Spoilers ahead, for those who haven’t finished the book.
One of the many themes at work in Infinite Jest is narcissism. However, this extends merely beyond the conventional definition. In Mary Holland’s article “‘The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest“, narcissism is equated with Freudian infantile sexuality. In essence, narcissism stems from desire for fulfillment of pleasure – what Holland refers to as “ego instincts” (224) – which is created, for the infant, by the mother, who provides for all needs, creating a cycle of need-fulfillment that makes the mother part of the infant. “In desiring the mother”, Holland writes, “the infant is simply desiring the self and existing in a closed loop of constant fulfillment that seems to flow from no external source.” (224) Holland goes on to connect this pleasure-as-narcissism cycle to the usual addiction themes in DFW’s work. However, there’s another connection to a major plot point and theme staring Holland’s theory in the face: the cartridge, the Entertainment, Infinite Jest V and Joelle and the final fulfillment of absolute pleasure. Indeed, the Entertainment promises nothing less than total and absolute pleasure.
To do this, we must fit another uneven piece into this puzzle. In “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest“, N. Katherine Hayles approaches addictiveness from the angle of autonomy. In a similar-but-not-exact fashion to Holland, Hayles argues that autonomy, stemming from individuality, is a true problem. As with the Holland article, this too is mostly a waste of time. We’re here instead to get an idea of why the Entertainment is so important to the conception of addiction. The Entertainment (here come those spoilers) consists of three sections, of which the latter two are of particular interest. Those latter two sections pose the theory that the woman that kills you becomes your mother in the next life, and then connects that to a woman apologizing to a “baby” (a wobbly blurred camera) – implicitly, for killing it (692). What’s so interesting about this whole child-mother dynamic is that it is at once a triumphant fulfillment and an ironic reversal of Freud’s vision of narcissism. In the Entertainment, one’s mother is a source of life, freeing one from a sort of purgatory – but only in a kind of redemption for an original act of violence. In essence, the narcissistic impulse is fulfilled, because the child and mother become entangled in a system of death and renewal, encapsulated best by the metaphor contained in the first part of the film, which features two people circling each other in a revolving door, never to meet, foreshadowing the endless renewal to follow. How fitting it is, then that this piece be “infinite” jest. The piece reduces, eternally, the viewer to a child, experiencing this eternal rebirth and murder in the infant’s narcissistic vision, thus validating its endlessness. Much in the same way that addiction is cyclical, the Entertainment perfectly encapsulates the narcissistic impulse to have every pleasure fulfilled – a return to the infantile, forever. In Holland’s view, that’s what pleasure is all about.