Monday, August 22, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 651-682

651-662: Journalist Helen Steeply watches the hastily arranged exhibition match between Ortho Stice and Hal Incandenza from the bleachers with Aubrey deLint, who explains that ETA has never allowed a student to be interviewed and no one there wants Steeply to talk to Hal about anything. deLint explains how ETA wants to shelter the students, making the academy a place "about seeing instead of being seen".
These kids, the best of them are here to learn to see. Schtitt's thing is self-transcendence through pain. These kids —' gesturing at Stice running madly up for a drop-volley that stopped rolling well inside the service line; mild applause — 'they're here to get lost in something bigger than them. To have it stay the way it was when they started, the game as something bigger, at first. Then they show talent, start winning, become big fish in their ponds out there in their hometowns, stop being able to get lost inside the game and see. Fucks with a junior's head, talent. They pay top dollar to come here and go back to being little fish and to get savaged and feel small and see and develop. To forget themselves as objects of attention for a few years and see what they can do when the eyes are off them. They didn't come here to get read about as some soft-news item or background. ...

The point here for the best kids is to inculcate their sense that it's never about being seen. It's never. If they can get that inculcated, the Show won't fuck them up, Schtitt thinks. If they can forget everything but the game when all of you out there outside the fence see only them and want only them and the game's incidental to you, for you it's about entertainment and personality, it's about the statue, but if they can get inculcated right they'll never be slaves to the statue, they'll never blow their brains out after winning an event when they win, or dive out a third-story window when they start to stop getting poked at or profiled, when their blossom starts to fade. Whether or not you mean to, babe, you chew them up, it's what you do. ... You, Moment, World Tennis, Self, Inter-Lace, the audiences. The crowds in Italy fucking literally. It's the nature of the game. It's the machine they're all dying to throw themselves into. They don't know the machine. But we do. Gerhardt's teaching them to see the ball out of a place inside that can't be chewed. It takes time and total focus. The man's a fucking genius.
663-665: Steeply sends interview questions by mail to Marlon Bain (Orin's former roommate/doubles partner at ETA), who responds at length. His responses comprise Note 269 (5+ pages). Bain talks at length about Orin (who, according to Bain, has come to regard the truth as constructed instead of reported) and Avril (who was more than willing to believe Orin's outrageous lies about everything, even including the time his actions resulted in the death of the family dog).
Why do many parents who seem relentlessly bent on producing children who feel they are good persons deserving of love produce children who grow to feel they are hideous persons not deserving of love who just happen to have lucked into having parents so marvelous that the parents love them even though they are hideous?

Is it a sign of abuse if a mother produces a child who believes not that he is innately beautiful and lovable and deserving of magnificent maternal treatment but somehow that he is a hideous unlovable child who has somehow lucked in to having a really magnificent mother? Probably not.

But could such a mother then really be all that magnificent, if that's the child's view of himself? ...

I am speaking of Mrs. Avril M.-T. Incandenza, although the woman is so multileveled and indictment-proof that it is difficult to feel comfortable with any sort of univocal accusation of anything.
Also, Bain on USA football:
A grunting, crunching ballet of repressed homoeroticism ... The exaggerated breadth of the shoulders, the masked eradication of facial personality, the emphasis on contact-vs.-avoidance-of-contact. The gains in terms of penetration and resistance. The tight pants that accentuate the gluteals and hamstrings and what look for all the world like codpieces. The gradual slow shift of venue to "artificial surface," "artificial turf." Don't the pants' fronts look fitted with codpieces? And have a look at these men whacking each other's asses after a play. It is like Swinburne sat down on his soul's darkest night and designed an organized sport. And pay no attention to Orin's defense of football as a ritualized substitute for armed conflict. Armed conflict is plenty ritualized on its own, and since we have real armed conflict (take a spin through Boston's Roxbury and Mattapan districts some evening) there is no need or purpose for a substitute. Football is pure homophobically repressed nancy-ism, and do not let O. tell you different.
666-673: While Stice and Hal play their afternoon match, the members of the Tunnel Club (mostly the under-14 boys) are in the tunnels below ETA, assigned the task of clearing out various kinds of trash so that workers can carry out parts of the Lung when it is time to erect and inflate the Lung over the outdoor courts. There is again mention of various objects at ETA having been moved into inappropriate places; this weirdness has been happening for about three months. The boys bag up a lot of garbage, including many unlabelled entertainment cartridges. (We will later see two black girls who work part-time at ETA taking "dumpster-pilferage" down to Ennet House (possibly some of the unlabelled cartridges hauled out of the tunnels).)

