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Depression in Infinite Jest

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While depression is a potent and pervasive theme throughout IJ's thousand pages, it gets its most explicit abstract treatment on page 692. Here we learn that a certain subset of psychiatric patients and drug addicts know "first hand that there's more than one kind of so-called 'depression'," two kinds, to be exact. There's Anhedonic depression, which is a kind of nihilistic devaluation of ones life, and the more sinister Psychotic or Clinical depression. Both types of depression are characterized by solipsism.

Anhedonia

Anhedonia renders a person unable to derive pleasure or meaning from the things that once made his or her life worth living, and is extremely abstract and hard to grasp: in Wallace's own words, for the anhedonic, "everything becomes an outline of a thing. Objects become schemata. The world becomes a map of the world." Anhedonics end up at a kind of objective distance from the lives they live, and while this isn't a directly painful sensation like clinical depression, it's characterized by a kind of existential sadness that's troubling and disconcerting both to the sufferer and to those who are the objects of his clinically detached scutiny. Wallace also sees the ironic detachment hip to the contemporary United States as basically anhedonic.

Characters who suffer from anhedonic depression:

  1. Hal Incandenza
  2. Rémy Marathe (in his youth)


Anguish

"Anhedonia is but a remora on the ventral frank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain" (695) The psychotically depressed don't feel detached from their lives or the outside world, but rather feel as if every element of their existence is causing them indescribable pain. Whereas an anhedonic might be tempted by suicide as a kind of logical response to a world in which there is no reason to live, a suffer of true anguish is suicidal because the world is horribly painful, because everything in it is an extremely compelling reason not to live. Indeed, Anhedonia tends to be one of the chief desires of the psychotically depressed, the living death it amounts to representing one of the few plausible alternatives to actual death as a relief from their pain. Anguish often gets described later on (notably by Eugenio M. between 648 and 651) as a kind of infinitely horrifying billowing black sail at the edge of perception.

Characters who suffer from psychotic depression

  1. Kate Gompert
  2. Eugenio M.