Infinite Jest of December

INFINITE JEST

In the spirit of further exploring the mystery and intrigue of the literary novel as compared to the genre novel, every day this month (more or less) 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.

*****

Click anywhere on this sentence and scroll down for an update on how I did with this year’s NaNoWriMo.

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).

*****

Excerpt from 12-10:

His father knelt beside him on the ceiling in a well-rended sleeveless tee-, extolling the Red Sox of Rice and Lynn. Tony wore summer taffeta. His body flopped around without OK from HQ. He didn’t feel one bit like a puppet. He thought of gaffed fish. The gown had ‘a thousand flounces and a saucy bodice of lace crochet.’ Then he saw his father, green-gowned and rubber-gloved, leaning to read the headlines off the skin of a fish a newspaper had wrapped. That had never happened. The largest-print headline said PUSH. Poor Tony flopped and gasped and pushed down inside and the utter red of the blood that feeds sight bloomed behind his fluttering lids. Time wasn’t passing so much as kneeling beside him in a torn tee-shirt disclosing the rodent-nosed tits of a man who disdains the care of his once-comely bod. Poor Tony convulsed and drummed and gasped and fluttered, a fountain of light all around him. He felt a piece of nourishing and possibly even intoxicating meat in the back of his throat but elected not to swallow it but swallowed it anyway, and was immediately sorry he did; and when his father’s bloody-rubbered fingers folded his teeth back to retrieve the tongue he’d swallowed he refused absolutely to bite down ungratefully on the hand that was taking his food, then without authorization he pushed and bit down and took the gloved fingers clean off, so there was rubber-wrapped meat in his mouth again and his father’s head exploded into needled antennae of color like an exploding star between his gown’s raised green arms and a call for Zuckung while Tony’s heels drummed and struggled against the widening stirrups of light they were hoisted into while a curtain of red was drawn wetly up over the floor he stared down at, Tony, and he heard someone yelling for someone to Give In, Err, with a hand on his lace belly as he bore down to PUSH and he saw the legs in the stirrups they held would keep spreading until they cracked him open and all the way inside-out on the ceiling and his last worry was that red-handed Poppa could see up his dress, what was hidden.

*

I’d say that fits into the psychological horror genre, if one would want to categorize it. Psychological-fantasy horror, if one was picky, but who would get picky with IJ? DFW was quite good at writing intense drug overdose / withdrawal scenes.

*****

Excerpt from 12-11:

What often takes the longest to get a quorum on is each game’s Triggering Situation. Here Lord, like many stellar statistics-wonks, shows a bit of an Achilles’ heel imagination-wise, but he’s got a good five or six years of Eschaton precedents to draw on. A Russo-Chinese border dispute goes tactical over Sinkiang. An AMNAT computracker in the Aleutians misreads a flight of geese as three SOVWAR SS10s on reentry. Israel moves armored divisions north and east through Jordan after an El Al airbus is bombed in midflight by a cell linked to both H’sseins. Black Albertan wackos infiltrate an isolated silo at Ft. Chimo and get two MIRVs…

[and so on and so forth]

…and gets a flat tire. A single one-megaton SS10 evades antimissile missiles and detonates just over Provo UT, from which all communications abruptly cease. Eschaton’s game-master now posits— but does not go so far as to actually assert— that EndStat’s game-theoretic Decision Tree now dictates a SPASEX response from AMNAT.

*

DFW was also quite good at writing long, drawn-out game and sports scenes. Reading these, the title of this novel keeps popping into my mind. I prefer the long, drawn-out drug overdose / withdrawal scenes.

*****

Excerpt from 12-12a:

Its expression: in the vanity’s lights only Its eyes’ whites showed, and while Its utter catatonia and paralysis prevented the contraction of Its luridly rouged face’s circumoral muscles into any conventional human facial-type expression, nevertheless some hideously mobile and expressive layer in the moist regions below real people’s expressive facial layer, some slow-twitch layer unique to It, had blindly contracted, somehow, to gather the blank soft cheese of Its face into the sort of pinched gasping look of neurologic concentration that marks a carnal bliss beyond smiles or sighs. Its face looked post-coital sort of the way you’d imagine the vacuole and optica of a protozoan looking post-coital after it’s shuddered and shot its mono-cellular load into the cold waters of some really old sea. Its facial expression was, in a word, the speaker says, unspeakably, unforgettably ghastly and horrid and scarring.

