Monday, June 27, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 64-95

Our second section of reading gets into some meaty bits, including James Incandenza's extensive filmography, Kate Gompert's depression, some beautiful thoughts on tennis from Gerhardt Schtitt, the introduction of Remy Marathe and Hugh Steeply, and Endnote 304 (which features background on the AFR).

First off, I'll admit that JOI's filmography (eight-plus pages of very small print; "as complete as we are able to make it") is more interesting after you have read Infinite Jest, as several films depict events/scenes from the book. For example, "It Was A Great Marvel That He Was In The Father Without Knowing Him" (992-993) sounds identical to young Hal's visit to the "professional conversationalist": "A father, suffering from the delusion that his etymologically precocious son is pretending to be mute, poses as a 'professional conversationalist' in order to draw the boy out." Note that Cosgrove Watt (mentioned by Hal as he waits for the ambulance in the opening section of the book) plays the father. "Insubstantial Country" (992) concerns "an unpopular apres-garde filmmaker" who becomes mute or else is the victim of everyone's delusion that he is mute.

We also have mentions of spiders, desert settings, Near Eastern medical attaches, a headmaster of a tennis academy, veils, lethal beauty, disfiguration, cages, various types of pain, drug addictions, problems of communication, and someone (in "Low-Temperature Civics") having "an ecstatic encounter with Death and becom[ing] irreversibly catatonic". For a long time, I thought that many "clues" to the book's mysteries were "hidden" in the filmography. I'm not sure about that now. (Undoubtedly, you are supposed to think there are clues a-plenty in there, though. You are supposed to think that just about everything in the entire book could be a clue ...)

We learn that "B.S." means "Before Subsidization", before the US stopped using numbers for years and sold off the naming rights. The names of JOI's studios are all suggestive: Meniscus, Latrodectus Mactans, Poor Yorick.

Considering how detailed and vivid the depictions of depression and addiction are in Infinite Jest, it is reasonable to wonder how much of his own life David Foster Wallace incorporated into the novel.

Compare what Wallace wrote in Infinite Jest ...
She said he lived in a trailer and had a harelip and kept snakes and had no phone, and was basically just not what you'd call a pleasant or attractive person at all, but the guy in Allston frequently sold dope to theater people in Cambridge, and had a devoted following. ... just off the Allston Spur in a tiny housetrailer with another frightening couple and with Tommy Doocey, the infamous harelipped pot-and-sundries dealer who kept several large snakes in unclean, uncovered aquaria, which smelled, which Tommy Doocey didn't notice because his upperlip completely covered his nostrils and all he could smell was lip. (18, 39)
With what Mary Karr wrote in her 1995 memoir, The Liar's Club:
I knew a drug dealer once who collected [snakes] in glass tanks all over his trailer. He had a harelip that somehow protected him from the stink, but the rest of us became, when dickering over pharmaceuticals with him, the noisiest and most adenoidal mouth breathers. We all sounded like Elmer Fudd, so a coke deal took on a cartoonlike quality: "You weally tink dis is uncut?"
Wallace and Karr knew each other while they were in treatment in Boston. D.T. Max writes about their relationship in his biography of Wallace, Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story.

