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

Bill Lattanzi: Delerious With Noxema

delerious-noxema

Wow. What a whirlwind. What a performance. What an experience. These 75 pages are just the stuff people get excited about when they get excited about Wallace. So much is happening all of a sudden, all the delays are gone. This is it. It’s funny, sad, horrifying, epic, wise, absurd, silly, enthralling. There’s so much to say and no way I can think to say it coherently, but maybe it’s even appropriate to make a discontinuous list of things that together will collage into something resembling sense or at least kick off some sparks. Because it seems to me the book’s peculiar power derives from its scattershot approach to its story, everywhere at once, touching on ten layers at once, forever out of our critical grasp, and that somehow, all these disparate threads are all about the same thing, they all tie in, however tangentially. It’s all just so alive.

I’m going to skip the really major moments (The Wraith appears, Nothing is unendurable, Who’s got the Master, Hal is getting disconnected from his face, The final assault is prepared, Toothbrushing and Red-Purple Psychotropic Betel-Juice) for the most part, leaving them to our able guides, to give me a chance to revel with you in the details.

1. Gately’s Health
Finally, after 190 pages of waiting, our fifty shades of post-modern gray author has let up on the action-interruptus torment and allowed us to return to the story of Don Gately, shot.

I’m not feeling so great about Don’s condition. He’s being fed – kept alive – through a tube. People are visiting in the hospital at the rate that makes you think that someone’s been saying, ‘You’d better get in to see him now.’ And he’s been in for at least three weeks, which is as long as the Wraith’s been waiting for him to notice him sitting there. That’s a long time to be delirious, fed through a tube. The unflappable Pat Montesian cries, and perhaps suggests that Demerol might not be a bad thing to take after all. The doctors think that there must have been “something unclean” on the bullet, as Toxemia has set in. Oddly, in real life, toxemia seems to be most prevalent in childbirth, a non-irrelevant detail, maybe, given all the mumbo-jumbo about the murdering Mom, about which more see below. And then there’s the fever dream in which Joelle appears as the very embodiment of both the film Infinite Jest as it’s been described, and as The Angel of Death. Gately asks Death to set him free, and Death/Angel/Mother/Joelle says, “Wait.” Good. There’s some hope.

2. Sex and Death and Infants and Mothers
I’ve never been able to completely grasp the dark logic, or metaphorical import of the now repeated idea of the IJ film: Your mother kills you in a previous life and then is your mother in the next life, always apologizing for a murder neither of you can quite remember. I like the idea of the wobbly lens and the invention of infanto-vision, but I’ve asked and looked and read about Lacan and Freud and what-not and while I can start in on an explanation what I ultimately come up with is… Wha-hunh? I wish someone could explain this to me. I notice the critical lit tends to avoid the details of what might just possibly be the somewhat embarrassing B-movie nature at the very heart of this very great novel.

3. The Hamlet Watch
For a book supposedly modeled in part on Hamlet, the play is mentioned directly only five times. One is here, in footnote 337. Tiny Ewell (who knows the word “fracas,” maybe the source of Thrust’s mishearing.) “…your display of reluctant se offendendo,” a malaprop of its own, Ewell going for ‘self-defense,’ and winding up with ‘self-offense,’ which gets all twisted up into the self-destructive nature of behaviors in the book, and we will leave lie. In favor of the Wraith’s mention of LAERTES, who kills Hamlet with poison. Back to that unclean bullet? I hope not.

4. Faces
Some mighty portentous faces in this section, matching ones we’ve seen before, like Hal’s at the end of Grief-Therapy phone call with Orin, “his expression terrifically intense.” We have Kevin Bain’s “unspeakable” face reaching out for Inner Infant needs. Then two dream faces of Joelle, as horrifying Churchill and entrancing beautiful Angel of Death. Then Stice – oh, my god, Stice! – and “his rodential real face, aflame with… revelation.”

5. Oh My God, Stice!
Stice stuck to the window, his forehead like bubblegum, undetatchable. On my first reading of the novel, this scene stayed with me more than any other. Just horrifying. And I was sure there was some grand organizing metaphor here about the interior subjective world and the exterior objective world, and how you could get in real trouble trying to break through the impregnable wall that bars us from the Heaven o perfect knowledge of the world. So, Ahab’s white Whale, I give you Stice’s window. And what has happened to poor Stice? Who said this book isn’t a page-turner?

