All posts by Mark Flanagan

The Expectation of Memory (and vice versa)

This is it – the final week of Infinite Winter. You’ve closed the covers and, likely as not, you’ve left these digs for greener pastures. I’m sure you’re probably not even reading this. But if you are, I want to use this space to talk a little bit about paratext.

Just kidding, Nathan.

Infinite Spring

I’m not going to talk about paratext, but what I’m also not going to do is answer the questions that are writhing around in your skulls now that Wallace has left us (and Don Gately) on a freezing beach with the tide way out. We all realize of course that this is still part of Gately’s flashback, that this scene occurred prior to a bunch of stuff we’ve recently read, that this is – in fact – Don Gately’s bottom. But where’s Hal? What happened when the AFR descended upon Enfield Tennis Academy? And how do we get from there to Hal, Gately, and John Wayne digging up James O. Incandenza’s skull? These are the big questions that I’m not going to address – mostly because I don’t have the answers. Not good ones anyway. So I think I’ll leave some of that work to my fellow guides and take just a moment to thank you, my fellow Infinite Winter participants.

Five months ago, when the idea for Infinite Winter slapped me irresistibly upside my own skull, I could envision how it might work, and I was energized by the ridiculously cool possibility of it all. Beginnings are like that – they’re positively brimming with possibility, with potential and energy (and potential energy). Endings are not like that. There is (oftentimes) satisfaction to an ending – the satisfaction of having seen a project through to its conclusion, of a job well done – but there is also distraction and other-direction as other projects and priorities fill the space left in the ending’s wake. That’s happening to me right now, as I’m sure it is to many of you.

So before we go, I want to tell you that I’m grateful to have made connections with many of you and to have had the benefit of your input along the way. Clearly my engagement with Infinite Jest this second time around has been off the charts, engagement-wise. With new insights and perspectives from similarly-engaged participants from around the world, with frequently mind-blowing daily posts from my fellow guides, and with my own self-inflicted weekly assignment – to keep up with the reading and contribute meaningfully to the discussion on this site, Infinite Winter has crashed straight through my initial expectations, leaving them tumbling chaotically in the rear-view mirror.

A handful of first-time IJ readers have expressed gratitude for Infinite Winter, without which they’ve told me they wouldn’t have read Infinite Jest. Again, I have to tip my hat to Matthew Baldwin and 2009’s Infinite Summer which, as you know, was the catalyst for my first reading. In his post yesterday, Matt Bucher pointed to the likelihood of future readings. Perhaps one of you will continue the cycle with another Infinite Summer, Winter, Spring or Fall in 2018 or 2020. It kind of seems likely. And I look forward to seeing you there.

Temporal Shift

I’m not finished. Armed with every readerly intention of closing the Infinite Jest covers today, I didn’t pull it off. I’ve got a whole slew of excuses as to why that is, but I’m guessing that you’re not particularly interested in hearing them. And who knows – maybe you’re not done either.

I’m close, though. I’m on page 963, and frankly I’m not sure how I feel about finishing. A little ambivalent, I’d say. As you know, I read Infinite Jest once before, and if I recall correctly, I wasn’t terribly satisfied with the ending. As I’m sure you know by now, this is not a book that gets wrapped up with a bow. Questions are left unanswered and, as we approach the finish line, new ones emerge.

For instance, in the opening Year of Glad pages of Infinite Jest, we find Hal thinking of he and Don Gately digging up JOI’s head while a masked John Wayne stands watch. But on page 934, we have a gun-shot and delerious Don Gately in his hospital bed wracked with feverish dreams containing accurate details about this future event and about Hal, who Gately has yet to meet:

He dreams he’s with a very sad kid and they’re in a graveyard digging some dead guy’s head up and it’s really important, like Continental-Emergency important…and the sad kid is trying to scream at Gately that the important thing was buried in the guy’s head and to divert the Continental Emergency to start digging the guy’s head up before it’s too late, but the kid moves his mouth but nothing comes out…

Of course, Wallace has slowly nudged our suspension of disbelief ever further so that now we’re Abiding with big Don Gately in his hospital bed while JOI’s wraith holds forth on the temporal shift between the world of the living and the dead while balancing an East Asian can of Coke on Gately’s forehead, and I’m quibbling over the alignment between dreams and (what might be perceived by Hal as) reality? I think not. In truth, I’m eating all of this up, loving the connective tissue emerging between different parts of the story.

