In the spirit of further exploring the mystery and intrigue of the literary novel as compared to the genre novel, every day this month I will read a chunk (about 35 pages) of David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest. By the end of this month I will have read the entity of this lengthy and complex novel, which includes 388 numbered endnotes, and the footnotes to those endnotes. Twice a week I will update this post with my progress through the book, my thoughts on literary merit and genre in the context of this novel, and excerpts from Infinite Jest.
UPDATES IN ORDER OF READING:
Excerpt from 12-1:
The sole reason he does not throw the unlabelled cartridge in the wastecan or put it aside for his wife to preview for relevance is because there are such woefully slim entertainment-pickings on his wife’s irritating Americanized tennis-league evening away from her place at home. The attaché will pop the cartridge in and scan just enough of its contents to determine whether it is irritating or of an irrelevant nature and not entertaining or engaging in any way. He will heat the prepared halal lamb and spicy halal garnish in the microwave oven until piping-hot, arrange it attractively on his tray, preview the first few moments of the puzzling and/ or irritating or possibly mysteriously blank entertainment cartridge first, then unwind with the news summary, then perhaps have a quick unlibidinous look at Nass’s spring line of sexless black devout-women’s-wear, then will insert the recursive surf-and-rain cartridge and make a well-deserved early Wednesday evening of it, hoping only that his wife will not return from her tennis league in her perspiration-dampened black ankle-length tennis ensemble and remove his dinner tray from his sleeping neck in a clumsy or undeft fashion that will awaken him, potentially.
A mysterious cartridge. Also, the word “cartridge” is mysterious in the context of this story, in my opinion. At this point, I’m still getting a feel for this book. Seems like DFW had fun writing it, the style is casual and relaxed, yet there’s an unmistakable undercurrent of a zillion brain cogs whirring.
Excerpt from 12-2:
It’s the mornings after the spider-and-heights dreams that are the most painful, that it takes sometimes three coffees and two showers and sometimes a run to loosen the grip on his soul’s throat; and these post-dream mornings are even worse if he wakes unalone, if the previous night’s Subject is still there, wanting to twitter, or to cuddle and, like, spoon, asking what exactly is the story with the foggy inverted tumblers on the bathroom floor, commenting on his night-sweats, clattering around in the kitchen, making kippers or bacon or something even more hideous and unhoneyed he’s supposed to eat with postcoital male gusto, the ones who have this thing about they call it Feeding My Man, wanting a man who can barely keep down A.M. honey-toast to eat with male gusto, elbows out and shovelling, making little noises. Even when alone, able to uncurl alone and sit slowly up and wring out the sheet and go to the bathroom, these darkest mornings start days that Orin can’t even bring himself for hours to think about how he’ll get through the day. These worst mornings with cold floors and hot windows and merciless light— the soul’s certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer.
I wonder how much of this story is autobiographical. DFW was quite the tennis player, in addition to being quite the author and quite the scholar. Tennis is mentioned throughout the book. Perhaps “Orin” is a facet of DFW and Orin’s thoughts and actions are a reflection of DFW’s chronic depression.
Excerpt from 12-3:
It’s a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains of the southern reaches of the Great Concavity in what used to be Vermont, raising dust that forms a uremic-hued cloud with somatic shapes interpretable from as far away as Boston and Montreal. The herd is descended from two domestic hamsters set free by a Watertown NY boy at the beginning of the Experialist migration in the subsidized Year of the Whopper. The boy now attends college in Champaign IL and has forgotten that his hamsters were named Ward and June. The noise of the herd is tornadic, locomotival. The expression on the hamsters’ whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable— it’s that implacable-herd expression. They thunder eastward across pedalferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded. To the east, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly overfertilized forests of what used to be central Maine. All these territories are now property of Canada. With respect to a herd of this size, please exercise the sort of common sense that come to think of it would keep your thinking man out of the southwest Concavity anyway. Feral hamsters are not pets. They mean business. Wide berth advised. Carry nothing even remotely vegetablish if in the path of a feral herd. If in the path of such a herd, move quickly and calmly in a direction perpendicular to their own. If American, north not advisable. Move south, calmly and in all haste, toward some border metropolis— Rome NNY or Glens Falls NNY or Beverly MA, say, or those bordered points between them at which the giant protective ATHSCME fans atop the hugely convex protective walls of anodized Lucite hold off the drooling and piss-colored bank of teratogenic Concavity clouds and move the bank well back, north, away, jaggedly, over your protected head.