673-682: Third set of the match, and Steeply is now talking to Thierry Poutrincourt, a Quebecer on staff at ETA, who during their conversation in French realizes that Steeply is not actually a woman. They also discuss the pressures on the students at ETA and the lure of success:
Winning two and three upset matches, feeling suddenly so loved, so many talking to you as if there is love. But always the same, then. For then you awaken to the fact that you are loved for winning only. The two and three wins created you, for people. It is not that the wins made them recognize something that existed unrecognized before these upset wins. The from-noplace winning created you. You must keep winning to keep the existence of love and endorsements and the shiny magazines wanting your profile. ... Pressure such as one could not imagine, now that to maintain you must win. Now that winning is the expected. And all alone, in the hotels and the airplanes, with any other player you could speak to of the pressure to exist wanting to beat you, wanting to be exist above and not below. Or the others, wanting from you, and only so long as you play with abandon, winning. ... What is the instruction if we shape the ephebe into the athlete who can win fearlessly to be loved, yet we do not prepare her for the time after fear comes, no?
Imagine you. You become just what you have given your life to be. Not merely very good but the best. The good philosophy of here and Schtitt — I believe this philosophy of Enfield is more Canadian than American, so you may see I have prejudice — is that you must have also — so, leave to one side for a moment the talent and work to become best — that you are doomed if you do not have also within you some ability to transcend the goal, transcend the success of the best, if you get to there. ... Then and for the ones who do become the étoiles, the lucky who become profiled and photographed for readers and in the U.S.A. religion make it, they must have something built into them along the path that will let them transcend it, or they are doomed. We see this in experience. One sees this in all obsessive goal-based cultures of pursuit. Look at the Japonois, the suicide rates of their later years. This task of us at the Enfield is more delicate still, with the étoiles. For, you, if you attain your goal and cannot find some way to transcend the experience of having that goal be your entire existence, your raison de faire, so, then, one of two things we see will happen.

One, one is that you attain the goal and realize the shocking realization that attaining the goal does not complete or redeem you, does not make everything for your life "OK" as you are, in the culture, educated to assume it will do this, the goal. And then you face this fact that what you had thought would have the meaning does not have the meaning when you get it, and you are impaled by shock. We see suicides in history by people at these pinnacles; the children here are versed in what is called the saga of Eric Clipperton. ... Or the other possibility of doom, for the étoiles who attain. They attain the goal, thus, and put as much equal passion into celebrating their attainment as they had put into pursuing the attainment. This is called here the Syndrome of the Endless Party. The celebrity, money, sexual behaviors, drugs and substances. The glitter. They become celebrities instead of players, and because they are celebrities only as long as they feed the culture-of-goal's hunger for the make-it, the winning, they are doomed, because you cannot both celebrate and suffer, and play is always suffering, just so.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 601-651

601-619: November 11. Randy Lenz "oozes through the door" at Ennet House just before Don Gately locks it at the curfew of 2330. Lenz is clearly high, but Gately is too busy to pull an immediate spot-urine. Bruce Green arrives late, at 2336, but Gately lets him in. At 0000 Gately has to supervise the residents who own cars moving their cars to be moved to the other side of the street, as per the city's alternate-side parking rules. During the commotion, three Nucks - one of them holding Lenz's white mustache (which had fallen off in the yard while he was killing the Nucks' dog) and other one brandishing an Item - arrive looking for Lenz.

Gately takes in the situation, and Wallace's minute descriptions of what Gately sees includes this: "All this appraisal's taking only seconds; it only takes time to list it." (That reminds me of a similar sentence from "Good Old Neon" (Oblivion): "What goes on inside is just too fast and huge and all interconnected for words to do more than barely sketch the outlines of at most one tiny little part of it at any given instant.")

During the inevitable fight with the Nucks, Gately is shot in the right shoulder. The Nucks are disarmed and likely stomped to death by various residents. Joelle van Dyne is nearby, and a wounded Gately suddenly recognizes her voice. "You're Madame on the FM, is how I knew you. ... Boy do I know guys loved that show you did." Erdedy remarks to himself that Joelle seems to like Gately in "an extracurricular way". The scene ends as a bunch of guys get ready to lift Gately and carry him inside Ennet House (D.G. doesn't want an ambulance called because the cops will get involved and he could go back to jail).

Gately has no idea what Lenz has done to warrant the three furious armed Nucks arriving and being out for blood, and Lenz is obviously a loathsome person, but Gately also knows he has no other choice but to defend him.

620-626: Mid-November. The WYYY student engineer is kidnapped out of a public park in Boston by the AFR, with one member careening down a hill in his wheelchair with a snow-plow-like scoop attached to the front, and he scoops up the engineer and heads for the bottom of the hill, where a white van awaits. It seems clear that the AFR wants to question him about Madame Psychosis, about which he knows very little. Molly Notkin came by the studio to get some old tapes for Joelle and told the engineer Joelle was in "treatment". (Also, Rodney Tine is in Boston (as is Hugh Steeply) to discuss the Entertainment.)

627-638: November 11, 1810h. ETA dining hall. Much description of eating habits. Background on Ortho "The Darkness" Stice, who, surprisingly, nearly beat Hal Incandenza in a hastily called exhibition match this afternoon (which was watched by Steeply). Jim Troeltsch believes the milk provided at ETA is actually secretly made from powdered (Hall and Mario know his suspicions are correct.) Some information on ETA males and sexuality. "Hal is maybe the one male ETA for whom lifetime virginity is a conscious goal." Also, this is a "whole new Hal, a Hal who does not get high, or hide, a Hal who in 29 days is going to hand over his own personal urine over to authority figures with a wide smile and exemplary posture and not a secret thought in his head." This must be fall-out from the post-Eschaton meeting in Tavis's office. (There is also a mention of a girl who dated Orin and worked with Himself who "had been disfigured".)

638-648: May 1. Steeply tells Marathe about his father's initially innocent but soon all-consuming addiction to the old television program M*A*S*H. Wallace brilliantly charts the father's downfall from being attached to watching the show on Thursday nights, to then also watching the reruns in syndication, bringing a small TV to work so he could watch afternoon reruns, to keeping a notebook in which he scribbled notes about the show, to quoting lines and discussing various scenes, to watching feature films starring the show's actors, to referring to his den as the Swamp, to recording all 29 episodes broadcast weekly and organizing the tapes "in baroque systems of cross-reference", to moving his bedding into the Swamp, missing weeks of time from work, writing letters to Major Burns and mailing them to military addresses in Seoul, to his refusal to leave his chair in his den, to his eventual death from heart failure.

648-651: November 13. Ennet House, 0245h. Geoffrey Day is telling Kate Gompert about a dark, billowing mass that terrified him as a child. "It was total horror. Total psychic horror." The feeling eventually left (though Day does not know why or how) and has not returned for roughly 20 years, but: "I understood on an intuitive level why people killed themselves. If I had to go for any length of time with that feeling I'd surely kill myself."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 575-601

575-589: November 11, Late PM. Randy Lenz and Bruce Green (cont.). Background on Lenz's obese mother getting her ass stuck in a bus's bathroom's little open window and then winning a sizeable lawsuit against Greyhound (after which she then "lost all will to ... cook or clean, or nurture, or finally even move") and her death a few years later.

Also some back story on Bruce Green's parents: the Xmas death of his mother from a heart attack opening a can of macadamia nuts given to her by young Bruce that actually had "a coiled cloth snake with an ejaculatory spring" inside. And his father's subsequent spiral into drinking/depression (he was once a popular aerobics instructor and now worked for a novelty item company) that culminated with him inserting high explosives into a case of Blammo cigars, which killed more than two dozen people, leading to his trial and execution. Green has repressed most of these memories.
Green's guilt, pain, fear and self-loathing have over years of unprescribed medication been compressed to the igneous point where he now knows only that he compulsively avoids any product or service with 'N in its name, always checks a palm before a handshake, will go blocks out of his way to avoid any parade involving fezzes in little cars, and has this silent, substratified fascination/horror gestalt about all things even remotely Polynesian.
Green and Lenz become separated and Green is drawn to the loud Hawaiian music coming out of one particular house with a blue-and-white "Quenucker" flag in a window. Green happens to see Lenz walking along and stopping in front of this same house. Lenz begins feeding some leftover meatloaf (from the Ennet House fridge) to a large dog. While the dog is concentrating on the food, Lenz pulls out his knife and cuts the dog's throat. Several people inside the house see Lenz standing over the dead dog in the small fenced yard and start yelling. Lenz takes off and several Nucks follow both on foot and in a car. Green, who had been watching Lenz from behind a tree, stays hidden for fear of being seen and labelled an accomplice.

589-593: November 11, Late PM. Mario Incandenza will soon be 19 years old. He has a "neurological deficit whereby he can't feel physical pain very well". He has been battling insomnia since Madame Psychosis's midnight radio show abruptly stopped. Mario is worried because it has become difficult to read his brother Hal's states of mind and he "can't tell if Hal is sad". Mario's nighttime prayers last about an hour and "are not a chore". Mario has been invited into Ennet House a couple of times by House Director Pat Montesian.
And across the little street that's crammed with cars everybody has to move at 0000h. is Ennet's House, where the Headmistress has a disability and had had a wheelchair ramp installed and has twice invited Mario in during the day for a Caffeine-Free Millennial Fizzy, and Mario likes the place: it's crowded and noisy and none of the furniture has protective plastic wrap, but nobody notices anybody else or comments on a disability and the Headmistress is kind to the people and the people cry in front of each other. The inside of it smells like an ashtray, but Mario's felt good both times in Ennet's House because it's very real; people are crying and making noise and getting less unhappy, and once he heard somebody say God with a straight face and nobody looked at them or looked down or smiled in any sort of way where you could tell they were worried inside.
(In an earlier draft of Infinite Jest, Wallace had written that the inside of Ennet House "smells like God".) Walking around Enfield Marine late at night, Mario hears the sound of a Madame Psychosis show, from several years ago, coming out of an open window.
Mario thinks it might not be out of the question that [the person playing the tape] might lend tapes to a fellow listener if he could ask. He usually checks etiquette questions with Hal, who is incredibly knowledgeable and smart. When he thinks of Hal his heart beats and his forehead's thick skin becomes wrinkled. Hal will also know the term for private tapes made of broadcast things on the air. Perhaps this lady owns multiple tapes. This one is from 'Sixty Minutes +/-' 's first year, when Madame still had a slight accent and often spoke on the show as if she were talking exclusively to one person or character who was very important to her. ... Mario'd fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she'd taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way. The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that's really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. It's like there's some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn't happy.
Cf. Boston AA being an "irony-free zone" and DFW's essay on Joseph Frank's multi-volume Dostoevsky biography, in which he said current fiction writers must be brave enough (they must be "literary rebels") to write about "stuff that is real" without worrying about hipsters rolling their eyes. From that essay:
The big thing that makes Dostoevsky invaluable for American readers and writers is that he appears to possess degrees of passion, conviction, and engagement with deep moral issues that we - here, today - cannot or do not permit ourselves. ... For there are certain tendencies we believe are bad, qualities we hate and fear. Among these are sentimentality, naïveté, archaism, fanaticism. ... Our intelligentsia distrust strong belief, open conviction. ... [I]deological passion disgusts us on some deep level. ... Frank's bio prompts us to ask ourselves why we seem to require of our art an irony distance from deep convictions or desperate questions ...
593-596: November 11, Late PM. The various picayune and unpleasant nighttime responsibilities of Don Gately as one of the Live-in Staffers at Ennet House.
Gately has to unlock Pat's cabinets and get the key to the meds locker and open the meds locker. Residents on meds respond to the sound of the meds locker the way a cat will respond to the sound of a can-opener. They just like materialize. Gately has to dispense oral insulin and Virus-meds and pimple medicine and antidepressants and lithium to the residents who materialize for meds, and then he has to enter everything in the Medical Log, which the M. Log is an incredible fucking mess. ...