He was in rehab and we'd met through friends; he was in rehab down the street and I lived in Belmont, Mass., which is where McLean [Hospital] is. ... So we ran into each other a lot. He was in a halfway house where I did volunteer work. ... [W]e had a lot of mutual friends, many of whom ended up in Infinite Jest in a way I thought was ... I really thought was unkind.
Back in mid-1999, when members of Salon's discussion board Table Talk were discussing Infinite Jest, someone posted this (shades of Erdedy):
Not to be an incipient rumor-monger, but hey, what the hell -- Some friends of mine lived in the apartment directly underneath DFW while he was researching and drafting IJ. The story I got was that he was completely neurotic at the time, esp. re: prescription psychiatric drugs (surprise, surprise) and pot, but he had these really strange privacy and secrecy issues, and was hiding from his roommate the fact that he smoked as much pot as he did, so he used to plague my friend C. with endless requests to use C.'s apartment downstairs when C. and girlfriend were away... C. is himself among the most paranoid-neurotic souls the race has ever progenerated, and got sick of what he saw as increasing impositions on DFW's apartment, and ultimately refused DFW's request on the eve of his (C.'s) leaving for vacation. When he got home he found (this is all, of course, hearsay) that DFW had broken into his apartment, had made himself Quite At Home for a few days, had smoked (by the evidence left in ashtrays) the Kind Bud in amounts and a manner more than merely suggestive of the opening of IJ, had presumably in a fit of munchies eaten most of the food in C.-and-girlfriend's larder, and left -- without bothering to lock up.
Kate Gompert's description of her depression - every cell in her body being "sick to its stomach" (which seems to overwhelm her about two weeks after she stops smoking pot) - is nearly identical to a description in a (presumably somewhat autobiographical (although it is always tricky to assume autobiography in a writer's fiction)) short story Wallace published in The Amherst Review back in 1984 ("The Planet Trillaphon As It Stands In Relation To The Bad Thing."):
... I'll tell what I think the Bad Thing is like. To me it's like being completely, totally, utterly sick. I will try to explain what I mean. Imagine feeling really sick to your stomach. Almost everyone has felt really sick to his or her stomach, so everyone knows what it's like: it's less than fun. OK. OK. But that feeling is localized: it's more or less just your stomach. Imagine your whole body being sick like that: your feet, the big muscles in your legs, your collarbone, your head, your hair, everything, all just as sick as a fluey stomach. Then, if you can imagine that, please imagine it even more spread out and total. Imagine that every cell in your body, every single cell in your body is as sick as that nauseated stomach. Not just your own cells, even, but the e. coli and lactobacilli in you, too, the mitochondria, basal bodies, all sick and boiling and hot like maggots in your neck, your brain, all over, everywhere, in everything. All just sick as hell. Now imagine that every single atom in every single cell in your body is sick like that, sick, intolerably sick. And every proton and neutron in every atom . . . swollen and throbbing, off·color, sick, with just no chance of throwing up to relieve the feeling. Every electron is sick, here, twirling off balance and all erratic in these funhouse orbitals that are just thick and swirling with mottled yellow and purple poison gases, everything off balance and woozy. Quarks and neutrinos out of their minds and bouncing sick all over the place, bouncing like crazy. Just imagine that, a sickness spread utterly through every bit of you, even the bits of the bits. So that your very . . . very essence is characterized by nothing other than the feature of sickness; you and the sickness are, as they say, "one." ...

And just the way when you're sick to your stomach you're kind of scared way down deep that it might maybe never go away, the Bad Thing scares you the same way, only worse, because the fear is itself filtered through the bad disease and becomes bigger and worse and hungrier than it started out. It tears you open and gets in there and squirms around.
Also, a definition of "depression":

I had previously sort of always thought that depression was just sort of really intense sadness, like what you feel when your very good dog dies, or when Bambi's mother gets killed in Bambi. I thought that it was that you frowned or maybe even cried a little bit if you were a girl and said "Holy cow, I'm really depressed, here," and then your friends if you have any come and cheer you up or take you out and get you ploughed and in the morning it's like a faded color and in a couple days it's gone altogether.
When people call it that [depression] I always get pissed off because I always think depression sounds like you just get like really sad, you get quiet and melancholy and just like sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around. A state of not caring about anything A kind of blue kind of peaceful state.
(IYI (If You're Interested): There was a tennis player named Kate Gompert on the midwest junior circuit at roughly the same time Wallace was playing as a teenager. (She was apparently one of 16 remaining women players at the 1985 US Open.) She read Infinite Jest when it was published and was not pleased to see a drug-abusing, suicidal character with her name. There was at least the beginnings of a court action for libel, but it never got very far.)

Gerhardt Schtitt, roughly 70 years old, is the Head Coach and Athletic Director at ETA, now more of an elder statesmen than a fascist disciplinarian. Schtitt hangs out with Mario Incandenza a lot, Mario - a "born listener" - is pretty much the only person Schitt speaks candidly to. Schtitt was brought to ETA by JOI because "Schtitt approached competitive tennis more like a pure mathematician than a technician".

