Monday, August 29, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 724-755

724-728: Fortier hears about how the AFR discovered a copy of the Entertainment in the Antitois' shop after "some regretful losses", two (now-former) agents who had been tasked with watching various blank cartridges in the back of the store. It is verified as the copy stolen in the DuPlessis burglary (by Gately), but it is Read-Only. The AFR's attention will now be focused on the cartridge's performer and locating the auteur's Master copy.
The deceased auteur's colleagues and relations were under consistent surveillance. Their concentration of place worked in the favor of this. An employee at the Academy of Tennis of Enfield had been recruited and joined the Canadian instructor and student already inside for closer work of surveillance. In the Desert, the redoubtable Mile. Luria P----- was winning necessary confidences with her usual alacrity. An expensive source in the Subject's former department of the M.I.T. University had reported the Entertainment's probable performer's last known employment — the small Cambridge radio station which Marathe and Beausoleil had pronounced Weee — where she had donned the defacing veil of O.N.A.N.ite deformity.

Attentions were to be focused on the cartridge's performer and on the Academy of Tennis of the auteur's estate.
728-729: Lenz, running with the stolen "treasure-heavy" bags from the Chinese women.

729-735: Remy Marathe, wearing a veil, is at Ennet House, waiting to be interviewed for residency. "Good night, I am addicted and deformed, seeking residential treatment for addiction, desperately." (He is actually on assignment trying to find the actress who starred in the Entertainment.) He takes note of the various residents. A man talks to him, asking if he is real and noting that the others in the room are actually machines, "metal people".

736-747: "Joelle used to like to get really high and then clean." Extensive background on Joelle and her relationship with Orin, her first dinner with the Incandenzas, and her thoughts on JOI's films, and on Avril I.
It had started with Orin Incandenza, the cleaning. When relations were strained, or she was seized with anxiety at the seriousness and possible impermanence of the thing in the Back Bay's co-op, the getting high and cleaning became an important exercise, like creative visualization, a preview of the discipline and order with which she could survive alone if it came to that. She would get high and visualize herself solo in a dazzlingly clean space, every surface twinkling, every possession in place. ...

Orin felt Jim disliked him to the precise extent that Jim was even aware of him. Orin had spoken about his family at length, usually at night. On how no amount of punting success could erase the psychic stain of basic fatherly dislike, failure to be seen or acknowledged. ... The Orin she knew first felt his mother was the family's pulse and center, a ray of light incarnate, with enough depth of love and open maternal concern to almost make up for a father who barely existed, parentally. Jim's internal life was to Orin a black hole, Orin said, his father's face any room's fifth wall. ... Orin had no idea what his father thought or felt about anything. ...

Orin hadn't been anything like her own personal Daddy. When Orin was out of the room it had never seemed like a relief. When she was home, her own Daddy never seemed to be out of the room for more than a few seconds. ... He kind of trailed her around from room to room, kind of pathetically, talking batons and low-pH chemistry. It was like when she exhaled he inhaled and vice versa. He was all through the house. He was real present at all times. His presence penetrated a room and outlasted him there. Orin's absence, whether for class or practice, emptied the co-op out. The place seemed vacuumed and buffed sterile before the cleaning even started, when he went. She didn't feel lonely in the place without him, but she did feel alone, what alone was going to feel like, and she, no one's fool, was erecting fortifications real early into it. ...

It was Orin, of course, who'd introduced them. He'd had this stubborn idea that Himself would want to use her. In the Work. She was too pretty for somebody not to want to arrange, capture. ... Joelle'd protested the whole idea. She had a brainy girl's discomfort about her own beauty and its effect on folks, a caution intensified by the repeated warnings of her personal Daddy. Even more to the immediate point, her filmic interests lay behind the lens. She'd do the capturing thank you very much. She wanted to make things, not appear in them. ... Worst, Orin's idea's real project was developmentally obvious: he thought he could somehow get to his father through her. That he pictured himself having weighty, steeple-fingered conversations with the man, Joelle's appearance and performance the subjects. A three-way bond. It made her real uneasy. ...