Reading Gately’s backstory has been particularly fascinating. While reading the early bits about his childhood, I realized that a whole novel could be devoted to pre-YDAU Don Gately, as is the case with many of Infinite Jest‘s characters, and further that one of the reasons I love IJ so much is the intricacy with which Wallace has created these characters, the extent to which they are built out. Whether elaborated upon in the text or not, each one of their stories has the potential for an ancillary novel (Is there IJ fan fiction out there?).

More connective tissue: In the later bits of Gately’s story, I recognized Sixties Bob as the tie-dyed old man who, much earlier, traded the DMZ to the Antitois brothers, and (as a segueless aside) I looked on jaw agape as a mentally-buckling Ortho Stice, still not underestimating objects, stands on a chair betting Kyle Coyle that he can lift it into the air at the same time.

Of course agápe is just one of four Greek words for love, and I am nothing if not still very much in love with this book. I’m 20 pages away and a little anxious about the idea of it all coming to an end, so maybe I’m allowing a little temporal shift of my own to forestall that moment.

do-not-underestimate-objects

Chewing the Colloquial Fat

I had a bit of a scare last week.

You know how we all use two bookmarks while reading IJ – one for the main text and one for the endnotes? Well, I’ve been using a pen to mark my page in the main text. I write prodigiously in the margins, and this is how I’ve ensured not only having a pen, but having the particular Foray Needle Tip 0.7 mm blue ballpoint that I’ve enjoyed using throughout Infinite Winter (I’m on my second).

My endnotes bookmark is a folded sheet of 8.5 by 11 inch paper. Throughout Infinite Winter, Corrie, colorologist extraordinaire, has extolled the treasure-hunting virtues of finding something to track and collect in the text. So, early on, I found something that piqued my lexical interest. It’s a particular Wallacism I’m calling the “split idiom” and, since page 31, I’ve been collecting instances of this phenomenon on the folded sheet of paper I use as my endnotes bookmark. On Friday, I noticed that I had lost that bookmark.

It would be a bit strong to say that I panicked, but you can bet your in-it-for-the-long-haul Infinite Winter ass I was disappointed when, as my bus pulled into Denver’s Union Station and was putting IJ into my backpack, I discovered the sheet was gone. It had probably fallen out on the bus the previous day – I wasn’t sure how I’d lost it, but it was most assuredly gone. What would I do? I’d probably have to start over. Actually, I probably wasn’t going to start over, but it was a feeling of disappointment that I could relate to a previous experience I’d had.

A couple of years ago, we were exchanging houses with a family in England (We’ve found the house exchange phenomenon to be a practical route to enjoying long vacations in far-flung locales while far-flung families enjoy similar in our locale.). Shortly after arrival in the country, I found myself holding a £2 coin with a fantastic image of Charles Darwin and a chimpanzee looking squarely in each other’s eyes. How cool is that? I thought, resolving to take the coin or one like it home with me (a new and entirely different collection). But I quickly ended up spending the coin – probably on one of those delicious Cornish pasties you find at a tube stop stand – because it never occurred to me that the Darwin-chimp coin wasn’t the standard coin, but a complete and utter anomaly. We spent three weeks in England, and devoted as I was to finding another, I never did.

Come to think of it, that wasn’t a great analogy to what I went through with my endnotes bookmark, but it was disappointing all the same. On the bright side, I found the sheet of paper this weekend. Which brings me back to the topic at phraseological hand:

“Dad, I’ve got a duly scheduled challenge match with Schacht in like twelve minutes, wind at my downhill back or no.” [31]

Charles Tavis instituted the practice and calls it the Big Buddy System in the literature he sends new kids’ parents. So the parents can feel their kid’s not getting lost in the institutional shuffle. [98]

It was, finally, only the proud and haughty Quebecois who whinged, and the insurgent cells of Quebec who completely lost their political shit. [311]

Hal was confident Pemulis would remove the insouciant hat the minute they were called in on what was presumably going to be the carpet. [509]

R. Lenz lived by his wits out here, deeply disguised, on the amonymous streets of N. Cambridge and Somerville, never sleeping, ever moving, hiding in bright-lit and pubic plain sight, the last place They would think to find him. [717]

Plus he wouldn’t mind knowing what the fuck Thrust was thinking of, scaring Lenz off and letting him screw off into the urban night leaving Gately maybe holding the statutory bag. [821]

You get the idea. It appears to be something of a Wallace trademark, at least in Infinite Jest, where you can’t swing a dead issues-resolution type cat without hitting one of them. Awesome, right? I’ve collected close to 50 instances of this. And while treasured, prized, and mounted (with a data card and an insect pin through each one), I’d trade them all to you today for a single £2 coin.

Truth be told, I have to thank my wife, the found sheet of paper (and its location) springing to her clear and luminous mind when I told her what it was I was looking for and that I had wanted to share it with you guys. She suggested that perhaps I should have done so earlier, so that you could have treasure-hunted these little Easter eggs with me, as opposed to now when we’re about to come to a screeching end of the book halt. Which I agreed with her that I kind of screwed the Infinite Winter pooch on that one, but that, absent a time machine, this was all like water under the temporal bridge.

administrative-shoe

Of High Wattage Interviews and Y-Chromosomes

Like getting strapped to a Raytheon missile and you don’t stop till that missile stops, Jim. – page 708

I took a short break from IJ last week to read and write about a short work of nonfiction, so this weekend’s been a bit of a marathon dive back into Wallace’s world, and what a whirlwind it’s been!

First of all, let me reiterate (assuming that I’ve already iterated) that, despite the fact that I’ve already read Infinite Jest, it was just once, and it was seven years ago. And when it comes to textual retention over time, I’m no Hal Incandenza. In fact, I’m pretty much the opposite, and as such, I am surprised at every turn.

Last week’s reading felt like Wallace shifted the novel into high gear. Marathe and Kate Gompert? Marathe at Ennet House?! Hal at Ennet House! Pemulis! Wayne! I think I just got strapped to that Raytheon missile, Jim.

The Return of Molly Notkin

I was entranced throughout the interview of Molly Notkin by Rod (the God) Tine, Jr. and all the revelations contained within it about J.O.I. and J.vD., Avril, and Orin, though it did feel a bit artificial. As though Wallace had suddenly glanced at his watch, though wow, look at the time, and decided he needed to crank out a bunch of exposition in a hurry.

Also, I’m not sure I’m buying the description of the Entertainment Notkin gives on page 788. First of all, I just don’t want to. The mystery as to the nature of the lethal Entertainment has been provocative throughout. What could it possibly be? And to have that answered with this sort of banal idea of Joelle, naked and pregnant, getting all Madame Psychosis in a death cosmology rant? Uh-uh. Not buying it. I’m sorry, but it’s just not lethally entertaining enough for me. So for now, I’ll choose to believe that either Joelle lied to Notkin, or that Notkin is lying to Tine.

But here are a couple of questions for you.

If I’m not mistaken, Notkin is the first to come right out and mention the possibility that Avril’s “sexual enmeshments with just about everything with a Y-chromosome” may have included her own son, Orin. Have we talked about this yet?

Because, while I was formerly of the C.T. as the father of Mario camp, there is the possibility that it could, in fact, be Orin. Speculate.

Question numero deux surrounds this bit from page 790:

“…the little rotter of a son’s despicable abandonment of the relationship under the excuse of accusing Madame Psychosis of being sexually enmeshed with their — here Molly Notkin said that she of course had meant to say his — father, the Auteur.”