6. An Ugly Xeno-Racist Mood
Well, there’s a lot of distasteful use of ‘Oriental’ in here and uglier use of the N word, plus a particularly revolting description of the skin-tone of a character as ‘spoiled pumpkin,’ (but of course then he turns out to be brilliant) and just more of the same ‘well, it’s in the voice of these white racist characters, what can you do?’ thing we have to do while reading Infinite Jest. And then, Hal, narrating (Hal narrating??) describes the “ugly xeno-racist mood” that took over when ETA played the travelling Ethiopian team. So Hal, at least, is aware of racism. So maybe the book is, too, some strategic maneuver around the isolated Self and Unreachable Other idea? But it sure goes in for some wallowing. On the ‘it’s deliberate’ front, we also have the rhythm early on in the Inner Infant section of the words: Swart. Swart. Swarthy. And finally “dark-skinned.” The Bain Brothers, apparently, like Hal, are dark. As someone said on the blog, are we all related here?

7. Who’s Narrating This Thing?
We get quite a long and satisfying visit with Hal in the first person in this section, though the narrator also wanders to places that the avid writers in my writer’s group – like me – would pounce upon and say, “But he could have never seen that.”

But then, wherever we go in Jest, the narrator-stance seems to shift. Sometimes first, sometimes third, sometimes this kind of legal-deposition-speak that makes me imagine the book as a kind of Presidential Commission publication, with witness testimony framed by notes and commentary. We get one of those moments in that same footnote 337 that mentions Hamlet, when the writer of the footnote wonders what Ewell meant by his words. How is it that the narrator doesn’t know what Ewell meant? Sometimes the narrator doesn’t even know what was said, as if h/she was transcribing a recorded interview. And then, fueling my paranoid detective fire, on page 826, “weird Federal guys” with “goofy” haircuts … “took depositions.” Is this all some massive after-the-fact reconstruction?

8. Color Coding
Corrie Baldauf, get out your plastic tabs. So much white and pale white in this section. Gately’s room goes to white. It’s bright white, bleached, boiled, brutal white, guys in white show up at the donnybrook. Montpelier is white with snow. Stice’s daybreak is gray-white. I fear the white. And then the red and the purple. Mauve sweaters, Cerise Montclair (14 Montclair Rd. was Mr. Wallace’s childhood address.) Daddy turned red blue purple and died. Joelle’s hair, light purple, darker red. I fear the dark red as I fear the white.

9. Ghostish: The Wraith is afoot, and time is relative.
Someday, I would like to make a complete study of the ways that time speeds and slows in Infinite Jest. Or I would like someone else to do that so that I could read it. Does it make any sense, these elaborate discussions of time’s different ways of passing in the book? Or is it like Iannis Goerlandt put it in his “Put the Book Down and Slowly Walk Away: Irony and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” in which he says that the book makes us paranoid readers, as we search to make sense of the patterns that are… almost… but never quite…. There. Is that why we’re so obsessed?
Wallace at one point wanted this sculpture for the cover image, an impression of what’s it like to be on DMZ for one thing, as described earlier. It’s called “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space,” by Boccioni.

unique-forms-of-continuity-in-space

10. Fun With Malaprops, or The Wonderful Words of Gately and Thrust
10.1 818 (and on) Noxema (Toxemia)
10.2 819 Every Oreida of Self-Control (Iota)

oreida

10.3 819 Turnipcut (Turniquet)
10.4 820 Freakus (Fracas)
10.5 822 Embryoglio (Embrolio)
10.6 822 Fleen off (Fled)
10.7 823 Prosfeces (Prosthesis
10.8 824 Breastwork (Deskwork)
10.9 827 Senorio (for scenario)
10.10 834 Sir Osis of Thuliver (Cirrhosis of the liver)
10.11 835 The Heinekin Maneuver (Heimlich)
10.12 836 Angora* (Agora)
*The rare implied malaprop, absent from the page, only appearing as a punch line in the reader’s head when we are told that to Gately, ‘agora’ means ‘expensive sweater.’
10.13 863 Orchasm (orgasm)
10.14 867 Raisin-debt (raison d’être)

11. The Pop Culture and Literary Reference Desk
My favorite part of book is teasing out the pop-culture references and inspirations, drawn from my and likely Wallace’s youth and elsewhere. Wallace said it was simply realism to draw on these things, in Wim Wenders Kings of the Road, a character remarks, “The Yanks have colonized our subconscious.” This week we have:

11.1 Semi-Tough, 1977. The Inner Infant crawling on all fours, is straight outta Move-a-genics, the self-help movement in this Burt Reynolds film. “Billy Clyde, did you crawl when you were a kid?” Check out the link to a Youtube clip.

