Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Infinite Jestation: A Blogthrough (Pages 127-151)

Lyle (p. 127-128) is an enigmatic guru who (and this is a great description) "lives off the sweat of others. Literally. The fluids and salts and fatty acids." David Foster Wallace presents him like a little koan, that is, not quite rational, but somehow appropriate nonetheless. In this case, he also dispenses wisdom: "Let not the weight thou wouldst pull to thyself exceed thine own weight." Perhaps there's something about the generation gap here, for the older students listen, weird as it may be, whereas the newer students, who think they know everything, are inevitably yanked off their feet by the shoulder-pull. Here's a question: is Hal the first-person narrator of this section?

yrstruly (p. 128-135) reads a lot like the Wardine section (p. 37-38)--which fits, since both mention the drug-dealing hoodlum Roy Tony. In any case, grammar-wise, it's like a mash-up of Burgess's Clockwork Orange and Selby's Last Exit From Brooklyn, with long block text and run on sentences meant to resemble the jittery, jonesing narrative of the protagonist as he, his friend C, and a tolerated transvestite named Poor Tony, go about the "Harvard Squar" area, "boosting" items and "crewing" on various marks (somewhat worse than a simple smash to the "map" but far less severe than the life-ending "elemonade"). This is definitely a section that's better when read aloud, especially since it has the uncanny ability to somewhat put you in yrstruly's shoes. (Personally, I wound up speaking in a slurred British accent.)

In any case, the story, which takes place on the day before "XMas," is a tale in which a man Poor Tony once screwed over, Dr. Wo, revenges himself by means of some tainted "skeet," except that because all the bad stuff yrstruly does is written in a different language--recontextualizing the violence--we actually feel worse for him than we should, particularly when he keeps repeating that [all sic] "its' a neverending 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." The corroded semantics make us struggle to see the real world about as much as you expect yrstruly is struggling, and as a result, we empathize more. Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon, 2005, talks more about this; remember that the novel's despair is at heart all about fostering community, too.

Tension starts to mount as Orin brings up Separtism in a conversation with Hal (p. 135-137), he also mentions a girl he's met who could be very well be the Helen Steeply (p. 142-144) who has written an article in which a woman's heart--her actual Jarvik IX Exterior Artificial heart (and note how literal Wallace is, even with things that sound like metaphor, as quoted in that guru section earlier)--is snatched by Poor Tony. Building on that momentum, Wallace also lists the various Anti-O.N.A.N. groups (p. 144), and by now it should be clear that the O.N.A.N. is the merged result of the United States and Canada, much to Quebec's dismay. Wallace also starts to bring dates into focus: Hal's First Extant Written Comment (p. 140-142) is relevant more for the transitioning note that The Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken (in which Hal is in seventh grade) is one year after James's suicide; the intro to Steeply's article, as if it were a logic puzzle, explains that the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment is four years after James killed himself--by nuking his own head (in a toaster oven, in case you're taking me too literally).

A quick note on two sections I do not want to gloss over. The founding of Ennet House (p. 137-138) gets a write-up that is particularly hilarious for this line: "He sometimes, the founder, in the House's early days, required incoming residents to attempt to eat rocks--as in like rocks from the ground--to demonstrate their willingness to go to any lengths for the gift of sobriety. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Division of Substance Abuse Services eventually requested that this practice be discontinued." Get it? "Eventually" requested? Just goes to show you that there is a lot about addiction that we don't get. As for Dwayne R. Glynn's hilarious Workman's Compensation Claim (p. 138-140), bear in mind exactly what we are laughing at ("my def. of a bad day")--this is second-hand Schadenfreude at its most slapsticky.

Finally, Wallace provides a lengthy mediation on The Rise and Fall of Videophony (p. 144-151) that will forever ruin the 1999 short story by George Saunders, "I Can Speak!", simply on grounds of similarity. DFW creates yet another macrocosmic parable here, in which America rushes headlong into video-telephoning, only to discover that the more of themselves they reveal, the more stressed they get, and that in actuality, they prefer the anonymity of phones, in which they can pretend to listen but feel, completely, that the person on the other line is totally listening to them. The entire thing is couched in tech-speak, but it nails our consumer culture, our sheepish behaviors, our vanity, and eerily predicts the rise of panagoraphobia as it becomes easier and easier for Americans to live their entire lives without ever going out. (In Japan, this is called "hikikomori." I've been fascinated with this ever since I read about it.)

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