As this series has previously established, the borders of fictional Enfield, Massachusetts are nearly impossible to define with certainty, and the description of St. John’s Seminary—one of the myriad “spiritual facilities” said to inhabit the area—does nothing to clarify things. The novel’s early chapter describing Enfield makes reference to
…the combined St. John’s Seminary and offices for the RCC’s Boston Archdiocese (partly in Upper Brighton; neither half taxed)…
and the non-parenthetical description seems to be accurate enough for the time it was written. St. John’s Seminary is real (see first two photos above) and while the Boston Archodiocese is today located in Braintree, St. John’s own website confirms, when David Foster Wallace lived in the area, the “RCC” was here.
But the second part is complicated by the undefined designation of “Upper Brighton,” which, like “East Newton,” seems to be a Wallace invention. If “Upper Brighton” means “of higher elevation” then it’s at least internally consistent, so far as I can determine. Asking where Enfield ends and Brighton begins is like contemplating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or what happens in the last year of Subsidized Time before Hal’s enrollment interview in Year of Glad.
St. John’s Seminary is a minor location in Infinite Jest, but a major turning point in the life of E.T.A. trainer Barry Loach. In the St. John’s dormitories, Barry spends days on end “trying to pitch playing cards into a wastebasket” and avoiding classes as he loses interest in “all Jesuitical endeavors” and “whatever spark of inspired faith he’d had in the higher possibilities and perfectibility of man.” We’ll discuss where Loach ends up in a later installment, but in this passage from the novel’s final pages we learn a bit more about St. John’s itself, namely that it is
…right near Enfield Tennis Academy, coincidentally, on Foster Street in Brighton off Comm. Ave., right by the Archdiocese H.Q. or whatever…
This is wrong, insofar as the entrance to St. John’s Seminary is on Lake Street, not Foster. But the entrance to St. Clement’s Hall (the third photo) is on Foster, and the two share a connecting road, so make of that what you will. And Wallace’s overly generous “or whatever” suggests that we should not make too much of it, lest we arrive at a “misanthropical spiritual ledge” just like poor Barry Loach.