11.2 The Bly Poster (806) Robert Bly, he of the Men’s Movement, drumming circles and much other embarrassment for a poet.

robert-bly

11.3 Kevin Bain, waiting for his parents to show is in the exact position of young Marcel at the start of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, angling to get his mother to join him at the bed.

11.4 I don’t know how to how to love him. The Bway Jesus Christ Superstar schmaltz-fest has become a real opera in O.N.A.N. land.

11.5 All That Jazz. The vision of Joelle as veiled Angel of Death bears a striking resemblance to Jessica Lange’s role of the same name in 1979’s All That Jazz.

all-that-jazz

11.6 Noxema The “Take It Off, Take It All Off” ads of the late 60s were the sexiest thing on TV at the time, searing Miss Sweden’s visage into young boy’s skulls. So here again, we have this weird Wallace mix of sex and the nearness of death, Eros and Thanatos, swimming around in some sort of stew.

noxzema

11.7 Ginsu Knife. The grand-daddy of all bad late-night infomercials. It slices, it dices.

11.8 Evel Knievel. Always one car too many. But Evel will never die.

evel-knievel

11.9 Hal’s NASA Glass. Be careful where you leave it.

hals-nasa-glass

11.10 Dean Martin. Rat Packer, Movie Star, Drunk, Withdrawer from life.

dean-martin

and so forth. More upon request.

12. Random Notes

12.1 Intimations of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. Kevin Bain crawls down a “Dacronyl” hallway, evidence of Wallace’s abiding interest in carpet manufacturer that will find full flower in his later book.

12.2. Intimations of The Pale King: Kevin Bain’s hobby is “memorizing IRS capital deduction schedules.”

12.3 The Pynchon Watch: Kenkle and Brandt, two Beckett clowns if there ever were a pair, apparently “rode T at night, recreationally.” Much like Slothop and the Whole Sick Crew of Pynchon’s V.

12.4 Part of what makes Infinite Jest so funny, I think, is incongruity of precise objective language applied to scenes of great emotion and intensity: “ He seemed oddly preoccupied for a man occlusively sealed to a frozen window.”

13. Words IJ Taught Me This Week (Thanks Merriman-Webster)

13.1 801 Diglobular. Neologism, one of our author’s favorite moves. A clever insult for the Inner Infant Group leader, puts me in mind of a snowman. Like Gately, he has a huge head, but round, like his round torso.

13.2 A lot of the words that appear in Gately’s head, courtesy The Wraith, on page 832

13.21 Acciacctura – an ornament note that is one half step or one whole step below a principal note and is sounded at the same time as the principal note, adding dissonance to a harmony.

13.22 Alembic – a distilling apparatus, now obsolete.

13.23. Testudo – either a tortoise, a harp made of a tortoise shell, a packed Roman battle formation, a battering ram (IJ the film as battering ram?) or an obsolete constellation.

13.24 Catalept – one suffering from catalepsy, a nervous condition characterized by fixity of posture and muscle rigidity. The Wraith thinking of the Limbo-paralytic in the bed next to Gately?

13.25 Strigil – Roman scraper of dead skin and sweat after a bath. Our man is up for some disgusting body-talk at any moment.

13.26 Impost – a tax, or weight carried by a horse as a handicap. ‘And the Lord said: Let not the weight thou wouldst pull to thyself exceed thine own weight.’ (125)

13.27 Chronaxy – the minimum amount of time needed to electrically stimulate a nerve or muscle. Whether rat’s pushing the pleasure bar or pain wracking Gately’s shoulder.

13.28 Luculus – Legendary Roman general who retired to a life of excess leisure and gormandizing.

13.3 864 Guilloche: an architectural ornament formed of two or more interlaced bands with openings containing round devices.

guilloche

13.4 871 Subhadronic (from hadronic) referring to any of the subatomic particles (as protons and neutrons) that are made up of quarks and are subject to the strong force

13.5 875 Atheling: an Anglo-Saxon prince or nobleman; especially : the heir apparent or a prince of the royal family. (here, Stice riffing on “Prince” Hal )

13.6 875 Cach-inated (Cachinnate) to laugh loudly or immoderately. (Latin, cachinnare)

Thank you allowing me to guest blog. Let us hope our heroes prevail.

infinite-jest-circle

Bill Lattanzi works as a video producer/editor and occasionally leads a tour of David Foster Wallace’s Boston. Find him on Twitter @blattanzi.

WWDGD: What Would Don Gately Do?

