Madame Psychosis

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In Infinite Jest, Joelle van Dyne's radio name Madame Psychosis is a play on metempsychosis, and she even acts as metempsychosis incarnate as the main character in James Incandenza's film "Infinite Jest," as she represents the woman that will kill you in this life and be your mother in the next. She comes to Don Gately in a dream and "is Death. As in the figure of Death, Death incarnate... Death is explaining that Death happens over and over, you have many lives, and at the end of each one (meaning life) is a woman who kills you and releases you into the next life" (850). At this point, Gately's vision becomes "unfocused and wobbly" and "it's as if he's seeing her through a kind of cloud of light, a milky filter that's the same as the wobbly blur through which a baby sees a parental face bending over a crib (850-1), and Gately is himself in a hospital bed with rails that make it distinctly crib-like. His vision is exactly like the effect Himself achieves in "Infinite Jest" with a wobbly lens, which he uses to make the viewer feel like a baby in a crib.

The idea of Madame Psychosis explaining Death is fitting, given the sexual connotations of the word Madame, and relates to Freudian psychology. According to Freud, humans are driven by two conflicting drives: the life drive (libido/eros) and the death drive (thanatos). The life drive is associated with creativity and appetite, whereas thanatos drives us toward a state of total calm. Freud believed that pleasure increases as stimuli decreases, sothe ultimate experience of pleasure would be zero stimulus, or death. Wallace uses this paradox, for his characters seek out pleasure and stimulation in the form of drugs which ultimately drive them toward death. This very tension between the two drives Orin to seek out a return to the total calm of an infant gazing lovingly at his mother via sexual encounters that play out his own probable sexual encounters with that same mother.

When Joelle visits Gately in the hospital, he imagines her "moment of orchasm" (863), a telling Freudian slip. Within life, the closest a person can come to a state of total calm and zero stimulus may very well be that tiny moment of no-thing, or the chasm, in an orgasm, which can ironically only be achieved through much stimulation. Gately acknowledges that he has experienced "an Endless Now" when he withdrew in jail "and he'd never before or after felt to excrutiatingly alive" but also knows that it would be a "kind of impossible leap" to "live that way all the time, by choice, straight" (860), perhaps because the life drive is too powerful.

Radio Show

As Madame Psychosis, Joelle hosts a late-night radio show called "Its Sixty Minutes More or Less" on WYYY. Her show is somewhat of a parody on religion, and is described with religious imagery:

And as pinkie meets palm, she says what she's said for three years of midnights, an opening bit that Mario Incandenza, the least cynical person in the history of Enfield MA, across the river, listening faithfully, finds for all its black cynicism, terribly compelling. Her silhouette leans and says 'And Lo, for the Earth was empty of form, and void. / And Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep.'

The radio show features a dark Introit, started by the reverential ritual of pinkie meeting palm; it is a black Midnight mass, based on Taoist principles it references the Tao or Void that preceded and encompasses everything on Earth. She even references the Tao, putting a cynical spin on it: "The Dow that can be told is not the eternal Dow" (183). Although this could be seen as a basatardization of the Tao Te Ching's "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao," the irony adds a further level that deepens its meaning. In other words, Madame Psychosis manages to impart both the ancient wisdom of the Tao, but creates a double entendre to point out that the things we worship now (especially money and consumerism) are not True.

Mario listens "faithfully" because it is his religion or object of worship; he is one of the many "devoted listeners" (191). Mario's lack of cynicism indicates that there's something True is Madame Pscyhosis's notions of Darkness. When she goes off the air (because she's in the Ennet Recovery House), Mario Incandenza suffers acute withdrawal symptoms as he is forced to go "cold turkey."


Interestingly, the drug DMZ is also referred to as Madame Psychosis, and has effects that are "almost ontological" (170), and As Stephen Burn notes in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, there is a definite connection between Joelle's radio-broadcast name "Madame Pyschosis," the drug Madame Psychosis' "ontological" effects" and the fact that Hal fears he is "broadcast" and not real (996).