Monday, July 25, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 367-394

[Don] Gately's most marked progress in turning his life around in sobriety, besides the fact that he no longer drives off into the night with other people's merchandise, is that he tries to be just about as verbally honest as possible at almost all times, now, without too much calculation about how a listener's going to feel about what he says. This is harder than it sounds.
Speaking the unvarnished truth is essential among Boston AAs. Newcomers who get up and speak from the podium cannot think they have to please the crowd by saying the right things or intimate a cause (which can easily slid into an excuse) for their Coming In as a last resort.
[I]t has to be the truth unslanted, unfortified. And maximally unironic. An ironist in a Boston AA meeting is a witch in church. Irony-free zone. Same with sly disingenuous manipulative pseudo-sincerity. Sincerity with an ulterior motive is something these tough ravaged people know and fear, all of them trained to remember the coyly sincere, ironic, self-presenting fortifications they'd had to construct in order to carry on Out There, under the ceaseless neon bottle.
Wallace presents two female speakers, one who still blames her foster home experiences for her running away, working in a strip club, and drinking. The second newcomer, a freebase cocaine addict, who smoked throughout her pregnancy and gave birth, alone, to a stillborn infant, and ended up carrying the tiny corpse around with her as though it were a viable living infant, tucked in a blanket and still attached to her via the umbilical cord. Her story is just the facts, and is so gripping that the AAs need to remember to blink as they listen. Gately is reminded "what a tragic adventure this is, that none of them signed up for". In addition to showing (in the first story) how utterly depraved and predatory some humans can be, Wallace illustrates (in the second) the walls of guilt and black denial people construct in order to make it through each day. (The first speaker also notes that her mother would pray beneath "this one untitled photo of some Catholic statue". It is "The Estacsy of St. Theresa", which has been mentioned by Joelle several times in other circumstances.)

November 8 is Interdependence Day - celebrating the merging of Canada, Mexico, and the United States into the Organization of North American Nations - and the staff at Enfield is preparing for its annual celebration. One annual event is the showing of Mario Incandenza's puppet-show film (which is a kids adaptation of JOI's "The ONANtiad") outlining the rise of U.S. President Johnny Gentle (of the Clean U.S. Party), the birth of ONAN, and the move toward Reconfiguration and Subsidized Time. It is noted that Gentle (a former crooner) wasn't going to burden U.S. citizens by making them make tough choices, he was going to do it for them, so they could "simply sit back and enjoy the show".

At various points during the dinner and film, some of the boys slip away and head down to the weight room for some personal time with Lyle. LaMont Chu burns for fame, to have his picture in shiny magazines like the tennis players he admires. He assumes those star players had similar desires and having those desires fulfilled is a dream come true. "Else why would I burn like this to feel as they feel?" (This is similar to various addicts asking: "Why can't I quit if I so want to quit?") But there is rarely any satisfaction when it comes to forms of entertainment, in this book. Lyle points out that while perhaps seeing the first picture in the magazines felt good to these older players, the feeling quickly turned to worry and anxiety about not having their picture in the magazines. "They are trapped, just as you are."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 317-367

On an outcropping overlooking Tucson, Arizona, Remy Marathe and Hugh/Helen Steeply continue their discussion/meeting. Marathe outlines the AFR's position re unleashing the Entertainment on unsuspecting Americans:
Us, we will force nothing on U.S.A. persons in their warm homes. We will make only available. Entertainment. There will be then some choosing, to partake or choose not to. ... How will U.S.A.s choose? Who has taught them to choose with care? ...

This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose — this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death. What you call the death, the collapsing: this will be the formality only. ... The exact time of death and way of death, this no longer matters. Not for your peoples. You wish to protect them? But you can only delay. Not save. The Entertainment exists. ... The choice for death of the head by pleasure now exists, and your authorities know, or you would not be now trying to stop the pleasure.
Steeply replies:
There are no choices without personal freedom, Buckeroo. It's not us who are dead inside. These things you find so weak and contemptible in us — these are just the hazards of being free. ... Now you will say how free are we if you dangle fatal fruit before us and we cannot help ourselves from temptation. And we say "human" to you. We say that one cannot be human without freedom.
Marathe:
Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country, always to shout "Freedom! Freedom!" as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it is not so simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do. It is this meaning only, this freedom from constraint and forced duress. ... But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child's greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?
During my 2009-10 Infinite Winter Group Read, one commenter offered:
Marathe characterizes the US as the extreme liberalist state of Aristotle - a country of individuals, "in their warm homes, alone", with no unifying values, no temple they all chose, since nobody taught them how or what to choose, or even that they should choose. The lack of authority, the lack of a common good, destroyed the US as a nation, and left only an empty shell full of individuals who are are left in the dark looking for some kind of shelter. The US citizens are not qualified to rule, not even rule themselves and their families, since they don't know how to choose, but since they're educated on the freedom-from, they don't know how to obey, either. So they're left bare from both sides, and end up sick and weak, and open to such an attack as the Entertainment.
Many readers of Infinite Jest have cited Eschaton as their favourite section of the book. It's okay, but I do not understand its mass appeal among Jesters. (At the end, Hal Incandenza, watching the action with Pemulis and a few other older students, is "just about paralyzed with absorption ... [and] feel[s] a certain sort of intense anxiety". Without really thinking about it, Hal smokes marijuana in public.)