I have been a Christian all my life. I formalized my commitment to my faith as a high school sophomore, but I can’t remember a time  – ever – that my faith was not a part of my life. That being said, aside from maybe CS Lewis and Tolkien, I am not really a fan of Christian fiction. As a writer and literature teacher, I have a hard time with the general lack of artistic quality. But as a Christian, I have trouble with the oversimplification of life’s problems and the seemingly easy solutions that one’s faith and one’s God offer in these stories. A simple prayer and a little faith is all it takes.

Which is one of the reasons I love Wallace’s fiction so much. His fiction – or at least a lot of it – is some of the most “Christian” writing I have ever read. He gives the most honest portrayal of Christianity anywhere. He writes about real people dealing with real issues and struggles, trying to figure out how God fits into the mess they have made for themselves.

DSCN3726Even though he is kind of a schmuck, I really appreciate Wallace’s treatment of Lane Dean, Jr.’s internal struggles over Sherry’s pregnancy. In Claudius-like fashion, he prays for reprieve, not repentance. He wants to do what is right, but doesn’t want to admit his wrongs. The jumbled prose, the internal wrestling… it’s all so… real.

And then Don Gately and his forced prayers to a God he does not even believe in. This “God as He Understood Him,” upon Whom Don Gately’s success or failure in recovery lie. Don is forced to depend on something he doesn’t understand and doesn’t really even believe in to keep himself clean and sober.

I love Gene M.’s f-bomb-riddled analogy of the cake mix:

“… just imagine for a second that he’s holding a box of Betty Crocker Cake Mix, which represented Boston AA. The box came with directions on the side any eight-year-old could read… Gene M. said all Gately had to do was for fuck’s sake give himself a break and relax and for once shut up and just follow the directions on the side of the fucking box. It didn’t matter one fuckola whether Gately like believed a cake would result, or whether he understood the like fucking baking-chemistry of how a cake would result: if he just followed the motherfucking directions, and had sense enough to get help from slightly more experienced bakers to keep from fucking the directions up if he got confused somehow, but basically the point was if followed the childish directions, a cake would result. He’d have his cake.”

How much of our lives – whether we are religious or not – is based on that childlike faith that we will get our cake in the end? I don’t know the “fucking baking-chemistry” of how cake batter turns into a delicious cake when placed in the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. I just know that it does. I don’t know how or why an internal combustion engine works, but I know that it does work and that the one under the hood of my 2004 Honda Civic will get me to and from work each day. I have faith that these things will work and, most of the time, they do.

Image 82 Don Gately PraysAnd for Don G. and his cravings for drugs, this act of getting down on his hulking knees and pretending to fumble around for his shoes and keys while praying to this God of His Own Making worked. After several weeks of this, the cravings begin to subside. And after a few months, he begins to forget that he’s not having cravings anymore. “He couldn’t for the goddamn life of him understand how this thing worked, this thing that was working. It drove him bats.”

Then later:

“Gately’s complaint that there was no way something he didn’t understand enough to even start to believe in was seriously going to be interested in helping save his ass, even if He/She/It did in some sense exist. Gately still doesn’t quite know why it helped, but somehow it helped when Ferocious Francis suggested that maybe anything minor-league enough for Don Gately to understand probably wasn’t going to be major-league enough to save Gately’s addled ass from the well-dressed Sergeant at Arms, now, was it?”

And that, in my experience, is the beauty of faith. I consider myself to be a “recovering evangelical.” I grew up in a church and denomination that prided itself on knowing and understanding the Bible. Any question you may have, they had a nicely packaged three-point sermon or acronym to answer it. Everything was easily explainable.

While this upbringing provided an important foundation for my faith, as I grew older, I realized that life is a lot more complicated and these pre-packaged answers didn’t always work. Questions and doubts crept in, but rather than dismantling my faith, they strengthened it. I embraced the mystery and the uncertainty and the ambiguity. Like the father of the demon-possessed boy in the Gospel of Mark, my prayer became, “I believe, but help me overcome my unbelief.”

I have come to realize that I don’t have to understand the nuances and complexities of theology. I don’t have to reconcile every apparent contradiction. My faith is not based on my knowledge or understanding. Like Don Gately, I need something bigger than my minor-league understanding to save my ass. I need a major-league-sized God, one bigger than my ability to comprehend.

So, thank you, Dave, for creating Don Gately to give a voice to my own struggles in faith.

Three M’s

Nice work getting into the 800s, team. The end is starting to feel close, for better or worse. Do you feel nervous that the book might have a hard time resolving in the remaining 150 pages? Or that you’re good and ready for this whole kertwang to be over and done with?

For me at this time, I’m still very much enjoying the ride, but finding the reading/writing schedule to be a bit intense to juggle with all the other life things happening right now. For example, my wife and I are looking to relocate cities and are in the midst of selling our house this week (and were looking at houses last weekend in the other city), my thesis defense got a tentative date put on it for this summer (so now I’m really under the gun to finish), I had to do report cards for my teaching job late into the evening the other night (report card week, any teacher will tell you, being full-on and no fun at all), I had a Netrunner tournament last night (which I won, you’ll be relieved to know), there’s a Great Concavity episode to finish editing and get out ASAP to the adoring masses, plus a bunch of other commitments too banal to mention.

And so, to keep it light this week (as opposed to my heavier posts about morality and psycho-spirituality in the last month), here’s a list of things (all categorized as starting with M) that made me laugh and kept me having fun during this week’s reading:

Mario. Mario. Mario.

  • His conversations in this section are just so funny. Talking to LaMont Chu, and getting this exchange: Chu—“Jesus, Mario, it’s like trying to talk to a rock with you sometimes.” Mario—“This is going very well!” (759)
  • Mario’s observations in the Moms’s office that “some of the prints in the deep shag he can see are shoes, and some are different, almost like knuckles” and of “a couple odd long crinkly paper strips of bright red hung over the side of the wastebasket,” which reminds us of the bewildering John NR Wayne and Avril football/cheerleader fantasy scenario the Peemster happened upon not long ago. (764, 766)
  • Mario to Hal: “I like the fans’ sound at night. Do you? It’s like somebody big far away goes like: it’sOKit’sOKit’sOKit’sOK, over and over. From very far away.” (772)
  • Mario to Hal: “Hal, pretty much all I do is love you and be glad I have an excellent brother in every way, Hal.” (772)

Marathe

  • “I know what it is you are meaning” (774)
  • “Out of a blue place, in one flashing instant.” (775)
  • “It is a long story to the side of this story, but my part of the Swiss nation is in my time of no legs invaded and despoiled by stronger and evil hated and neighboring nations, who claim as in the Anschluss of Hitler that they are friends and are not invading the Swiss but conferring on us gifts of alliance.” (776-7)

Miscellaneous

  • That the Incandenza family idiom for leftovers is “Many Wonders.” (762)
  • “Kertwang” – I’ve been using this word all week as many times per day as I can reasonably fit it contextually into conversation, both as a verb and a noun.
  • The alliteration of “[Trevor and] Pemulis’s penises.” (784)
  • Molly Notkin’s assessment of Wild Turkey being “some very gnarly-tasting liquor indeed” (790). (Personal side note: When I was on my way home from the DFW conference in Illinois last year, I came across this display in the Chicago O’Hare airport, moments before I randomly bumped into Matt Bucher whilst I was buying popcorn, and then having a several hour conversation about literature with him, without which The Great Concavity probably would not exist in its current form.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 12.57.21 AM

  • The sheer volume of kitchen appliance suicides and demappings, with recurring mentions of J.O.I. and the microwave, and now Joelle’s mother having “committed suicide by putting her extremities down the garbage disposal—first one arm and then, kind of miraculously if you think about it, the other arm” (795). Jeez.
  • Basically just the entire Inner Infant scene, with poor old Kevin Bain crawling on all fours by scene’s end, “his face unspeakable” (808). And again that revelation that Lateral Alice Moore was in the chopper that went down and killed Bain’s parents on the Jamaica Way commuter road.
  • Tiny Ewell’s recollection to Gately of “the Money-Stealer’s Club” (810). I don’t care what anyone says; this is the best name for any club ever in history.
  • The wraith. Just in general. So yeah, there’s a ghosty thing in the book now. And he appears to be very tall, and to incept Gately’s mind with specifically regional and filmic terms like LATRODECTUS MACTANS, CHIAROSCURO, BRICOLAGE, SCOPOPHILIA, SINISTRAL, POOR YORICK, etc., making it pretty clear who this revenant is. Could this be the…thing(?)…responsible for the mysterious goings on of the tripod-in-the-thicket, Ortho Stice’s bed moving in the night, and brooms X’ing in the cafeteria of the Enfield Tennis Academy?
  • Pemulis’s comforting of Todd Possalthwaite in endnote 324 about the capital-T truth of “math. As in Matics, Math E. First-order predicate logic. Never fail you,” &c. (1071)

And probably a whole bunch of other things I laughed out loud at in public this week—having been kicked from our home during a great many real estate showings—but missed in my skimming over of the section.

I look forward to hearing about your favorite moments from this week’s section in the comments below.

Attachments and Agreements

Infinite Jest Project (Phase 3) photography by PD Rearick
Infinite Jest Project (Phase 3) photography by PD Rearick

Last week we confirmed that there are at least five Infinite Jests. I’m talking about films by Incandenza, but I’m thinking, why and how exactly I have more than five copies of Infinite Jest. Three of them are thoroughly devoured by color tabs. If one of the films kill you, what about the books? Or, how about all of us folks knee deep in our second, third, fourth, fifth reads? I’m just happy that I am in fact still able to do other things.

Mostly.

I would like to point out that photo that I posted last week…Well; the problem is that scene wasn’t staged. It concerns me. I was standing looking at my bed, thinking about the fact that there were two genuine color tabbed copies of Infinite Jest on one pillow. “Choose your attachments wisely,” and I did. The oversight, or blatant sign of blindness, is that I never mindfully agreed to share my bed with two copies of Infinite Jest.

So here is my question, those attachments you’ve chosen…have you thought much about where you bring them, leave them, who exactly gets subjected to them?

The attachment is a thing to consider, but so is the context. And the frequency.

Shit.

It doesn’t help that I figured this out while I was making my bed. Before bed. This would be a good time to point out that this timing, between when I make my bed and when I get into it, lets me know if I have it together or not. Mainly because there was a point when I decided that making my bed was a thing worth doing. It was a way to prepare a comfortable place for my night self to sleep. It was a way of reminding myself how important sleep was, is. And based on that photograph, I’ve a little bit lost track of that agreement.

Do you have any type of large or small barometer for checking in on how you are doing, and what exactly is up with you? This type of thing may seem subtle or insignificant to an outsider, but it is one absolute way to keep track of your track.

Keep Coming Back

No one’s taken this title yet, right?

Alright. Good.

So what I want to do this week is (um) talk about Infinite Jest for a little bit – maybe take a bit of a break from (double um) talking about myself.

And as we’re getting to the really pointy end of the book now (I’m afraid it’s going to hurt a lot of you, for very different reasons) I want to make a point that’s (probably) gone unsaid (mostly) by most of us “guides”, but which nonetheless has been right there in most of our posts.

It’s that Infinite Jest rewards re-reading. Big time. Just this week I’ve come across three cherry-ringers I’ve never noticed before that I want to share with you now in case, like me, it’s taken you several reads to notice them.

We finally get to endnote 304.

Throughout at least five or six hundred pages Wallace has been trying to get us to skip ahead to the three-hundred-and-fourth endnote, promising juicy details about the wheelchair assassins and some kind of train cult.

When we finally get there, the information is presented as a quasi-academic paper framed by Jim Struck trying to plagiarise it, but what’s interesting is that the paper is by one G. Day – a character who’s familiar to us and is, right at the moment we’re taken to Struck, sharing a room with (none other than) Remy Marathe – an AFR and former train-cultist himself.

Steeply really is grotesque – in one of the ways it really matters

Remember Helen Steeply’s only putative published article for Moment magazine? Back on page 142, about the woman who’s handbag-receptacled Jarvik IX Exterior Artificial Heart was stolen? That contained all these advertorialish quotes and descriptions like “the extraordinary prosthesis”, “extroardinary heart in her purse,” and “That the prosthetic crime victim gave chase for over four blocks before collapsing onto her empty chest is testimony to the impressive capacity of the Jarvik IX replacement procedure” that made you question why the article so glowingly commended the medically miraculous exterior heart?

It’s much, much later when Marathe is drunkenly exposition-ing to Kate Gompert that we learn that he is Steeply’s Moment‘s article’s intended audience:

‘I have been knowing since the wedding night her death was coming. Her restenosis of the heart, it is irreversible. Now my Gertraude, she has been in a comatose and vegetating state for almost one year. This coma has no exit, it is said. The advanced Jaarvik IX Exterior Artificial Heart is said by the public-aid cardiologists of Switzerland to be her chance for life.

Yeah, you probably should take what Molly Notkin says in a fairly high-sodium way.

Notkin claims Joelle van Dyne’s (known, I believe, to the U.S.O.U.S. interrogators as only Madame Psychosis) is Lucille Duquette.

But we’ve seen the name Duquette before: in the James O. Incandenza filmography. And as a film-slash-film-cartridge scholar, it’s likely that Notkin knows Duquette (first initial: E) and has knowingly given the interrogators a false name.

