


    I'm so defensive of this book that I get a tiny bit nervous whenever I see that you've read more, but I love your reviews so much. That's all I can really say, right now, because I'm bursting with glee a little over how great these sections are.

    Also, I am quite soon getting a tattoo of the words: "and but so", all lowercase like that, because it's the best DFW memorial I can think of, what with how much he used it.

  4. monkeybutter says:

    The scene between Hal and the conversationalist/Himself (I guess?) is what made me absolutely sure I'd love this book. I really hope that there is something to this Quebecois secessionist thing; the name "ETA" already makes me think secession and terrorism. Please be real!

    More ONAN. Still giggling.

    Yeah, I made it "Wardine say her momma aint treat her right," and I was like "lol, nope! Not dealing with this tonight!" and that's where I stopped reading. I kept going later, of course, but my brain just couldn't handle it.

    Mario and Hal's conversation is golden and made me realize that I'm the only one in my family whose nickname didn't survive childhood. I feel unloved. Sob. Oddly enough, the family dog is called Boo or Booboo, so I'm going to associate Mario with her (making him even better.)

  5. Lady X says:

    I planned on writing a witty and thought-provoking comment,but that was quickly replaced with : MUST.READ.INFINITE.JEST!!!

  6. LeanieBean says:

    I think OED stands for Oxford- English Dictionary. I think.

    "Hal refers to his dad as Himself. Ok."

  7. Lolua says:

    Somebody please correct me if this is wrong, but I was told that "Himself" was mainly an Irish thing. How employees might refer eye-rollingly to a boss, or what a bunch of older gents who hang out all the time might jokingly call their tacitly acknowledged leader (or someone trying to be).

    For example, my former boss was known around the office as "Himself," as in "We finally heard from Himself; he'll be here in half an hour." Now that our boss is of Polish extraction, he is occasionally referred to by our mainly Irish-origins staff as "Himselfski." >_>

    • evocativecomma says:

      It's common in all of Britain, and in many of the East coast states (since there's a great big bunch of descendants of Britain there) for the man of the house, the boss, or any self-important man to be referred to as "Himself" by others.

    • pica_scribit says:

      I've heard it in Scotland, usually referring to a clan chieftain.

      • rosepug says:

        Yes, Scotland. The Clan Chief, the head of the family/organization.
        Still don't have an account and have been lurking but avidly following along with all 'Mark Whatevers's, so I'll take this opportunity to say HI, EVERYONE! 🙂

    • bradycardia says:

      Yeah, it's used alot in Ireland. Probably not exclusively so tho, seeing as the other commenters have heard it elsewhere. Although I'm giving evocativecomma the benefit of the doubt when s/he says "all of Britain" that s/he isn't including Ireland!

  8. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I really liked how it's revealed in the medical attache section that each year on the calendar is somehow subsidized by a corporation/product, as if time (and the way we perceive it) itself is dependent upon money.

    And I may have been confused on this part, but I seem to remember it being revealed that the professional conversationalist was actually Hal's father in disguise, similar to Mr. Rochester's fortune-teller ruse in Jane Eyre.

    • ldwy says:

      I also got the impression by the end, that the conversationalist was his Dad. But I didn't think he was wearing a disguise, literally. I'm still not sure how much I trust Hal as a narrator, for realisms sake. It seems like in different passages, while his style is still very much Hal, his manner of perception feels like it is changing. I don't know yet though. I'll have to read more 🙂

  9. doesntsparkle says:

    I've been waiting to post this video since you started. It's the scene between Hal and Mario reenacted by those scary bear dog things. [youtube ol9J9VvDAYA youtube]

    • thecheapshot says:

      This is so cute! I feel like this is the closest we'll ever get to seeing IJ on the screen. I've spent a lot of the time reading thinking about what it would look like filmed and how epically impossible it would be. A girl can dream…

  10. dahliabeard says:

    So that's what people mean when they say that DFW wrote epically long sentences.

  11. deleted2934595 says:

    I remember being incredibly uncomfortable during the "ebonics" section, although I deeply enjoyed the plot of it. DFW has an interesting essay about SWE (Standard Written aka Standard White English, although I've never heard it called the second out loud by anyone) and treating it as a separate language from any spoken language, because no one speaks the way academic papers are written. The essay discusses BAE (Black American English) as well, as the impetus for the conversation about academic language. It makes me wonder if this section was deliberate: forcing DFW's probably predominately white, highly educated Americans to read text written in another dialect. On the other hand, it's possible he simply enjoyed the experiment, to write in a completely different dialect from his own.

    It makes me sad to see so few comments on your DFW posts. The text is intimidating, but so worth the effort. Oh, and we're nearing the point where I will be reading along with you for the first time, so I am excited!

  12. thecheapshot says:

    I haven't got anything constructive to offer on this section unfortunately because I've been steaming through IJ like it's going out of fashion (seriously had even forgotten about the ebonics bit). And but so I haven't got anything constructive to offer you for further in the book either for fear of ~ultimate spoiling~ and ruining it for you. Suffice to say however, to elaborate on my tweet from a few days ago, this book is incredible and has become somewhat of an addiction for me. Thank you again for inspiring me to read it.

  13. LOTRjunkie says:

    I like Mario well enough, but I'm really loving Hal. He's so snarky in a brainy way.

  14. bradycardia says:

    The exchange between Hal and Mario is great.
    And, seeing how good Hal is with answering Mario's questions makes me even more curious about how his communication difficulties developed.

    • ldwy says:

      I've totally had that conversation with my little sister. And it's tough but wonderful at the same time.

  15. Kripa says:

    NGL, I got uncomfortable reading the ebonics, only because I knew DFW is a white dude. Also, I got irritated by the description of Mildred Bonk. Am I the only one who's not a fan of guys waxing poetic about how some woman is so gorram HAWT? Yes, some girl's attractive, and that's all that matters, isn't it? So no, I don't care about Bruce Green.
    I'm liking Mario and Hal, and their dynamic is realistic.

  16. theresa1128429 says:

    I can't wait to see how all of these characters come together!! I am loving DFW's writing style.

    Hal is such a smart-ass. I just want to read more and more of his remarks.

    And, my favorite quote from this section:
    "I’ll say God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about. "

  17. MissRose99 says:

    I can't wait to find out what Hal's nickname is. He says he won't share it yet earlier in the book.

    So far we have Mario-Boo boo
    Dad – Himself
    The Moms
    I really am curious as to what they nicknamed Hal.

    I love how everytime Hal is written there is tons of conversation going on back and forth back and forth, yet there is some discrepancy as to whether he can talk (according to Himself) or "strange noises" that come from him..or whether everytime his parts come up it is really a disillusion viewed from his point of view.

    Appreciative that multiple cultures are being represented in this book.

    Personally, I want more of the Stoner, please 🙂

  18. @campbelliah says:

    I thought the whole point of the conversationalist episode was that Himself had disguised himself as the conversationalist because he's convinced Hal doesn't speak–and when you re-read the conversation, it turns out that the conversationalist/father hasn't heard a word Hal has said.

    I like Hal, too, and I'm really interested to find out why everyone thinks he can't talk.

    Also, I disagree about the black dialect being well-written. "She be cry" doesn't sound real to me at all. (And since DFW repeated "she be cry" over and over and over, it got to me.)

  19. I was absurdly excited when I found this blog, as I just started re-reading IJ tonight and created a blog and WP account to talk about it. But given that you haven't read it before, nearly all of my substantive contributions would involve spoilers. So check out my blog AFTER you finish the book, and (this goes without saying, as you'll discover) read the book more than once. In the meantime, I'll be lurking and figuratively stuffing my fist in my mouth to stifle inane observations that would ruin shit for you. Enjoy.

    Edit: Are you aware of any online group reads ala Infinite Summer going on right now?

  20. barnswallowkate says:

    I finally caught up to Mark's reviews which means he'll probably post a new one in a few hours and I'll be behind again 😉

    I read this section last night & was pretty tired so I didn't realize until I read this review that Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment = Y.D.A.U. I need to take all the naps before I read this book.

    There are 2 things I read differently than Mark did:
    1. I thought Mario was his older brother?
    2. I thought the "ebonics" section was narrated by a girl named Clenette & she was the one who was pregnant?

    These things might be super minor and not matter, but at this point I'm so lost I want to cling to the few scraps of information that I do understand & make sure I've got them right.

  21. Flumehead says:

    Two things I think I noticed:

    – The conversationalist is Hal's father in disguise (according to Hal anyway).
    – Bruce Green and his wife now live in the same trailer as the drug dealer from whom the set-designing woman said she would procure the cannabis.

  22. Hannah says:

    Yes to the dad in disguise, that seemed pretty clear to me by the end of the section. I wonder if Hal's actually being accurate about his father deliriously thinking that Hal's miming talking but no sound is coming out, especially versus people's apparent reactions to Hal's speaking in the first YDAU section.
    I understood the Wardine section as being narrated by Clenette about how Wardine was being sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend Roy Tony (who is also her uncle) and her boyfriend Reginald found out about it when Wardine eventually confessed to him. Reginald brings Clenette to see and hear this, and whilst he vows to confront Wardine's mum about it (despite Wardine saying that Roy Tony would kill Reginald and her mum would punish her for it, probably whip her to death) but Clenette says that she wouldn't tell anyone about Wardine's abusers because her mum is also scared of Roy Tony, since Roy Tony killed a man previously out of love for Clenette's mum. Also its Clenette who is pregnant.
    *phew* That was a real comprehension work out!

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