Marathe is a quadruple agent in Infinite Jest, pretending to pretend to betray his organization, the A.F.R. (Wheelchair Assassins). His wife has ventricular restinosis, a very deadly heart affliction, so he manipulates both the A.F.R. and the USOUS (United States Office of Unspecified Services) in order to get help for her condition. Part of his betrayal of the AFR involves him secretly meeting and conversing with USOUS agent Helen (Hugh) Steeply. A more thorough explanation of Marathe's "quadruple agency," is given at Footnotes 40, 41, and 42, page 995.
Conversations with Helen (Hugh) Steeply
These exchanges between Marathe and Steeply provide a different, if more static, plot thread which David Foster Wallace uses to examine human emotion and anxiety from a new perspective, one that is separate from the main characters and action, but is nonetheless essential to understanding and appreciating the ideas that Wallace puts forth. They often disagree, which is beneficial to readers, encouraging more critical and independent thought about whatever it may be that Marathe and Steeply are discussing. Topics include love, addiction and abusable escape, television, American culture, consumption, irony, "self and other," and several more related concepts. On the whole, these excerpts offer nice insights into the themes, concepts, and ideas that David Foster Wallace expounds upon throughout the entire novel. The entire conversation could stand alone as a piece of shorter fiction that addresses similar critical issues as the larger novel.
- Pages 87-92,93-95, 97. 30 April YDAU: Marathe meets Steeply on a rocky outcropping just outside Tucson, Arizona. No reference is made, on purpose, as to how Marathe got up there in his wheelchair. Marathe is armed, and Steeply, a biological man (armed as well), answers to Helen and is dressed in female clothing: a humorously pathetic drag queen. They discuss the appearance of "The Entertainment," the lethal video cartridge, and whether or not the A.F.R. has anything to do with it. Reference is made to Avril Incandenza, who was involved sexually with the medical attaché that fell victim to the cartridge. Also mentioned is Rodney Tine, the Chief of Unspecified Services and mastermind behind the formation of O.N.A.N., and one Luria Perec, who he (Tine) fell in love with. Luria Perec had attachments to the pan-Canadian resistence, which cast doubts on Tine's loyalty. Then they stand and watch the sun go down.
- Pages 105-108. 30 April YDAU: Steeply discusses Rodney Tine's love for Luria, relating to classic, "timeless love." Marathe argues with him, although Marathe's quadruple agency shows that he clearly is familiar with deep, full commitment to another person. Talk about "worship," a frequent Wallace theme most directly addressed in his short commencement address, This Is Water. Marathe argues that love comes from choice, for Steeply says: "What if you just love? Without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?" and Marathe then says: "you are a fanatic of your desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self-sentiments... In such a case as this you become the slave who believes he is free." This whole exchange, especially given the argument format, is valuable in considering human emotion, and its power over one's rationality.
- Pages 126-127. 30 April YDAU: They determine that Boston, MA is the likely origin of The Entertainment. And, in telling critique of American culture, "Several times Marathe called U.S.A. to Steeply 'You walled nation' or 'Your murated nation.' Although the United States Marathe knows is quite different from ours, the idea of a 'walled nation' is a common jab from foreign critics.
- Pages 317-321. 30 April/ 1 May YDAU: Marathe accuses the USA of being a nation which would choose The Entertainment, or love of oneself, over love of another. He claims that it would bring the entire USA down, continuing his condemnation of the type of people, the type of culture, that prevails in America. David Foster Wallace also alludes to the dominant cultural feature of irony, as Marathe feels that "the presence of Americans could always make him feel vaguely ashamed after saying the things he believed." This could be because American post-modern ironic culture cannot truly believe in anything, and pokes fun or sarcastically jabs real passion or feeling. Wallace frequently addresses this issue, especially in his essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and in Larry McCaffery's "An Interview with David Foster Wallace." There is also argument over the nature freedom, what exactly it means to be free or unfree, and if there is real value or not in true, total freedom (the story of the rich father).
- This is also covered in detail in the themes section: Freedom/Choosing in Infinite Jest
- Page 375. 30 April/1 May YDAU: We learn that Steeply is recently divorced, and in drag on a fake (undercover) assignment to learn more about The Entertainment and those close to it. Marathe jokes about how ridiculous Steeply looks.
