Reach and Pull

Musings on Infinite Jest

The 1st Annual “Lyle is a wraith” Awareness Week

with 7 comments

This is a week to remember (or discover) that the character Lyle in the novel Infinite Jest is, throughout the whole book, a wraith. It is also a time to become aware (more aware, or aware for the first time) of the implications that Lyle’s wraithness has for understanding the core of the novel [e.g., Endnote 145] and perhaps more [e.g., The object-estimating “bootstrap-type scenario” on Page 395]To celebrate this occasion, anyone participating is asked to do one trifling thing: Tweet out a link to a blog entry where Lyle’s wraithhood is proven beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt, for all time, and — just as importantly — broadcast said link to a well-known comedy writer (Michael Schur) who owns the film rights to the book, so that any future film adaptation will be sure not to omit nor to underestimate Lyle and his wraithly existence as a key to Infinite Jest comprehension. Adding the hashtag #infinitejest is optional. The link is:

And the Twitter screenname to be included somewhere next to the link is:


(Schur’s Twitter and SoSH alias)


Happy “Lyle is a wraith” Awareness Week, everyone!

“And the Lord said: Let not the weight thou wouldst pull to thyself exceed thine own weight.” – Lyle

“Suppose I were to give you a key ring with ten keys. With, no, a hundred keys, and I were to tell you that one of these keys will unlock it, this door we’re imagining opening in onto all you want to be, as a player. How many of the keys would you be willing to try?” – Lyle

“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.” – Lyle

“You might consider how escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage.” – Lyle

“Do not underestimate objects.” – Lyle


Written by reachandpull

April 8, 2013 at 2:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. It occurred to me today, that, maybe the whole novel is a dream. Still, perhaps a real parallel-universe is being posited. But, with Maranthe’s wife’s cube-head, and with the giant feral babies, and with Orin’s nightmare scenario demise seeming itself to explicitly take place with a dreamworld dimension, and with all the obsessing about teeth, and finally with all the DMT…seems like an overarching (perhaps overlapping) construct for the narrative is that it’s all a dream. It, being, our world? I don’t know. It being the whole of Infinite Jest? Ehhh, not in the lame rug-pulling Bobby Ewing way. A bit more clever and ontological than that, probably. It’s a hypothesis in its infancy. Here’s a thing I recently wrote about dreams elsewhere:

    “My cousin recently recounted a dream of hers. She was baffled by it, chuckled at how nonsensical it was, how surreal. Within seconds, I recapped the details and translated it for her. My translation made complete sense, was utterly true, and profoundly meaningful. But it wasn’t a creative act on my part. The dream itself was the artist. I explained to her that, assuming the DMT theory of dreaming is correct, then everyone on earth, every night, for several hours, trips their balls off on a moderate dose of the world’s most powerful psychedelic — little old ladies, Mormons who abhor even caffeine, the Supreme Court, even dogs — and then wakes up, remembering little if any of the experience, and saunters off to another day of school or work, like nothing happened. I described it as a nightly conversation that the teeming subconscious has with itself, that you the singular conscious being are only ever eavesdropping in on. The conversation is conducted in a language of symbols and metaphors, and the subject of the conversations is your waking life, the promises, disappointments, and tensions of your circumstances in life ranging from the past, present, and future. The accumulated wisdom of such conversations clandestinely seeping into your consciousness, in gist form, manifesting in much of what we call “intuition” and “instinct”, the practical benefits of which have helped sustain us evolutionarily for eons. Our dreams are basically a series of didactic short films directed by an advice columnist with a doctorate in poetry who is never not tripping on DMT. The most prolific and influential cinematic auteur of all-time, the dream is, having scored a permanent artistic residency in the brains of all advanced sentient mammalian life since the dawn of time.”

    Happy DMT Day, everyone! A holiday you celebrate 365 days a year, in your sleep.