*

Levels of Disturbing*:

5. A post-rape description.

4. A post-child rape description.

3. A post-incestuous child rape description.

2. A post-incestuous child rape description in which the child is profoundly mentally and physically disabled.

1. A post-incestuous child rape description in which the child is profoundly mentally and physically disabled, and enjoyed the rape.

*In reading, not in actuality, and in my opinion.

*****

Excerpt from 12-12b:

He just starts materializing, always alone, at increasingly high-level junior tournaments, appears on draw-sheets with ‘Ind.’ by his name, plays competitive tennis with a Glock at his left temple; and his opponents, unwilling to sacrifice Clipperton’s hostage (Clipperton même), barely even try, or else they go for impossible angles and spins, or else talk on mobile phones while they play or try to hit every ball between their legs or behind their backs; and the matches’ galleries tend to boo Clipperton just as much as they dare; and Clipperton sits and hefts his 17-shot clip and takes the brass-jacketed 9-mm. cartridges out sometimes and clicks a few together ruminatively in his hand in the sideline chair at all the odd-game breaks, and sometimes he tries little Western-gunslinger triggerguard-spins during the breaks; but when play resumes Clipperton’s deadly serious once more and has the Glock 17 at his temple, playing, and mows through the lackadaisical Clipperton Brigade round by round, and wins the whole tournament by what is essentially psychic default, and then right after collecting his trophy vanishes like the ground itself inhaled him.

*

Fantasy genre. OK, not “fairies and dragons” fantasy, but fantasy nonetheless. Who would tolerate a gun-toting tennis player IRL?

*****

Excerpt from 12-14a:

TINE [Rising, eyes now two glittery red points in his round face’s felt, the eyes two tiny smoke-detector bulbs run off a single AAA cell taped to the back of the puppet’s surgical gown]: Now, speaking in the very most general terms, if the president’s vision dictates the tough choice of cutting certain programs and services, our statistical people predict with reasonable inductive certainty that the American electorate will whinge. VEALS: Whinge? LURIA P———[ TO TINE]: This is a Canadian idiom, cheri. VEALS: And who is this chick? TINE [Looking momentarily blank]: Sorry Tom. Canadian idiom. Whinge. Complain. Petition for redress. Assemble. March in those five-abreast demonstrating lines. Shake upraised fists in unison. Whinge [indicating photos on easels behind him of various historical pressure- and advocacy groups whingeing]. SEC. TREAS.: And we already have an all-too-good idea of what will happen if we attempt any sort of conventional revenue enhancements. SEC. STATE: Tax revolt. SEC. H.E.W.: A whingeathon, Chief. SEC. DEF.: Tea-party.

*

Didn’t the Tea Party ooze up from the bowels of Whingedom in 2008 (at the earliest)? (No offense to my Tea Partying readers.) IJ was published in 1996. Was DFW a time traveler?

*****

Excerpt from 12-14b:

Words that are not and can never be words are sought by Lucien here through what he guesses to be the maxillofacial movements of speech, and there is a childlike pathos to the movements that perhaps the rigid-grinned A.F.R. leader can sense, perhaps that is why his sigh is sincere, his complaint sincere when he complains that what will follow will be inutile, Lucien’s failure to assist will be inutile, there will be no point serviced, there are several dozen highly trained and motivated wheelchaired personnel here who will find whatever they seek and more, anyhow, perhaps it is sincere, the Gallic shrug and fatigue of the voice through the leader’s mask-hole, as Lucien’s leonine head is tilted back by a hand in his hair and his mouth opened wide by callused fingers that appear overhead and around the sides of his head from behind and jack his writhing mouth open so wide that the tendons in his jaws tear audibly and Lucien’s first sounds are reduced from howls to a natal gargle as the pale wicked tip of the broom he loves is inserted, the wood piney-tasting then white tasteless pain as the broom is shoved in and abruptly down by the big and collared A.F.R., thrust farther in rhythmically in strokes that accompany each syllable in the wearily repeated ‘In-U-Tile’ of the technical interviewer, down into Lucien’s wide throat and lower, small natal cries escaping around the brown-glazed shaft, the strangled impeded sounds of absolute aphonia, the landed-fish gasps that accompany speechlessness in a dream, the cleric-collared A.F.R. driving the broom home now to half its length, up on his stumps to get downward leverage as the fibers that protect the esophagal terminus resist and then give with a crunching pop and splat of red that bathes Lucien’s teeth and tongue and makes of itself in the air a spout, and his gargled sounds now sound drowned; and behind fluttering lids the aphrasiac half-cellular insurgent who loves only to sweep and dance in a clean pane sees snow on the round hills of his native Gaspé, pretty curls of smoke from chimneys, his mother’s linen apron, her kind red face above his crib, homemade skates and cider-steam, Chic-Choc lakes seen stretching away from the Cap-Chat hillside they skied down to Mass, the red face’s noises he knows from the tone are tender, beyond crib and rimed window Gaspésie lake after lake after lake lit up by the near-Arctic sun and stretching out in the southeastern distance like chips of broken glass thrown to scatter across the white Chic-Choc country, gleaming, and the river Ste.-Anne a ribbon of light, unspeakably pure; and as the culcate handle navigates the inguinal canal and sigmoid with a queer deep full hot tickle and with a grunt and shove completes its passage and forms an obscene erectile bulge in the back of his red sopped johns, bursting then through the wool and puncturing tile and floor at a police-lock’s canted angle to hold him upright on his knees, completely skewered, and as the attentions of the A.F.R.s in the little room are turned from him to the shelves and trunks of the Antitois’ sad insurgents’ lives, and Lucien finally dies, rather a while after he’s quit shuddering like a clubbed muskie and seemed to them to die, as he finally sheds his body’s suit, Lucien finds his gut and throat again and newly whole, clean and unimpeded, and is free, catapulted home over fans and the Convexity’s glass palisades at desperate speeds, soaring north, sounding a bell-clear and nearly maternal alarmed call-to-arms in all the world’s well-known tongues.