Whaaa?? Their father? I mean, there’s no shortage of incestuous insinuations throughout Infinite Jest, but I’m having a hard time parsing the implications of J.O.I. being father to both Orin and Joelle. So why the apparent slip-up on Notkin’s part?

molly-notkin-page-790

Hal and the Emotional Novocain

Mentioned just once earlier on in the novel (by Ken Erdedy), anhedonia comes up in a more focused and defined way in the 690s, and largely as it pertains to Hal.

Wallace characterizes anhedonia as melancholy, low-grade depression, spiritual torpor, and the loss of ability to enjoy formerly enjoyable things or activities. For anhedonics, “Objects become schemata. The world becomes a map of the world, An anhedonic can navigate but has no location.” [693]

Things gets specific about Hal on the following page, but the quotation above already has me thinking about Hal’s certain emotional numbness. It carries me back to that phone conversation in which he is describing to Orin his encounters with the grief therapist to whom he finds he is unable to “deliver the goods.” Hal, the consummate student, who has recently found his father’s map splattered via microwave all about the kitchen walls, is only able to approach his grief as another assignment. Is Hal emotionally bereft?

Hal himself hasn’t had a bona fide intensity-of-interior-life-type-emotion since he was tiny; he finds terms like joie and value to be like so many variables in rarified equations, and he can manipulate them will enough to satisfy everyone but himself that he’s in there, inside his own hull, as a human being – but in fact he’s far more robotic than John Wayne. [694]

Hal’s lack of affect has been apparent for some time, but a statement like the one above about lacking interior-life-type-emotions since he was tiny is something of a revelation, at least for me. I was under the impression that Hal’s disconnectedness came after Himself’s suicide. So the question is why? What separated Hal from his ability to feel at a very early age? Was it the DMZ, the substance, “even just the accidental synthesis of which sent the Sandoz chemist into early retirement and serious unblinking wall-watching…” [170]

And just how empty is Hal? We know that Schtitt calls Hal his revenant, indicating Hal’s comeback in tennis, but revenant also means “ghost.” Is Hal like a ghost? It’s a question that sends me page-flipping even further:

‘The Incster has the last word once again,’ says Struck. Which invites a chorus:
‘The Halster.’
‘Halorama.’
‘Halation.’
‘Halation,’ Rader says. ‘A halo-shaped exposure-pattern around light sources seen on chemical film at low speed.’

Halation. Also seems a bit ghostly. Spectral.

On a separate but related topic, Hal first started getting high at the age of 16 to help him sleep through a recurring nightmare in which he, night after night, found himself in a gargantuan tennis court with intricately convoluted white boundary lines “going every which way, and they run oblique or meet and form relationships and boxes and rivers and tributaries and systems inside systems…” In the dream, which used to wake him nightly, he never could make out who the distant opponent was. Bob Hope relieved him of this nightmare.

If I’m not mistaken, Hal’s off the Bob Hope since the Eschaton debacle and the unexpected urologist’s visit. How has the sudden withdrawal affected him? In the middle of the Randy Lenz / Bruce Green nighttime debacle, we shift to Hal lying in his bunk counting the breaths between the sequential appearances at his door of Jim Troeltsch, Michael Pemulis, and John Wayne. He doesn’t move, doesn’t go to lunch, counts breaths, tells Troeltsch he’s photosynthesizing.

Over 200 breaths later, John (‘N.R.’) Wayne opened up the ajar door a little more and put his whole head in and stayed like that, with just his head in. He didn’t say anything and Hal didn’t say anything, and they stayed like that for a while, and then Wayne’s head smoothly withdrew.

Hal photosynthesizing

I’d love to hear your take on Hal, his anhedonia/emotional numbness, or any of this.

Netflix is the Samizdat

As I sit down to type this week’s post, I feel somewhat compelled to write about addiction from a personal standpoint, i.e. my own struggles with Substances at a young age that led me early to choose abstinence from said Substances, and about parenting teenagers with that experience as my own personal backdrop and seeing myself in their addictive tendencies. Thankfully, my kids’ addictive tendencies are not in relation to Substances (yet) unless by “Substances,” we’re talking about sugar, in all its variant forms, which yeah, everyone in my household can raise a hand and Identify on that particular merry-go-round, but Entertainment – specifically, television. Even more specifically, Netflix.