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but is this Duquette the priapismically guilt-ridden Pabst scholar?

Better question: what have you discovered this week?

IMG_3485

Notkin’s Believe It or Not

As Mark duly noted in yesterday’s post, we’re well into the pages where the novel shifts into overdrive and everything seems to be happening all at once. Characters are meeting, plots are intersecting, and the story in some sections is clear as mud. You don’t know who to trust, and unreliable narrators abound.

In last week’s reading, we saw the return of Molly Notkin, a character you probably never thought you’d see emerge again. She has a mouthful for the U.S.O.U.S interrogator and for us, who have been silently interrogating the book as we’ve gone along. Nothing in her narrative seems outright unbelievable — in fact, with all of the messed up families, weird sexual relationships and stories from people on substances, her revelations seem pretty run of the mill.

And yet, we’re encouraged to look at her narrative with a skeptical eye. Wallace writes:

And it was this, the harsh light on her fully exposed post-Marxist face, more than any kind of tough noir-informed grilling from R. Tine Jr. and the other technical interviewer, that prompted M.I.T. A.B.D.-Ph.D. Molly Notkin…to spill her guts, roll over, eat cheese, sing like a canary, tell everything she believed she knew.

Here are some of the things Molly reveals in this section. Which do you believe (and not)? What do you make out of some of these ambiguities?

  1. The Infinite Jest (V or VI) cartridge features Joelle Van Dyne (Madame Psychosis), naked and hugely pregnant, representing death, leaning over the viewer while explaining that “Death is always female, and that the female is always maternal.” Her face is “hideously deformed” and hidden, and she may or may not be holding a knife.
  2. James Orin Incandenza (JOI)’s kitchen appliance suicide may have been inspired, at least in part, by Joelle’s mother, who killed herself by putting her arms – one at a time – down the garbage disposal.
  3. Joelle and JOI were not sexually involved.
  4. Joelle was not present at JOI’s suicide, funeral or will-reading ceremony.
  5. Joelle was named a beneficiary in JOI’s will.
  6. Avril Incandenza doesn’t have any connections with anti-American groups, cells or movements.
  7. Joelle only agreed to star in Infinite Jest under the condition that JOI stop drinking alcohol.
  8. JOI was sober for three and a half months, up until the day of his death.
  9. Avril placed the bottle of Wild Turkey next to JOI’s body, upset that he had been unwilling to give up drinking for her, but that he would “for” Joelle.
  10. Joelle is hideously deformed, after indirectly getting hit in the face with acid.
  11. Avril (possibly) had incestuous relations with Orin.
  12. That Joelle’s real name is Lucille Duquette.

When it comes to these revelations: believe them or not? I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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

Don Gately is my Soulmate, but I’m Going to Write about Randy Lenz Again

As I continue to crawl through the pages of Infinite Jest, I feel an ever-deepening connection with Mr. Don Gately. I wouldn’t call it a man-crush or anything like that, but I admire his discipline and his brutal honesty. I think that if I lived in the world of Harry Potter, my patronus would be an enormous square-headed man with prison tattoos.

Image 82 Don Gately Prays
Don Gately prays to “some kind of Higher Power he didn’t even believe in”

There is much I’d like to write about Don G., but I will have to save that for another post. It would take more time than I currently have and probably get far more personal than I am comfortable getting. So, perhaps another time.

Image 79 Randy LenzI jumped on the Randy Lenz bandwagon a few weeks ago, but only just today read those pages. While I did once again cringe everytime I read the word “There,” there was something else that caught my attention. As I’ve been reading and annotating my copy of IJ, I tend to circle words that I either find fascinating or that I have not heard/read before. I noticed, as I read about Randy Lenz, that I was circling a lot more words than normal. For some reason, these pages had a higher density of fascinating/unknown words.

So, I enumerate those words here:

Mongo (n): literal – a monetary unit of Mongolia; in context – really big

Panoply (n): a complete or impressive collection of things

Eurotrochaic (adj): no literal definition; in context – describing the alternating two-note sound of a European emergency siren

Diverticulitis (n): inflammation of a diverticulum, especially in the colon, causing pain and disturbance of bowel function

Bonerfied (adj): no literal definition, but is the name of an AC/DC cover band; in context – to arouse or experience great excitement

Melony (adj): resembling a melon, melon-like

Gasper (n): no literal definition; in context – a cigarette

Scopophobic (adj): a morbid fear of being seen or stared at by others

Windbagathon (adj): no literal definition; in context – long-winded and marathon in duration