The man's Work was amateurish, she'd seen, when Orin had had his brother — the unretarded one — lend them some of The Mad Stork's Read-Only copies. Was amateurish the right word? More like the work of a brilliant optician and technician who was an amateur at any kind of real communication. Technically gorgeous, the Work, with lighting and angles planned out to the frame. But oddly hollow, empty, no sense of dramatic towardness — no narrative movement toward a real story; no emotional movement toward an audience. Like conversing with a prisoner through that plastic screen using phones ...

But there had been flashes of something else. Even in the early oeuvre, before Himself made the leap to narratively anticonfluential but unironic melodrama she helped prolong the arc of, where he dropped the technical fireworks and tried to make characters move, however inconclusively, and showed courage, abandoned everything he did well and willingly took the risk of appearing amateurish (which he had). But even in the early Work — flashes of something. Very hidden and quick. Almost furtive. She noticed them only when alone, watching ...

Orin Incandenza had been only the second boy ever to approach her in a male-female way. The first had been shiny-chinned and half blind on Everclear punch, an All-Kentucky lineman for the Shiny Prize Biting Shoats team back in Shiny Prize KY, at a cookout to which the Boosters had invited the Pep and Baton girls; and the lineman had looked like a little shy boy as he confessed, by way of apologizing for almost splashing her when he threw up, that she was just too Goddamn-all petrifyingly pretty to approach any other way but liquored up past all horror. The lineman'd confessed the whole team's paralyzing horror of the prettiness of varsity Pep's top twirler, Joelle. ...

At Joelle's first interface with the whole sad family unit — Thanksgiving, Headmaster's House, E.T.A., straight up Comm. Ave. in Enfield — Orin's Moms Mrs. Incandenza ('Please do call me Avril, Joelle') had been gracious and warm and attentive without obtruding, and worked unobtrusively hard to put everyone at ease and to facilitate communication, and to make Joelle feel like a welcomed and esteemed part of the family gathering — and something about the woman made every follicle on Joelle's body pucker and distend. ... Joelle had a weird half-vision of Avril hiking her knife up hilt-first and plunging it into Joelle's breast. ... Joelle had the queerest indefensible feeling that Avril wished her ill; she kept feeling different areas of hair stand up.
747-751: Marathe, posing as a drug-addicted and deformed Swiss person, meets with Pat Montesian at Ennet House. He is told that there is a veiled woman in residence. He also notices some unmarked cartridges in Pat's filing cabinet.

751-752: Joelle, cleaning in her upstairs room at Ennet House.

752-755: Marathe apparently is given a spot at Ennet House by Pat Montesian. He is unsure how to proceed. Also Marathe has to decide who he will give his information to (when he acquires some solid information): the AFR or Steeply? Or perhaps a little information to one and a little bit to the other?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 682-724

682-686: November 14. Matty Pemulis is eating lunch at the Man o' War Grille. Matty is 23 and a prostitute. Beginning at the age of 10, he was raped repeatedly at night by his father. (Matty's brother Mikey, five years younger and sleeping in the same room, was not, apparently.) Matty notices Poor Tony Krause walking by the restaurant, looking haggard and pale.

686-689: November 11, PM. After his match with Stice and supper, Hal spends a coulp of hours watching several "clearly labelled" cartridges of his father's films. He wants to be alone, but other kids wander in and watch.

689-691: November 14. Shortly after his seizure on the T, Poor Tony Krause awoke in an ambulance feeling as right as rain. Now discharged from the hospital, he's on his way to the Antitois' shop (which was where he was headed when he had his seizure) in the hopes of securing some drugs. (The Antitoi brothers were killed 6 days ago.)

692: Geoffrey Day is surprised to find that he misses Randy Lenz, who has been discharged from Ennet House, most likely on November 12, the day after Gately was shot.

