Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Infinite Jestation (A Blogthrough): Pages 312-342

In which Orin and Hal talk politics, Mario's surprise birth and according defects are described, Marathe and Steeply bicker over the "free" in "freedom," and the ETA students enjoy their Interdependence Day by using their tennis skills to interface with the Eschaton war simulation.

In larger and larger chunks now, Wallace's narrative choices are starting to shine, particularly in his illuminating use of voice. This is an author with an unlimited ability to describe objects, occasionally by refusing to actually describe them ("Pemulis invites Ingersoll to do something anatomically impossible"), and yet for the most part, he does most of his description through the rhythm of their speech--in other words, he allows personality to take center stage--pretty tough, given the epic number of characters.

So let's first look at the Incandenzas: in Footnote 110 (p. 1004-1021), we see "A MOVING EXAMPLE OF THE SORTS OF PHYSICAL-POST MAIL MRS. AVRL INCANDENZA HAS SENT HER ELDEST CHILD ORIN SINCE THE FELO DE SE OF DR. J. O. INCANDENZA, THE SORT OF CHIRPILY QUOTIDIAN MAIL THAT--HERE'S THE MOVING PART--SEEMS TO IMPLY A CONTEXT OF REGULAR INTER-PARTY COMMUNICATION, STILL." It's the stuff of grammatical heartbreak, not just from the unexplained nicknames and references--which, by dint of being private, summon up depths of the personal--but from the way in which Avril crafts such desperate hope into every inch of her letter. The kicker, of course, is that Orin sends back a curt form letter via his football team, one which, to add injury to insult, is filled with errors. As Hal identifies it, "grotesque solecistic pseudo-impersonal replies to her pathetic letters." (Here's a recurring theme: Orin goes through more effort to not respond to the Moms than he would to simply talk to her, just as Struck works harder to plagiarize than to simply write the essay, and as Hal goes out of his way to learn how to say what he believes others want to hear.)

The footnote then continues to literally show this drift and distance , thanks to the enabling and yet somehow disabling power of telecommunication, aka, the present without having presence use of the phone. (And this may perhaps explain Wallace's early digression re: videophony, which nailed the "phony" bit.) The way in which Orin addresses his women as Subjects and the way Hal correctly points out that he actually means the obverse (i.e., Objects). The way in which Orin uses silence, or brute force (i.e., simply ignoring/brushing off what Hal says) to dominate the conversation, a very American tactic, as Marathe will point out a few pages from now. Hal is so irrelevant to Orin, it hardly matters, and the effect of that on both of them is pretty obvious, especially given the fact that Hal doesn't just hang up--in fact, he protects the phone from Pemulis, though casually, as if for any Incandenza to show emotion would be some great loss.

One more thought about this rich, easy-to-read section (despite the faux history about the motives for Separatist Quebec's alliance with Canada versus O.N.A.N.): it doesn't end. In fact, it loops back to Orin's nested series of questions (1a, I believe), re: the use of the word samizdat in connection with J.O.I. Which speaking of, this reaffirms why I love Infinite Jest so much: these logic circles are wide enough that they make us think, but circumscribed enough that our suspicions are usually soon confirmed. In this case, the picture forming is that the F.L.Q. (Nuck terrorists) has obtained the Entertainment (most likely the film Infinite Jest (V?)) and is attempting to us it to make the sort of terrorist act that would annoy O.N.A.N. and put them on the map.

This will be confirmed in a few short pages, but first, a few more questions are raised (and answered) in The Surprise Birth (p. 312-317). Of note:

  • Mario Sr. died in mid-putt, James Sr. died of a brain hemmorage, and James Jr. blew his brains out via microwave oven. There seems to be a progression of death in the family, with each son dying younger, and more immediately, of a brain condition. (Perhaps akin to the gum condition--caries--that runs in the family.)
  • Footnote 114 confirms the calendar on p. 223: Year of Glad is the last Subsidized year. Something big--and probably wicked--this way comes.
Wallace also continues to play with voice in the Mario section, using footnotes (which remember, are labeled Notes and Errata) to this time point out (117 and 119) where the narrator has "...overshot the place" in which he should have mentioned other characteristics and features of note. Obviously Wallace could've edited these things back into the text, since he recognized them enough to footnote 'em. However, by leaving them as footnotes, he adds an immediacy to the main text, lapses, jumps, digressions, repetitions and all, that make it resemble nothing else so much as the oral traditions of epic classical poems, i.e., this is a story being told. (According to one theory, that explains the use of single quotes in a decidedly non-British novel.) It also also allows for multiple streams of consciousness at once, which is a pretty deft trick: everything is Now, everything is Immediate, everything is Always.

And we haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet: Self-Destructive Appetites w/Marathe and Steeply (p. 317-321) puts a finger on the idea, raised earlier by Day, that we all belong in an Anonymous meeting of some sort, because we are all addicted to something. In this case, Marathe posits that, in a childish way, we are addicted to freedom, which seems silly, along the lines of saying that you can't have infinity without limits. Except that both are sort of true. You may not know what those limits are, but without some end in sight, things would be too overwhelming. That's why our senses only show us specific things, why our minds only remember key details, why we operate with filters. Without them, nothing would exist: without locking away some things, nothing would have any value. D.F.W. has the difficult task of contrasting this with the equally nasty concept of Facism, but it's an admirable section. If I may get biblical with it for a moment: the Entertainment is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge--that is, "God" has given us the choice to to partake of this killer Entertainment, but we'll die (or be cast out) for doing so. It's no coincidence that Marathe implies that religion has been abolished: "Someone taught that temples are for fanatics only and took away the temples and promised there was no need for temples." Small wonder that AA stands--religious, cliched underpinnings and all--as the last sort of sacred place left. But that's making a huge, probably unmerited leap.

Instead, let's jump to the menacing-at-first-glance-but-actually-hilarious-and-in-that-way-representative-of-Infinite-Jest-as-a-whole next section, Eschaton (p. 321-342). What begins as sober conversation about the seriousness of war, with precise rules and calculus-derived formulas and statistical analysis, soon distorts--like the best of comedies--into all-out armageddon, which sort of confirms what Marathe said about O.N.A.N. being full of children. There's some nice stuff here, too, about the representation of reality, and the actual reality, and whether or not there's any middle ground between the two.

As a final note, to close on the idea of voice itself, in footnote 123, the text actually reads "Pemulis here, dictating to Inc...." This implies, as other sections have, that Hal (or perhaps a different Incandenza, like the all-seeing, slowly-recording, Hal's-secret-idol, Mario) is the one adding flourishes (as he does to Otis Lord's TRIGSIT in footnote 127), but that each section is in fact being preserved as it was originally spoken. Wallace has labeled previous sections TRANSCRIPTS, and the novel sounds better when read aloud, so what can we make of this? Ah, screw it: Gaudeamus Igitur, Let Us Rejoice.

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