Note the JOI film (991):
Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators. Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited. Documentary or uncredited cast w/ narrator P. A. Heaven; 16 mm.; 45 minutes; black and white; sound. Children and adolescents play a nearly incomprehensible nuclear strategy game with tennis equipment against the real or holographic(?) backdrop of sabotaged ATHSCME 1900 atmospheric displacement towers exploding and toppling during the New New England Chemical Emergency of Y.W. CELLULOID (UNRELEASED)
(The narrator of this section does not know how Eschaton was introduced at Enfield, but page 284 states the most plausible account is that "a Croatian-refugee transfer had brought up from the Palmer Academy in Tampa".) The game devolves into chaotic violence between the kids and ends with Otis P. Lord crashing head-first through the computer monitor used to program the details of Eschaton amid "the no-sound falling snow".

The next section - which may be my most-loved part of the novel - deals with the speaking and travelling arrangements of Boston AA Groups, a person's typical descent towards his/her Bottom and then how AA, despite newcomers' expectations, seems actually to somehow work. I'm hoping to write something lengthier about Don Gately and this part of the book for the Poor Yoricks' Summer blog next month so I'll be brief here: Gately cannot figure out how AA works, but he is so single-mindedly committed to staying straight that he will freely give himself over to AA's cliches and sappy sayings even though he doesn't believe in God (as a Higher Power) and has no idea how these things could possibly work. The entire section has an engaging warmth and vulnerability and Wallace shows the confusion and sometimes blind acceptance of what Gately - and every other member of AA - has to do. AA may have some actual direct suggestions, but the long-time members say those suggestions are completely optional, of course: do it or die. Your choice.

Gately also realizes that still - even after four years sober - he could still relapse. When brand-new resident Joelle van Dyne mentions the utter meaninglessness of the sentiment "I'm here But for the Grace of God", Gately's mind goes completely blank and he is terrified: "he has absolutely nothing in his huge square head ... and for an instant the Provident cafeteria seems pin-drop silent, and his own heart grips him like an infant rattling the bars of its playpen, and he feels a greasy wave of an old and almost unfamiliar panic, and for a second it seems inevitable that at some point in his life he's going to get high again and be back in the cage all over again". And so a few minutes later, when the second half of the meeting begins, Gately is sitting in his usual spot in the very front row, "asking silently for help to be determined to try to really hear or die trying".

There is a very interesting passage in Endnote 134, which appears on page 345. Joelle van Dyne "entered the House just today, 11/8, Interdependence Day, after the E.R. physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital who last night had pumped her full of Inderal and nitro had looked upon her unveiled face and been deeply affected, and had taken a special interest" and placed a call to the Executive Director of Ennet House.

"Deeply affected"? That's it? Joelle is supposed to be either so beautiful or so deformed that she is sort of the living equivalent of the Entertainment. (That's why she wears the veil.) Later in the book, she tells Gately: "I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities..." Yet JvD's unveiled face does not seem to have any serious effect on this E.R. physician, outside of him/her making a call and starting the process to let her jump the waiting-list queue to get into Ennet House. Perhaps the beautiful/deformed idea is solely in Joelle's head?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 283-317

What metro Boston AAs are trite but correct about is that both destiny's kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person's basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can't even hear because you're in such a rush to or from something important you've tried to engineer.
Orin Incandenza's destiny-grade event came about because after realizing that his tennis career had peaked at age 13, he enrolled at nearby Boston University, and although he played tennis at BU he felt like "an empty withered psychic husk, competitively", and but after developing a crush on "a certain big-haired sophomore baton-twirler" practicing alongside the football team, he decided to try out for the football team. That went quite badly but as Orin was walking dejectedly off the field, a wayward football rolled towards him, and without too much thinking, he simply punted it back - and, with some coaching, soon became the Terriers' new punter. Orin and his former BU doubles partner referred to this young woman "who owned [Orin's] CNS" as the "P.G.O.A.T., for the Prettiest Girl Of All Time".
It wasn't the entire attraction, but she really was almost grotesquely lovely. ... The twirler was so pretty that not even the senior B.U. football Terriers could summon the saliva to speak to her at Athletic mixers. In fact she was almost universally shunned. The twirler induced in heterosexual males what U.H.I.D. later told her was termed the Actaeon Complex, which is a kind of deep phylogenic fear of transhuman beauty. About all Orin's doubles partner — who as a strabismic was something of an expert on female unattainability — felt he could do was warn O. that this was the kind of hideously attractive girl you just knew in advance did not associate with normal collegiate human males ... When she danced, at dances, it was with other cheerleaders and twirlers and Pep Squad Terrierettes, because no male had the grit or spit to ask her. ... It took three hearings for [Orin] to figure out that her name wasn't Joel. The big hair was red-gold and the skin peachy-tinged pale and arms freckled and zygomatics indescribable and her eyes an extra-natural HD green. He wouldn't learn till later that the almost pungently clean line-dried-laundry scent that hung about her was a special low-pH dandelion attar decocted special by her chemist Daddy in Shiny Prize KY.
And so Joelle approached Orin at some college function and soon they were living together in an East Cambridge co-op. At Thanksgiving dinner with the Incandenzas, Joelle met Himself and later acted in some of his films under the stage name Madame Psychosis. She also had access to serious digital photography gear - and shot short engaging clips of Orin punting that he liked to watch over and over and over when he was alone.

