A Question of Less Talent Than Temperament

Vertiginously sequestered, their Bröckengespensted shadows distending and returning, monstrously, far below, Remy Marathe and Hugh/Helen Steeply’s double-/triple-/quadruple-crossing, mutually quasi-interrogative (maybe) and (definitely, very) discursive conversation seems outside of time, somehow.

Time is, of course, relative; and Wallace achieves this sense of timelessness (partly) by contrasting S&M’s (how can I not call them that? It’s worth it just for the effect it’ll have on search results) suspended night against the way the book’s section’s other scenes jump, latter season Lost­-like, from date to date, period to period.

But a text is not a self-contained thing. It has to be read, and in being read is reshaped. Our experience of time in Infinite Jest is also relative to our experience of time outside it.

With Infinite Winter’s brisk elevenish pages a day pace, that means that S&M’s night over the desert distends to more like a week. At just one page per day – my pace for Drawing on the Infinite – what we’ve read so far of this conversation was spread over 40 days.

I think these scenes can be challenging enough at our Infinite Winter pace, but when you read as slowly as I do for my drawing project (or Jenni does for Erasing Infinite), knowing how far these scenes stretch out in front of you – in days and in weeks – puts you in a very strange headspace.

When I was just one month into Drawing on the Infinite, I wrote that the project was not quite about drawing and not quite about reading, but the two working somehow in tandem. And I didn’t quite know how at that point.

The same stretch of pages we’ve just read last week – including Steeply & Marathe, including Kate Gompert, the locker room scene, the Big Buddies – saw me start to peek over that wall of understanding and hop some of my own reading and drawing plateaus (plateaux).

I want to share a couple of photos that, I hope, will illustrate what I mean.

Katherine Gompert was the first character whose head I truly got into, drawing-wise. Wallace renders her depression so acutely (there are some striking parallels w/ his early and quite autobiographical The Planet Trillaphon as it Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing) that it’s almost impossible to not to feel it right along with her. This is the first time I feel like I really succeeded in capturing a character’s emotion, but she still seems kinda 2-D.

73/1079 "It's like horror more than sadness. It's more like horror."
73/1079 “It’s like horror more than sadness. It’s more like horror.”

In stark contrast, it’s not easy to even know what Steeply & Marathe are thinking and feeling at any time. If your whole aim is to depict how they’re feeling, this can pose a bit of a challenge. Here’s how I saw Marathe throughout his talk with Steeply (you can probably tell I read a couple of “How to Construct Head” tutorials around this time).

"Marathe's eyes looked nearly closed."
“Marathe’s eyes looked nearly closed.”

When (I confess) I had drawn, alternately, Marathe and Steeply as many times as I felt I was able, I started to focus on the line work and slightly more abstract style I had begun experimenting with around the time of the “TE OCCIDERE POSSUNT SED TE EDERE NON POSSUNT NEFAS EST” drawing. The little accountant’s ledger, for soberly deciding what to love, was drawn the morning after my son was born.

108/1079 "You sit down with your little accountant's ledger and soberly decide what to love?"
108/1079 “You sit down with your little accountant’s ledger and soberly decide what to love?”

To this day, Steeply’s hand (!) is one of my favourite drawings, and possibly the one I’m still proudest of. Not least because it’s a drawing of a hand (!), but because the narrow anatomical focus let me get past Marathe’s perception of Steeply’s “grotesque” disguise and capture something about this (in my opinion) sad, Self-sacrificing (capital intended) and probably fairly lonely man.

"Steeply flicked some ashes from his cigarette with a coarse thumb-gesture that was not yet feminine."
“Steeply flicked some ashes from his cigarette with a coarse thumb-gesture that was not yet feminine.”

My opinion: this last picture shows some decent line work (certainly a lot more confidence than the pictures in last week’s post), better construction and three-dimensionness (I’m sure real artists have a real word for this) and some pretty good character insight; but I need to qualify this with a stronger opinion.

I don’t think I have any particular talent for drawing – it’s just (as Chu says Wayne says) a question of less talent than temperament. If I had to break up my drawings so far into three phases (like J.O.I.’s film career divides into three clear phases), I’d do it like this:

  • P3-73: slog

  • P74-127: progress (I)

  • P128-186: plateau (I)

And, yeah, I’d say that plateauing is frustrating, and humbling and everything that Chu says Wayne says it is. But rereading these pages reminds me that only by hanging in, being patient and putting in the practice will I get to see progress (II).

One way my project has evolved since the beginning of phase 3 is the occasional use of watercolour, so to end this week’s post I have a reissue of page 122’s – and I think maybe Corrie’s favourite – drawing (now in glorious colour!) from a scene whose tenderness I didn’t notice till I read and drew it one page at a time.

122/1079 "a Husky VI-brand telescoping tripod, new and dully silvery-looking and set up on its three legs, right in the middle of the thicket."
122/1079 “a Husky VI-brand telescoping tripod, new and dully silvery-looking and set up on its three legs, right in the middle of the thicket.”
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4 thoughts on “A Question of Less Talent Than Temperament”

  1. Scope the variation of greens in that thicket! Thanks for taking the time to link some of your drawings to what was happening in your life at the time you made the drawings.

    I think I may have already said this, but your drawing ritual reminds me that a paper ritual is one of the best ways to see time. I always remember a woman in one of my literature classes describing that she had ten years recorded in a day journal and a dream journal. I still think of that type of record as one of the most valuable things. Things that would be impossible to create without the experience of time…

    Tried to figure out what the key is to the first tripod drawing–for me, I think it really may be the amount of space, or the ring of ground space that occupies the space between the tree line and the drawn circle around the tripod.

    1. Cheers Corrie. We’ve talked about the time thing: it’s definitely ringing bells. What I’m finding weird is that as I re-read for Infinite Winter, the amount of time between readings is rapidly collapsing, page by page. It almost feels a little time-travelly.

  2. Thanks for sharing these, Nathan. I truly enjoy your drawings, and (as someone who also draws) I find it to be more about practice than talent, which I think you are finding as well. Hands are really difficult, and your drawing of Steeply’s (avec cigarette) is well done.

    Interesting to me that your Marathe ‘s head looks nothing like I picture him. I have this image of Marathe as having sort of Salman Rushdie’s face with glasses and long scraggly hair. Not sure where that came from or what actual descriptors I ignored in order to be able to conjure that Marathe, but there it is.

    And I really, really like the Husky VI tripod in the thicket. Watercolor’s something I still haven’t gotten my head around, and this picture of yours is wonderful.

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