“It’s a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains… ” and so on and so forth. I suspect DFW had a playful sense of humor in his day to-day life as well. He goes off on these detailed, whimsical tangents. It’s a bit dizzying for someone’s who’s used to reading novels which are more straightforward. But I’m enjoying IJ, for all its giddiness, it’s relaxing and hypnotic. You get into the convoluted flow.
Excerpt from 12-4:
‘The vital thing here gentlemen being not the force or how often you rotate to particulate-free floss but the motion, see, a soft sawing motion, gently up and down both ancipitals of the enamel’— demonstrating down the side of a bicuspid big as the kids’ heads, the plasticene gum-stuff yielding with sick sucking sounds, Schacht’s five kids all either glazed-looking or glued to their watch’s second-hand—‘ and then here’s the key, here’s the thing so few people understand: down below the ostensible gumline into the basal recessions at either side of the gingival mound that obtrudes between the teeth, down below, where your most pernicious particulates hide and breed.’
I appreciated this foray into the crucial importance of flossing. I’m surprised so many people are so lackadaisical about this non-optional dental hygiene habit. DFW and I were of the same mind on this one. I admit I’m feeling rather proud at this point.
Excerpt from 12-5:
ENORMOUS, ELECTROLYSIS-RASHED ‘JOURNALIST’ ‘HELEN’ STEEPLY’S ONLY PUTATIVE PUBLISHED ARTICLE BEFORE BEGINNING HER SOFT PROFILE ON PHOENIX CARDINALS PUNTER ORIN J. INCANDENZA, AND HER ONLY PUTATIVE PUBLISHED ARTICLE TO HAVE ANYTHING OVERTLY TO DO WITH GOOD OLD METROPOLITAN BOSTON, 10 AUGUST IN THE YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT, FOUR YEARS AFTER OPTICAL THEORIST, ENTREPRENEUR, TENNIS ACADEMICIAN, AND AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKER JAMES O. INCANDENZA TOOK HIS OWN LIFE BY PUTTING HIS HEAD IN A MICROWAVE OVEN
OK what’s with this “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” that keeps popping up every few pages? I haven’t googled this online yet, I’m wondering if this will be explained further on in the book. Or maybe DFW had a diaper fetish. Anyhow, my impression so far is one of smoking brain cogs. Many of the scenes – which, by the way, have no smooth transitions – have a frenetic dream-like feel. Tennis is an even bigger theme, the further I get into the book. Yes, a theme. Another theme – the disability of the gifted mind.
Excerpt from 12-7a:
If, by the virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility like Enfield MA’s state-funded Ennet House, you will acquire many exotic new facts. You will find out that once MA’s Department of Social Services has taken a mother’s children away for any period of time, they can always take them away again, D.S.S., like at will, empowered by nothing more than a certain signature-stamped form. I.e. once deemed Unfit— no matter why or when, or what’s transpired in the meantime— there’s nothing a mother can do.
… [these many exotic new facts go on for 5 pages] …
That a person— one with the Disease/-Ease— will do things under the influence of Substances that he simply would not ever do sober, and that some consequences of these things cannot ever be erased or amended. Felonies are an example of this.