Gately has to answer the phone and tell people who call the office for a resident that residents can receive calls only on the pay phone in the basement, which he has to say yes is frequently busy all the time. The House prohibits cellular/mobiles and has a Boundary about the office phone for residents. Gately has to kick residents off down there when other residents in line come and complain they've exceeded their five minutes. This also tends to be unpleasant: the pay phone down there is undigital and un-shutoffable and a constant source of aggravation and beefs; every conversation is life-and-death; crisis down there 24/7. There's a special way to kick somebody off a pay phone that's respectful and nonshaming but also firm. Gately has gotten good at assuming a blank but not passive expression when residents are abusive. There's this look of weary expertise the House Staffers cultivate, then have to flex their face to get rid of when they're off-duty. ...

Gately has to monitor the like emotional barometer in the House and put a wet finger to the wind for potential conflicts and issues and rumors. A subtle art here is maintaining access to the residents' gossip-grapevine and keeping on top of rumors without seeming like you're inducing a resident to cross the line and actually eat cheese on another resident. The only thing a resident is actually encouraged to rat out another resident on here is picking up a Substance. All other-type issues it's supposed to be Staff's job to glean and ferret out etc., to decoct legitimate infractions out of the tides of innuendo and bullshit complaint 20+ bored crammed-together street-canny people in detox from wrecked lives can generate.
596-601: At his hotel room's door, during his liaison with the Swiss hand-model, Orin talks to a man in a wheelchair who says he is conducting a survey: "Please list lifestyle elements of your U.S.A. lifetime you recall, and/or at present lack, and miss."
'I miss TV,' Orin said, looking back down. ...

'Some of this may sound stupid. I miss commercials that were louder than the programs. I miss the phrases "Order before midnight tonight" and "Save up to fifty percent and more." I miss being told things were filmed before a live studio audience. I miss late-night anthems and shots of flags and fighter jets and leathery-faced Indian chiefs crying at litter. ... I miss sneering at something I love. How we used to love to gather in the checker-tiled kitchen in front of the old boxy cathode-ray Sony whose reception was sensitive to airplanes and sneer at the commercial vapidity of broadcast stuff.'

'Vapid ditty,' pretending to notate.

'I miss stuff so low-denominator I could watch and know in advance what people were going to say.'

'Emotions of mastery and control and superiority. And pleasure.'

'You can say that again, boy. I miss summer reruns. I miss reruns hastily inserted to fill the intervals of writers' strikes, Actors' Guild strikes. I miss Jeannie, Samantha, Sam and Diane, Gilligan, Hawkeye, Hazel, Jed, all the syndicated airwave-haunters. You know? I miss seeing the same things over and over again.' ...

The man tended to look up at him like people with legs look up at buildings and planes. 'You can of course view entertainments again and again without surcease on TelEntertainment disks of storage and retrieval.'

Orin's way of looking up as he remembered was nothing like the seated guy's way of looking up. 'But not the same. The choice, see. It ruins it somehow. With television you were subjected to repetition. The familiarity was inflicted. Different now.'


'I don't think I exactly know,' Orin said, suddenly dimly stunned and sad inside.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest - Don Gately: Life And How To Live It

This post first ran at the Poor Yoricks' Summer blog on August 12:

In David Foster Wallace's review of Joseph Frank's multi-volume biography of Fyodor Dostoevsky (which review was written while he was working on Infinite Jest and pulled from A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again at the last minute (it was eventually collected in Consider the Lobster)), he posed a series of questions, seemingly to himself, concerning living a meaningful life and how to be a good person. One series of questions concerns faith:
What exactly does "faith" mean? As in "religious faith," "faith in God," etc. Isn't it basically crazy to believe in something that there's no proof of? ... How can somebody have faith before he's presented with sufficient reason to have faith? Or is somehow needing to have faith a sufficient reason for having faith? But then what kind of need are we talking about?
To some extent, these types of circular questions are described in Infinite Jest as (depending on the context) "marijuana thinking" or "Analysis Paralysis". Yet thinking about these questions and arriving at some sort of answer might, at the very least, help a person be comfortable with him-/herself.

