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



As a musician, I have always been intrigued at the way sounds and rhythms can be used to stimulate parts of the subconscious mind and cause hidden aspects of the psyche to surface. I believe this is why chanting and drumming are integral parts of ritual, the goal of which is to alter the consciousness of the participants.

There is a great passage in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is sharing an experience he had where he was playing violin and the notes blended with other vibrations resulting in a sudden shift in his consciousness. This shift allowed a dark, primordial aspect of his psyche to surface, an experience that was terrifying and traumatic.

‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’

‘A thing.’

‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’

‘But it was inside you, though.’

‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped the violin and ran from the room.’

(p. 649)

In this scene, the addict experiences the emergence of what Jung termed the shadow.

The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown “dark side” of our personality–dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Throughout my life, I have experienced instances where music or sound caused my consciousness to shift, sometimes dramatically. But it can be particularly unsettling when the shift is unexpected. It’s one thing to experience this while meditating and actively seeking to unlock hidden realms of the psyche, but when it occurs for no apparent reason, it can have a devastating effect on a person.



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

  1. If one experiences unexpected alterations in their psychological frame of reference, it would help, i think, if they had some overarching theory to contain or at least conceptualize it. That’s why i think Jung is so important. He tried to develop some kind of model to make sense of the unusual.

  2. thank you for sharing this profound bit of thought-food. here’s to hoping that the one more contemplates/meditates, the less a victim one may feel at the unexpected times. its a touch ironic that we live in times where ‘psychedelic’ music is quite popular but time for reflection is nearly a laughable proposition for a lot of us.
    i am fascinated by any sharing of experiences like this. i always feel like its the edge of fuzzy wisdom – even when negatively felt.

    • Thanks for your comment, and you make some interesting points. I suspect that people who listen to psychedelic or electronic trance music are inclined to gravitate toward meditation, for the most part. Of course, there are definite exceptions. I think the first time anyone experiences a consciousness shift, it is intense, but more so if it’s unexpected. If you’ve taken a substance or are fasting and meditating, you anticipate at least the possibility, but when it comes totally unexpectedly, then that must be mind-blowing.

      BTW, just want to add that I love your blog 🙂


  3. totally agree. thanks so much for loving the blog!! bless you for ‘liking’ posts lol the blogging world is quite fluid and organic and it seems that just when you find a little group you are in synch with, material life shifts and these people move on in some way and you miss them. one appreciates even more the ones that are still around. and i love *both* your blogs, too. 🙂

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

  5. Many drug and alcohol addiction rehab centers today are using music therapy within their programs, as well as activities such as yoga and meditation. I think a change in consciousness is needed both for addicts to take control of their lives and responsibility for themselves, with the latter having to occur before the former. Thanks for the inspiration of this post, Jeff!

    • Hi Christy! That’s really great info. I’m glad that rehabs are taking a more spiritual and holistic approach to the treatment of addiction. Cheers!