I’m finding many passages in this book which I would consider to be “stream of consciousness.” I feel stream of consciousness writing fits well into a literary novel, as it offers a unique conduit into the mind of the characters(s), and as such, is able to focus of the human condition as opposed to focusing on a plot device. In this case, I feel the character(s) are literary manifestations of DFW.
Excerpt from 12-7b:
She had hurtled on back home on the night’s final T and gone home and at least finally not turned her face away from the situation, the predicament that she didn’t love it anymore she hated it and wanted to stop and also couldn’t stop or imagine stopping or living without it. She had in a way done as they’d made Jim do near the end and admitted powerlessness over this cage, this unfree show, weeping, literally clutching her heart, smoking first the Chore Boy-scrap she’d used to trap the vapors and form a smokable resin, then bits of the carpet and the acetate panties she’d filtered the solution through hours earlier, weeping and veilless and yarn-haired, like some grotesque clown, in all four mirrors of her little room’s walls.
CHRONOLOGY OF ORGANIZATION OF NORTH AMERICAN NATIONS’ REVENUE-ENHANCING SUBSIDIZED TIME ™, BY YEAR
(1) Year of the Whopper
(2) Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
(3) Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
(4) Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
(5) Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
(6) Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/ InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile (sic)
(7) Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland
(8) Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
(9) Year of Glad
Jim’s eldest, Orin— punter extraordinaire, dodger of flung acid extraordinaire— had once shown Joelle van Dyne his childhood collection of husks of the Lemon Pledge that the school’s players used to keep the sun off. Different-sized legs and portions of legs, well-muscled arms, a battery of five-holed masks hung on nails from an upright fiberboard sheet. Not all the husks had names below them.
Granted, this is an excerpt, and one may argue it is taken out of context. But even so, this section seems to be a riddle. I’m wondering if “Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad” is related to “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment,” and the rest of the “Year of the’s” are included as camouflage. Any takers on this one?
Excerpt from 12-8:
‘The grief-therapist encouraged me to go with my paroxysmic feelings, to name and honor my rage. He got more and more pleased and excited as I angrily told him I flat-out refused to feel iota-one of guilt of any kind. I said what, I was supposed to have lost even more quickly to Freer, so I could have come around HmH in time to stop Himself? It wasn’t my fault, I said. It was not my fault I found him, I shouted; I was down to black street-socks, I had legitimate emergency-grade laundry to do. By this time I was pounding myself on the breastbone with rage as I said that it just by-God was not my fault that—’ ‘That what?’ ‘That’s just what the grief-therapist said. The professional literature had a whole bold-font section on Abrupt Pauses in High-Affect Speech. The grief-therapist was now leaning way forward at the waist. His lips were wet. I was in The Zone, therapeutically speaking. I felt on top of things for the first time in a long time. I broke eye-contact with him. That I’d been hungry, I muttered.’ ‘Come again?’ ‘That’s just what he said, the grief-therapist. I muttered that it was nothing, just that it damn sure wasn’t my fault that I had the reaction I did when I came through the front door of HmH, before I came into the kitchen to get to the basement stairs and found Himself with his head in what was left of the microwave. When I first came in and was still in the foyer trying to get my shoes off without putting the dirty laundry-bag down on the white carpet and hopping around and couldn’t be expected to have any idea what had happened. I said nobody can choose or have any control over their first unconscious thoughts or reactions when they come into a house. I said it wasn’t my fault that my first unconscious thought turned out to be—’ ‘Jesus, kid, what?’ ‘ “That something smelled delicious!” I screamed. The force of my shriek almost sent the grief-therapist over backwards in his leather chair. A couple credentials fell off the wall. I bent over in my own nonleather chair as if for a crash-landing. I put a hand to each temple and rocked back and forth in the chair, weeping. It came out between sobs and screams. That it’d been four hours plus since lunchtime and I’d worked hard and played hard and I was starved. That the saliva had started the minute I came through the door. That golly something smells delicious was my first reaction!’
Now there’s some ace writing right there (note the “ace” tennis reference). Enough said (ironically so).