*

That’s one sentence. Go ahead, check it.

*****

Excerpt from 12-15:

The lamp teetered violently and began to fall over sideways, away from the bed. It fell with a kind of majestic slowness, resembling a felled tree. As the lamp fell, its heavy iron pole struck the brass knob on the door to my closet, shearing the knob off completely. The round knob and half its interior hex bolt fell off and hit my room’s wooden floor with a loud noise and began then to roll around in a remarkable way, the sheared end of the hex bolt stationary and the round knob, rolling on its circumference, circling it in a spherical orbit, describing two perfectly circular motions on two distinct axes, a non-Euclidian figure on a planar surface, i.e., a cycloid on a sphere: The closest conventional analogue I could derive for this figure was a cycloid, L’Hôpital’s solution to Bernoulli’s famous Brachistochrone Problem, the curve traced by a fixed point on the circumference of a circle rolling along a continuous plane. But since here, on the bedroom’s floor, a circle was rolling around what was itself the circumference of a circle, the cycloid’s standard parametric equations were no longer apposite, those equations’ trigonometric expressions here becoming themselves first-order differential equations. Because of the lack of resistance or friction against the bare floor, the knob rolled this way for a long time as I watched over the edge of the comforter and mattress, holding my glasses in place, completely distracted from the minor-D shriek of the vacuum below. It occurred to me that the movement of the amputated knob perfectly schematized what it would look like for someone to try to turn somersaults with one hand nailed to the floor. This was how I first became interested in the possibilities of annulation.

*

ASD, DFW? Or NPD? Or is this the case of TPCTKB?

*****

Excerpt from 12-17:

At lunchtime, Hal Incandenza was lying on his bunk in bright sunlight through the window with his hands laced over his chest, and Jim Troeltsch poked his head in and asked Hal what he was doing, and Hal told him photosynthesizing and then didn’t say anything else until Troeltsch went away. Then, 41 breaths later, Michael Pemulis stuck his head in where Troeltsch’s had been. ‘Did you eat yet?’ Hal made his stomach bulge up and patted it, still looking at the ceiling. ‘The beast has killed and gorged and now lies in the shade of the Baobob tree.’ ‘Gotcha.’ ‘Surveying his loyal pride.’ ‘I gotcha.’ Over 200 breaths later, John (‘ N.R.’) Wayne opened up the ajar door a little more and put his whole head in and stayed like that, with just his head in. He didn’t say anything and Hal didn’t say anything, and they stayed like that for a while, and then Wayne’s head smoothly withdrew.

*

In my opinion, the above is the most poetic passage in the book (so far). From exacting sports descriptions to graphic violent to psychological horror to made-up words to copious, tedious footnotes, this book has it all. Even poetry.