"Poor Tony Krause had a seizure on the T." Boy, did he ever. This was one of the more disturbing sections of the book for me. Wallace minutely describes P. Tony's inevitable descent into Withdrawal, first from heroin and then from the dozens of bottles of cough syrup he was drinking to try and mitigate the effects of the heroin withdrawal. From laying at the bottom of a dumpster filled with his own shit and vomit, and plus ants, to occupying a library men's room stall for more than a week, to the Gray Line train he is taking to the Antitoi brothers' store when the seizure hits, Wallace spares no gruesome detail. And you end up feeling so bad for P. Tony that a simple declaration like "He had simply never in his life felt so unattractive or been so sick. He wept silently in shame and pain ..." provokes enormous empathy. (This narrative tour de force first ran in The New Yorker as "Three Birds".)

Wallace connects the Poor Tony scene with Ennet House in the treatment of time. For Poor Tony in Withdrawal: "Time began to pass with sharp edges". During his first six months of being straight, Don Gately "felt the sharp edge of every second". Poor Tony experienced "time with a shape and a color". "Ennet House reeks of passing time." An addict is "a thing that basically hides" (932). Poor Tony hides from yrstruly and Wo, he first hides in a dumpster, then hides in a library's men's room's stall. Hal hides in the Pump Room to smoke Bob Hope and Joelle hides in the bathroom at Molly Notkin's party and prepares to kill herself.

Meanwhile, Hugh Steeply (in disguise as Moment magazine journalist Helen Steeply) is asking extremely detailed questions about what Orin knows about Quebec Separatism and what Himself might have to do with some samizdat. A possible samizdat is only a small part of a 14-page, small-fonted phone conversation between Hal and Orin in Note 110. Most of the discussion centers on why Quebec separatists quickly dropped the idea of seceding from Canada and adopted instead an anti-ONAN attitude, which would seem to be a form of Canadian nationalism. They discuss whether because the Great Concavity/Convexity is mostly along the Quebec border, perhaps Quebec would be allowed to secede and assume the headache of the waste deposits in the GC/C. Orin, because he is trying to impress Helen, is asking Hal to give him some in-depth talking points. (Poor Yoricks' Summer reader Brett Szyjka had some good thoughts on the three Orin/Hal conversations we have read so far.)

Then we get some background on Mario M. Incandenza (the middle child), his difficult birth and his many physical challenges. The section also mentions Mario, when he helped Himself as a type of production assistant on shoots, sometimes going out for a "Big Red Soda Water and taking it to the apparently mute veiled graduate-intern down the motel's hall". You'll likely need a dictionary when reading the Mario section as Wallace describes Mario's state of being/condition: "bradyauxetic arms ... impressively — almost familial-dysautonomically — pain-resistant ... lordosis in his lower spine ... khaki-colored skin, an odd dead gray-green that in its corticate texture and together with his atrophic in-curled arms and arachnodactylism gave him, particularly from a middle-distance, an almost uncannily reptilian/dinosaurian look. The fingers being not only mucronate and talonesque but nonprehensile ..."

Hal loves his slightly older brother unconditionally.
And his younger and way more externally impressive brother Hal almost idealizes Mario, secretly. God-type issues aside, Mario is a (semi-) walking miracle, Hal believes. People who're somehow burned at birth, withered or ablated way past anything like what might be fair, they either curl up in their fire, or else they rise. Withered saurian homodontic Mario floats, for Hal. He calls him Booboo but fears his opinion more than probably anybody except their Moms's. Hal remembers the unending hours of blocks and balls on the hardwood floors of early childhood's 36 Belle Ave., Weston MA, tangrams and See 'N Spell, huge-headed Mario hanging in there for games he could not play, for make-believe in which he had no interest other than proximity to his brother. ... It was Mario, not Avril, who obtained Hal his first copies of the unabridged O.E.D. ... pulling them home in a wagon by his bicuspids over the fake-rural blacktop roads of upscale Weston ...
Noted: Wallace often mentions something in passing by an abbreviation or nickname and then does not actually fully describe it or name it until much later (i.e., mentioning UHID and then later on telling us what the letters stand for). Another example: On page 298, Wallace writes, re Orin watching clips of himself punting in the co-op: "Late-night car-noises and sirens drifted in through the bars from as far away as the Storrow 500."

"Storrow 500" is not mentioned for another 180 pages until it turns up on page 478: "You can get on the Storrow 500 off Comm. Ave. below Kenmore via this long twiny overpass-shadowed road that cuts across the Fens." That sentence sends you to Note 202, on page 1034: "Local argot for Storrow Drive, which runs along the Charles from the Back Bay out to Alewife, with multiple lanes and Escherian signs and On- and Off-ramps within car-lengths of each other and no speed limit and sudden forks and the overall driving experience so forehead-drenching it's in the metro Police Union's contract they don't have to go anywhere near it." (See, also, Infinite Boston)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 242-283

Past the page 250 mark, the narrative begins coming together. A chronology of Subsidized Time has been presented and most of the sections have been centered on either the young tennis players at Enfield Tennis Academy or the recovering addicts down the hill at Ennet House.

November 5, YDAU - Orin calls Hal to get information about Himself's suicide in preparation for his interview with Moment magazine (about which he has extreme unexamined dread). Hal is having great success at getting his left toe's toenail clippings to fly into a wastebasket several meters away. He's in the Zone and Orin talks about the extent of athletes' superstitions. Hal mentions the Ahts, a "primitive" tribe from what is now known as Vancouver:
"The new Discursive O.E.D. says the Ahts of Vancouver used to cut virgins' throats and pour the blood very carefully into the orifices of the embalmed bodies of their ancestors. ... [T]o preserve the privacy of their own mental states. The apposite Aht dictum here being quote 'The sated ghost cannot see secret things.' ... After a burial, rural Papineau-region Québecers purportedly drill a small hole down from ground level all the way down through the lid of the coffin, to let out the soul, if it wants out.
Later, Hal goofs and says "telemachry" instead of "telemetry" - and Orin corrects him, much to Hal's dismay. It's a nod to Joyce and Ulysses. In the Odyssey, Telemachus was the son of Odysseus and Penelope. He searches for his father and ends up slaughtering his mother's suitors. (And according to this, his father "pretended to be insane in order to avoid going to the Trojan War".)

Orin has recently noticed a lot of young, burly guys in wheelchairs possibly following (or watching) him. He finally gets around to asking Hal about Himself's suicide, which he fears the woman writing a soft profile for Moment magazine will ask about. The journalist's name is "Helen" and Orin says she is "large but not un-erotic". It's obviously Hugh Steeply in disguise yet Orin can't see it (which is amusing since Marathe noted how ridiculous Steeply looked dressed as a woman). In fact, Orin appears quite smitten by Steeply, as are many of his Phoenix Cardinals teammates. Orin: "She's more imposing than like most of our starting backfield. But weirdly sexy. The linemen are gaga. The tackles keep making all these cracks about does she maybe want to see their hard profile."

Hal reveals that, at nearly 13 years old, he found Himself's body by the microwave (Himself's head having "popped like an uncut spud") in the kitchen (Hal's first thought was "something smelled delicious"). Hal also discusses his experience with the grief-therapist. In his therapy sessions - four times a week for six weeks - Hal tries to say what he thinks the grief therapist wants to hear. But it's not working, and Hal fears he is "failing". Finally, a discussion with Lyle helps Hal see the issue from the therapist's point of view and, after a trip to the library, Hal can now exhibit the "textbook" emotions the therapist is looking for. (We also pick up a lot of stray plot details about the Incandenza family, both in this conversation and another, longer conversation between Hal and Orin.)

November 6, YDAU - The following day, ETA plays its annual tournament at the Port Washington Tennis Academy in Long Island. John Wayne is from Montcerf, Quebec, an asbestos-mining town (is he related to Bernard Wayne from Note 304, the boy who refused to participate in La Culte du Prochain Train?), and was recruited to ETA in the spring of last year. Pemulis is vomiting before his match. He says it's nerves, but Schacht thinks it's "odd that Pemulis makes such a big deal of stopping all substances the day before competitive play but never connects the neurasthenic stomach to any kind of withdrawal or dependence". Schacht, post-Crohn's Disease and ruined knee, doesn't care all that much if he wins; it's a preference, but nothing more. Schacht is worried about Hal ("who's probably as asymetrically hobbled on the care-too-much side as Schacht is on the not-enough"), though he
doesn't say a word about Hal's devolution from occasional tourist to subterranean compulsive, substance-wise, with his Pump Room visits and Visine, even though Schacht deep down believes that the substance-compulsion's strange apparent contribution to Hal's erumpent explosion up the rankings has got to be a temporary thing, that there's like a psychic credit-card bill for Hal in the mail, somewhere, coming, and is sad for him in advance about whatever's surely got to give, eventually. (270)
An Ennet House section is undated, but there are clues that I think point to November 12, YDAU. However, Greg Carlisle, in Elegant Complexity, dates this scene November 6. However, Note 90, a conversation between Don Gately and Geoffrey Day on the night of November 11, concerns AA's aphorisms/clichés and during this section, Gately recalls what Day said about cliches and admits that he (Day) is right, in a way. It would appear that this is the following morning, November 12.

Gately is on a couch in the front room at Ennet House, half-dozing and taking everything in and thinking about his own recovery. ("Ennet House reeks of passing time. It is the humidity of early sobriety, hanging and palpable.") Charlotte Treat is doing needlepoint (which Gately thinks she's enjoying a bit too much, the work with the needle), Day (the author of the paper on the AFR that Struck was plagiarizing) continues to mock AA's slogans ("I used sometimes to think. ... Now I live by the dictates of macramé samplers ordered from the back-page ad of an old Reader's Digest or Saturday Evening Post."), and Burt F. Smith attempts to cut a waffle with a knife and fork attached to his wrists' stumps. (Note: Smith is the "older type individual" crewed on and left for dead in the snow by yrstruly, C, and Poor Tony.) Randy Lenz, obsessed with the exact time at all times and sitting in the extreme northern position of whatever room he is in, is hiding out at Ennet from both drug dealers he ripped of and Boston's Finest. When he goes out, which is rare (usually only to meetings), he wears a white wig disguise.

In Note 90, Day is having problems with the structure of AA:
I fear I simply have to deny the insinuation that it's disloyal or ungrateful to find oneself troubled by certain quite glaring inconsistencies in this master quote unquote Program you all seem to expect us simply to open up and blindly swallow whole and then walk around glazed with our arms right out straight in front of us parroting, reciting. ...

I found myself sitting tonight in yet another Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting the central Message of which was the importance of going to still more Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings. This infuriating carrot-and-donkey aspect of trudging to Meetings only to be told to trudge to still more Meetings. ... I mean, what's supposedly going to be communicated at these future meetings I'm exhorted to trudge to that cannot simply be communicated now, at this meeting, instead of the glazed recitation of exhortations to attend these vague future revelatory meetings? ...

