Episode 12 of Ulysses is called “Cyclops,” and in the schematic outline of the book that Joyce produced for a few friends the “technic” (technique) of the episode is identified as gigantism. Everything here is extreme; it’s too much; it’s over the top. See for instance the introductory description of the Irish-nationalist pub-hanger known elsewhere in the episode simply as the Citizen:
The figure seated on a large boulder at the foot of a round tower was that of a broadshouldered deepchested stronglimbed frankeyed redhaired freelyfreckled shaggybearded widemouthed largenosed longheaded deepvoiced barekneed brawnyhanded hairylegged ruddyfaced sinewyarmed hero. From shoulder to shoulder he measured several ells and his rocklike mountainous knees were covered, as was likewise the rest of his body wherever visible, with a strong growth of tawny prickly hair in hue and toughness similar to the mountain gorse (Ulex Europeus). The widewinged nostrils, from which bristles of the same tawny hue projected, were of such capaciousness that within their cavernous obscurity the fieldlark might easily have lodged her nest. The eyes in which a tear and a smile strove ever for the mastery were of the dimensions of a goodsized cauliflower. A powerful current of warm breath issued at regular intervals from the profound cavity of his mouth while in rhythmic resonance the loud strong hale reverberations of his formidable heart thundered rumblingly causing the ground, the summit of the lofty tower and the still loftier walls of the cave to vibrate and tremble.
That’s one style taken too far, amplified unnaturally. Here’s another one, from the end of the episode, describing the consequences of the Citizen’s having thrown a biscuit tin at the departing Leopold Bloom:
The catastrophe was terrific and instantaneous in its effect. The observatory of Dunsink registered in all eleven shocks, all of the fifth grade of Mercalli’s scale, and there is no record extant of a similar seismic disturbance in our island since the earthquake of 1534, the year of the rebellion of Silken Thomas. The epicentre appears to have been that part of the metropolis which constitutes the Inn’s Quay ward and parish of Saint Michan covering a surface of fortyone acres, two roods and one square pole or perch. All the lordly residences in the vicinity of the palace of justice were demolished and that noble edifice itself, in which at the time of the catastrophe important legal debates were in progress, is literally a mass of ruins beneath which it is to be feared all the occupants have been buried alive. From the reports of eyewitnesses it transpires that the seismic waves were accompanied by a violent atmospheric perturbation of cyclonic character. An article of headgear since ascertained to belong to the much respected clerk of the crown and peace Mr George Fottrell and a silk umbrella with gold handle with the engraved initials, crest, coat of arms and house number of the erudite and worshipful chairman of quarter sessions sir Frederick Falkiner, recorder of Dublin, have been discovered by search parties in remote parts of the island respectively, the former on the third basaltic ridge of the giant’s causeway, the latter embedded to the extent of one foot three inches in the sandy beach of Holeopen bay near the old head of Kinsale. Other eyewitnesses depose that they observed an incandescent object of enormous proportions hurtling through the atmosphere at a terrifying velocity in a trajectory directed southwest by west. Messages of condolence and sympathy are being hourly received from all parts of the different continents and the sovereign pontiff has been graciously pleased to decree that a special missa pro defunctis shall be celebrated simultaneously by the ordinaries of each and every cathedral church of all the episcopal dioceses subject to the spiritual authority of the Holy See in suffrage of the souls of those faithful departed who have been so unexpectedly called away from our midst. The work of salvage, removal of débris, human remains etc has been entrusted to Messrs Michael Meade and Son, 159 Great Brunswick street, and Messrs T. and C. Martin, 77, 78, 79 and 80 North Wall, assisted by the men and officers of the Duke of Cornwall’s light infantry under the general supervision of H. R. H., rear admiral, the right honourable sir Hercules Hannibal Habeas Corpus Anderson, K. G., K. P., K. T., P. C., K. C. B., M. P, J. P., M. B., D. S. O., S. O. D., M. F. H., M. R. I. A., B. L., Mus. Doc., P. L. G., F. T. C. D., F. R. U. I., F. R. C. P. I. and F. R. C. S. I.
This episode occupies about forty pages in Ulysses, but Infinite Jest is a thousand-page exercise in gigantism. It’s impossible to tell how much of this is strictly intentional and how much is the effect of writerly indiscipline, but either way, I think it’s a problem. Most episodes (the sections of IJ, like those of Ulysses, are best described as episodes rather than chapters, I think) are approximately three times longer than they need to be: there are just too many words, phrases, and whole paragraphs that do nearly nothing to advance the narrative or deepen the characterizations or fill in the fictional world’s weave.Consider endnote 110, for instance, in which Hal Incandenza and his older brother Orin have a phone conversation about the causes and consequences of Québecois nationalism — a conversation that breaks off in mid-sentence. (Or maybe it’s just the endnote that does so.) The note is thousands of words long, but could communicate everything it needs to communicate at perhaps one-fourth the length, or less. And I can’t figure out any reason why this particular passage should be so long. A little earlier in the book there’s an also quite lengthy account of a few residents of Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House sitting around and doing not much in particular — arguments start and then stop, Don Gately (a former resident, now on staff) tries repeatedly to figure out what color the ceiling is . . . it seems pretty pointless, but pointlessness is the point. That is, the narration is mimetic of the experience of the residents: it, like their day, just rambles along without anything much in the way of pattern and coherence.So in that case the tendency towards gigantism is effective. But too often it isn’t. I am coming more and more to suspect that Infinite Jest would be a great book at half its current length. (And I will just add that the the mad-genius patriarch of the Incandenza family, the creator of Enfield Tennis Academy and maker of an astonishingly wide range of films — including the most powerful film of all, the Entertainment, also known as Infinite Jest — the fabulous artificer, you might call him, is James O. Incandenza, initials J.O.I., almost the French word joie, just as Joyce is almost the English word “joy.” Cf. the German Freud.)