My children are all prone to binge-watching Netflix. They consume whole seasons of Malcolm in the Middle, Arrow, Grey’s Anatomy, and Psych, and I suppose the question would be why, as parents, do we allow this to happen? Well, it’s not the whole picture. None of them (there are three) are evidently getting into the sort of trouble that I (or their mother) got into when we were their age; all of them are active in various extracurricular activities, mostly performing arts-related; and all of them seem to be well-adjusted vis-a-vis school and, moreover, life. But there is definitely an addictive element in their Netflix viewing that is becoming hyper-crystalized for me in the presence of Infinite Jest. In short, I have come to realize that Netflix is the samizdat.

Last night, our son came home late from seeing a local a capella group. It was around 11 p.m., and I had changed the Netflix password as a means by which to institute a little Netflix-free time. In this case, it was because he needed a little more structure around reading time. Five minutes of his begging for the password yielded nothing but advice on which books he might pick up and unwind with before he left, and my wife and I closed the night out with our noses buried in our books (mine coming in at roughly 2.5 pounds). So at least he acquiesced, right? Wrong.

Upon checking this morning’s email, I was smacked with a note from Apple thanking my son for signing up for a free iTunes Netflix subscription trial (to be auto-renewed at the regular monthly price on my credit card). The email was timestamped at 11:27 last night, indicating that he had left our bedroom and pretty quickly hustled a way around the controls that I was putting on his viewing time. Which, you got to hand it to him, is resourceful.

Now I’m not actually labeling my son a Netflix addict, though resourcefulness when it comes to one’s addiction is something of a hallmark. I’m just throwing it out there, because this particular challenge is what’s up for me today – the Netflix thing, but also just parenting in general. It’s hard. And more specifically, it’s difficult to know whether I’m making the right choices as a parent. This idea is fresh in my mind at the same time as Marlon Bain’s chilling invective (EN269) around “upscale and educated and talented and functional and white, patient and loving and supportive and concerned and involved in their children’s lives” kind of parents raising emotionally retarded, lethally self-indulgent, chronically depressed, borderline psychotic… and so on and so forth… kind of kids.

Obviously, we’re all trying to do the right thing when it comes to raising children – because we love our kids but also as sort of a biological imperative. We are biologically wired to give our kids the best shot at the best life possible in our attempt to ensure their success at, evolutionarily-speaking, finding a mate and making more kids who look a lot like us. Not to be overly clincial about it, but that’s pretty much the deal. So that every day, in addition to trying to be a good husband, son, friend, employee, there is perhaps a larger imperative in my mind to try to be a good dad, and there is a whole part of my brain that is daily self-assessing on that imperative. But the complexities of what that means as I muddle through the whole thing without any sort of manual whatsoever are hard to navigate given that it comes from my human fallibility and what’s certainly some amount of hardwired baggage from my own muddled-through upbringing, which incidentally, I believe, is some of what Infinite Jest is about.

endnote-269-infinite-jest

Pemulis looked like a hangover.

My favorite scene of last week’s reading takes place LATE P.M., MONDAY 9 NOVEMBER YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT, during which Michael Pemulis, “wearing the most insolent ensemble he could throw together,” – maroon paratrooper pants tucked into fuchsia socks with an orange fake-silk turtleneck and purple and tan-checked sport coat with his infamous yachting cap worn “with the bill bent up at a bumpkinish angle” – slinks through the Community & Administration Building in search of what we don’t know. Something.

