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.

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".

No comments: