Brief announcements of impending motherhood and oblique references to addicted babies pock the text of Infinite Jest, which includes in its gestational tangents a surprise birth, addicted birth, stillbirth, and medical- mediated birth. Maternal bodies—newly pregnant, postpartum, and fatally addicted—open the novel’s pages for a feminist reading of corporeality and of the text’s focus on toxicity’s reproduction. And while the narrator of Infinite Jest often practices impressive linguistic gymnastics on glorifying the classically Kristevan abject realities of viscera and excretory functions, pregnant bodies are almost completely hidden from the reader, in a proto-Victorian modesty that masks gestation, distention, labor, or birth. Critically reading IJ’s pregnancies and their relative silence in the text to discern the power structures that construct and shun bulging uteruses might offer a new way of seeing the bodies, maps, and reproduction in the text.

In Julia Kristeva’s writings on the abject, the horrifying human at its most disgusting and repulsive, pregnancy figures as one of the most problematic sites of Self/Other disgust. She posits the “experiences of maternity and death, which reiterate the messy openness of the body, as moments of horror for women” (105) and of filth for bourgeois society. Infinite Jest echoes this fear/hatred of pregnancy as a grotesquery, and birth as abjection when clouds appear to Don Gately as though they “were either giving birth or taking a shit” (IJ 816). Conflating the two expulsive processes in a malevolent heaven presents an unusual reference to the messy, material-shedding that is generally silenced in the rest of the novel. And this unusual glimpse into the blatant repulsion at birth dovetails with Infinite Jest’s simultaneous exploration of Butlerean abjection: ideas, bodies, and realities not conforming to dominant configurations targeted by dominant society as sites of deviance to be shunned and punished. The sheer volume of deformity, cultural deviance, and social maladjustment in the text challenge that which society has prescribed well formed, well behaved, and well adjusted. It’s along this vein of abjection that pregnancy in the novel can open an interrogation of discursive and bounded norms.

The first mention of pregnancy in Infinite Jest is genuinely just a mention. Early in the novel, Clenette narrates her half-sister’s brutal abuse. “I think Roy Tony gone kill Reginald, and then Wardine momma beat Wardine to death with a hanger. And then nobody know except me. And I am gone have a child” (IJ 38). Clenette is one of only two women in the novel given an unmediated voice with which to address to the reader[1]. This is the only time Clenette speaks in the novel, and though she appears again at Ennet House later in the text, we find no further mention of her child. If we conjecture about the child’s fate, we are certainly not led to that inquiry by the text, which does not mention the pregnancy again. What we are asked to do, in Clenette’s narration of violence and fear, is to notice that the cycle of violence in which Clenette lives will potentially be reproduced in her own offspring. This first pregnancy sets up a trope that Infinite Jest repeats often: human failings, choices, damage, and addiction are reproduced into the next generation.

Recursive damage threads through the text’s next pregnancy, for in the history of Bruce Green and Mildred Bonk’s courtship, union, and procreation, where the effects of substance abuse on work and family offer a script for the Foucaultian analysis of medical discourse on addiction[2], tiny, incontinent Harriet Bonk-Green (39) appears without gestation. Mildred’s pregnancy appears later in the text, casually juxtaposed with a sociopathic addict’s evening constitutional. Lenz’s  canine-throat-slashing stroll through Allston occurs in the text right after the narrator tells of the party at which Mildred is hugely pregnant and subject to leering from privileged male partygoers who judge her body as overweight rather than maternal (585). Lentz’s blood-spraying, warm-heap-collapsing thud starts a chain of character actions that have blood dripping and spurting and flooding out of several male Ennet House residents and Canadian dog owners. But not out of Mildred. There is no textual maternal gore, pain, oozing. Her baby appears without any abjection, in a polite, Victorian aversion of narrator gaze; but textually juxtaposed with her pregnant body is adult male pain, viscera, dripping, bellowing, and a trip to the hospital, all with the patient, reassuring voice of Madame Psychosis whispering words of beginning, “And lo…” (855). Maternity, in this segment, is silent, watched, and intact, while male characters are ruptured, bleeding, violent, and confused. Privileging the story of a penetrated and bleeding Gately, who struggles with the dilemma of how to endure pain without drugs, over the story of an expelling and bleeding Mildred who might, arguably, have in labor wrestled with the same recovering-addict-in-pain dilemma, is consistent with Gately’s primary role in the novel. But it also functionally subjugates Mildred’s gestation and labor in the same way that the text subjugates Mildred’s infancy to her parents’ substance use. 