After passing by Dr. Dolores Rusk’s office, from which issues the voices of Dr. Rusk and Ortho (“The Darkness”) Stice and some very foreshadowing type discussion of Oedipus and the “phallocentric reduction of the mother to an archetype of sexual function,” Pemulis takes a moment to consider Lateral Alice Moore’s desk. One thing we know, having already read the scene in which Hal, Axford, Pemulis, and Ann Kittenplan await judgement in that very same room, judgement for their behavior and/or lack thereof in the Eschaton debacle, is that Pemulis is justifiably concerned that he could be “denied a spot on the trip to Tucson’s WhataBurger, or worse.” So, knowing Pemulis, I figure he’s set out clandestinely on this particular night in search of anything that he can use to his advantage in the case against him. And he finds it.

Specifically, he finds Avril Incandenza and John (N.R.) Wayne in a compromising position.

John Wayne wore a football helmet and light shoulder pads and a Russell athletic supporter and socks and shoes and nothing else. He was down in the classic three-point stance of U.S. football. Inc’s incredibly tall and well-preserved mother Dr. Avril Incandenza wore a little green-and-white cheerleader’s outfit and had one of deLint’s big brass whistles hanging around her neck. She was blowing on the whistle, which appeared to be minus the little pellet because no whistling sound resulted. She was about two meters from Wayne, facing him, doing near-splits on the heavy shag, one arm up and pretending to blow the whistle while Wayne produced the classic low-register growling sounds of U.S. football. Pemulis made rather a show of pushing the bumpkin-billed yachting hat back to scratch his head, blinking. Mrs. Inc was the only one looking at him.

‘I probably won’t even waste everybody’s time asking if I’m interrupting,’ Pemulis said. (p. 552-53)

This scene is hilarious, enlightening, and appalling all at the same time. I am at once incredibly entertained and simultaneously mind-blown the Oedipal and incestuous implications of Avril playing football-themed erotic dress-up games with Wayne given the mommy issues that Orin displays in spades, which issues he works out on numerous Subjects with young children all over the Phoenix metropolitan area.

What’s more, I am unable to contain my glee, Pemulis fan as I am, at the Peemster striking solidly blackmailable gold here and delivering a flippant, scene-closing coup de grace:

‘I predict this’ll take about two minutes at most,’ Pemulis said, smiling.

Wow. The only thing that could be better would be if Pemulis had discovered the Dean of Academic Affairs in this compromising position PRIOR to being called upon the cerulean carpet for his Eschaton crimes. BUT WAIT! Turning back to the aforementioned Blue, Blue, Electric Blue scene (p. 508) in Tavis and Avril’s waiting room, we find that (via a bit of DFW temporal shuffling) the blue waiting room scene occurs on 10 NOVEMBER, meaning that Pemulis’ discovery of Avril and John Wayne occurred the night before. Which means that the Peemster, armed with and scanning a Pink2 printout of his defense (rhetorically crafted by Hal) would seem to have his discovery of the illicit Avril/Wayne affair in his back pocket as well. Sacrebleu!

And, to cap it off, during the blue waiting room scene we find WHO doing “diddle-prevention duty” with the young female students? That’s right, folks. Can you say ironical?

pemulis-hangover

This is Water

And so there’s Don Gately up at the podium at the Tough Shit But You Still Can’t Drink group spilling his early recovery guts about AA’s third step and specifically opining about his lack of any sort of clue (much less a large economy-size clue) as to the nature or even the existence of this personal Higher Power that AA has recommended he pray to. But pray he does. Morning and night, Don Gately ritualistically hits his knees as suggested, praying and meditating daily but still feeling as though he’s being denied access to the “Big spiritual Picture.” Despite his daily practice, Gately, as he admits to the TSBYSCD group, feels Nothing.

He says when he tries to pray he gets this like image in his mind’s eye of the brainwaves or whatever of his prayers going out and out, with nothing to stop them, going, going, radiating out into like space and outliving him and still going and never hitting Anything out there, much less Something with an ear. Much much less Something with an ear that could possibly give a rat’s ass.

