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Slothrop and Orin

This isn’t likely to make too much sense if you haven’t read Infinite Jest, and it may also contain mild IJ spoilers. I offer it more as a set of idle observations than as any sort of thesis.

In David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, we meet womanizer Orin Incandenza, about whom I wrote the following a few years ago:

A bit more on Orin. His name can be switched around to “iron,” “noir,” and “orni,” which, this last, makes me think of ornithology. He plays football for the Cardinals and is actually made to don fake wings (I think) and like a jetpack and fly down onto the field earlier in the book. Then a bird falls out of the sky into his apartment’s pool (oddly reminiscent of the end of Barton Fink, starring John Turturro, whom I peg as a shoo-in for playing JOI and/or JOI’s father in a movie adaptation of Infinite Jest). Then, on page 294, we have Orin engaging Joelle “entirely through stylized repetitive motions,” making me think of the mating dances of birds.

Orin has a habit of tracing the infinity sign with his finger on the flanks of the girls he has bedded. Like Orin, Slothrop traces a mathematical sign as he sows his oats, though in his case, it’s a Poisson distribution scrawled over a map of London.

And like Orin, Slothrop is frequently associated with birds, especially in the pastoral section 1.4, in which he appears in the company of an owl, girls called Wrens, peacocks, and hummingbirds and in which he sports an erection (his “cock,” if we want to stretch the bird motif a bit) as a rocket explodes. This section also happens to deal pretty heavily in the contrast between the earth and the sky, a dichotomy the sky-bound but (if I recall correctly) acrophobic Orin also contemplates.

Both men sport a very special appendage, and both are subject to paranoia. As Orin begins to fear that he’s being followed and ultimately has his fears confirmed and culminating in his being taken prisoner, so Slothrop begins to feel as if he’s being watched, and as if his cubicle is a trap (early in 1.15). Also probably not significant but certainly attention-getting for me was the reference early in 1.15 to “Enfields” — a name whose singular form will resonate with readers of Wallace’s novel.

Unlike Orin, Slothrop at least writes nice letters home to his mother.

  1. March 11, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Laughed about the letters home. Ah, Avril. How misunderstood are ye…

    Seems to me that Orin would color code based on some performance detail or physical characteristic. Slothrop color codes based on his own mood that day.

    Orin seems to find either revenge or narcissistic wish fulfillment in sex. Slothrop seems to find pleasure not only in the act itself, but in the many splendored variety that is womanhood. He just seems to have a healthier, happier attitude toward sex.

    Infinite Winter once Tweeted “Orin = dickhead” which I feel is as pithy a representation as I’ve read. The correlate might be that “Slothrop = dick in his head and head in his dick”. Or something.

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