Donald W. Gately, 29 years old, the size of "a young dinosaur" and possessing the "smooth immovability of an Easter Island statue", and free of Substances for roughly fourteen months, has struggled with questions concerning Alcoholics Anonymous and matters of faith.

When he first Came In, Gately dedicated himself to "this unromantic, unhip, cliched AA thing", but had no clue how "corny slogans and saccharin grins" and "the limpest sort of dickless pap" could actually make him forget about Substances and remove his overwhelming desire for them.

And then maybe four months in, when he out of the blue realized he had not thought of oral narcotics or even "a cold foamer" for several days, Gately "hadn't felt so much grateful or joyful as just plain shocked. The idea that AA might actually somehow work unnerved him. He suspected some sort of trap."

At the podium at meetings, Gately admits he is both ashamed and pissed off at himself that he still has no real grasp of the "Big spiritual Picture". Even though he gets to choose his own Higher Power, he feels like a complete hypocrite getting down on his big knees every morning and night and "talking to the ceiling". He feels like he is addressing Nothing, "an edgeless blankness that somehow feels worse than the sort of unconsidered atheism he Came In with". It also makes his afraid, scared he is doing something wrong that will somehow compromise or undermine his sobriety.

Gately must have faith in AA despite his ignorance about how it might work. The choice of Hanging In versus going back Out There and dealing with the Spider - it's no real choice at all. And because AA has no rules, surrendering your Diseased will to AA is merely a suggestion. Gately's sponsor, Francis G., "compares the totally optional basic suggestions in Boston AA to, say for instance if you're going to jump out of an airplane, they 'suggest' you wear a parachute. But of course you do what you want."

Gately realizes: "It's all optional; do it or die." Earlier in the novel, yrstruly said: "its' a never ending strugle its' a full time job to stay straight and there is no vacation for XMas at anytime. Its' a fucking bitch of a life dont' let any body get over on you diffrent." Gately knows it is also a never-ending struggle to stay sober.

And he gets scared during a break in one meeting when veiled newcomer Joelle van Dyne talks about the meaningless of a statement like "Being Here But For the Grace of God". And for a moment, Gately's mind goes utterly blank. The cafeteria seems pin-drop silent "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". The moment passes, though, and Gately settles in for the second half of the meeting, in his usual front row seat, "asking silently for help to be determined to try to really hear or die trying".

The above bit about Gately being unnerved by AA apparently working is on page 349 and Wallace pretty much writes the exact same thing on page 468, when recounting an early morning that Gately was riding the Green Line to his job at the Shattuck Shelter and realized that he had not thought about Substances for a few days. "He couldn't believe it. He wasn't Grateful so much as kind of suspicious ... How could some kind of Higher Power he didn't even believe in magically let him out of the cage when Gately had been a total hypocrite in even asking something he didn't believe in to let him out of a cage he had like zero hope of ever being let out of?"

The question drove Gately bats, but he soon learns to deal with the not-knowing-how. Whatever he is doing must be the right thing to do, because he's staying clean. Ennet House Executive Director Pat Monestian tells Gately it doesn't matter whether he believes he is praying to something or not, just the simple fact of doing it will magically transform his thoughts and beliefs. And so: "Gately usually no longer much cares whether he understands or not. He does the knee-and-ceiling thing twice a day, and cleans shit, and listens to dreams, and stays Active, and tells the truth to the Ennet House residents, and tries to help a couple of them if they approach him wanting help." Gately still doesn't seem to have a specific Higher Power, but maybe now it doesn't matter. Or perhaps his Higher Power is Pat Montestian's 1964 Aventura. ("Some of the profoundest spiritual feelings of his sobriety so far are for [that] car.")

It's a dangerous game to try to determine where an author has inserted autobiographical details into his or her work, but it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to posit that a really smart young guy like Wallace had issues with the seemingly vapid AA cliches. If so, he likely put those feelings into the character of Geoffrey Day (the academic who "manned the helm" of an obscure quarterly journal). Wallace's process of working through those feelings and ultimately accepting the cliches and discovering they had a depth to them could be reflected in Gately's meticulous ruminations. It obviously no mistake that Wallace put several similar scenes of Gately working through these feelings in the book. It's clearly something he wanted to emphasize - and he gives Gately a warm vulnerability that is very appealing.

Perhaps Gately is so likeable because he's nearly perfect. He has his doubts and frustrations with AA, but he appears to be living a satisfying life. He doesn't get angry or even overly annoyed with guys like Day or Randy Lenz. Rather, he reminds himself that the residents can teach him tolerance and patience. Gately seems incredibly content, living in the moment, one day at a time. Perhaps Gately's character was a goal, an ideal, that Wallace wanted to strive for. (We learn that Gately's "most marked progress in turning his life around in sobriety ... 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." In "Authority and American Usage" (from Consider The Lobster), Wallace writes in a footnote that he has tried to be similarly honest with people and admits "I've actually lost friends this way".)