692-698: There are different kinds of depression.
One kind is low-grade and sometimes gets called anhedonia or simple melancholy. It's a kind of spiritual torpor in which one loses the ability to feel pleasure or attachment to things formerly important. ... It's a kind of emotional novocaine, this form of depression, and while it's not overtly painful its deadness is disconcerting and ... well, depressing. Kate Gompert's always thought of this anhedonic state as a kind of radical abstracting of everything, a hollowing out of stuff that used to have affective content. Terms the undepressed toss around and take for granted as full and fleshy — happiness, joie de vivre, preference, love — are stripped to their skeletons and reduced to abstract ideas. They have, as it were, denotation but not connotation.
It's of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It's maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it's the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip — and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It's more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we've hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it's stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté. ... Hal, who's empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human ...
There is the second kind of depression:
[D]ead-eyed anhedonia is but a remora on the ventral flank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain. Authorities term this condition clinical depression or involutional depression or unipolar dysphoria. Instead of just an incapacity for feeling, a deadening of soul, the predator-grade depression Kate Gompert always feels as she Withdraws from secret marijuana is itself a feeling. It goes by many names — anguish, despair, torment, or q.v. Burton's melancholia or Yevtuschenko's more authoritative psychotic depression — but Kate Gompert, down in the trenches with the thing itself, knows it simply as It.

It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self's most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self. Its emotional character, the feeling Gompert describes It as, is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.

It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed. ... Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one. ...

The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames.
698-700: November 14. Ennet House newcomer Ruth van Cleve talks incessantly to Kate Gompert as the women walk back to the House from a NA meeting. Poor Tony Krause is walking behind them, eyeing their purses.

700-01: Five short paragraphs on Jim Troeltsch, Michael Pemulis, Lyle, Schtitt/Mario, and Avril Incandenza. Pemulis checks his hiding spot in the ceiling to make sure the incredibly potent DMZ is still there. Avril is making a phone call to Moment magazine (it's unclear whether Steeply is still on the grounds).

701-714: November 11, PM. Blood Sister: One Tough Nun is watched by Hal and a half-dozen other Enfield students in Viewing Room 6. It is noted that BS:OTN came out of JOI's experience with Boston AA and that segues into a bit on Joelle van Dyne, who is at a CA meeting in St. Elizabeth's Hospital. She had been visiting Don Gately in the Trauma Wing. So Gately is alive, though he "is lying in the Trauma Wing in a truly bad way".
She thinks with fearful sentiment of Don Gately, a tube down his throat, torn by fever and guilt and shoulder-pain, offered Demerol by well-meaning but clueless M.D.s, in and out of delirium, torn, convinced that certain men with hats wished him ill, looking at his room's semi-private ceiling like it would eat him if he dropped his guard.
We learn later than Gately cannot communicate while in the hospital, so how does Joelle know that he is torn by guilt and "convinced that certain men with hats wished him ill"?

714-716: November 14. Poor Tony Krause steals Ruth's and Kate's purses. Ruth gives chase while Kate, who slammed her head against a post during the mugging, is accosted by a bum who says he witnessed the whole incident.

716-719: November 14. Randy Lenz, having been discharged from Ennet House, is high on cocaine and walking behind two short Chinese women. He is considering stealing their shopping bags. ("It was universally well known that your basic Orientoid types carried their earthly sum-total of personal wealth with them at all times. As in on their person while they scuttled around. The Orientoid religion prohibited banks ...")

719: The AFR continues its search of the Antitois' shop, hoping "to locate and secure a Master copy of the Entertainment on their own". If that failed, the AFR would attempt "surveillance and infiltrating the surviving associates of the Entertainment's auteur, its actress and rumored performer, relatives — if necessary, taking them and subjecting them to technical interview, leading with hope to the original auteur's cartridge of the Entertainment".

719-721: November 14: Poor Tony Krause, running with the stolen purses towards the Antitois' store, is still being chased by Ruth van Cleve.

721-723: It had taken the AFR "several days" of an orderly search to find the Entertainment in the Antitois' store. Various AFR members volunteered to watch the many unlabelled cartridges in the shop until the Entertainment was found. Two agents were "lost" during this process. Also re Orin: "There was reason to think M. DuPlessis had received his original copies from this [Southwest] relative, an athlete. Marathe felt U.S.B.S.S. felt this person may have borne responsibility for the razzles and dazzles of Berkeley and Boston, U.S.A. The Americans' field-operative, jutting with prostheses, had been clinging to this person like a bad odor."