- Pages 418-430. 30 April/1 May YDAU: Marathe comments on Steeply's gross and ill-fitting feet. Feet and legs are a frequent occurrence or motif for Wallace. They talk about the United States need for consumption, maximization of pleasure, and minimization of suffering, including the utilitarian (and American) notion that if each individual pursues his own desires, the greater communal good will be served. This pursuit of pleasure threads all throughout the novel, with the ETA boys, Don Gately, drugs, and addiction. Wallace discusses this, plus the desire for instant gratification, in his article "Big Red Son," from the collection Consider the Lobster. Steeply defends his country by arguing back that intrinsic in American society is a set of values, including mutual respect and admiration for the overall community, which prevents barbarism and Hobbesian state-of-nature and also increases pleasure. Marathe remains unimpressed.
- Pages 470-475. Pre-Dawn 1 May YDAU: Steeply uses the example of a psychological experiment. The procedure inserts electrodes into the “p-terminals” of the brain, which cause feelings of extreme elation when activated. The test animals all become obsessed with the lever, even ignoring their own bodily needs and dying for one more electric pulse of pleasure. This makes sense for lab animals, but Steeply then explains that “somehow word of the p-terminal discovery had gotten out up in Manitoba… And suddenly the neuro-team at Brandon pull in to work one day and find human volunteers lining up literally around the block outside the place." These human volunteers check out as "normal" in several personality tests. Wallace here highlights the lengths at which normal humans will go for pleasure, whether real or artificial. At some point, the pursuit of pleasure can take over an entire life, leading one ultimately to death.
- This theme is discussed thoroughly on The Pursuit of Happiness in Infinite Jest theme page.
- Pages 489-491, 507-508. Pre-Dawn 1 May YDAU: While the experiment example above addressed the pursuit of pleasure in human nature, here the conversation is streamlined as Steeply directly asks Marathe whether he was tempted to watch The Entertainment himself, implicitly asking how much Marathe values his own freedom of thought. He deflects the question, but his remembrance of how his father died (pacemaker damaged by video-hologram-advertising over the phone) is revealing of his opinion. Steeply admits, surely to Marathe's satisfaction, that even some young American government officials succumbed to the temptation of the cartridge, which allows for more rumination on the value and nature of temptation, free will and mental freedom.
- Pages 528-530. Pre-Dawn and Dawn 1 May YDAU: They both continue their conversation on the nature of temptation, and cite Eastern, Mediterranean, and European myths to outline the ubiquity of temptation and pursuing pleasure. Marathe draws a distinction between Canadian (French) and American temptation, including "contempt for selves" and irony among the features of American temptation that are absent from his own. Steeply reveals that he has not sat all night because he is afraid of "things" (presumably the Black Widow spiders on the underside of the outcropping) crawling up his skirt.
- Pages 638-648. 1 May YDAU: Steeply describes his father's addiction to M*A*S*H. Mr. Steeply became consumed by this kind of entertainment, consumed by the act of consumption in a way. He even lost his perceptions of what was real and what was just television. This excerpt serves to bring the entire subject down to earth, and closer to the reality of the reader. Here, it is not some mythical cartridge that consumes a life, but it is a TV show that everyone knows and considers to be harmless. Wallace here is exposing a cultural dynamic of utmost importance that slips under the noses of most Americans everyday. There is a real slope of consumption that one can slip down, and risk losing freedom of thought or any desire for critical opinion, just by watching a ton of TV. It's surely possible, and Wallace discusses it thoroughly in the McCaffery interview and in "E Unibus Pluram" (both of which are linked above).
La Culte du Prochain Train
Footnote 304, pages 1055-1062 explains the details of the train-jumping game, which is essentially a recruiting process for the A.F.R. On the railroad lines from Ottawa through the Great Lakes, "The Cult of the Next Train" (La Culte du Prochain Train), involves boys lining up six at a time at one side of the tracks. The object of the game is to be the last of your lineup of six to jump across the tracks before the train passes. The game is a test of one's skill, courage, and power of will. The competition is organized as a tournament, and the last boy to jump and live moves on to the second round. Jumping first is a signal of cowardice and that boy goes home ashamed. Limbs are frequently lost during the process, including Marathe's.
In pages 747-751, Marathe is interviewed by Pat Montesian for residency in Ennet House. Marathe is posing as a member of the U.H.I.D by wearing a veil. His disguise is presumably to establish an affinity toward Joelle Van Dyne, a veiled U.H.I.D. member and the actress in the film Infinite Jest. He also pretends to be Swiss.