Schizoid (adj): characterized by emotional aloofness and solitary habits

Tattlemount (n): no literal definition; in context – appears to be a blending of “tattle” and “tantamount”

Hemispasm (n): a spasm that affects only one side of the body

Insousistent (adj): showing a casual lack of concern

Blatting (v): making a bleating sound

Crepuscular (adj): resembling or relating to twilight

Threnody (n): a lament

Purposive (adj): having,serving, or done with a purpose

Sangfroid (n): sometimes excessive composure or coolness, especially in difficult circumstances

Phosphenes (n): a ring or spot of light produced by pressure on the eyeball

Confabulating (v): having a memory disturbance produced by a fabricated or distorted memory

Microspic (adj): visible only with a microscope; a misuse or misspelling of “microscopic”

Cableyarrow (n): no literal definition; a misspelling of “caballero,” which is Spanish for “gentleman”

Kamasupra (n): no literal definition, but is the title of a song by Radiohead; a misuse or misspelling of “karma sutra”

Stelliform (adj): star-shaped

The Hip Empty Mask (OR) The State of the Union

Enter one of the most famous and oft-cited passages from Infinite Jest, that of the hip millennial entertainment description and its impact on Hal Incandenza’s psycho-spiritual state (694-5). In the context of New Sincerity—something of a trend in U.S. arts and culture since about the mid-90s (which people often put Wallace at the literary center of)—this passage bears some reflection 20 years after its publication.

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui.

Is this observation a comment on the fictional universe of O.N.A.N.ite America in Jest, the actual America we all know and (to varying extents) love, or both? From what I can gather from Wallace’s wide range of interviews, “both” seems to be the best answer here. So what’s the source of this? Do we want to get academically technical and start citing the Enlightenment, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, or is it easier to call out James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Saved by the Bell? (I opt for the latter).

Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip — and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No?

Slightly more obscure than Zack Morris, maybe David Lynch is a key player here (who’s mentioned in footnote 24 [J.O.I.’s filmography] and briefly, later on [not a spoiler, I promise]). Films like Lost Highway (for which Wallace was on set and writes about in “David Lynch Keeps His Head” in A Supposedly Fun Thing), might qualify as this kind of older, world-fatigued auteur’s attempt at portraying emotional detachment and ennui, which I think he succeeds gloriously at in that film (and basically all of his other work as well), for better or worse. 20 years later, what’s the state of American entertainment? Does our current literary and pop-cultural landscape still look and feel the way Jest describes it? Or have we moved closer to more honest expressions of the human experience?

We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté. Sentiment equals naïveté on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration).

For me growing up, I hit this point getting into bands like Nirvana in about 6th grade, and MuchMusic (the lamer Canadian equivalent of MTV), which projected this kind of too-cool-for-school weariness. Getting into skateboarding in middle school, as I mentioned in last week’s post, did me no favors in this department, as hipness was the altar of worship, through fashion brand names, obscure music, and an anti-authoritarian ethos. It’s a wonder I ended up as a teacher myself, given this history.

One of the things sophisticated viewers have always liked about J. O. Incandenza’s The American Century as Seen Through a Brick is its unsubtle thesis that naïveté is the last true terrible sin in the theology of millennial America. And since sin is the sort of thing that can be talked about only figuratively, it’s natural that Himself’s dark little cartridge was mostly about a myth, viz. that queerly persistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naïveté are mutually exclusive.

And is it still true that we don’t talk about sin in concrete terms? Is theology only theoretically possible in the context of entertainment? Has hipness eradicated the viability of spiritual metanarratives, or is this again the Enlightenment, Nietzsche, et al.? Both? In the upcoming episode of The Great Concavity, we talk to scholar Rob Short about this very thing, the notion of the post-secular possibilities of Jest and its message. Is there real redemption, recovery, and affect to be had, or does the novel leave us, like O.N.A.N.’s  cultural landscape, alone and mask-strapped?

Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naive and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool.

Is this what Wallace means when he talks about what it means to be human with Larry McCaffery in the 1993 interview and in the essay “E Unibus Pluram”? Is authentic humanity reducible to a puddle of facial fluids signifying emotional meltdown? Or is there a less pathetic way to be fully human? I’ve posed a lot of questions here, to which I’m genuinely interested to hear what you think about all of this.

One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.

I see Jest to this point as a confrontation with humanity’s darkness (i.e. our very own), and conversely, its possible redemption. Stay tuned for what that might look like, however (un)successful it may be.

Read Infinite Jest with a few hundred of your closest friends: 75 pages per week, January 31 – May 2, 2016