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.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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.