In fact, Bruce and Mildred serve as the initial story keyed to Infinite Jest’s cycles of addiction. “In the year of what would have been graduation,” (IJ 39) after a junior year in which Mildred often left campus to “drink beer and smoke dope,” (39) suddenly the two have become three, with Harriet’s arrival casually mentioned in what becomes a pattern of toxic choices that beget more toxic choices. Mildred’s pregnancy functions much like Clenette’s pregnancy in the cycle of abuse: punctuating character development with the note that parental choices, environment, and behavior are reproduced.

Bruce later tells Pat M. that, when Harriet was a toddler, the two adults “were high, like, 90% of the time” (179). This sparks a different kind of disgust from that of which Heather Houser speaks when she argues that Infinite Jest features “damaging ethical and environmental policies visible in human bodies that are entwined with their environment” (Houser 133). Several of the children and adults in the novel narrate stories in which their own toxic choices reproduce a parent’s toxic choices. For example, Don Gately, eight months sober, recalls that his father “broke Gately’s mother’s jaw and left Boston while Gately was in his mother’s stomach” (IJ 446).  

Another of the novel’s briefly mentioned pregnancies, Gately’s embryonic role here is to heighten the sense of violence and injustice of his father’s abuse, and to reiterate Gately’s character further as another  recursive cog in the novel’s recursive violence and addiction. The narrator’s inclusion of the pregnant Gately’s abuse, clearly not something Gately himself has as a memory, sets up his  recall that he began “at age ten or eleven” drinking his mother’s vodka once she passed out each evening (447). The way in which Infinite Jest’s babies and children witness and reproduce parental behaviors offers another support for Heather Houser’s argument about accessing and reversing reader detachment (Houser 131). Leveraging vulnerabilities of pregnancy and childhood to draw readers closer as they shudder in indignation further silences and subjugates maternal bodies, however, for pregnant women are not embodying maternal creation as a parallel authorial voice. Rather, they are set pieces. In the cases of Clenette, Mildred Bonk, and Mrs. Gately, the trumpets the significance of their victimhood rather than giving them voice. Mathematically, pregnant bodies become textual exponents in which damage or addiction are heightened and multiplied. Pregnancy becomes second hand for something growing large enough that it launches a virulence.

One of Infinite Jest’s pregnancies, the narration of which is a Victorian model of modesty and deference to medical discourse (and quite distant from the Kristevan idea of abjection), is nurtured tangentially by Charles Tavis’s mother—an object in the telling of her labor—who does not speak, gestate, labor, or deliver, but rather exists in suspended animation, for a brief moment, just off the stage being set for C.T.’s delivery. Her pregnancy is wrapped modestly in layers of language that hide her distended body and abject expulsion, for we’re told of C.T.’s birth by the narrator, five-times-removed from a flashback of the visual assessment of the mother’s postpardum wedding photograph[3]. The unreliable fifth-hand account pivots across a prepositional fulcrum, half paternity and half maternity. C.T.’s “father, a ne’er-do-well killed in a freak accident playing competitive darts in a Brattleboro tavern just as they were trying to adjust the obstetric stirrups for the achondroplastic Mrs. Tavis’s labor and delivery” (IJ 901). Using the word ‘as’ to hinge the two parental tales, the ne’er-do-well father gets exactly the same number of words as the medicalized preparations for labor and birth. The maternal body is not in the memory laboring or delivering, nor is she termed “mother” to compliment C.T.’s “father.” She is a wife by title; some unnamed medical personnel is adjusting devices of her passive positioning for a medicalized birth that seems almost not to need her presence or cooperation. She might be the height of the novel’s subjugated, voiceless maternal bodies, the most historically distant and divorced by language from her birth experience.

This pregnancy does not fit the model of addictive recursivity, and serves rather to make a point of the unknowability of C.T., one of the text’s phantasmagorical enigmas. His birth, a voiceless, passive act in a silent, sterile setting, performs a circus-act of oblique retelling and of paternal and medicalized power structures, reproducing the C.T. mystery in which he is either uncle or father or “possible half-uncle” (IJ 316) to Mario. Carefully circumscribing the narrative space around Charles’s gestation or birth with enough reader-removing space to make it opera-glasses-distant makes the genealogical case that C.T.’s stirruped mother is Mario’s genetic grandmother, but also effectively subjeugates the birthing mother to the novel’s needs.