Schtitt knew
that locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern. Seemed intuitively to sense that it was a matter not of reduction at all, but — perversely — of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic growth — each well-shot ball admitting of n possible responses, n2 possible responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate to anyone who shared both his backgrounds as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response, Cantorian and beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent, bent in on itself by the containing boundaries of skill and imagination that brought one player finally down, that kept both from winning, that made it, finally, a game, these boundaries of self.
At the bottom of page 83, tennis referred to as "chess on the run", an expression DFW also used in one of his essays. We also have a issue with who is narrating this section. As the conversation between Schtitt and Mario is described, we get this: "This should not be rendered in exposition like this, but Mario Incandenza has a severely limited range of verbatim recall." Also, from the narrator:
The true opponent, the enfolding boundary, is the player himself. Always and only the self out there, on court, to be met, fought, brought to the table to hammer out terms. The competing boy on the net's other side: he is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance. He is the what is the word excuse or occasion for meeting the self. As you are his occasion. Tennis's beauty's infinite roots are self-competitive. You compete with your own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution. Disappear inside the game: break through limits: transcend: improve: win. Which is why tennis is an essentially tragic enterprise, to improve and grow as a serious junior, with ambitions. You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. It is tragic and sad and chaotic and lovely. All life is the same, as citizens of the human State: the animating limits are within, to be killed and mourned, over and over again.
Re Remy and Marathe: I am determined this time around to fully understand (to the extent the book allows me to) the intricacies of the political intrigue subplot. Marathe is a member of Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents (poor/wrong translation of "Wheelchair Assassins") while Steeply (dressed as a woman) is an agent of the United States Office of Unspecified Services. The two spies meet on a rocky outcropping overlooking Tucson, Arizona. They discuss the incident with the medical attache, which was roughly four weeks earlier. Steeply wants to know if the AFR mailed a copy of what he calls "the Entertainment" to the attache. It turns out nearly 20 people viewed the cartridge and are "out of commission forever". Marathe says the AFR did not. We learn there are "possible indications" that Avril Incandenza had an affair with the medical attache years ago. They also mention the death of DuPlessis, who was killed accidentally by Don Gately and Trent Kite. Marathe is working as either a double-, triple- or quadruple-agent. His boss, M. Fortier, thinks Marthe is only pretending to betray the AFR, but Marathe is apparently pretending to pretend, thus collaborating with USOUS to secure medical services for his wife. They discuss Rod "the God" Tine, the Chief of USOUS, and his love for Luria Peric, the one-time stenographer for DuPlessis. There is also the question of whether Tine is a double agent.

On page 89, there is a reference to Note 39. And on page 994, Note 39 has two footnotes. The second footnote states: "See Note 304 sub." And so, beginning on page 1055, we get a very long entry detailing James Albrecht Lockley Struck Jr.'s attempts to plagiarize a monograph by G.T. Day on the AFR. Day's writing is "diarrheatic", "the kind of foam-flecked megalograndiosity [Struck] associates with Quaaludes and red wine and then the odd Preludin to pull out of the grandiose nosedive of the Quaaludes and red wine". But we do learn a lot about the AFR, including its initiation game, "Le Jeu du Prochain Train", which involves being the last person to leap across railroad tracks as a train is speeding past. Many leapers do not survive; others are in wheelchairs.

Maybe two-thirds of the way through the endnote, we get an out-of-the-blue reference to "Inc" - Hal Incandenza, who is mentioned a couple of pages later.
What's interesting to Hal Incandenza about his take on Struck, sometimes Pemulis, Evan Ingersoll, et al. is that congenital plagiarists put so much more work into camouflaging their plagiarism than it would take just to write up an assignment from conceptual scratch. It usually seems like plagiarists aren't lazy so much as kind of navigationally insecure. They have trouble navigating without a detailed map's assurance that somebody has been this way before them. About this incredible painstaking care to hide and camouflage the plagiarism — whether it's dishonesty or a kind of kleptomaniacal thrill-seeking or what — Hal hasn't developed much of any sort of take.
And: Note 304 has six footnotes and two endnotes of its own! Thankfully, none of them lead anywhere else in the book.

And, finally, we get a look at Tiny Ewell, being transported by taxi from St. Mel's Hospital's detoxification unit to the Enfield Marine VA Hospital Complex. I'm not sure what St. Mel's is; it is not mentioned in any other section of the book and there is no web info on it as a real place. Ewell's roommate at St. Mel's is entranced by watching the room's air conditioner:
The air conditioner hums and gushes, and the man gazes with rapt intensity into its screen of horizontal vents. ... The man's face falls into and out of amused expressions as he watches the air conditioner. ... He is deeply engaged by whatever he sees on [setting] 9. ... He has been watching the air conditioner all day. His face produces the little smiles and grimaces of a person who's being thoroughly entertained.

No comments: