James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish expatriate modernist author. His famous works include Ulysses (1922), Finnegans Wake (1939), the short story collection Dubliners (1914) and the semi-autobiographical bildungsroman A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916).
Relationship between Joyce's and Wallace's works
In Ulysses Buck Mulligan uses the phrase "the scrotum-tightening sea" to refer to a sea which is always necessarily female, giving the female Wallace uses this phrase frequently in Infinite Jest (pp 112, 605), and ends the novel with a similarly female sea which carries Don Gately through a metaphorical metempsychosis, as he is reborn and deposited by the maternal sea--essentially, narcotics had killed his adult self and brought him to an infant state. Furthermore, in Infinite Jest Joelle van Dyne's radio name Madame Psychosis is a play on metempsychosis. It is significant that, as the main character in James Incandenza's film Infinite Jest, she represents the woman that will kill you in this life and be your mother in the next. Interestingly, the drug DMZ is also referred to as Madame Psychosis (170).
Additionally, the ghost word "LAERTES" pops into the feverish Don Gately's head (832). In Greek mythology, Laertes is Odysseus' father, which is significant because Ulysses retells the Odyssey in modern Ireland, with Stephen Dedalus (whose name itself is an allusion to Daedalus, an extremely skilled artificer) standing in for Odysseus' son Telemachos. Laertes is significant because he is the patriarch, much like Himself, who is probably transmitting the ghost word into Gately's head. Furthermore, Laertes is also a character in Shakespeare's Hamlet, which has influenced Infinite Jest quite profoundly.
Although at times Infinite Jest may suggest the outlines of a traditional bildungsroman, tracing the development of a sensitive prodigy through an institutional upbringing, the movement of the novel is actually away from fully-realized selfhood. It charts the progressive erasure of identity by pressures of family and academy. And it is notable that while Joyce's Portrait of the Artist, which is perhaps the ultimate template of a sophisticated twentieth-century development narrative, begins in the third person and ends in the first, Infinite Jest reverses this pattern. Beginning with the confident "I," the narrative proper ends with "he." But including the endnotes, the last of which is "Talwin-NX--®Sanofi Winthrop U.S." (p. 1079n388), the movement traced by the novel is from the personal, to the impersonal to the corporation. Receding circles of alienation from the self (50-1)
Here, Burns touches on a number of key themes, namely alienation, corporations and mass-consumption, narrative voice, and the dichotomy between an individual identity and the group. Whereas Stephen Dedalus forges his own identity and finds his own "I" by isolating himself from groups (his family but more importantly, distancing himself from Ireland, the very country he wishes to write the national epic of), Hal loses his identity by becoming completely passive, and groups wash over him, drowning him out as a voice in the crowd. Hal is incapable of distancing himself from the Group, and his putative attempts at getting away are only "hiding" from the group; when he sneaks away to get high in secret, he fails to isolate himself from the ETA, because he remains part of the ETA. Furthermore, Hal creates a confused, dual-identity by hiding, as he must keep up an appearance of being very "in" the tennis group, while hiding his identity as a furtive addict.
It seems significant that Ulysses ends with Molly's stream-of-consciousness while in bed, Infinite Jest ends with Gately's stream-of-consciousness while in a hospital bed.