723-724: November 14. Joelle is back at Ennet House after the CA meeting. She has a dream about her decaying teeth that features Gately as a kind dentist.

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".

Monday, August 01, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 430-461

From 0500 to 0800, Don Gately works as a janitor at the Shattuck Shelter For Homeless Males in Jamaica Plain. While it is a disgusting job --
He mops down broad cot-strewn floors with anti-fungal delousing solvents. Likewise the walls. He scrubs toilets. The relative cleanliness of the Shattuck's toilets might seem surprising until you head into the shower area, with your equipment and face-mask. Half the guys in the Shattuck are always incontinent. There's human waste in the showers on a daily fucking basis. Stavros lets him attach an industrial hose to a nozzle and spray the worst of the shit away from a distance before Gately has to go in there with his mop and brushes and solvents, and his mask. ...

The inmates at the Shattuck suffer from every kind of physical and psychological and addictive and spiritual difficulty you could ever think of, specializing in ones that are repulsive. There are colostomy bags and projectile vomiting and cirrhotic discharges and missing limbs and misshapen heads and incontinence and Kaposi's Sarcoma and suppurating sores and all different levels of enfeeblement and impulse-control-deficit and damage. Schizophrenia is like the norm. Guys in D.T.s treat the heaters like TVs and leave broad spatter-paintings of coffee over the walls of the barrackses. There are industrial buckets for A.M. puking that they seem to treat like golfers treat the pin on like a golf course, aiming in its vague direction from a distance. There's one sort of blocked off and more hidden corner, over near the bank of little lockers for valuables, that's always got sperm moving slowly down the walls. And way too much sperm for just one or two guys, either. The whole place smells like death no matter what the fuck you do.
-- it seems like, in some ways, it's a positive experience for Gately, who "always screws right out of there at 0801h. and rides the Greenie back up the hill with his Gratitude-battery totally recharged."

In July YDAU, at ten months clean, Gately speaks at the Braintree's Tough Shit But You Still Can't Drink Group:
Don G., up at the podium, revealed publicly about how he was ashamed that he still as yet had no real solid understanding of a Higher Power. It's suggested in the 3rd of Boston AA's 12 Steps that you to turn your Diseased will over to the direction and love of 'God as you understand Him.' It's supposed to be one of AA's major selling points that you get to choose your own God. You get to make up your own understanding of God or a Higher Power or Whom-/Whatever. But Gately, at like ten months clean, at the TSBYSCD podium in Braintree, opines that at this juncture he's so totally clueless and lost he's thinking that he'd maybe rather have the White Flag Crocodiles just grab him by the lapels and just tell him what AA God to have an understanding of, and give him totally blunt and dogmatic orders about how to turn over his Diseased will to whatever this Higher Power is. ... He's both pissed off and ashamed to be talking about this instead of how just completely good it is to just be getting through the day without ingesting a Substance, but there it is. This is what's going on. He's no closer to carrying out the suggestion of the 3rd Step than the day the Probie drove him over to his halfway house from Peabody Holding. The idea of this whole God thing makes him puke, still. And he is afraid.
Again, we have the issue of choice. In this case, the residents can choose their Higher Power. But Gately, whose minimal relationship with religion and God is described as "unconsidered atheism", is nearly sick with worry that he is not getting it. He wants desperately to succeed, but has no idea how to go about making this Higher Power thing work. Nevertheless, Gately "hits the knees in the A.M. and asks for Help and then hits the knees again at bedtime and says Thank You, whether he believes he's talking to Anything/-body or not, and he somehow gets through that day clean".

He is both ashamed and afraid, he wonders if maybe his will is still Diseased, but afterwards, he gets nothing but handshakes and cheers. (Though he doesn't get any advice about his problem.) A biker named Bob Death tells Gately "the one about the fish": "This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, 'What the fuck is water?' and swim away." (Wallace would, of course, use this same story to great effect in his Kenyon Commencement Speech in 2005.)