    April 8, 2013 at 2:54 am

  2. Holy shit, wow, yeah…it’s making quite a bit of sense, sinking in…

    The world of Infinite Jest exists, the world within the novel is real within the novel, but, it is still probably, in fact, also a dream-world. Meaning, it is the realm, the parallel universe, the alternate dimension where dream-existences take place, the characters’ and, lol, perhaps ours. I think this is what Wallace is positing. Or, again, part of what he’s positing, an overlapping narrative lens, alongside other lenses like the afterlife and like the brutal reality of everyday life at the tail end of the bell curve of life’s circumstances, but yeah, maybe dream-existences is the underlying ontology of the book’s world, one world within another world (within a world within a world). That may sound like a trite concept in the Age of Inception, but just remember that Inception would be a welterweight Johnny-Come-Lately, a histrionic shorthand Hollywood bastardization of any complex worldview involving dreams that might be remotely contained in this book, this Great Book. Think about it. All the absurd, surreal, impossible elements. All the slighter weirdnesses, the slightly-off street layouts compared to actual Boston, all the intentionally-open-ended wording. The choose-your-own-adventure/interpretation quality in some places, in many places. (But not all places!) The ambiguity, the multiplicity of meaning. (But not everywhere, not limitless!) The typical human palette of dream fear subjects. JOI’s wraith giving Gately a dreamy precognitive vision, which is something a faithful parapsychologist might attest to being a real thing about dreams. The disjointed dreamy narrative, the layered-upon-layered dreamy symbolism. All the explicit scenes of and references to dreams themselves! Which are often the vehicles for extraordinarily important intra-novel information. The dreams of dreaming characters who live as dream beings in a parallel dreamworld dreamt by a professional daydreamer read by a reader who might later dream about this fictional dreamworld in his or her dreams during a sleepy escape from a material world which might actually, lol, be a dreamworld dreamt by a dreaming deity in another parallel dreamworld. And so on…?

    If, let’s suppose, when we dream, we all are transported to one dreamy alt-world common to us all, existing in the same dream-plane…depending on who and where and when you are, would that world not perhaps resemble the setting and events of Infinite Jest, if translated within that plane by a genius filmmaker’s dream-ghost and his genius writerly son into a vast, hyper-detailed book? In that plane, this real material world is mirrored but skewed, sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly, sometimes absurd, sometimes unskewed. In some other plane, perhaps our material world is really just the skewed mirror with impossible elements of a moderately less-weird world, lol. But so imagine if we were all there, in that Jestian plane, while we sleep, sleep-living there in that astral universe all at the same time as each other, lives as rich and as painfully slow and awkward as our own, but also profoundly bizarre and loaded with seemingly inexhaustible, self-referential symbolism. The deepest received wisdom there in Dreamville might here be only one Realville resident’s oddball metaphysical hypothesis, e.g., the theory of reincarnation as per Page 850, the Death by Mother theory. We might exist there not as ourselves as we really are but as slightly absurd or deranged iterations of ourselves, translated into walking didactic metaphors…perhaps even sideways-walking, lol! And in a metaphorical sense, perhaps as truer versions of ourselves! But what else could explain some things besides their being morphic metaphors, grotesque and unrealistic translations of our inner nature, or some such thing? A spy whose transvestite cover works despite being ridiculously sloppy, the women who are almost all manly or ineligible, a wheelchair assassin and his wife whose boneless head is contained by a box, the kid whose head is also trapped in a box (which one, lol…in this case, I mean Lord), the woman so beautiful she’s deformed or once beautiful but now deformed…and then, Mario! Where else can a Mario exist, but within a dream? Well, we do have our Marios here, of course. An earthly version of UHID would never lack for membership, it would be legion, international. Mario is only about 50% stranger than a few of the anomalous unfortunates who really do exist somewhere, right now. And maybe that’s a good figure for the average extent to which both IJ’s intra-world and our slumber-hallucinations amp up the weirdness of waking real-life. Most corresponds evenly, mundanely even. Some is about 50% more absurd and horrific than life actually is — and that’s with life already being quite absurd, and occasionally quite the horror show. Then there are parts of the book, parts of our dreams which massively outsize the absurdity and horror of real-life beyond all normal comprehension, 1000% weirder and more frightening.

