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)

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