Other voiceless pregnancies in the text also function as set pieces to further the novel’s projects rather than to invest the reader in the maternal body in the same way that the text inhabits and explores addicted bodies.  The story of Enfield Tennis Academy’s Millicent Kent contains a pregnancy as a narrative adjective, used to color the back story. “One older sister who’d been deeply involved in synchronized swimming had got pregnant and married in high school soon after her mother’s disappearance” (123). Millicent’s presence at ETA, the narrator explains, is due entirely to her need to avoid her cross-dressing father who often borrowed and stretched out the girls’ leotards. Both tennis prodigy and pregnant sister leave to avoid a father, a repetition of the novel’s pattern in which children beat a hasty retreat from parents inflicting frequent psychological damage on their children. We can assume from the text that, like the Kents, Mike Pemulis takes to ETA to avoid his abusive father and that Joelle flees her Kentucky home after her father’s pedophilic announcement and mother’s acid-flinging rage. Kent’s pregnant sister, then, is more important to the text as another child leaving a damaging parent than as a bulging pregnant body. But for understanding the corporeality of Infinite Jest, that pregnant belly is just as important as the filial flight from damage. Because that bulge represents the reproduction of recursive damage.

Key among the distended uteruses that gestate the cycles of reproduced damage and addiction in the novel arises in an AA narration. An unnamed pregnant wife waits, in a recovering addict’s story, waiting, hungry, with her daughter for her husband to bring home the paycheck “that just had to go for groceries and rent” (707). In her case, the pregnancy heightens what we’re to assume is an AA-meeting trope: the provider parent smokes/injects/snorts/drinks what little money the family has, and children are left hungry. Children are made more vulnerable by an addict’s choices, and the listener/reader horror magnifies as behaviors that addicts’ children observe might be reproduced, either genetically or as habituated pattern.  The AA-meeting speaker tells of how he returns to an empty house and speculates about his wife, daughter, and unborn baby’s final meal before they leave him. This briefly referenced pregnancy, again, is a device by which the narrator seems to indict addiction as creator and perpetrator of intergenerational damage in which addicts feed the spider (IJ 274), an anthropomorphized synechdoche of damage that sucks the sustainance from that which needs nurturing. In the AA father’s story, the desire has agency, as does the addict. The gestating mother, voiceless and absent, nevertheless accesses the cycle-breaking agency that Kent’s sister used to leave an unsatisfying home. We don’t know if the cycles are broken by these instances of maternal disruption and departure, but these women are at least not strapped to a delivery table by the narration, as C.T.’s mother is. The implied ending of the AA story is that the gestating mother, in absentia, empties the toxic domestic sphere, withdrawing from the spider in favor of her full uterus.

Late in the novel, in the midst of a frenzied hustle back to the story’s anchoring Ennet House from a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting, in a scene in which whirlwinds of activity dart and dash across each other, the narrator slows the pace to focus on the cost to another child of an addict feeding the spider. Through the perspective of Ennet House resident Kate Gompert, the narrator allows us to glimpse the origin of  Ruth Van Cleve’s court-mandated stay at that recovery house: she abandoned her newborn in an alley. The baby “is apparently now in a South Shore hospital incubator, attached to machines and tapering off the Clonidine it received for in utero addictions to substances Kate Gompert can only speculate about” (IJ 699). We are to surmise, from this brief mention, that both Van Cleve and the baby’s father, who is incarcerated for “operating a pharmaceutical company without a license” (IJ 699), compromised nurturing in favor of substances. As the narrator hints at Ruth’s toxified maternity, the text frames her body, implicitly controlled by several governmental agencies, hurrying down the street. Reproduction of addiction’s  damages serves again to multiply the novel’s focus on addictions as drivers of American society, and in so doing, this post-NA vignette reproduces the novel itself: narrative displacement gazes upon damage and abuse in recursive loops. 

