With the introduction of the beefy junkie-burglar Don Gately (p. 55-60), we begin a new year (Year of Daily Products from the American Heartland) but revisit an old theme: the dangerous and tragic fallability of language. When we fail to understand what is being communicated (a point I touched on briefly back at the beginning of this blogthrough), we live, essentially, in a different world, a different reality. Case in point: the only difference between burglary and robbery is that the latter involves violence (or the threat thereof), something which Gately accidentally stumbles into when he mistakes the adenoidal Quebecoian pleas of his congested victim's pleas ("Do not gag me, I have a terrible cold, my nose she is a brick of the snot, I have not the power to breathe through the nose, for the love of God please do not gag my mouth") as something far less human--"the cries of, say, North Shore gulls or inland grackles."
The result is horribly vivid, which potentially explains the rather dry and technical section that follows (p. 60) in which the stats of a tricked-out InterLace system (although Wallace is stuck with the term "CD-ROM," consider this the equivalent of the entertainment console from Idiocracy) go side by side with the results of those "killer apps": namely, "carpal neuralgia, phosphenic migraine, gluteal hyperadiposity, lumbar stressae." How's that for a punchline? (He's not far off, either.) His subtle anti-technology spiel here--for technology is just the ultimate enabler for our addictions--hits a high with this line, too: "screen so high-def you might as well be there." I mean, if you might as well be there, then why not just be there?
In fact, the next few sections slowly back away from the graphic horror of the Gately scene, though they actually link--our introduction to Troeltsch (p.60-61), a classmate of Hal's, comes while he is in the midst of his own rhinovirus, and his daydreaming segues directly into another of Hal's recurring nightmares. Given the repetition of symbols (like Toblerone) that I touched on last time, I'm now wondering if Wallace is hinting at some sort of collective unconscious in this elaborately expanding narrative which, as it grows larger, more and more encompasses life.
As for this Untitled Dream Sequence (p. 61-63), it gives me a moment to catch my breath and observe a few things about Wallace's stylistic habits. (1) Dude likes to place his antecedents after the pronoun: "How fast it came on, the illness." Valid, but uncommon, which suggests that he's writing for the rhythm of the sentence, not just the syntax of it. This fits in with his playful "And but so then" sort of openings. (2) Dude likes to disorient us. Since I've chosen to accept that what he does is intentional, then note that he leaps to a footnote in #22--but then explains the same joke ("nuclear-grade antihistimines") on the next page; also, the footnote for #21 references a footnote much later in the text, which I guess tells us something about the depth, length, and overall dimensionality of this work. And I guess (3) is just another reference to our perceptions, for in the dream, Hal notes that "Whatever it is is not evil for them." What, then, is evil? What, then, is addiction? I suspect we'll find out.
Speaking of perceptions, the crux of this section is not the highly informative look at James O. Incandenza (p. 63-65), Hal's father, officially spoken of here, but The Filmography (p. 985-993). This is one of my favorite sections yet, and could stand alone as an experimental short story, given not just the style, humor, and level of description, but for the look it gives us of the man trapped behind the films. In conjunction with the novel itself, it's way deep, but here are the main things of note:
- James dies in Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar, presumably when Hal is 11 (given that the two chronological years preceding it are the starts--in 1998?--of Subsidized Time: Year of the Whopper and the book's beginning year, Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad).
- If we believe the biographical skew of his films ("It Was a Great Marvel that He Was in the Father Without Knowing Him" references the Professional Conversationalist scene), then James (and genetically, possibly Hal) has suffered a temporal lobe seizure.
- His work in optical physics has led to technological breakthroughs, like cold annular fusion, but he has ceded all commercial rights to his wife (even though he suspects she had an affair with her Ubermensch architect friend, A. Y. Rickey from #3, p. 983).
- Perhaps driven (or driving) the spider phobia of his father and roach phobia of his oldest son, James is fascinated by light and by pain.
- Excessive persperation (like Orin's) is referenced as a subject of several films.
- His company ends up being called "Poor Yorick Entertainment."
- His much-attempted film, Infinite Jest (V?), in post-production at his death, may very well be what the medical attache is watching.
- Is Troy, NY, which was accidentally wiped out by garbage units, the "Great Convexity"?
All that's incidental, considering it's not confirmed by anything--yet. But is anyone else struck by the similarity between Incandenza's fictitious filmography and Wallace's own legacy? Both made works ultimately titled Infinite Jest, both initially threw critics but had cult followings, and both ranged in styles that more-or-less comprised the "industrial, documentary, conceptual, advertorial, technical, parodic, dramatic noncommercial, and dramatic commercial."
That's an incredibly dense section to end on, so I'll skim over Orin's embarassing aerial decent (p. 65-66) into a football stadium and right by Pemulis's mentorship of his younger charges (p. 66-67) at E.T.A. in the finer usages of potent drugs like the "organopscyhedlic muscimole." The real closer to this section is similar to the metaphor I used to first compare Wallace's writing to that of the perfect tennis match. The Tennis Dream (p. 67-68) has Hal trying to play tennis, but on a court the size of a football field. "The lines that bound and define play are on this court as complex and convoluted as a sculpture of string. . . . The whole thing is almost too involved to try to take in all at once." And but then so yes, our boundaries are being stretched--turned into infinitely loose objects, covering an interconnected and public field--and again, we should be delighted in how close to Zeno's paradoxical edge Wallace keeps pushing that enveloping envelope.
Words looked up: bolections, reglets, dipsomaniac, incunabular, raster, pertussive, apres, recondite, mordantly, feck, psychodysleptic
Thursday, January 08, 2009