We also get some background on Gately's alcoholic mother:
Near the end of his Ennet residency, at like eight months clean and more or less free of any chemical compulsion, going to the Shattuck every A.M. and working the Steps and getting Active and pounding out meetings like a madman, Don Gately suddenly started to remember things he would just as soon not have. Remembered. Actually remembered's probably not the best word. It was more like he started to almost reexperience things that he'd barely even been there to experience, in terms of emotionally, in the first place. ...

To the extent it's Gately's place to diagnose anybody else as an alcoholic, his mom was pretty definitely an alcoholic. She drank Stolichnaya vodka in front of the TV. ... She drank little thin glasses with cut-up bits of carrot and pepper that she'd drop into the vodka. Her maiden name was Gately. Don's like organic father had been an Estonian immigrant, a wrought-iron worker, which is like sort of a welder with ambition. He'd broken Gately's mother's jaw and left Boston when Gately was in his mother's stomach. Gately had no brothers or sisters. His mother was subsequently involved with a live-in lover, a former Navy M.P. who used to beat her up on a regular schedule, hitting her in the vicinities between groin and breast so that nothing showed. ...

Gately at like ten or eleven used to pretend to listen and watch TV on the floor but really be dividing his attention between how close his Mom was to unconsciousness and how much Stolichnaya was left in the bottle. She would only drink Stolichnaya, which she called her Comrade in Arms and said Nothing but the Comrade would do. After she went under for the evening and he'd carefully taken the tilted glass out of her hand, Don'd take the bottle and mix the first couple vodkas with Diet Coke and drink a couple of those until it lost its fire, then drink it straight. This was like a routine. Then he'd put the near-empty bottle back next to her glass with its vegetables darkening in the undrunk vodka, and she'd wake up on the couch in the morning with no idea she hadn't drank the whole thing. Gately was careful to always leave her enough for a wake-up swallow. But this gesture of leaving some, Gately's now realized, wasn't just filial kindness on his part: if she didn't have the wake-up swallow she wouldn't get off the red couch all day, and then there would be no new bottle that night. ...

This all came burpling greasily up into memory in the space of two or three weeks in May, and now more stuff steadily like dribbles up, for Gately to Touch. ...

No one tells you when they tell you you have cirrhosis that eventually you'll all of a sudden start choking on your own blood. This is called a cirrhotic hemorrhage. ... She'd been Diagnosed for years. She'd go to Meetings for a few weeks, then drink on the couch, silent, telling him if the phone rang she wasn't home. After a few weeks of this she'd spend a whole day weeping, beating at herself as if on fire. Then she'd go back to Meetings for a while. ... At first Gately just couldn't go out to the Long-Term place, couldn't see her out there. Couldn't deal. Then after some time passed he couldn't go because he couldn't face her and try and explain why he hadn't come before now. Ten-plus years have gone like that.
All of this is tremendously sad. Gately is 29, so his mother could not be more than probably 60. She must wonder constantly about her only child, from her room in the "Long-Term Care Medicaid place". No way to get in touch with him, no idea where or how he is. More than ten years. ... And then there are her past attempts to quit drinking, going to Meetings yet failing to stay sober, and then weeping all day and hitting herself in anger and frustration.

Wallace mentions these memories "burpling greasily" into Gately's memory. A similar description was used when Joelle was telling Gately about the meaninglessness of certain usages of the phrase "But for the Grace of God". At that time, Gately felt "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".

Bits and Pieces:

Mario Incandenza, who "was usually next to impossible to agitate", is
weirdly agitated about Madame Psychosis's unannounced sabbatical ... WYYY had been evasive and unforthcoming about the whole thing. ... At no time had anyone of managerial pitch or timbre mentioned Madame Psychosis or what her story was or her date of expected return. Hal'd told Mario that the silence was a positive sign, that if she'd left the air for good the station would have had to say something.
In an extremely detailed chapter regarding what happens during dawn drills at a junior tennis academy (all you need to know and much more), Wallace describes the colour of the early AM Boston sky the morning after the I.-Day celebration:
By the time they're all stretching out, lined up in rows along the service-and baselines, flexing and bowing, genuflecting to nothing, changing postures at the sound of a whistle, by this time the sky has lightened to the color of Kaopectate.
And the look of the Charles River:
The river at dawn is a strip of foil's dull side.