Just as important, though, as the narrator capturing casual co-resident discussion of a NICU-bound infant and its place in the cycle of addition, is how IJ makes the reader complicit in the larger power structure manifest in its Victorian modesty wherein mothers are silenced during their “confinement” and after birth. An abandoned baby in an alley is a useful prop for buttressing Infinite Jest’s central theme of the power and damage of addiction; but the social discourse by which Ruth is judged, sentenced, removed from her life to be enclosed within in a rehabilitation facility is also representative of a hegemony in which authoritarian figures determine the fit-ness of a parent. The ways in which this authority winds itself into the lives of parents is felt viscerally, for when they hear mention of “the Commonwealth’s infamous Department of Social Services…alcoholic moms all over the hall cross themselves and shudder at the mere mention of D.S.S., every addicted parent’s worst nightmare” (377). The society about which the novel is written actively draws boundaries around “proper” parenting.

The novel shows a steady stream of damaged, violent, and addicted parenting choices reproduced and portentous for the future. An interrogation into whether the text serves to accept or reject the power of the state to monitor, adjudicate, and incarcerate parents for their actions regarding the welfare of their children suggests that, which Infinite Jest notes addiction’s effects on children by their potential for reproducing or terminating addictive cycles, the ONANian government heeds pregnancy and birth with a vigilance that seems to posit in pregnancy a revolutionary potential to upend social structure.

The tendency of IJ’s narrator to gloss over pregnancy and birth in a modest, almost Victorian averting of eyes (even while using pregnancy as a morality prop for the disturbing effects of addition) screeches to a halt in the unblinking gaze turned upon a disturbing tale of stillbirth. The narrator relates the experience of listening to an AA-meeting speaker (doesn’t actually give her a voice, but summarizes her speech for the reader) as she discusses her pregnancy, labor, and delivery. “A round pink girl with no eyelashes at all and a ‘base-head’s ruined teeth, gets up there and speaks…about being pregnant at twenty and smoking Eightballs of freebase cocaine like a fiend all through her pregnancy, even though she knew it was bad for the baby and wanted desperately to quit” (376). The narrator tells for her of the low point in which “she did what she had to do to get high…even while pregnant” (376) and through labor. Her birth story offers an unusual glimpse at a highly medicated homebirth, the suggesting that she should have been highly medicated under the watchful expertise of hospital personnel rather than self-medicating. And likening her to a cow because she labored and birthed at home privileges the medicalizing discourse of human birth as unnatural event that requires so-called experts.

After eight months of substance use, the nameless and voiceless woman delivers an infant who “emerged all dry and hard like a constipated turdlet, with no protective moisture and no afterbirth-moisture following it out,” (376). The horror here is in Kristevan terms of waste, openness, and general excreting, with particular attention to the lack of blood, viscera, and fluid. This “turdlet” birth telegraphs the substance-toxic dessication of potential, which “makes things all the worse for the empathetic White Flaggers, since it engages the dark imaginations all Substance-abusers share in surplus” (377). This fetal body whose death precedes birth, and whose dry expulsion and decomposition invert Tony Krause’s wetly excretory substance toxicity, recall Houser’s argument that Wallace uses disgust to elicit “conflicting desires to attend to and turn away from the repulsive” (Houser 136). The AA audience hears “how the emerged infant was tiny and dry and all withered and the color of strong tea, and dead, and also had no face, had in utero developed no eyes or nostrils and just a little lipless hyphen of a mouth” (376). The narrator chooses not to relate the mother’s name, and her anonymity plus the infant’s facelessness serve to make them universally identifiable, as the audience and reader can project anyone into the narrative of both woman and infant, damager and damaged.

The AA-narrative appearance of this dead baby is the first birth in which readers witness an emerging infant[4].  The AA-speaker tells of labor and of birth, of amniotic details  and impacted placenta. All the other pregnancies in Infinite Jest to this point have been tangentially referenced, given only a line or two to show how families’ choices are reproduced lterally and figuratively. The AA story is also the text’s first fetal death and extensive, intricate decomposition. Minogue and Palmer note that the Bahktinian “view of death as continuing re-birth…hides its face from the stark actuality of dead babies” (103). The narrator and the AA group do not hide their faces, however, but “listened without blinking, looking not just at the speaker’s face but into it,” having to “consciously try to remember even to blink as they watch her, listening” (IJ 378). The cocaine-dessicated baby “is the antithesis of a carnivalesque birth in which the mother’s corpse nourishes the soul while the baby arises as one part of the communal body. The baby is dead and the mother survives in isolation” (Minogue and Palmer 106). The AA speaker’s dead baby inverts expectation and in so doing, reminds us of the social structure the department of social services attempts to reify: mothers should nurture babies, not addiction.

In turning to AA with her story, this woman moves toward nurturing herself rather than the spider of addiction. Boswell argues that the addicted woman has actually given birth to herself by leaving substance behind (Boswell 179), but since Gately tells the woman’s story via the narrator, appropriating for himself the rebirth out of addiction that Boswell reads in the novel’s final scenes, the mother-speaker is object not subject, her voice and gestation co-opted for another character and the novel itself.

A parallel infant, born of dessicated uterus and gestated insufficiently, lives one of the novel’s most visible lives. Avril Incandenza’s second son is born without an apparent pregnancy. “The tall and eye-poppingly curvaceous Avril Incandenza did not show, bled like clockwork; no hemorrhoids or gland-static; no pica; affect and appetite normal; she threw up some mornings but who didn’t in those days?” (IJ 312). One could argue that, if the narrator would allow Avril to narrate her own pregnancy, there might be a different version of Mario’s gestation and birth lacking in surprise. In fact, the two alleged mysteries of Mario’s birth—his existence and his paternity—were likely not shocks to Avril. Keeping from her the authorial role of voicing her own story, the text heightens her secret involvements in an intense relationship with her stepbrother, home country, and student, making her second pregnancy akin to C.T.’s mothers in that mysteriously narrated births heighten the mystery of their circumstances. This pregnancy, then, like so many others, serves a text that co-opts pregnant bodies to its narrative purposes.

Whether Mario’s gestation was a surprise to Avril or not, it was remarkably unsuccessful. Mario is born extensively deformed, of a Tucson-desert-like womb, of allegedly questionable paternity and maternity. When doctors find Mario clinging to the walls of her uterus, adhered there like a years’ neglected holiday decoration, “he had to be more or less scraped out, Mario, like the meat of an oyster from a womb to whose sides he’d been found spiderishly clinging, tiny and unobtrusive, attached by cords of sinew at both feet and a hand” (313). The AA-cautionary-tale dead infant born several pages later has some of the same characteristics, in that “its limbs were malformed and arachnodactylic, and there had been some sort of translucent reptilian like webbing between its mucronate digits” (IJ 376) But in Avril’s pregnancy, Mario’s growth does not cause the encroachment into identity or deformation of physical self that make scholars like Elizabeth Grosz view the abjection of pregnancy as “blurring yet producing one identity and another” (qtd. in Finnegan 1010). Unlike the AA story, in which the mother says she knew she was pregnant, Avril’s pregnancy itself is unobtrusive, unannounced, and externally unexpected. And unlike the AA stillbirth, Mario is remarkably alive. He is damaged but thrives, perhaps because his life in utero was substance-free, perhaps in spite of toxicity, or perhaps because of wealth and privilege that mark the most significant differences between the tennis academy’s grammarian and the addicted Southie prostitute.

Mario’s brother Hal believes, “God-type issues aside, Mario is a (semi-) walking miracle” (IJ 316) because his differences mark the extreme example in a novel of deformed bodies. For all of his physical deformities, Boswell argues that Mario is “the one truly human figure in the novel” (158). If humans are, at their core, flawless but shackled to their fallible bodies, this is true. More likely, Mario’s so-called “surprise birth” (953) functions as a postmodern inverse deity to Virgin birth: if Christ’s paternity is divine Spirit and conception is miraculous, Mario’s paternity is unknown[5] and conception is untraceable. If Mary is a vessel, empty and awaiting the growth of a child god, Avril is also a vessel, to whose hull the barnacle Mario adheres and travels to his birth destination despite the basic inhospitality of the ship in question.[6]

Mario’s deformities are echoed in another pregnancy invisible to most in the novel.  In Infinite Jest’s geopolitical dystopia, an American poisoned region of annular fecundity and toxicity is forced upon Canada: a section of the Northeastern United States is cartographically redrawn as Canadian and then subject to frequent catapulting of nuclear waste, a process Elizabeth Freudenthal calls, “a domestic drama inscribed in patriarchal terms of manifest destiny” (Anti-Interiority 199). Like the polluted womb of the freebase mother---a reproductive site interrupted by toxic substances--- Infinite Jest’s mythic annular region in what used to be the Northeastern United States chokes off growth with toxic substances then blooms with fecundity as the waste obliterates everything and wipes the slate clean for new growth. In renaming the U.S.-Canadian-Mexican political union O.N.A.N., however, the U.S. isn’t spilling its masturbatory wastes, but rather foisting them upon Canada to render that nation Abject. The resulting convexity is not so much  “reconfigured” as co-opted for gestation of O.N.A.N. waste, which serves the fictional Johnny Gentle’s goal of uniting Americans “in opposition to ‘some cohesion-renewing Other’” (Boswell 124). For what is more abject than a maternal body gestating unwanted wastes?

Once the U.S. removes itself from this region, walling off and aiming giant fans at what is abject and Other, the debate over naming this abjection ensues. Dominant power lies with the patriarchy, but there is resistance from the impregnated state. Alain, the Canadian film scholar refers to the Convexity in a discussion of  how, “filth by its nature it is a thing that is always creeping back” (233). His disdain for the filth catapulted upon his home, and implied threat that it will come back to haunt the U.S.  foreshadows the resistance’s efforts to punish American excesses with the deadly film known only as The Entertainment. The filth that comes creeping back is not just the nuclear waste, but consumerism, entertainment culture, and narcissim.

When his interlocutor corrects Alain’s naming of the disputed region, the latter bristles. “‘I meant Convexity. I know what is the thing I meant….Convexity.’



‘Concavity damn your eyes!’” (233). Despite this accusation of failed vision in an absence vs. bulging debate, the difference lies not in sight but in discomfort and embodiment. Identification with the bulging cartography frames each experience differently. U.S. residents, distancing themselves from the expatriated toxicity see their nation as now bereft. Missing something. Lacking.Concave. Canadians, on the other hand, feel their sovereignty has been violated  and borders distended around a toxic, cyclically fertile and barren bulge. An unwanted growth. Convex.

David Hering posits an elegant argument in which he elucidates triangular ideations in the text as intentional representations of a sierpinski gasket. He argues that the reconfigured annual region “is significant thematically, as it conflates a delineated outline of a triangle with the image of a cycle” (Hering 93). But a graphic representation of the experialist area of O.N.A.N. in a map meticulously drawn by William Beutler shows a remarkably fetal shape in the area forced upon Canada by a masturbatory O.N.A.N[7]. The circular cycle, then, is represented by a maternal roundness and shape of an eight-week fetus.

[text has unaltered image of William Beutler's Infinite Atlas map, in which the Great Concavity looks remarkably like a fetus. See]

Used with permission. Infinite Atlas is licensed by William Beutler under a Creative Commons Attribution License


In the folklore of post-reconfiguration North America, giant feral infants roam this disputed region between Canada and the United States, materializing the gestating waste into embodied, abandoned, damaged and toxic babies. Just before the toxic flinging began, residents fled, and rumors abound in the text about babies left behind and made supernaturally large by subsequent aerial assaults of toxic waste, and about nuclear-energized and reanimated aborted fetuses roaming the area. The typically malapropistic yrstruly relates the urban myths that within the toxic reconfigured region exist:

infants the size of prehistoric beasts roaming the overfertilized east Concavity quadrants, leaving enormous scat-piles and keening for the abortive parents who’d left or lost them in the general geopolitical shuffle of mass migration and really fast packing, or, as some of your more Limbaugh-era-type cultists sharingly believe, originating from abortions hastily disposed of in barrels in ditches that got breached and mixed ghastly contents with other barrels that reanimated the abortive feti and brought them to a kind of repelsive oversized B-cartridge life (IJ 562).


The absentee patriarch of this nursery of feral infants and abortive feti, unlike Ruth van Cleve, is not reprimanded by social services. The hegemonic structures that punish postpardum women who abandon their babies do not apply to masturbatory nation-states that abandon their waste in another, now bulging, geopolitical body. Unlike the self-reborn but silent addict who sees responsibility in the dessicated stillborn, The United States seems not to notice, “what still clung by a withered cord” nor the implied “business-end of the arrow of responsibility” (IJ 374). In fact, the increasingly frequent need to catapult more waste, to reconfigure a geopolitical body with increasingly large injections of toxic substances, shows the U.S. addiction to masturbatory consumptions fully within the realm of compulsion. Freudenthal notes that this “compulsiveness is specifically gendered, an ‘annular agnation’—a cyclical, exclusively male lineage—of political power” (199). Reproduction here of deadly levels of consumption aligns with the other pregnancies in the novel as caution against addiction.