    Of course, one asks, since we have good dreams in our real-life sleep, does the book contain any? Of course. The sprinkler scene of Orin and Joelle connecting on the football field, Orin’s entire football career maybe. Within the intra-narrative’s waking existence (which we as readers may not ever see, not even once, or except only in rare discursive peeks, or maybe even only the very last sentence of the book is such a peek!) which this hypothesis assumes as the base source of all the intra-narrative’s dream-interactions, did Orin really know and date Joelle, ever? I’d have to say yes. Maybe in the intra-narrative’s unseen waking existence, Orin has not ever been in the NFL but just works at ETA as a tennis coach disappointed with both his adult professional career and his childhood amateur tennis career, and maybe he and Joelle attended the real BU and dated briefly and there was some heartbreaking drama that involved their damaged souls, but nothing even remotely as traumatic as what they individually or collectively dream within the book’s dream-i-verse, which is a hideous magnification of all their fears and conflicts. Or, maybe in the book’s unseen real-world Orin really did lead the BU football team to glory as the world’s most extremely-accurate punter. Uhhh, anyone familiar with the real real-life versions of BU football and the sport of football in general knows how ludicrously unreal that is. Not long after the book was published, the BU football team was discontinued and erased from existence like the collegiate sports equivalent of the real real-life town of Enfield, now an underwater ghost town from where some tap water has been drawn which I myself, really, have ingested. BU football glory was one of the first giveaways to me that this book took place in some kind of sci-fi alt-world, because even in the early 90’s, BU football was an unloved laughingstock, doomed. And then there’s the matter of a punter being that great or important. LMFAO, no. Punters are as a rule the figurants of every football team. Yes, Wallace does a mind-blowing job making such an epic laughability believable. But, no. These are not, within the book, supposed to be real things. Only real in whatever sense dreams partake in their own plane of reality. And, keep in mind, this same situation applies to basically everything in the whole damn book. It’s all unreal, except in so far as surreal dreams have their own separate reality, and in so far as dreams reflect real life in however warped a way. (click)

    So, back to good dreams, I’m sure everyone has had the kind of good dream where you are wildly, impossibly successful in your absolute, impossible dream profession. In the dream, you have no doubts about its reality. What you dream feels real, as real as any reality. Which is awesome when your REM-enabled DMT-trip has you winning the World Series on an extra-innings grand slam in Game 7, and oh yes it was actually wiffleball the whole time but somehow still major league baseball too and you are swarmed by 37,000 fans at home plate of Fenway Park, including your girlfriend who is now not only pretty but an internationally-famous wristband model…wait, wristband, that doesn’t…and but so then you are in a parking garage which is entirely filling up with a blackish water as you helplessly float upward from level to level and you spot a couple enormous great white sharks prowling the water, no wait make that seven of them…and the point is, as you dream, you doubt neither the reality of the good dream nor the reality of the bad dream, well, you might feel fleeting doubts, but then Bud Selig hands you the MVP trophy or you brush up against the shark’s body, and whoosh right back to being felt as utterly real. And those are two dreams which have little correspondence to a normal person’s life. Unless you’re David Ortiz or a shark expert marine biologist, in which case those dreams might only be moderately unreal rather than crazily unreal. Or a genius novelist tennis-playing recovering-addict. (Is the whole book a 981-page dream of Wallace’s, plus endnotes, replete with 1990’s-era premonitions of our time, the 2000’s, a warped mirror that metaphorically translates Wallace’s life and mind?) (click) And now, what if you are just a regular person who is a recovering addict and whose storytime really does feature unthinkable self-destruction and trauma and tragedy? I would probably not want to know what a bad dream of such a person would be, if their real-life painful memories are magnified to be 50% to 1000% more painful and dissociative. Speaking of, nothing about the book’s AA wisdoms is necessarily undermined by being part of a dream-world. Hey, even dream-people and wraiths need to talk it out and trust in a higher power, etc. Nothing about the book at all is undermined, actually. Again, most of it may still correspond to our real real-life reality 100%, or maybe 99%. Or maybe one could say 1000%, since Wallace reveals to us so much more about life than we would usually notice ourselves. We’re so busy living, moving around from one place to another. It takes a perceptive giant like Wallace to transmit more of the reality we obliviously pass by, back into our minds, via the form of a novel, which we must remain completely still to focus on and receive, which transfers thoughts to us from another person who is not in the same room and who we may have never even met, thoughts traveling with no lips moving no words spoken no hands gesturing…just sitting still, staring, and ever-so-slightly moving the eyes. That’s effectively a type of telepathy, no? And not only that, but not long after, maybe even immediately, you start to perceive the world yourself using words you don’t remember ever learning, processing the world in a more complex internal monologue. Hmmm, lol.


    I myself once had a nightmare about my brother in which he was impossibly deformed into a compact grotesque cube and trapped within a sewage drain; I was in grade school, and my mother let me stay home that day because I had sobbed with grief and terror. Imagine that! No matter how diligently you shield a child from disturbing pop culture, a 10-year-old can still view, vividly, short films that rival David Lynch in terms of unnerving existential horror and absurdity. Not just view: Experience! Would you let a naive 4th grader watch Eraserhead unsupervised, in the dark? No, right? Too late! They watch worse, in their dreams, every night! Thank christ for forgetfulness.

    The entire filmography of JOI can probably be seen as a catalog of one person’s recurring bad dreams, and perhaps not just one person, but in a way, people generally. Many of us have nightmares about teeth. Most of us have nightmares about being trapped. Many of us have nightmares about doppelgangers. We all have bad dreams in which we re-live past drama and trauma, and anticipate even worse. What else? Holography? What could holographic movies do, technically, that dreams don’t? And finally, if you dream you were an infant and your mother were hovering over you and cooing a stream of sweet apologies, that’s probably not a dream you would want disturbed by the alarm clock, right?

    So, I thought before I had unlocked the book’s core, and through one lens, the intra-narrative lens, I did. Lyle is a wraith, and knowing that he is a wraith unlocks the intra-narrative core. But here, this dream theory, this is a meta-key. I don’t know if I’m the first person to think of it, notice it. I won’t even bother to check. It doesn’t matter. All that matters, if this theory is a key, is that other people step into the newly-discovered and opened door, look around the room, meditate on it, and think up new stuff to say for themselves, for each other, about the book. This would be but one door, but one lens, but one construct. There is still a (semi-, at least) coherent plot to be discerned within the book, still a coherent set of philosophical and cultural concerns. A dream theory is not license to abandon all attempts to make sense of the story to derive the heart of Wallace’s messages. Those are still real tasks. And besides, it’s not like those tasks were being fulfilled all too well without a dream-theory perspective, lol.

    p.s. Who has not had a dream in which deceased loved ones anxiously visit you to impart precious lessons? I once had a dream in which my dead Boston cop uncle was writing for me a book that was titled “The Guide to Irrational Exuberance” or something, one of the themes of which was the joy of masturbation, which, in the dream (what little I didn’t block out) he was somehow demonstrating a la performance art, to me, and some of my friends, and a hyper-aged Ayn Rand was somewhere in the room, too, if I recall. Seriously, no shit, you can ask my ex-girlfriend, this was a real dream! Another real dream, a recurring one, is one where my grandmother, who died in 1989 at the age of 89, is still alive. But, barely! In the dream, she is not frozen in time as I remember her, no, she’s now about 120 years old, and ripe, and not too talkative, but still very much alive. And, honestly, I wish I could dream that dream on command and remember every second of it, have it to watch at my disposal, in the form of a holographic cartridge…but, then, if I did, I might not ever get anything done, because there’s risk I would just watch it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and…

    p.p.s. I added quite a bit to this post in a few edits. I hope I’ve said enough to do two things. (Pardon me for not writing more elegantly, for not providing citations, for rambling. But these things I write here are typed — no, actually, right now, tapped on a tablet, furiously. It’s all extemporaneous. I only edit to add.) First, I hope I’ve jogged your memories of the novel and intrigued you enough to inspire you to think more, devise your own interpretations, preferably ones that involve Lyle being a total wraith and the book taking place within a dream-realm. Because, second, I hope to hell I’ve proven as far as possible that I know my shit, I know how to understand this book, better than anyone who has so far published any attempt to understand it.


    April 8, 2013 at 1:17 pm

  3. Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit the last sentence of the book:

    “And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”


    April 8, 2013 at 1:44 pm

  4. Forgive me for spamming my own blog, but…I keep feeling a loud “click” that I can’t ignore.

    What would be Hal’s worst fear in the world? Hal, this impossibly-articulate young man, this picture of self-possession, this walking library of knowledge and language. What would be his worst nightmare? Can you imagine a more horrifying nightmare to him, than becoming a waggling, marginally mammalian, impossible-to-understand infantophile? What would be Joelle’s worst nightmare? What would be Orin’s…wait, we already know that one. Go through every character. Are they all having bad dreams within the same dream-universe? What would be, say, David Foster Wallace’s worst nightmare? Becoming a globally-acclaimed writer whose most famous masterpiece is so poorly understood as to not even count as understanding? Not just misunderstood by the people who didn’t bother reading it well enough, or at all — misunderstood even by the book’s biggest aficionados. Imagine, the feeling of being fraudulent that such a situation might have engendered, or perhaps a feeling of hopelessness, a dread that any attempt to communicate will be futile. (click)

    One last quote for the day, for the moment:

    “It’s funny what you don’t recall.”


    April 8, 2013 at 3:34 pm

  5. My deepest apologies to anyone who had already happened upon this dream theory first, especially if I had once upon a time scanned it in blind arrogance and only now recall it as my own insight like a cryptomnesiac.


    April 8, 2013 at 4:38 pm

  6. One more little excerpt. Perhaps today is the day all this will finally be sorted out, or begin to be sorted out. I opened the book to read the opening chapter for the third or fourth time (still have only read the novel as a whole once, five years ago) to look to see if this dream-ality theory would fly, or if there wouldn’t be as much evidence for it as I might hope. Almost immediately, there was this, and I defy you to come up with a non-dream explanation for it:

    “Three faces have resolved into place…I do not know which face belongs to whom.”

    Okay, well, don’t defy me just yet, lol. I can see an undreamy explanation, at least for the last part. These are strangers, Hal doesn’t yet know which face belongs to which Dean. Simple. But…”resolved into place”? Is that just, uh, artsy-fartsy descriptiveness? Or is there a definite point to those words? Who hasn’t had a dream like that, in which undefined faces suddenly or gradually become recognizable? Am I reaching? Or, am I pulling? 😉


    April 12, 2013 at 6:24 am

  7. Meh. Now I’m less sure. Still pretty damned sure. In a mid-90’s percentile of sureness, still. But this is how it goes, confusion, epiphany, total dedication, vacillation, then…acceptance. I accept that I might be wrong. About everything. (As the man once reminded us to remind ourselves.) It doesn’t really matter, if I’m wrong, me, wrong. It only matters if some or most or all of what I’m saying is true. Or not. That’d be okay, too.

    Here’s a line from that ’96 Silverblatt interview:

    “Then of course the great nightmare is that you alone see the structure and it’s going to be a mess for everyone else.”

    (That’s not the only great nightmare, though, or not the only aspect: “Because, yeah, this is the great nightmare when you’re doing something long and hard, is you’re terrified that it will be perceived as gratuitously hard and difficult, that this is some, you know, avant-garde for its own sake sort of exercise.”)


    April 12, 2013 at 9:15 pm

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