Thursday, January 08, 2009

Infinite Jestation: A Blogthrough (Pages 68-87)

PART TEN-------------------------------------

The sad introduction to Katherine Ann Gompert (p. 68-78) lets Wallace jump back on his central obsession with addiction. The entire interaction here is worth noting, for the psych ward's MD-in-training spends just as much time analyzing himself as he does the third-time's-the-charm unipolar suicide victim. Wallace speaks through the doctor's free-indirect style because this enables him to mock therapy at the same time as he embraces it. Once more, it comes down to a matter of perception and communication, and this is mocked too: "The doctor decided that her open display of irritation with him could signify either a positive thing or nothing at all" and "The doctor had no ideas about what this observation might indicate." In fact, even this so-called humor is mocked, too, or at least called to attention:

She did not understand the strict methodological limits that dictated how literal he, a doctor, had to be with the admits on the psych ward. Nor that jokes and sarcasm here were usually too pregnant and fertile with clinical significance not to be taken seriously: sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care [sic] and help them.
Given the nature of Infinite Jest and the way Wallace would end his life 11 years down the road, it's hard not to read this as a reflection of Wallace's own dark comedy in which whimsical things ("curious hair," "supposedly fun things") often turned to minute tragedies. Hell, just look at the way DFW riffs on the slang usage of "Hope" for "marijuana." A few other things:
  • Kate's whole routine of "Do They Know, Can They Tell" comes across very much like Erdedy's need for isolation (as does their shared fixation on junking all of their equipment after every "last time") and like Hal's (especially when Kate talks about standing on a toilet seat and blowing into a cobwebbed grate).
  • Kate uses "And so but then" herself; Wallace goes on to use this throughout most of his work, and it's an effective way of conversationally segueing while at the same time showing that the narrator is grasping for the transition that will at last allow them to put their finger on the elusive subject.
  • It is not the feeling of addicition that troubles Kate so much as the awareness of the feeling and the presence of mind this comes with. She wants isolation, ultimately, not just from those around her, but from herself, too, asking to be shocked or put into a medical coma, a place where even she will not know. You can very well know too much.
PART ELEVEN-------------------------------------

Another quick check-in on the attache (p. 78-79): his wife is now watching the loop, too. For what it's worth, if this is Infinite Jest, it must be Infinite Jest V, for IV is recorded at 90 min., and not enough time has elapsed for the whole looping to be necessary. That's nitpicking though; of note is how cleverly Wallace has created suspense that is sustained even when interrupted, a "straight line" theory that is about to come up in the next section, an introduction to head coach Schtitt (p. 79-85).

The theory advanced here follows up on the earlier tennis dream, but speaks of the straight line (as the shortest distance between two points) as a Euclidean myth, for what about when things are in the way? One way to read Infinite Jest, which has an admittedly mathematical structure (Sierpinski Gasket), is to see Wallace as forcing the novel to keep going in a straight line, even when it hits the unavoidable intereferences of life--his plowing straight through those other sections is what, hilariously, makes the novel seem as if it is not straightforward. Of course, the world is not flat, so there's another way to read this:
Locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern. [Schtitt s]eemed intuitively to sense that it was a matter not of reduction at all, but--perversely--of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic growth--each well-shot ball admitting of n possible responses, n^2 possible responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate to anyone who shared both his backgrounds as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response, Cantorian and beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent, bent in on itself by the containing boundaries of skill and imagination that brought one player finally down, that kept both from winning, that made it, finally, a game, these boundaries of self.
Damn straight that's dense. If you're going to give away the structure of the book, you can't just slap a spoiler alert on it and spell the damn thing out. It's true that I may be trying to mold the book to the initial view I took of it, but the whole gist of the above is that it's about transcending your own limits, thereby growing internally so that while the boundaries remain positioned the same distance from you that they began, your sense of scale has now altered to the point at which those lines are now much, much further away. 1,000 grams are equivalent to 1 kilogram, but there is room for 1,000 individual grams when you look that closely, and room only for 1 kilogram.

We are always playing ourselves, so consider what happens when you turn a character's observations in on themselves: as I noted in Kate's section above, she is actually seeking to hide her addiction from herself, though she manifests it as hiding it from others; from what we know of James, he sought to hide from his own neuroses by projecting them onto others (and then into film; perhaps so many of his works were unfilmable because there was no way to manifest his internal terrors, akin to Hal's nightmare). If we're dealing with depression alongside addiction, what is it that these people are all really afraid of? The world? Or themselves? Is Infinite Jest V, then, the realization of that escape?

As always, let me leave on a smaller note--in this case, with the arrival of Tiny Ewell (p. 85-87), who is, in fact, tiny (and on his way to detox). Not much of note here, save that where we had "howling fantods" before, we now have "screaming meemies."

Words looked up: plangent, synclinal, leptosomatic, aleatory, diagnate(?)

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