What is Addiction’s True Purpose?

‘And so,’ she said, ‘but then I quit. And a couple of weeks after I’ve smoked a lot and finally stopped and quit and gone back to really living, after a couple of weeks this feeling always starts creeping in, just creeping in a little at the edges at first, like first thing in the morning when I get up, or waiting for the T to go home, after work, for supper. And I try to deny it, the feeling, ignore it, because I fear it more than anything.’

‘The feeling you’re describing, that starts creeping in.’

Kate Gompert finally took a real breath. ‘And then but no matter what I do it gets worse and worse, it’s there more and more, this filter drops down, and the feeling makes the fear of the feeling way worse, and after a couple weeks it’s there all the time, the feeling, and I’m totally inside it, I’m in it and everything has to pass through it to get in, and I don’t want to smoke any Bob, and I don’t want to work, or go out, or read, or watch TP, or go out, or stay in, or either do anything or not do anything, I don’t want anything except for the feeling to go away. But it doesn’t. Part of the feeling is being like willing to do anything to make it go away. Understand that. Anything. Do you understand? It’s not wanting to hurt myself it’s wanting to not hurt.’  ~ Infinite Jest, Pages 77-8


Nearly every character in Infinite Jest is addicted to something, whether it is drugs, alcohol, tennis, language, sex, etc. In this scene, we are introduced to Kate Gompert, a marijuana addict who had been admitted to the hospital for attempting suicide. The exchange quoted above nears the end of a conversation she has with a young resident to whom she explains her addiction, as well as the depression that accompanies it. Leading up to this particular passage, Kate waxes poetic about her love for the substance. Like many of the other characters, Kate is trying to quit her addiction. In this exchange, Kate talks about the effects of quitting, mainly the depression that follows.

Wallace focuses on the function of the substance in this passage. The drug serves a critical purpose. Kate refers to marijuana as “Bob Hope,” throughout her conversation with the doctor. This is a clever play on words because marijuana gives Kate hope. It is her escape from the pain. Marijuana, at its base, alters perception and mood as well as disrupts learning and memory. Kate is painfully aware of her hurt and agony—the pot serves as a numbing agent. When she says, “I fear it more than anything,” we see how Wallace is using addiction in this novel (77). This is addiction from the point-of-view of the addict. It, the depression and the Anhedonia that shadows it, is a level of mental pain and suffering that Kate cannot put into words. There is no way she could make someone understand what she is experiencing, so it grows and folds into itself. Kate’s marijuana addiction and lack of personal identity are so tightly intertwined that it is unclear which begets the other; her depression and addiction may have both physical and metaphysical components.

Fed up with her cycle of addiction, Kate concludes that she must either escape through death or resume order in her life. She is not seeking to fix her problems, just postpone it for another day; she turns to marijuana to fulfill her need for pleasure, which, in turn, takes away the pain—“part of the feeling is being like willing to do anything to make it go away” (78). This is made aware on a sentence level. As she talks about quitting, the sentences get longer and faster and sloppier (in speech, not his writing), like Kate’s desperation for the pain to cease and desist. She wants the pain to go away, but does not want to do anything to distract her from that pain, that depression, so she returns to her drug habits and the cycle starts all over again. This follows what we were talking about in class. Addiction is bred from a lack of social interaction. It stands in as a placeholder for a larger problem. At no point does Kate mention anyone else in her detox process. Without a distracter, a sponsor, she returns to her old habits with fixing the crux of the problem.

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2 Responses to What is Addiction’s True Purpose?

  1. dreamlapse says:

    Ah, you’re right. She doesn’t fix the crux of the problem, which is likely to be something like social interaction or the like. But how could she? The cycle seems so inescapable, and resistance seems futile. The addiction almost seems like its a part of her, and I think Wallace is trying to say that as well. It is so attached to her as a person. That would be the most painful thing of all, knowing that the addiction is a part of you, and not being able to remember yourself without an addiction. However, I disagree on the pot giving her hope. The name Bob Hope is, to me, ironic because it actually doesn’t give her hope. It seems to remove all hope by keeping her in the cycle, so the name almost mocks her because any hope that is generated from smoking the marijuana is false. The only hope she can gain from it is temporary escape from the pain she feels when she tried to stop using, and this is easily overshadowed by her craving for another hit and continuing self-hatred for repeating the cycle.

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  2. On more of a side-note, I’m surprised that no one has yet pursued the other angle of “Bob Hope,” that is, Bob Hope was a famous entertainer and comedian who was still alive and quite funny when Wallace wrote this novel.

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