David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest

He sometimes, the founder, in the House's early days, required incoming residents to attempt to eat rocks--as in like rocks from the ground--to demonstrate their willingness to go to any lengths for the gift of sobriety. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Division of Substance Abuse Services eventually requested that this practice be discontinued.

So my offense is what, misdemeanor gargling?

...that certain sincerely devout and spiritually advanced people believe that the god of their understanding helps them find parking places and gives them advice on Mass. Lottery numbers....don gately enumerating things he's figured out since becoming a resident of A.A.

...And now everywhere I go the last several days there seems to be a statistically improbable number of wheel-chaired figures around, lurking, somehow just a little too nonchalantly.

We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we hit this age, we will give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part of, not to be Alone, we young.

Boo, I think I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there's simply no way to tell. The ones who give nothing away. They walk among us. Teach our children. Inscrutable. Brass-faced.

The fear of the pain is many times worse than the pain of the pain...

It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately--the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly.

...junior athletics is but one facet of the real gem: life's endless war against the self you cannot live without.

....The true opponent, the enfolding boundary, is the player himself. Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms. The competing boy on the net's other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self. As you are his occasion. Tennis's beauty's infinite roots are self-competitive. You compete with our own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution. Disappear inside the game: break through limits: transcend: improve: win. Which is why tennis is an essentially tragic enterprise, to improve and grow as a serious junior, with ambitions. You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human state: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned, over and over again.

American experience seems to suggest that people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away, on various levels.

Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he's devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves.

I am coming to see that the sensation of the worst nightmares, a sensation that can be felt asleep or awake, is identical to those worst dreams' form itself: the sudden intra-dream realization that the nightmares' very essence and center has been with you all along, even awake: it's just been...overlooked; and then that horrific interval between realizing what you've overlooked and turning your head to look back at what's been right there all along, the whole time...

Son, you're ten, and this is hard news for somebody ten, even if you're almost five-eleven, a possible pituitary freak. Son, you're a body, son. That quick little scientific-prodigy's mind she's so proud of and won't quit tittering about: son, it's just neural spasms, those thoughts in your mind are just the sound of your head revving, and head is still just body, Jim. Commit this to memory. Head is body. Jim, brace yourself against my shoulders here for this hard news, at then: you're a machine a body and object, Jim...

Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.

If you are an adolescent, here is the trick to being neither quite a nerd nor quite a jock: be no one. It is easier than you think.

...sleeping can be a form of escape and with sustained effort be abused.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers. They tend to lurk and to stare. They are born watchers. They are viewers. They are the ones on the subway in whose nonchalant stare there is something creepy, somehow.

Television, from the surface on down, is about desire. And, fiction-wise, desire is the sugar in human food.

For 360 minutes per diem, we receive unconscious reinforcement of the deep thesis that the most significant quality of truly alive persons is watchableness, and that genuine human worth is not just identical with but rooted in the phenomenon of watching. Plus the idea that the single biggest part of real watchableness is seeming to be unaware that there's any watching going on. Acting natural. The person we young fiction writers and assorted shut-ins study, feel for, feel through most intently are, by virtue of a genius for feigned unselfconsciousness, fit to stand people's gazes. And we, trying desperately to be nonchalant, perspire creepily on the subway.

Television offers way more than distraction. In lots of ways, television purveys and enables dreams, and most of these dreams involve some sort of transcendence of average daily life.

Maybe what I really miss now is the fact that a child's radical delusive self-centeredness doesn't cause him conflict or pain.

Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair? Am I the only person who's sure that the growing number of cases in which totally average-looking people suddenly open up with automatic weapons in shopping malls and insurance offices and medical complexes and McDonald's is somehow casually related to the fact that these venues are well known dissemination-loci of the Professional Smile? 289