And of course, upon revealing what he sees as a total deficiency on his part, this lack of spiritual understanding, this source of shame for Gately, he is roundly applauded and lauded and told to “for God’s sake Keep Coming.” After the meeting, Gately is surrounded by sober bikers, of which the TSBYSCD group appears to him to be mostly comprised of and about whom Gately “imagines these people polishing the hell out of their leather and like playing a lot of really precise pool.” And one of these is a biker named Robert F. (or Bob Death, according to the lapel of his leather vest), who asks Gately if he’s heard the one about the fish:

This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, ‘What the fuck is water?’ and swim away.

And the first time I read this, it about blew my mind, because I recalled Wallace having kicked off his 2005 Kenyon commencement speech with this tale, a speech in which Wallace reminds the graduating Kenyon students that they are able to choose what to think about, day in and day out, and he cautions these graduating Kenyon students to be conscious of the choices they make with their thinking, “because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Said another way, and with direct reference to recovering addict Don Gately, recovery (like life) is an inside job. The exact same circumstances (i.e.: the day-in, day-out routine drudgery Wallace illustrates in his Kenyon speech) can be perceived utterly differently by two individuals, one operating on a default setting of unconscious self-centeredness and the other consciously choosing how to think about circumstances and people who otherwise might seem to be obstacles in a universe that revolves around the thinker (See also: Louis CK’s bit about smart phones being a miracle).

Gately doesn’t see it because, as the fish parable implies, sometimes “the most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see,” but in his twice-daily practice of hitting his knees he is exercising honesty, humility, and gratitude; he is becoming other-centric in his thought; and he is slowly altering his world from the inside out. He doesn’t see it, but the TSBYSCD bikers see it in Gately, which is why they applaud him and tell him to

Keep coming back.

This is Water - David Foster Wallace

Do not underestimate objects!

Lyle perches in lotus position atop the towel dispenser for “nighttime’s gurtical tete-a-tete,” sucking the insides of his cheeks and listening intently to Ortho (“The Darkness” Stice) as he relates the severe case of nighttime somnambulism that involves not just his own personal movement but that of his bed, which moves (the bed) from its position against one wall in Stice’s room to “a whole nother wall” (How much do I love that he says a whole nother?!), a phenomenon on which Lyle’s advice to The Darkness is singular:

Do not leave objects out of account. The world, after all, which is radically old, is made up mostly of objects.

What exactly Lyle means by this however is unclear (to me, anyway). He’s got this sort of persperation-craving Buddhist thing going on, right? So I’m thinking the whole thing about not underestimating objects may tie into the Buddhist notion of attachment and freeing ourselves from attachment and craving (!!) and the like. Speaking of craving, when Lyle says objects, is he referring to the subjects of our varying addictions, or is he simply referring to our attachment to objects (and does this subject v. object notion bring up a whole nother kettle of fish)?

  • Hal’s one-hitter
  • Pemulis’ yachting cap (attached to Pemulis’ head)
  • Mario’s head-mounted Bolex (attached to Mario’s head)
  • Eric Clipperton’s Glock 17
  • Poor Tony’s feathered boa
  • Tiny Ewell’s laser chronometer
  • The fork embedded in Morris Hanley’s left hand

Objects matter. They take up space in our heads (!!) – I may not think of myself as an object-attachment type person, but I am. Though I work in the digital world, in my personal life, I am a bit of an analog (it’s the wrong word – pre-digital?) devotee. Having recently acquired a 1970s-era turntable, I spend entirely too many minutes flipping through the bargain bins of my local record store, minutes that I count on old Timex Expedition (analog) chronometer (which chronometer’s whereabouts I must be cognisant of at all times).

do not underestimate objects

In the first moments of each day, I gather my objects together – phone, wallet, said chronometer, laptop, Infinite Jest… not the ebook but the actual 6 x 2 x 9.2-inch book, which, when this post sees its digital dawn at 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, I will have crammed, with those other objects and an assortment of wearable objects, into a 10 x 16 x 24-inch carry-on object with which I will board a large and aerodynamic Boeing 737 object, the object of which will be to ferry me to another locale (home to the Bureau des Services sans Spécificité), filled with entirely different objects. And while I am often predisposed to mailing postcards, my transmissios  to you this week  will be digital. analogs (right word) of these objects that I will endeavor to not underestimate.

