Like Mr. Paris over at Infinite Tasks, I find myself actually slowing down my read as we near the end of this terrific novel, a novel which I'm glad to see that Matthew Baldwin of Infinite Summer is now attributing to being about Sincerity, which I spoke about a few weeks back. (His phrasing of it, of course, is a lot neater than mine, in both senses. I particularly like his description of Sincerity Deflector Shields, which reemphasizes the importance of the book's length, or at least gives the DFW-Needs-an-Editor detractors something to think about.)
So this week, I found myself thinking about the progression of time in this novel--and in my own life--that is, the way in which time seemed to speed up, slow down, and occasionally stop for me. This, in turn, made me think about another thematic device Wallace uses--that is, Subsidized Time. Now, if we consider that Wallace isn't making jokes *just* to be funny, then maybe there's something hidden in that calendar, particularly in its progression from America's B.S., which, if you'll recall from last week, bullshit is the Monster that Hal has finally identified (to Mario): "I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there's simply no way to tell. The ones who give nothing away." (p. 774)
So, referring back to the list of years on page 223, America starts out full of shit. It then starts projectile shitting at Quebec, creating the Great Concavity (on our side) and Convexity (on their side). But you know, at least we're up front about it: it's very obvious what we're doing. It's not until the Year of the Whopper that things start to change--not that people never lied before, but now those lies are being stacked, sandwich-like, and people are attempting to sustain themselves on a diet of nothing but lies. We are losing US, and becoming ONANists.
It's no surprise that next up is the Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, and by now we hopefully understand that Geoffrey Day was actually right--though not to be excused--in identifying that *everyone* belongs in AA, seeing as how we're all addicted to something, and that that something we're addicted to serves as a type of self-medication. A spoonful of sugary lies helps the medicine go down, to put it another way.
And now comes the Trial-Sized Dove Bar: things do seem pretty arduous, particularly for those attempting to wean themselves off one substance (only to find that this means they need to addict themselves to another, even if that other is as innocuous as a Higher Power). I don't think there's a single character we've met who hasn't gone through some sort of transformative trial.
Of course, there are consequences to our actions. The Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken refers to genetically engineering "better" chickens, a food source which is then designed to be frozen, which could show the way in which Jim-as-E.T.A. (and he's only following in his own father's shaky footsteps) raises students to be Wonder athletes, all of whom learn early on to deep-freeze their emotions if they want to join the Show.
Another side-effect is in the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster. Not only does Wallace make silence a visual thing in his dialogue, but he has long stretches of narration that make you acutely aware of sounds--particularly squeaks, which have infiltrated many of the seemingly serene sections of the novel. And these are just the acknowledged silences, to say nothing of the fact that both Orin and Hal are clearly not saying the things they really feel inside--like most of the world, they're bottling it up. (Infinite Zombies cast the paranoid homeless man's "people-are-robots" delusion in this light, that is, our brains--rewired in the ONAN age to be even more Entertainment-seeking than usual make a whirring sound that is whisper-quiet.)
We've covered lies, addictions, medications, and their consequences--the big thing we haven't touched on yet is the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard..., which, it's been pointed out, is not only phonetically funny but also has the largest name--it obtrudes into our minds. (Not for nothing, it's also got the word "Mother" in it.) But come on, Hal's father has died, and now we're in a year about a computer that is able to project a lifelike image ("So hi-def you might as well be there"), and we're talking about people not even bothering to go anywhere anymore, to the extent that they now indulge in Spect-Ops? This is just one more thing that's eating us up inside... and we have the temerity to devote a year of our lives to this? To brand ourselves so?
Well, sure. That's what takes us to the Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland. And not for nothing, but are there any chapters that really take place during this year? We've pretty much given away everything that would make us "real," anything that would give us true substance or sustenance. No, the year we're most focused on--most predictably, given a culture filled with people who just sit there shitting themselves because they assume that they can always just get someone else to clean up the mess, is....
The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. It's a shame that nobody can actually vocalize their needs; it isn't until Gately becomes unable to communicate that we see what he's really after; and of course, when we first meet Hal, he's the clearest he'll ever be--and is of course, unable to communicate. Why is it so hard for us to simply reach out and talk to someone? Joelle thinks that Orin dumped her because of her face, but there is a sincere point at which Orin explains (to us, a figment of his imagination, really) that he's terrified of that trinity, that is, the ability to Know another person so closely that you can just reach out. There's also an element of Lyle's "Success" speech to LaMont Chu: we're afraid of ever getting what we actually want, because we may find out that it's not what we want. We depend on our ability to depend: what are we without need?
What are we? Perhaps we're in the Year of Glad, because Hal, at the start of the novel, has no more need. He doesn't seem to care about what he knows will happen, he takes it all in stride. It has happened before, it will happen again, but no single second--as per Gately's revelation--is unbearable. Of course, there are dark twists to this connotation: Glad (as the footnotes constantly remind us) is a Flaccid Receptacle Corporation in Ohio, which means that happiness is really just the ability to seal up and jettison our sorrows--for a time (that's what annular fusion does, see, it always comes right back around). There's also Gately's re-revelation:
Gately wants to tell Ferocious Francis how he's discovered how no one second of even unnarcotized post-trauma-infection-pain is unendurable. That he can Abide if he must. He wants to share his experience with his Crocodile sponsor. And plus, now that somebody he trusts himself to need is here, Gately wants to weep about the pain and tell how bad the pain of it is, how he doesn't think he can stand it one more second. (p. 885)If I had the tears, I'd shed them for poor ol' Bim. But back to this whole chronology, a chronology that is in someways reflective of the process that these characters have undergone (albeit in a fractured, out-of-sequence narrative), is it any wonder that Wallace introduces the whole timeline to us as an "organization" of time? That is, a cold transcription ("Urgle urgle") of the way we file our emotions away, ready for mass-disposal and "clean" happiness, the Gentle way? Well, it's a thought.
PS. As of page 851, Hal has shifted into first-person mode, as if giving up drugs has allowed him to return to his body (even though he feels as if there's a hole). However, he's not quite connected to it, as the janitors point out on page 875, his face is "open-ly cach-inated" and "mirthful" (at Stice's situation) and he's not even aware.
PPS. Of course ONAN gets a burro to be its anti-Entertainment spokesperson. Only an ass would want to deny someone pleasure.
PPPS. I know that it turns out to have been a dream, but what's up with the Pakistani doctor having 112 teeth? Dental-related imagery is already pretty big in this novel, but how does one go from 32 teeth to 112?
PPPPS. Last one, I swear, but Gately was on a roll. "Because what if God is really the cruel and vengeful figurant Boston AA swears up and down he isn't, and He gets you straight just so you can feel all the more keenly every bevel and edge of the special punishments He's got lined up for you?" (p. 895) The God-as-figurant image is mighty interesting, no?