Monday, July 20, 2009

Infinite Jestation (A Blogthrough): Pages 243-312

In which O. talks to Hal about separatism and suicide (p. 242-258; p. 1007-1021), the ETA boys play at Port Washington (p. 258-270), we meet more of the Ennet House members (like Emil Minty aka yrstruly, p. 270-281), we learn of Orin's career-changing love affair (p. 283-299), catch up with a really poor Poor Tony (p. 299-306), and sit in on the crazy prorector classes (p. 306-312).

Not that I disbelieved, but yes, for whatever slow spots there are, the novel is now in full swing. James O. Incandenza's filmography (Footnote 24) starts to taken on greater significance (have we met Hugh G. Rection yet?), but more importantly, the emotional ramifications of what seemed to be glossed over moments now come into play. Given the context of what we know, some of these sections are arguably exposition, but if so, they're an example of how to use exposition, and playwrights should take note of the conversation between Orin and Hal. (Not just the fact that Orin's being trailed by the Wheelchair Assassins, and being interviewed by--assumedly--Hugh Steeply's female cover, Helen.) For a book that's so dense with language, some of the most telling moments slip in via the "..." silences, and Hal's half-attention is a clear indicator for just how hurt he was by his older brother's choice to more-or-less abandon the family. Of course, it's also an indicator of how heartless Orin's become, so much so that he needs to crib notes on his father's death off of Hal--who we learn discovered his father's literally exploded corpse--and ironically that Hal, in turn, cribbed his own notes, plagiarizing his own grief, albeit in the same way that Struck (footnote 304) winds up doing just as much work if not more, needing to use signposts to avoid feeling as if he's all alone.

The tennis section at Port Washington is full of charm, and there's tenderness behind the tarps--see Pemulis and his partner Schacht and their easy camaraderie--although there's not an inch of yield on the court itself (as exemplified by John Wayne, who is the same on and off).

Meanwhile, in the Ennet House, Geoffrey Day (Footnote 90) raises a rather valid point about the catch-22 of addiction: If you acknowledge that you have a problem, then you belong in AA--but if you don't have a problem, then you're in denial, and then you really need to be in AA. But if Day's right--ignoring that he's clearly trying to find a way to get thrown out of the program so that he can say it wasn't his fault--then what's fascinating is that Wallace is positing that we are all addicted/flawed, that we all suffer this dis-ease . . . but that in fact, from this, we are actually united--united in struggle, just like the Wheelchair Assassins, say, or their younger, train-dodging selves. Call it fraternal, if you like, and make life into a universal hazing, but is there anything that can unite us more, ultimately, than empathy? Given Wallace's commencement speech, I'm inclined to believe that's the direction he's taking here, the fine lining being that you can't be kicked out of Anonymous meetings, and that for all our faults, we're still human, no matter how inhumanly we act.

Again, there's more charming exposition as we see a softer side of Orin, falling for Joelle van Dyne--who we now see really is deformed, by how "grotesquely lovely" she is--or as DFW puts it, the Actaeon Complex she evokes, in which men are repulsed from her perfection. On the sadder side, we see the tiniest glimmer of this relationship's end, especially as Dyne--on Orin's introduction--starts working as a apres-garde filmmaker herself. But of special notice in this section is our first real sense of Charles Tavis, who breaks into this section (p. 286-288). This is the real trick of Wallace's writing, in that he doesn't change from third-person, or even break up the paragraph; instead, he just uses the sort of self-identifying language that you can positively hear on an unctuous guy like Tavis. Notice just how many bases Tavis covers in off-setting any potential wrong-doing on his part, all of which only serves to make him look all the seedier:

Well someone had had to come in and fill the void, and that person was going to have to be someone who could achieve Total Worry without becoming paralyzed by the worry or by the absense of minimal Thank-Yous for inglorious duties discharged in the stead of a person whose replacement was naturally, naturally going to come in for some resentment, Tavis felt, since since you can't get mad at a dying man, much less at a dead man, who better to assume the stress of filling in as anger-object than that dead man's thankless inglorious sedulous untiring 3-D bureaucratic assistant and replacement, whose upstairs room was right next to the HmH's master bedroom and who might, by some grieving parties, be viewed as some kind of interloping usurper.
Another note in this section is the way in which Orin winds up on the football team. DFW writes this bit with bone-crushing glee, and it's worth noting that the underlying philosophy that he approaches so savagely (perhaps because he felt savaged by it) was that "What metro Boston AAs are trite but correct about is that both destiny's kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person's basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life." In other words, cliches get to be cliches because they're true, and the truth here is that the only thing we can really control in our life is how we look at life itself (again, empathy). Now, you could argue that if not for Orin's years training in an obscure tennis style (Eschuteon), he never would have been able to kick the way he did, and yet . . . Orin makes it perfectly clear that he felt he had no control over his childhood, which is part of why he left. (Avril, by this point, is pretty well established as the uber-guilt-tripping mom.)

One final bit here is the importance of context--namely, relativity. As Orin switches careers and explains his stance to those around him, he ends up lying about a lot of it. And yet, as we'll see here, truth, like Orin's talent in tennis, is subjective depending on who hears it. In fact, given that Wallace--in a book of fiction--bothers to point out that his characters are telling further fictions sort of gives further emphasis to what others have pointed out to be a positively Derridan way of thinking--especially with the jumbled narrative, and multiple names for identical characters, all of which cause to make assumptions and then rethink those assumptions when given another glimpse of the same reality down the road. Now, assuming that time is an infinite line, and that as we move further along that line, the things behind us change shape and meaning, is there ever any given moment at which something will be indisputable "truth" for then and forever more?

The next section gives a clear example of this. When we first hear of Poor Tony--not by name--he's described as a purse-snatcher who has accidentally swiped not a purse, but a container for the world's first exterior heart. (Coincidence that he's an inadvertant murderer, like Don Gately?) Our reaction is pure disgust, though Tony--we learn--is wracked with guilt over it. When we meet Tony proper, we think he's a spineless wimp, especially as yrstruly describes him--the sort of guy willing to let his friends shoot tainted heroin, just so he can see if it is, in fact, tainted. Again, we feel disgust for him. And yet, when the camera shifts to focus on him, so to speak, at his absolute lowest (and then lower, and lower, and lower--infinitely so, eh?), Wallace leaves us with no choice but to feel empathy for Poor Tony's absolute squalor. Sure, he's made choices that brought him to this point, but he's still a thinking human being--again, you can't be kicked out of humanity. All the people on the train look away from him, and I myself would do the same--and yet, reading about it, having context and words, these things provoke that raw emotion, that empathy, that we must train ourselves not to shut out. What would the world be like if we could all put ourselves into a man's shit- and piss-covered shoes?

One final, sad observation--and again, a matter of perspective. A woman commits suicide, and it just so happens that her act of desperation reveals and thwarts the dastardly actions of the Quebocois terrorism-by-mirrors. It's described here as an act that "SMASHED THE ILLUSION." Is her suicide now more acceptable? I shudder to think.

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