But back to my question about Lyle…?

A noise like the historical sum of all cafeteria accidents everywhere

Eschaton! Am I right? Let’s recap.

Otis P. Lord, Evan Ingersoll, Todd (‘Postal Weight’) Possalthwaite, and a handful of other little buddies, certainly not the least of which is the “suspiciously muscular” 12-year-old, Ann Kittenplan, descend upon a four court playing field to engage in a highly strategic, mathematics-rich, tennis-based game of global thermonuclear war largely perfected and oft game-mastered by Michael Pemulis who, on this cold Interdependence Day, keeps his tenuate-addled map on the spectator side of said playing field with Struck, Axford, Hal, and Jim Troeltsch, all “splayed on reticulate-mesh patio chairs in street clothes,” from which they ingest substances and observe the action of the younger players, Troeltsch calling the action into a disconnected headset.

infinite jest p338

I am of course jaw-dropped at Wallace’s pages upon pages of armegeddon-infused game theory, complete with math and references relevant to the political realities at the time of Infinite Jest’s writing. “SOVWAR’s bald and port-wine-stained premier calls AMNAT’s wattle-chinned president on the Hot Line and asks him if he’s got Prince Albert in a can.”

But it’s only when the first flakes of YDAU Winter descend upon the courts, bringing with them the sparks of true cataclysm, that my eyeballs become glued to the page. It is when young J.J. Penn, whose older brother Miles did terrible things to a little M. Pemulis back in the Allston’s youth prepubescent day, incurs the Peemster’s wrath by suggesting that snow on the courts could have implications in Eschaton’s in-game realities, a suggestion at which Pemulis hurls the full emotional weight of his much younger bullied self.

It’s snowing on the goddamn map, not the territory, you dick! [333]

And, in case you missed the point that this is where things get truly intriguing, Wallace tells us through Hal who, “finds the real-snow/unreal-snow snag in the Eschaton extremely abstract but somehow way more interesting than the Eschaton itself, so far.”

Axford, just to fuck with Pemulis, ratchets the situation up a few notches by suggesting that map and territory may be the same thing, but the real ratcheting comes when (poor, doomed) Evan Ingersoll takes a personal stance on the map/territory issue by firing a ball directly at the back of Ann Kittenplan’s ‘roid-ridden head, at which point Pemulis loses his tenuated Irishman’s cool on a map v. territory screed about how because players are part of the map and not the territory, launching five megatons of dead tennis ball ordnance at a player flies pell mell in the face of the very essence of Eschaton and that Otis P. Lord, in legitimizing Ingersoll’s flagrant flouncing of map/territory boundary, threatens “to very possibly compromise Eschaton’s map for all time.”

And it’s in this sentence with this possessive relationship between Eschaton and its map that I have a crucial Aha! moment w/r/t the notion of “eliminating one’s map,” (or elemonading one’s map, if you’re Emil Minty), a phrase whose continued use in Infinite Jest has captivated me to the point that it (the phrase) will throughout the day just float through the depths of my mind, rising occasionally like a bubble to the surface, but whose etymological underpinnings have remained just out of my grasp, causing me to wonder as to its origins, besides the very literal connotation of removing one’s face from the world.

Pemulis asks LaMont Chu and Ann Kittenplan if theyre just going to stand there with their thumbs in their bottoms and let Lord let Ingersoll eliminate Eschaton’s map for keeps… [339]

And so this very explicit notion of map v. territory, this Aha! moment with regard to an individual’s map versus his or her own territory, is that the elimination of one’s map is (merely) the death of the human form (the map), as opposed to the territory, that which underlies the individual’s map for which the map was purely representational, the territory of the individual being the true essence – their inner selves or even their soul or spirit.

So while that may have already been evident for some of you, it was a breakthrough for me.

All I have to worry about is who that is lurking off court-side in a green Ford sedan (hint: We already know it’s Steeply) .

And now we can watch this: