Infinite Jest and Sex

One of the main plot points of infinite jest is a movie made by a character who killed himself. The name of the movie is “infinite jest” and it is referred to by various government organizations as “the entertainment” and is considered a national security threat. The reason is that anyone who watches the tape has an irresistible desire to continue watching it forever. The movie is so pleasurable that people forget to eat and do anything else, no matter how uncomfortable they become. The movie also fries their brain.

The commentary is pretty blatant (especially in the context of the rest of the book). American culture is too obsessed with its desires and not enough on the control and mediation of those desires through principles and cognition. I don’t think rationality and cognition are the be all and end all of being human, in fact I’ve argued against that many many times in this blog. However, if you foster a culture that takes the satisfaction of all desires as the criterion for its success, you have disaster. And in the book, the CIA (well, not the CIA, but the big intelligence agency) is trying to get the tape because it represents the distillation of American life. It is the contradiction at the heart of the American system and though it gives overwhelming pleasure and satisfies one’s desire to keep watching it, it threatens society.

One of the main characters, Orin Incandenza (close to “incandescent” and I think the play on a synonym for light is probably intentional) is a player. He has sex with tons of women. At first, he just enjoyed having sex with them and seeing how much sex he could have and without how many people at once. But then, he needed to make the girl fall in love with him completely and utterly; to be come psychologically dependent on him. And this feeling of control is what he came to live for.

Now what’s interesting about this is that he wants to BECOME the Infinite Jest. The tape floating around stunning all its viewers becomes a very nice symbol for the motivations of Orin and for many other things in the book.


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