Oral Fixation

I started off wanting to write about the appearance of teeth in Infinite Jest. I used my concordance tool to pull out every mention of tooth, teeth, dentistry, cavities and the like. I was going to write something academic and analytical. I changed my mind, and started to make an index of dental mentions.

What I ended up with is a creative, conceptual piece about teeth, weaving in lines from Infinite Jest with slightly altered pronouns and verb tenses. Enjoy.


Urban November P.M.: very last leaves down, dry gray hairy grass, brittle brushes, gap-toothed trees. Everything sounds harsh, spiny and harsh-sounding; every sound you hear has teeth. Your tooth way back on the upper left twinges electrically in the cold air. You look at your breath, wincing as the cold air hits the one bad tooth. You try to focus very intently on the pain of your tooth without judging it as bad or good. It gives off little electric shivers with each in breath, and you feel unwell. You ask about someplace you can pick up a good toothbrush cheap, then crawl, hunch and tiptoe into an unoccupied men’s room and brush your teeth with your portable Oral-B. Your teeth have a palpable film on them — a paste of dust. You are concerned for your teeth. You begin to worry obsessively about your teeth.  You carry expensive toothpaste with alleged enamel-revitalizers and anti-corrosives. You minister to your teeth. You brush your teeth all the time. You tap at your teeth with a pen. A couple of times, you use your teeth on the rinds of tape. The grinding? The tooth-grinding? A tic. A jaw-strengthener. You try to talk and grind your teeth together at the same time. Your teeth clack together in a mouth that wears a slight smile. Your smile is rictal and shows confused teeth. You have this horrible new recurring dream where you are losing your teeth, where your teeth have become like shale and splinter when you try to chew, and fragment and melt into grit in your mouth. In the dream, you go around and spit fragments and grit, getting more and more hungry and scared. Everyone you see seeing your crumbling teeth looks at their watch and makes vague excuses, a general atmosphere of your splintering teeth being a symptom of something way more dire and distasteful that no one wants to confront you about. When the dental nightmare tears you upright awake, your mouth is open and screams out, THESE ARE TEETH THAT HAVE BEEN UP TO THINGS. THESE ARE TEETH THAT CAN BE SAVED.

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2 thoughts on “Oral Fixation”

  1. That was great! Enjoyed reading and listening to your post. That last line provides so much relief after the troubling build up to it. But there’s also a slight comedy to it – like a dentist’s motto or something.

    When I read about Hal and Joelles’s dental dreams I wondered if DFW was thinking about Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. IIRC, Freud wrote specifically about the dream of crumbling teeth.

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