Don, let me ask you, Don. In all earnest. Why shouldn't every human being in the world be in AA? ... By AA's own professed logic, everyone ought to be in AA. If you have some sort of Substance-problem, then you belong in AA. But if you say you do not have a Substance-problem, in other words if you deny that you have a Substance-problem, why then you're by definition in Denial, and thus you apparently need the Denial-busting Fellowship of AA even more than someone who can admit his problem."
Gately:
For me, the slogan means there's no set way to argue intellectual-type stuff about the Program. Surrender To Win, Give It Away To Keep It. God As You Understand Him. You can't think about it like an intellectual thing. Trust me because I been there, man. You can analyze it til you're breaking tables with your forehead and find a cause to walk away, back Out There, where the Disease is. Or you can stay and hang in and do the best you can.
Gately has to remind himself that dealing with Day can teach him "patience, tolerance, self-discipline, restraint". Day's complaints remind me of the "exotic" fact of letting yourself learn things from people dumber than you. (I feel like Wallace himself, as a self-described "obscenely well-educated" person, was much like Day and had trouble accepting AA's sappy, trite clichés, too.)

November 6, YDAU - ETA returns home from Port Washington. Wayne and Hal destroyed their opponents, and Pemulis was awarded a victory when his opponent became "weirdly lethargic and then disoriented in the second set ... claiming the tennis balls were too pretty to hit". Recall Pemulis had mentioned, as a joke, putting some DMZ in a Gatorade barrel at Port Washington. Though he eventually nixed that idea, I believe. But Pemulis absolutely needed a victory at PW to qualify for the WhataBurger and thus have off-time to partake of the incredibly potent DMZ, so it seems likely that he did something to his opponent, possibly when he was futzing with various containers of water courtside before the match.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 211-242

Joelle van Dyne, aka radio personality Madame Psychosis, plans to commit suicide (by drug overdose) on November 7 YDAU in the bathroom at a party at Molly Notkin's apartment, where Joelle used to live. Joelle is "excruciatingly alive and encaged", addicted to crack cocaine and no longer even close to enjoying it (an attitude shared by Erdedy and Kate Gompert).

Joelle is a card-carrying member of the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed and wears a linen veil. Joelle was Orin Incandenza's girlfriend for 26 months and then was an actor for nearly two years in several of JOI's films. Orin referred to her as the PGOAT (the Prettiest Girl of All-Time). Which raises the question of why she wears a veil. There is plenty of information on her relationships with Orin and the man she thought of as "Infinite Jim", "her true heart's friend", and what everyone (including Avril) knew and did not know about them. Joelle and Jim were not lovers, thought she did unveil for him, and Jim left her an obscenely generous (and addiction-enabling) annuity when he died.

Like Erdedy, Joelle decides to stop using Material for the final last time, but then crawls around on the floor looking for smokable scraps among the carpet's lint. She also throws away her paraphernalia in a doomed-to-fail attempt to prevent herself from getting high again. Joelle buys her last glycine baglet of cocaine from Lady Delphina (who was mentioned by yrstruly). "[S]he liked this more than anyone can like anything and still live."

While sitting alone at the party, and then in the bathroom where she will "eliminate her own map", Joelle recalls the last film she shot with James Incandenza, what later would be referred to as "the Entertainment" (and Himself had killed himself less than ninety days later by putting his head in a microwave oven):
The rain's wet veil blurs things like Jim had designed his neonatal lens to blur things in imitation of a neonatal retina, everything recognizable and yet without outline. A blur that's more deforming than fuzzy. ...

the prodigious punter's father, infinite jester, director of a final opus so magnum he'd claimed to have had it locked away. Joelle's never seen the completed assembly of what she'd appeared in, or seen anyone who's seen it, and doubts that any sum of scenes as pathologic as he'd stuck that long quartzy auto-wobbling lens on the camera and filmed her for could have been as entertaining as he'd said the thing he'd always wanted to make had broken his heart by ending up. ...

the mirror he'd cut for the scenes of that last ghastly thing he'd made her stand before, reciting in the openly empty tones she'd gone on to use on-air ...

to shoot Joelle in the weird wobble-lensed maternal I'm-so-terribly-sorry' monologue-scene of the last thing he'd done, and then never shown her, and had ordered the cartridge's burial in the brass casket w/him ...

Was the allegedly fatally entertaining and scopophiliac thing Jim alleges he made out of her unveiled face here at the start of Y.T.S.D.B. a cage or really a door? Had he even cut the tape into something coherent? There was nothing coherent in the mother-death-cosmology and apologies she'd repeated over and over, inclined over that auto-wobbled lens propped up in the plaid-sided pram. He never let her see it, not even the dailies. ...

'The Face of the Deep' had been the title she'd suggested for Jim's unseen last cartridge, which he'd said would be too pretentious and then used that skull-fragment out of the Hamlet graveyard scene instead, which talk about pretentious she'd laughed. His frightened look when she'd laughed is for the life of her the last facial-expression memory she can remember of the man.
The film is mentioned by two party guests in casual conversation:
'— way it can be film qua film. Comstock says if it even exists it has to be something more like an aesthetic pharmaceutical. Some beastly post-annular scopophiliacal vector. Suprasubliminals and that. Some kind of abstractable hypnosis, an optical dopamine-cue. A recorded delusion. Duquette says he's lost contact with three colleagues. He said a good bit of Berkeley isn't answering their phone.' ...

'This ultimate cartridge-as-ecstatic-death rumor's been going around like a lazy toilet since Dishmaster, for Christ's sake. Simply make inquiries, mention some obscure foundation grant, obtain the thing through whatever shade of market the thing's alleged to be out in. Have a look. See that it's doubtless just high-concept erotica or an hour of rotating whorls. Or something like late Makavajev, something that's only entertaining after it's over, on reflection.'
Wallace's writing is both tense and achingly beautiful as he describes Joelle's thoughts as she prepares the crack cocaine with which she will attempt to kill herself:
She represses all bathetic this-will-be-the-last-thing-I-smell thought-patterns. Joelle is going to have Too Much Fun in here. It was beyond all else so much fun, at the start. Orin had neither disapproved nor partaken; his urine was an open book because of football. Jim hadn't disapproved so much as been vacant with disinterest. His Too Much was neat bourbon, and he had lived life to the fullest, and then gone in for detoxification, again and again. This had been simply too much fun, at the start. So much better even than nasaling the Material up through rolled currency and waiting for the cold bitter drip at the back of your throat and cleaning the newly spacious apartment to within an inch of its life while your mouth twitches and writhes unbidden beneath the veil. The 'base frees and condenses, compresses the whole experience to the implosion of one terrible shattering spike in the graph, an afflated orgasm of the heart that makes her feel, truly, attractive, sheltered by limits, deveiled and loved, observed and alone and sufficient and female, full, as if watched for an instant by God. She always sees, after inhaling, right at the apex, at the graph's spike's tip, Bernini's 'Ecstasy of St. Teresa,' behind glass, at the Vittoria, for some reason, the saint recumbent, half-supine, her flowing stone robe lifted by the angel in whose other hand a bare arrow is raised for that best descent, the saint's legs frozen in opening, the angel's expression not charity but the perfect vice of barb-headed love. The stuff had been not just her encaging god but her lover, too, fiendish, angelic, of rock. ...

She's been resourceful before, but this is the most deliberate Joelle has been able to be about it in something like a year. From the purse she removes the plastic Pepsi container, a box of wooden matches kept dry in a resealable baggie, two little thick glycine bags each holding four grams of pharmaceutical-grade cocaine, a single-edge razor blade (increasingly tough to find), a little black Kodachrome canister whose gray lid she pops and discards to reveal baking soda sifted fine as talc, the empty glass cigar tube, a folded square of Reynolds Wrap foil the size of a playing card, and an amputated length of the bottom of a quality wire coat hanger. The overhead light casts shadows of her hands over what she needs, so she turns on the light over the medicine cabinet's mirror as well. The light stutters and hums and bathes the counter with cold lithium-free fluorescence. She undoes the four pins and removes the veil from her head and places it on the counter with the rest of the Material. Lady Delphina's little glycine baglets have clever seals that are green when sealed and blue and yellow when not. She taps half a glycine's worth into the cigar tube and adds half again as much baking soda, spilling some of the soda in a parenthesis of bright white on the counter. This is the most deliberate she's been able to be in at least a year. ...

She is now a little under two deliberate minutes from Too Much Fun for anyone mortal to hope to endure. Her unveiled face in the dirty lit mirror is shocking in the intensity of its absorption. ...

'The Ecstasy of St. Teresa' is on perpetual display at the Vittoria in Rome and she never got to see it. ...

The idea that she'll never see Molly Notkin or the cerebral Union or her U.H.I.D. support-brothers and -sisters or the YYY engineer or Uncle Bud on a roof or her stepmother in the Locked Ward or her poor personal Daddy again is sentimental and banal. The idea of what she's about in here contains all other ideas and makes them banal. Her glass of juice is on the back of the toilet, half-empty. The back of the toilet is lightly sheened with condensation of unknown origin. These are facts. This room in this apartment is the sum of very many specific facts and ideas. There is nothing more to it than that. Deliberately setting about to make her heart explode has assumed the status of just one of these facts. It was an idea but now is about to become a fact.
And:
As she remembers things Jim was, besides a great filmic mind and her true heart's friend, the world's best hailer of Boston cabs, known to have less hailed than conjured cabs in spots where Boston cabs by all that's right just aren't ... Never again a cab in four-plus years, after that. And so Joelle van Dyne, a.k.a. Madame P., surrendered, suicidal, eschews tumbrel or hack, her solid clogs sounding formal on the smooth cement down Boylston's sidewalk past fine stores' revolving doors southeast toward serious brownstone-terrain ...
Tumbrel: A cart used during the French Revolution to carry condemned prisoners to the guillotine. An odd choice of words for a taxi, perhaps, but extremely well-used in the context of Joelle's imminent suicide attempt.

Also:

November 4, YDAU - Pemulis, Hal, and Trevor Axford discuss the "incredibly potent DMZ" and its supposed effects. How potent is it? Pemulis says its Swiss inventor suggested taking LSD-25 to come down off of the drug! It's like acid that has itself dropped acid. Pemulis bought 13 tablets of DMZ from two Canadians who own a old film-cartridge emporium called Antitoi Entertainment, "and like fucking Nucksters about almost anything they had no idea what what they were in possession of was worth". And so Pemulis:
almost danced a little post-transaction jig on his way up the steps of the otiose Cambridge bus, feeling the way W. Penn in his Quaker Oats hat in like the 16th century must have felt trading a few trinkets to babe-in-the-woods Natives for New Jersey
Pemulis recounts the story of an Army guy who got injected with some unspecified dose of early DMZ as part of a military/CIA experiment and reportedly lost his mind. "I mean literally lost his mind, like the massive dose picked his mind up and carried it off somewhere and put it down someplace and forgot where." Recall that one of the facts you will learn at Ennet House is that once your enslaving Substance is taken away from you, "you will find yourself beginning to pray to be allowed to literally lose your mind, to be able to wrap your mind in an old newspaper or something and leave it in an alley to shift for itself, without you."

Hal seems incredibly eager to try the DMZ, questioning Pemulis about its addictiveness and also arranging the tablets with a Zen-like precision. The three boys discuss when they might sample the drug.
So, they conclude, the window of opportunity looks to be 11/20-21 — the weekend right after the big End-of-Fiscal-Year fundraising exhibition ... the weekend right before Thanksgiving week and the WhataBurger Invitational in sunny AZ, because this year in addition to Friday 11/20 they also get Saturday 11/21 off, as in from both class and practice ... the E.T.A.s will get Saturday to rest and recharge before starting both the pre-WhataBurger training week and the bell-lap of prep for 12/12's Boards, meaning late Friday night-Sunday A.M. will give Pemulis, Hal, and Axford ... enough time to psychospiritually rally from whatever meninges-withering hangover the incredibly potent DMZ might involve ...
However, Pemulis will get that Saturday P.M. off classes only if he makes the cut for the Tucson-WhataBurger and that is not a sure thing. (The "incredibly potent stash [is] now wrapped tight in Saran and stashed deep in the toe of an old sneaker that sits atop the aluminum strut between two panels in subdorm B's drop ceiling, Pemulis's time-tested entrepot".)

Plus:

Page 223 (finally!) contains a Chronology Of Organization Of North American Nations' Revenue-Enhancing Subsidized Time™, By Year. We learn that Subsidized Time began in 2002, YDAU is 2009, and the Year of Glad - which is when the book began, with Hal - is 2010, after everything we have seen so far. So sometime between November YDAU (the time period of most of the book's scenes) and November YG (when Hal is trying to make himself understood at the Arizona interview), something happens, including (apparently) Hal and Don Gately digging up JOI's head while John N.R. Wayne stands by wearing a mask.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 169-211

If, by the virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility like Enfield MA's state-funded Ennet House, you will acquire many exotic new facts.
I love this section so much. It's my favourite non-Gately part of the book. Someone who read a first draft of the Infinite Jest manuscript suggested to Wallace that this would make a good opening for the book, but there is no evidence Wallace ever considered that.

First of all, these are facts. And it is said you will acquire them - there does not seem to be a choice - as a result of your attendance at Ennet House or a similar facility. Some of these facts seem particular to Ennet House, but many of them, particularly in the later half of the section, appear as rules or attitudes (or observations about human beings) to help you live a meaningful life among others out in the world. The section is also written very tightly. No excess words, no padding, no "stunt pilotry", as Wallace sometimes termed his meta-fictional flourishes - unlike the 1960/JOI Sr. monologue, which seemed, on this reading, overly long and even possibly in need of some editing.

There is also a warm kindness to this section, something that was also apparent to PYS Guide Allie Fournier:
The sheer optimism in these quotations is so beautiful and, when I came across them for the first time, they made my heart soften immediately. There is something so pure in their simplicity and so brave in their vulnerability. If anything, it's the glimpses of vulnerability throughout Infinite Jest that lend a humanizing kind of softness to the narrative and endear it to me again and again – bringing me back after I read through a particularly hard section that leaves me feeling unsettled and sometimes even alienated from the story.
Wallace's This Is Water discussed choosing what you decide to pay attention to, a choice of where a person direct her attention. Infinite Jest has these aphorisms, too. We saw a bit of them in JOI Sr.'s monologue to his young son, the future filmmaker JOI. But it is most notably in the transcript to Mario Incandenza's film "Tennis and the Feral Prodigy" and the list of exotic new facts.

Facts:
That certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Then that most nonaddicted adult civilians have already absorbed and accepted this fact, often rather early on. ... That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it.

That no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that. ...

That loneliness is not a function of solitude. ...

That it is possible to learn valuable things from a stupid person. ...

That everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That this isn't necessarily perverse. ...

That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. ...

That 'acceptance' is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else. ...

That everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. ...

That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness.
That last "fact" reminds me of This Is Water, of course, but also, this bit about Hal and the Big Buddy program:
Hal on the whole rather likes being a Big B. He likes being there to come to, and likes delivering little unpretentious minilectures on tennis theory and E.T.A. pedagogy and tradition, and getting to be kind in a way that costs him nothing.
Some of these sentiments have echoes in the script to Mario's film:
Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you ...

What is unfair can be a stern but invaluable teacher. ...

Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail.
This is also the advice given by Jim Struck to the younger students he is a Big Buddy to. In games where there is no linesman, and the opponent is miscalling shots, "You do not kertwang back. You play the calls, not a word, keep smiling. If you still win, you'll have grown inside as a person."

There are sentiments that Wallace would later explore more deeply in The Pale King:
That it takes effort to pay attention to any one stimulus for more than a few seconds. ...

That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them. ...

That concentrating intently on anything is very hard work.
The "new facts" section flows into Tiny Ewell's keen interest and weird obsession with the tattoos on the bodies of various Ennet House residents. Big square-headed Don Gately re-emerges in this section, as well as the section describing the various other buildings near Ennet House and ETA. It is in that section that we learn that Gately came in to Ennet House as a resident, nearly got tossed back out on the street because of a childish prank, and then was eventually offered a job as a live-in Staffer. When we last saw Gately (page 60), he had unknowingly just murdered a man, and was "in the sort of a hell of a deep-shit mess than can turn a man's life right around". We don't know what happened, but Gately apparently did turn his life around re Substances.

