In the first hundred pages of Infinite Jest, a number of dream sequences occur, at least two of which are directly related to the Enfield Tennis Academy. One of these dreams, which begins on page 61, is not in conjunction with a specific boy at the E.T.A–in fact, it is not clear who the narrator of this scene is. Rather, the dream is told in the second person, giving the reader the sensation that he or she is the one with the terrible nightmare. One aspect of this dream that is particularly interesting is that, while described as a nightmare, it’s not particularly frightening. The narrator describes a face in the floor of the dorm room on a student’s first night away from home; he describes how “all the time you’ve been scanning oh mother a face in the floor mother oh and your flashlight’s beam stabs jaggedly back for the overlooked face . . . a face in the floor there all the time but unfelt by all others and unseen by you until you knew just as you felt it didn’t belong” (62). While perhaps startling, the face in the floor seems more like a cheap Halloween trick than a frightening nightmare. The dream also has a universal quality to it, despite the extremely specific information given-the narrator claims that “you lie there, awake and almost twelve, believing with all your might” (63). Yet the use of the term “you” somehow fools me into feeling more connected and in tune with the dream (even though I’m not and never was a twelve year-old boy). This universality and seemingly unreasonable fear makes me think that the motif of a face in the floor is going to come up in Infinite Jest again-it seems too strangely emphasized here to have no further direction or connections later on.
Another dream sequence that interested me belongs to a specific player at the E.T.A: Hal. Beginning on page 67 (and very close to the other dream sequence, I’m now realizing), Hal describes a recurring dream that he has about a tennis competition. He states that “the whole thing is almost too involved to try to take in all at once. It’s simply huge. And it’s public. . . . we sort of play. But it’s all hypothetical, somehow. Even the â€˜we’ is theory: I never get quite to see the distant opponent, for all the apparatus of the game” (67-68). Interestingly, Hal discusses how “unpleasant” this dream is, and how it was “beginning to grind me down and to cause some slight deterioration in performance and rank” (67). In fact, to get past this recurring dream, Hal has to resort to drug use before bed in order to calm himself down enough to sleep through the night. But as with the last dream, this one is not at all frightening-it too seems somewhat comical and exaggerated, particularly given that the tennis court of the dream is “the size of a football field” (Ibid.). While this dream helps explain Hal’s penchant for pot, it seems less universally important and less likely to come up in the novel than does the other dream.
It seems as though in these two passages, Wallace is making some sort of a commentary on dreams, particularly ones that seem frightening but are really just exaggerations or have comical undertones. It is interesting that, although both dreams involve the E.T.A., only one actually involves tennis, and this is the dream that is much more specific to one member of the academy. Furthermore, both of the dreams are startlingly complex, more so than most dreams that are later remembered are. Perhaps this is just a testament to Wallace’s descriptions and attention to detail, or perhaps these details will somehow become important-either as they are now or transformed in some way-later in the novel.