One final thought: The idea of "giving yourself away" is usually presented in Infinite Jest as a bad thing, a loss of self. In AA, however, this is considered essential: "You have to want to surrender your will to people who know how to Starve The Spider." In This is Water, Wallace famously wrote: "In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship."

Is it fair to say that Gately "worships" AA? The narrator of Gately's sections admits that some of AA's tenets do sound somewhat cultish, and Gately will certainly preach the benefits of AA if anyone asks. He understands that he could not have become sober alone -- that solo method is portrayed as almost certain disaster; see the AA cliche, "My Best Thinking Got Me Here" -- and freely admits he has surrendered to AA, and knows the community is essential to his survival. Perhaps it is more that Gately has devoted himself to AA, which is described at one point as "the very loyal friend he thought he'd had and then lost".

(Gately art by Jenny Graf)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 538-575

I wrote this Friday's guest post - about Don Gately and faith - at the Poor Yoricks' Summer blog.

This week's sections:
538-547: Undated, but early November. Randy Lenz "abroad in the urban night, solo, on almost a nightly basis, sometimes carrying a book ... unaccompanied and disguised, apparently strolling". There.

548: No locks at Ennet House besides on a couple of windows.

548-549: Early November. Rodney Tine (and his special metric ruler) are in Boston. Update on the impact of the Entertainment.

550-553: November 9, late PM. Michael Pemulis interrupts John Wayne and Avril Incandenza, dressed up as nearly-naked football player and cheerleader, respectively, in Avril's office.

553-559: November 11. Lenz (continued). Lenz, after ingesting some Bing, walks with Bruce Green, which he (Lenz) enjoys, but also he'd like to be strolling solo.

560: Undated. Hal resting in his bunk. Troeltsch, Pemulis, and Wayne each stop by briefly.

560-562: Lenz and Green (continued). Lenz is quite talkative, due to his Crosbulation.

563-565: November 11. Snippets of Gately's conversations with residents, including Joelle.

565-567: Orin and the Swiss hand model. An endnote includes Orin's comments about his parents during interview with Steeply.

567-574: Michael Pemulis talks about annulation to a blindfolded Idris Arslanian.

574-575: Orin realizes that the wheelchaired man at the hotel room's door had same accent as the Swiss hand model.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 503-538

503-07: November x. Ennet House staffer Johnette Foltz takes Ken Erdedy and Kate Gompert to a NA Beginners' Discussion Meeting, "where the focus was always marijuana". Afterwards, everyone is hugging and Erdedy, "uncomfortable with the whole idea of hugging", is confronted by Roy Tony.

507-08: May 1. Marathe and Steeply talk about the men trying to study the Entertainment who have been "lost". Steeply: "Certain departments in Virginia, the developing theory is that it's holography. ... Tom Flatto's personal theory is the appeal's got something to do with density. The visual compulsion. Theory's that with a really sophisticated piece of holography you'd get the neural density of an actual stage play without losing the selective realism of the viewer-screen. That the density plus the realism might be too much to take."

508-27: November 10. Hal Incandenza, Michael Pemulis, Trevor Axford, and Ann Kittenplan have been summoned to Charles Tavis's office, presumably because of the Eschaton debacle two days ago. Background on Tavis (he designed Toronto's Skydome!) and on Lateral Alice Moore, who works as Tavis's secretary. Avril Incandenza, in her office nearby, conducts an "administrative diddle-check". Hal and the Moms have a brief conversation before everyone goes into Tavis's office.

528-530: May 1. Marathe and Steeply discuss various world myths of fatal beauty/temptation, of women "too exotic and intriguing or seductive to resist", such as L'Odalisque de Sainte Thérèse.

531-538: November 11, 0450. Don Gately talks to Joelle van Dyne about her veil and the attitudes of UHID. Joelle remarks that Gately is much smarter than he acts. She also says: "Don, I'm perfect. 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 ... believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right. ... I am so beautiful I am deformed. I am deformed with beauty."


Trying to keep the political subplot of the acquisition, copying, and dissemination of the Entertainment straight:
Marathe and Steeply meet on the Arizona outcropping on the night of April 30/May 1 YDAU, roughly six months before most of the action in the novel takes place (November YDAU).

There have been scattered casualties re the Entertainment: April 1: the Boston medical attache; Late October: someone at Molly Notkin's party says "a good bit of Berkeley isn't answering their phone".

All of the Canadian anti-ONAN groups - as well as the USOUS - have at least one copy of the Entertainment.

None of the anti-ONAN groups have a Master Copy, however, and are unable to make copies.

It is possible that Bertraund Antitoi brought home a copy of the Entertainment, perhaps even a Master, which he removed from a street display (which Joelle walked past on the night she attempted to kill herself).

Lucien Antitoi plays the often-unlabelled cartridges his brother brings home, but some of them appear blank.

Most consumers' TPs are 450-rpm. You need a 585-rpm TP to play a Master. Playing a Master on a 450 will give the viewer the impression that the cartridge is blank.