Ennet House is the sixth of seven Units on the grounds of an Enfield Marine Public Health Hospital complex, and now we learn a bit more about the other six building. (This was another section that sold me on the book way back in 1998.)

Unit #1: "The customers for Unit #1 tend to congregate in like-minded groups of three or four and gesture a lot and look wild-eyed and generally pissed-off in some broad geopolitical way." And they gather together while still managing to be completely isolated and alone.

Endnote 67 describes one of the "objay darts" in Unit #5:
Her deal is apparently that she's almost psychotically terrified of the possibility that she might be either blind or paralyzed or both. So e.g. she keeps her eyes shut tight 24/7/365 out of the reasoning that as long as she keeps her eyes shut tight she can find hope in the possibility that if she was to open them she'd be able to see, they say; but that if she were ever to actually open her eyes and actually not be able to see, she reasons, she's lost that precious like margin of hope that she's maybe not blind. Then they run through her similar reasoning behind sitting absolutely motionless out of a phobia of being paralyzed.
We also read some the complaints/suggestions/general gripes of several residents to the House's Executive Director Patricia Montesian, as of November 4 YDAU. That is also the date that Michael Pemulis, after doing a bunch of research into the "incredibly potent DMZ", heads, by a circuitous route, into Boston to purchase the drug.

Also extremely important is Madame Psychosis's midnight radio show on WYYY. "Madame Psychosis" is the alternate name for the incredibly potent DMZ, and someone with that name was an actor in some of JOI's films, including a series of films entitled Infinite Jest. A show in lats October YDAU has her reading from a flyer for UHID (Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed). Mario Incandenza listens to the Madame's show religiously, with his ear right up against the radio's speaker. The show's cued music "stir[s] very early memories of Mario's father".

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 137-169

(Note: Don't forget the PYS blog, with at least four posts a week.)

This section is an odd part of the book, where the main narratives drop out somewhat and we get in quick succession: a brief bit about the founder of Ennet House, the Bricklayer/Workers Comp letter, Hal's seventh-grade essay, Steeply's stolen heart article, a list of anti-ONAN groups, what could be a standalone essay torn from ASFT about videophones, the sale of clean urine during ETA's drug testing, and a monologue from 1960 from JOI's father (Hal's grandfather) talking of his own shattered tennis career and his poor relationship with his father (also called Himself).

The Ennet House founder's name was not Ennet. But besides that, we don't know him at all. He took AA's idea of anonymity to an extreme and was known simply the Guy Who Didn't Even Use His First Name. He was a "tough old Boston AA galoot" who, according to some accounts, made new residents prove their dedication to staying sober by chewing actual rocks.

The accident email is an urban myth that dates back at least as far as 1902, according to Snopes. The story is also in an Irish folk song/tale sometimes called The Sick Note. Dwayne Glynn suffers terrible consequences from trying to do a job alone, a message that will resonate in the AA sections. Alcoholics who attempt to stay sober solely by themselves do not succeed very often in Infinite Jest.

Hal's seventh-grade essay compares the management styles of Hawaii Five-O's Steve McGarrett ("a classically modern hero of action") with Frank Furillo of Hill Street Blues (a 'post'-modern hero ...a hero of reaction"). In his conclusion, Hal predicts we will soon see "the hero of non-action ... the catatonic hero ... divorced from all stimulus". Greg Carlyle, the author of Elegant Complexity, an excellent guide to reading IJ, notes that at the end of Hill Street Blues' first season, it was revealed that Furillo is a recovering alcoholic.

Steeply's article concerns a unique purse-snatching. The purse contained a Jarvik IX Exterior Artificial Heart that was keeping the 46-year-old victim alive. The transvestite purse snatcher dressed "in a strapless cocktail dress ... tattered feather boa, and auburn wig" is pretty clearly Poor Tony, from the yrstruly section.

The videophony section is one of my favourite parts of the novel. Step-by-step, it goes through the different stages of dealing with the new technology and somehow not becoming a stressed-out wreck.  Wallace charts the evolution from aural-only calls to concerns about how you looked on screen to then wearing a mask while making calls, and then eventually hiding behind a picture of an attractive person that bore only the slightest resemblance (if any) to you, and finally, a return to aural-only telephony, which became "a kind of status-symbol of anti-vanity, such that only callers utterly lacking in self-awareness continued to use videophony" and masks.

"Urine trouble? Urine luck!" ETA student Michael Pemulis (described by Avril Incandenza as "reptilian" back on page 50) makes a tidy profit selling "innocent childish urine" to various other students (those ranked higher than #64 continentally) during quarterly drug testing. Roughly 25% of the ranking players over fifteen cannot pass a standard drug test. Mario Incandenza, "using his strap-attached head-mounted camera", films the entire drug testing (and in-line urine sales) procedure. (We also get some background on the tennis-playing skills of both Pemulis and Hal ("a late-blooming prodigy and possible genius at tennis".)

Then we have a long monologue from Hal's grandfather to 10-year-old James Incandenza, dating from the winter of 1960. Determined to "create" a top-ranked tennis player in his son, the elder James Incandenza bemoans his own wrecked career at tennis and subsequent spotty career as an actor. This section contains no endnotes, as though Wallace did not want to interrupt the section with any of the back and forth he employs elsewhere.