The Canadian Convexity may be a polluted uterus, but unlike the other wombs in Infinite Jest, the Convexity is not inflicting self- and infant-harm with substances; rather, toxins are foisted upon that sovereign body by another. Shooting waste into an unwilling Canada foments moral disgust about American wasteful, selfish, narcissistic addictions, rendering the toxic region successfully abject as part of the now-deformed Other.  The “U.S.A.’s Experialistic ‘gift’ … constituted an intolerable blow to Canadian sovereignty, honor, and hygiene” (59). much like the textual pregnancies Nuala Finnegan reads as a violation to the mothers’ sovereignty, wherein “the woman features as invaded territory sheltering the monster foetus” (1010). In such a reading, the Convexity is not only violated and hideous, but also represetns the systematic geopolitical subjugation of a nation and culture that renders it impotent, lacking a voice about its own borders and physical future. Canada is forced to unwillingly reproduce the U.S.’s monstrous and wasteful narcissism, bulging with unwanted American wastes yet unable to control the gestation, termination, or birth of this hideous growth, subject to a political union that bars self-determination and choice. Canada is subject to what Hering calls “physical subjugation”, and thus victim of a patriarchy that redraws Canada as a captive body, co-opted into forced reproduction. Its silence and subjugation is sacrificed to the same textual purposes as the other maternities of the novel.

In a text of silent and passive pregnancies, Canada represents the one acknowledged convexity that vocally and violently rejects its bulge. And though Canada has no political right, because of the O.N.A.N. forced geopolitical marriage, to choose whether or not to reproduce U.S. waste, Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents seek to reclaim autonomy, agency, and bodily sovereignty for Canada[8]. The AFR, then, might be read as vigilantes for reproductive choice, cartographic intactivism, and self-determinism. The textual impetus for the Quebecois assassin endeavors rises concomitant with the monstrous fetus of Canada’s Convexity: it is because of the bulge that Infinite Jest characters “hear the squeak” (1034) of murderous, damaged Quebequois separatists. The rise of damaged male bodies in defense of a cartographic pregnant body could be read as paternalism wherein men seek to avenge a nation raped and impregated by a lecherous neighbor. But insisting on bodily sovereignty is an essential characteristic of humanity, not gender.

More productive than this preliminary revenge narrative is a reading of the unification of damaged bodies against a common patriarchal foe. Their use of brooms in Antitoi Entertainment offers a horrifyingly grotesque unification of domestic and phallic that, for our purposes, successfully navigates the multigendered space between two biological extremes, placing the wheelchair assassins somewhere beyond gender and subverting assumptions about the relative powerlessness of atypical bodies. The AFR’s concommittant resistances to gender and power norms, borne of a unity of purpose from being externally altered, locates the possibility of revolution within embodied abjection. And in this aim, pregnant bodies fulfill both Kristevan and Butlerian definitions of atypical, altered, and horrifying in the reminder of expulsion and death. The bulge becomes a site of resistance and power, so that, rather than reproducing the U.S. addictions, the Convexity pregnancy begets a new disruption of prescriptive ideologies.

The Quebecois separatists harness pregnancy rather than seeking to terminate it. They use the film Infinite Jest to render inarticulate and helpless its victims—to infantilize the culture that has subjugated Canada and befouled Quebec—rather than fighting to remove the “hugely convex protective walls of anodized Lucite [that] hold back the drooling and piss-colored tetragenic Concavity clouds” (92-3) to let the filth creep back (233). They fight, not to castrate the patriarch, and not to abort the growth, but to use the power of maternity to exorcise the source of Quebec’s ecological catastrophe. The film-as-weapon is largely unknown to the novel’s narrator, but most evidence suggests the deadly Entertainment features a pregnant-looking woman resolving heightened, Freudian mother-child issues.

