Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 5


Addiction is a devastating disease, and in our society, it is almost impossible not to be affected in some way by addiction, whether it is to substances, obsessive thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors. We all know someone who has struggled with addiction. And one thing seems to be consistent—no addict can begin the recovery process until he or she hits bottom and becomes desperate enough to seek help.

There is a great passage in this book where Wallace describes what it is like for an addict to hit bottom and become ready to take the first step in the recovery process.

—then vocational ultimatums, unemployability, financial ruin, pancreatitis, overwhelming guilt, bloody vomiting, cirrhotic neuralgia, incontinence, neuropathy, black depressions, searing pain, with the Substance affording increasingly brief periods of relief; then, finally, no relief available anywhere at all; finally it’s impossible to get high enough to freeze what you feel like, being this way; and now you hate the Substance, hate it, but still you find yourself unable to stop doing it, the Substance, you find that you finally want to stop more than anything on earth and it’s no fun doing it anymore and you can’t believe you ever liked doing it but you still can’t stop, it’s like you’re totally fucking bats, it’s like there’s two yous; and when you’d sell your own dear Mum to stop and still, you find, can’t stop, then the last layer of jolly friendly mask comes off your old friend the Substance, it’s midnight now and all masks come off, and you all of a sudden see the Substance as it really is, for the first time you see the Disease as it really is, really has been all this time, you look in the mirror at midnight and see what owns you, what’s become what you are—

(pp. 346 – 347)

Throughout my life, I have known many who have suffered from addiction; some have hit bottom and sought help, some have continued on in denial and justified their behavior, and others ended up in institutions or have died. My experience has shown me that only when someone hits an intense bottom, then and only then do they become willing to seek help. And sadly, many who reach this point are still incapable of recovery. Addiction is a powerful, insidious, and destructive disease. I hope that those who suffer manage to find help.


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9 responses to “Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 5

  1. well, i’ll give you this: most people who claim to have read a book such as IJ, really haven’t read it, not page by page, cover to cover.

    • LOL – well, I’ve never shied away from a long or challenging book, and if I’m going to put the effort into reading something, I prefer to read all of it, which is why I haven’t started Proust yet 😉


  2. It’s true enough, Jeff, about the powerful hold that the ‘dragons of addiction’ can have; I’ve seen some near to me struggle with it as well. The DFW excerpt is a good one – powerfully clear language he used, as usual!

    • Thanks for your comment, Jamie. I particularly relate to the image of “dragons of addiction,” since addiction burns out a person’s soul, as well as incinerating those around the person. I will pray for the person close to you. Hugs and blessings — Jeff

  3. At part 5, I finally caved it and decided to order it. Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts, now I think I will read something that will enrich me in some way, instead of feeling like reading something giving the illusion of something bad and boring with it being over-hyped.

    • Hi Oloriel. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Some people I know hated the book and thought it was too long, others thought it was the greatest millennial novel. I still have over 500 pages to go, so I have a way to go before I make my final assessment 😉

      Cheers — Jeff

  4. Pingback: “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 12: Final Thoughts | Stuff Jeff Reads