The AFR, looking for both a Master Copy of the Entertainment and a 585 TP, attack and ransack the Antitois' store sometime between November 8-10, and murder both brothers. Do they find anything?

When Does Joelle van Dyne Attempt Suicide?

The scene in the novel (219-40) is dated November 7 (Saturday).

Also, Note 134: "And if you're brand-new ... like veiled Joelle van Dyne, who 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, a consequence of which after Joelle regained consciousness and speech had involved placing a call to [Ennet House Executive Director] Pat Montesian ... so that his call to Pat's home on Saturday night had gotten Joelle into the House on the spot, as of Interdependence Day A.M.'s discharge from B&W ..." (1025-26)

This information, while in agreement with the date on page 219, would mean that Joelle was discharged from B&W and brought to Ennet House less than 24 hours after her very serious overdose. That does not seem very plausible.


"This Joelle girl, that wasn't even on the two-month waiting list for Intake, got in overnight under some private arrangement with somebody on the House's Board of Directors ... the girl just showed up two days ago right after supper. She'd been up at Brigham and Women's for five days after some sort of horrific O.D.-type situation said to have included both defib paddles and priests." (364)

This scene is on I.-Day, November 8 (Sunday), so according to this information, JvD would have arrived at Ennet House on the evening of Friday, November 6. Counting backwards means she was at B&W from Monday, November 2 to November 6, and so likely overdosed on the night of Sunday, November 1. (Any clue that Notkin's party was on a Sunday night?) This timeline seems far more believable. This timeline seems far more believable. However, it is not the one used by Greg Carlisle in Elegant Complexity.

So ... is one of these narrators unreliable or is this a mistake that did not get caught during the extensive editing process?

Friday, August 05, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 461-503

'Do you remember hearing,' U.S.O.U.S.'s Hugh Steeply said, 'in your own country, in the late I think B.S. '70s, of an experimental program, a biomedical experiment, involving the idea of electro-implantations in the human brain? ... They proposed to implant tiny little hair-thin electrodes in the brain. Some leading Canadian neurologist — Elder, Elders, something — at the time had hit on evidence that certain tiny little stimulations in certain brain-areas could prevent a seizure. As in an epileptic seizure. They implant electrodes — hair-thin, just a few millivolts or — ...

'It was all experimental. A whole lot of electrodes had to be implanted in an incredibly small area in the temporal lobe to hope to find the nerve-terminals that involved epileptic seizures, and it was trial and error, stimulating each electrode and checking the reaction. ... What happened was that Olders and the Canadian neuroscientists happened to find, during all the trial and error, that firing certain electrodes in certain parts of the lobes gave the brain intense feelings of pleasure. ... [T]he Canadians found that if they rigged an auto-stimulation lever, the rat would press the lever to stimulate his p-terminal over and over, thousands of times an hour, over and over, ignoring food and female rats in heat, completely fixated on the lever's stimulation, day and night, stopping only when the rat finally died of dehydration or simple fatigue.'
This experiment was real. It occurred in Canada in 1954. According to one website:
The existence of a pleasure center was first hypothesized in 1954 by two Canadian researchers at McGill University, James Olds and Peter Milner.

In December of that year, Olds and Milner published a classic paper describing an experiment in which they implanted thin needles with electrodes into various areas within the brains of rats, one needle per rat. Each rat was able to press a lever that would send a small electric current through the needle, thereby stimulating a specific part of its brain.

For the experiment, Olds and Milner used 15 male rats, all of whom were given 6-12 hours of time during which the electrode could be activated by pressing the lever. Six of the 15 rats were fortunate enough to have their electrode inserted into an area that created a good feeling when turned on. On the average, these 6 rats ended up pressing the lever more than 81 percent of the time. One rat — unfortunately, history does not record his name — distinguished himself by pressing the lever 92 percent of the time.
James Olds and Peter Milner were researchers who found the reward system in 1954. They discovered, while trying to teach rats how to solve problems and run mazes, stimulation of certain regions of the brain. Where the stimulation was found seemed to give pleasure to the animals. They tried the same thing with humans and the results were similar. ... When rats were tested in Skinner boxes where they could stimulate the reward system by pressing a lever, the rats pressed for hours.
In Infinite Jest, when the McGill researchers wanted to try their experiment on humans, Steeply notes that
human volunteers [were] lining up literally around the block outside the place, able-bodied and I should remember to recall mostly young Canadians, lining up and literally trampling each other in their desire to sign up as volunteers for p-terminal-electrode implantation and stimulation. ... And of course this eagerness for implantation put a whole new disturbing spin on the study of human pleasure and behavior, and a whole new Brandon Hospital team was hastily assembled to study the psych-profiles of all these people willing to trample one another to undergo invasive brain surgery and foreign-object implantation —
Hence USOUS's fear about the availability of the Entertainment among Americans and their likely inability to choose wisely and avoid the lethal cartridge.