People performing an intentional resistance to social injustice by holding up a mirror to a wastefully addicted nation in order to render it powerless, are the sort of revolutionary, non-gendered bodies that Butler suggests will unravel the gender binary. And the tool they use to recapture their voice, agency, and power reinvests pregnancy with the agency that few of Infinite Jest’s textual gestations are allowed.  We know through limited and unreliable narration by Joelle van Dyne and Molly Notkin that at least part of the mortally compelling film Infinite Jest around which the novel’s plot spirals recreates the experience of being infantile and having a still-pregnant mother apologize incessantly (940). Filmmaker James Incandenza had a wife who’d been through three pregnancies, and might therefore have been filming a pregnant-looking woman apologizing to a newborn because he knew postpardum bodies still closely resemble pregnant bodies. More likely, though, he was creating a creative space in which the implied newborn viewer, seeinh a pregnant mother figure, is somehow to know that the full uterus in question is, in fact, still gestating the viewer. That the hypnotically deadly film is so compelling because it creates a liminal space in which the viewer exists as both inhabiting and wanting to reclaim its womb-home. This fantasy of returning to infancy, and, in fact, of returning to the womb, as well—being both post-birth and still gestating, external enough to see and hear mother, and yet not quite distinct— in the Lacanian pre-verbal, pre-mirror-stage, represents a wholeness that Lacan alleges all humans seek. This wholeness, then, what Boswell calls “a return to…maternal plentitude” (131), a state in which bodily and psychological damage are erased, incapacitates and infantilizes viewers, robbing them of their power by sating their desires.  This is particularly important in a text wherein maternal desires take precedent over fetal needs, the lesson readers have seen repeatedly in the silenced, powerless pregnancies throughout the text. The film’s maternal apology, then, mitigates the reproduced damage of toxic parental choices, and eases birth’s introduction into a seriously damaged society. It gives an authorial voice to the long-silent mother, asking it to fulfill the child’s needs rather than maternal needs in seeking forgiveness for, one would assume, ever letting the child enter such a dreadful world.

. The weapon with which the AFR seek to terminate the U.S.’s addictive cycles uses maternal power to assuage the cruelty of birth.  Fighting for the subjectivity of their mother country using the unadulterated power of a prepardum and postpardum mother, the vigilante group embraces abjection to break the hold patriarchy has over the narrative. This revolutionary use of filmic maternity to fix damaged culture further suggests that those at the top of society (white tennis academy’s headmaster and auteur ) and bottom of society (cult of damaged men and addicted women) work together to cease the reproduction of American waste, addictions, and paternalism.

And if maternal voice can change a fatally addicted culture, Infinite Jest’s “mother-death cosmology” (IJ 229)  predicts that being rendered insentient and incoherent by The Entertainment’s maternal apology means rebirth will proceed from the terminus of the novel undamaged and whole. Like Gately, we are lying on the beach with the tide way out, facing a new culture of our own making that transcends patterns of reproduction to beget a conscious and thoughtful society.



[1] The other direct address of the reader by a female character is Avril’s narration via an endnoted letter to Orin, the placement of which argues that maybe even this brief voice is shelved, silenced, and relegated to a whisper in the end papers of the text.

[2] Extensive discussion on Birth of the Clinic framing the moralistic then medical discourse on alcohol use shorthanded here; for more extensive argument see Foucault.

[3] The account technically might be sixth-hand, if C.T. or Avril heard the story from their father. Either way, C.T.’s mother is several times removed from the reader and from ownership of her own story.

[4] Recall that Mario is scraped out by medical staff, in contrast to this dessicated homebirth.

[5] Though arguments have been made that either James Incandenza or Charles Tavis are the most plausible fathers, Hal notes that, while he looks like his father and Orin looks like Avril, “Hal’s next-oldest brother Mario doesn’t seem to resemble much of anyone they know” (101) and is therefore open to any paternal claims.

[6] N.B. that Mario transfers vessels after birth, for “he and his late father had been, no pun intended, inseparable” (314).

[7] This visual, incidentally, could offer a medical argument that the Canadian pregnancy is marked by placenta previa, a dangerous condition that might be deadly for Quebec, the fetal region, or both.

[8] “The AFR’s stated aims being nothing less total than the total return of all Reconfigured territories to American administration, the cessation of all E.W.D. airborne waste displacement and ATHSCME rotary air mass displacement activity within 175 kilometers of Canadian soil, the removal of all fission/waste/fusion annulars north of the 42 N/ Parallel, and the secession of Canada in toto from the Organization of North American Nations” (IJ 1056)


Works Cited

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