We learn a bit of the back story of Ennet House's Executive Director:
Pat Montesian was both pretty and not. She was in maybe her late thirties. She'd supposedly been this young and pretty and wealthy socialite out on the Cape until her husband had divorced her for being a nearly fullblown alcoholic, which seemed like abandonment and didn't improve her subsequent drinking one jot. She'd been in and out of rehabs and halfway places in her twenties, but then it wasn't until she'd almost died from a stroke during the D.T.s one A.M. that she'd been able to Surrender and Come In with the requisite hopeless desperation, etc. ... She'd come to Ennet House in an electric wheelchair at thirty-two and been unable to communicate except via like Morse-Code blinks or something for the first six months, but had even without use of her arms demonstrated a willingness to try and eat a rock when the founding Guy Who Didn't Even Use His First Name told her to, using her torso and neck to like chop downwardly at the rock and chipping both incisors (you can still see the caps at the corners), and had gotten sober, and remarried a different and older South Shore like trillionaire with what sounded like psychotic kids, and but regained an unexpected amount of function, and had been working at the House ever since.
Also: Don Gately gets to happily tool around Boston in Pat Montesian's 1964 Ford Aventura.
The engine sounds more like a jet engine than a piston engine, plus there's a scoop poking periscopically from the hood, and for Gately the vehicle's so terrifically tight and sleek it's like being strapped into a missile and launched at the site of a domestic errand. He can barely fit in the driver's seat. The steering wheel is about the size of an old video-arcade game's steering wheel, and the thin canted six-speed shift is encased in a red leather baglet that smells strongly of leather. The height of the car's roof compromises Gately's driving-posture, and his right ham like exceeds the seat and squeezes against the gearshift so that shifting pinches his hip. He does not care. Some of the profoundest spiritual feelings of his sobriety so far are for this car.
And we get still more about Gately's journey through his first year of sober time and his struggle to understand how AA works. (This must have been very important to Wallace because he has Gately ruminate over this three distinct times over a 120-page period in the middle of the book.)
Down near E.W.D.'s barge-docks off the Allston Spur one night he [Gately's sponsor, White Flagger ('Ferocious') Francis Gehaney] invited Gately to think of Boston AA as a box of Betty Crocker Cake Mix. Gately had smacked himself in the forehead at yet another limp oblique Gene M. analogy, which Gene had already bludgeoned him with several insectile tropes for thinking about the Disease. The counselor had let him vent spleen for a while, smoking as he crawled along behind land-barges lined up to unload. He told Gately to 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. Gately said he was waiting for the mention of some kind of damn insect inside the cake mix. 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 he just followed the childish directions, a cake would result. He'd have his cake. ... He had nothing in the way of a like God-concept, and at that point maybe even less than nothing in terms of interest in the whole thing; he treated prayer like setting an oven-temp according to a box's direction. ... He couldn't for the goddamn life of him understand how this thing worked, this thing that was working. It drove him bats. At about seven months, at the little Sunday Beginners' Mtg., he actually cracked one of the Provident's fake-wood tabletops beating his big square head against it. ...

That was months ago. Gately usually no longer much cares whether he understands or not. He does the knee-and-ceiling thing twice a day, and cleans shit, and listens to dreams, and stays Active, and tells the truth to the Ennet House residents, and tries to help a couple of them if they approach him wanting help. And when Ferocious Francis G. and the White Flaggers presented him, on the September Sunday that marked his first year sober, with a faultlessly baked and heavily frosted one-candle cake, Don Gately had cried in front of nonrelatives for the first time in his life. He now denies that he actually did cry, saying something about candle-fumes in his eye. But he did.
As Gately is driving the Aventura through Inman Square, he stirs some trash in the street and a paper cup goes sailing against the door of "Antitoi Entertainment", where Lucien and Bertraund - two hapless Canadian sleeper terrorists (of a sort) are in their shop - when members of the wheelchaired AFR attack. They are looking both for the Entertainment and a 585-rpm-drive TP capable of playing master copies and making copies. They end up murdering both brothers and ransacking the cluttered store. The Antitois would appear to have only a conventional 450-rpm-drive TP and so some of the in-coming cartridges that Lucien plays offer only static. The brothers might very well have a master of the Entertainment in their shop, but they would not know it.
Note 205: "Copy-Capable cartridges, a.k.a. Masters, require a 585-r.p.m.-drive viewer or TP to run, and on a conventional 450-drive decline to give off so much as static, appearing rather empty and blank. Q.v. here Note 301 sub."

Note 301: "Noreen Lace-Forché protected InterLace's golden goose's copyrights by specifying that all consumer-TP-compatible laser cartridges be engineered as Read-Only ... N.L.-F. had even rigged it so that Masters have to be run at 585 r.p.m. instead of a consumer-TP's cartridge-drive's 450 r.p.m."
Lucien Antitoi's death - presented at pretty much the middle point of the novel - is both grotesque and violent. Reading it this time, I was more trying to dissect the various phrases - the sentence is 605 words, more than a full page in length - to see exactly how Wallace does it, how he builds the tension to its grisly finale, when Lucien - presented as naive and innocent as Mario - "finally sheds his body's suit ... and is free, catapulted home over fans and the Convexity's glass palisades at desperate speeds, soaring north, sounding a bell-clear and nearly maternal alarmed call-to-arms in all the world's well-known tongues".