*****

Excerpt from 12-18:

He gets a serious burn on his pelvis leaning against a hot steel stove talking to Mrs. Clarke. His hip is swaddled in bandages under Orin’s old corduroys, and there’s a sucking sound of salve when he walks, late at night, unable to sleep. The birth-related disability that wasn’t even definitively diagnosed until Mario was six and had let Orin tattoo his shoulder with the red coil of an immersion heater is called Familial Dysautonomia, a neurological deficit whereby he can’t feel physical pain very well. A lot of the E.T.A.s kid him about they should have such problems, and even Hal’s sometimes felt a twinge of envy about it, but the defect is a serious hassle and actually very dangerous, see for instance the burnt pelvis, which wasn’t even discovered until Mrs. Clarke thought she smelled her eggplant overcooking.

*

Anybody have a good vegan recipe for eggplant? I’ve already made baba ghanoush and breaded eggplant with marinara and lemon juice.

*****

Excerpt from 12-19a:

Two private planes fly in lazy ellipses just under the cloud-cover overhead, banners strung out behind them advertising four different levels of comfort and protection from Depend. The wind keeps blowing the banners sideways, möbiusizing them and then straightening them back out with the loud pop of flags unfurling. From the ground the engines and banners’ pops are too faint to hear above the crowd-noise and ducks and wind’s mean whistle. The swirling groundwind’s so bad that U.S. Chief of Unspecified Services Rodney Tine, standing with his hands at the small of his back at a window on the eighth floor of the State House Annex on Beacon and Joy Sts., looking southwest and down at the concentric rings of pond and crowd and trucks, can see wind-driven leaves and street-grit swirling right outside and pecking at this very window he stands before, massaging his coccyx.

*

Two specific points of interest in the above section. “Depends” (obviously), and “coccyx.” For the first one, yes, it’s a theme throughout IJ, a theme I have yet to decipher, if, indeed, it is meant to be (deciphered). For the second one, I immediately thought of the movie “Napoleon Dynamite,” (a stunningly stunning cinematic achievement), though I am almost positive IJ and ND have very little to do with each other.

*****

Excerpt from 12-19b:

‘When I was a little boy—’ Gompert chuffs air again. ‘— just a boy with a violin and a dream and special roundabout routes to school to avoid the boys who took my violin case and played keep-away over my head with it, one summer afternoon I was upstairs in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, alone, practicing my violin. It was very hot, and there was an electric fan in the window, blowing out, acting as an exhaust fan.’ ‘I know from exhaust fans, believe you me.’ ‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this one afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’ ‘A thing.’ ‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’ ‘But it was inside you, though.’ ‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped my violin and ran from the room.’ ‘Was it triangular? The shape? When you say billowing, do you mean like a triangle?’ ‘Shapeless. Shapelessness was one of the horrible things about it. I can say and mean only shape, dark, and either billowing or flapping. But because the horror receded the moment I left the room, within minutes it had become unreal. The shape and horror. It seemed to have been my imagination, some random bit of psychic flatulence, an anomaly.’

*

Two specific points of interest in the above section. “Chuffs” – one of my most favorite words ever (along with chuff, chuffed, chuffer, chuffing, chuffable, chuffier, chuffiest, etc, and the countless compound words one can make by adding “chuff-“ to the beginning of a word), and “The shape and horror.” For the first one, I’m chuffed, obviously. For the second one, the description seems extremely vague, in my opinion.

*****

Excerpts from 12-21a:

1. Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.

*

2. It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self. Its emotional character, the feeling Gompert describes It as, is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/ all of the alternatives we associate with human agency— sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying— are not just unpleasant but literally horrible. It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed. There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clinical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. This anhedonic Inability To Identify is also an integral part of It. If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain, a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one. The authoritative term psychotic depression makes Kate Gompert feel especially lonely. Specifically the psychotic part. Think of it this way. Two people are screaming in pain. One of them is being tortured with electric current. The other is not. The screamer who’s being tortured with electric current is not psychotic: her screams are circumstantially appropriate. The screaming person who’s not being tortured, however, is psychotic, since the outside parties making the diagnoses can see no electrodes or measurable amperage. One of the least pleasant things about being psychotically depressed on a ward full of psychotically depressed patients is coming to see that none of them is really psychotic, that their screams are entirely appropriate to certain circumstances part of whose special charm is that they are undetectable by any outside party. Thus the loneliness: it’s a closed circuit: the current is both applied and received from within. The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

*

1. DFW nails ‘Merica, before ‘Merica was ‘Merica.

*

2. Painful and sad to read DFW’s self-description. I understand depression-precipitated suicide a little more now. Or maybe just DFW’s depression-precipitated suicide.

*****

Excerpt from 12-21b:

Blood Sister: One Tough Nun, one of Himself’s few commercial successes, wouldn’t have made near the money it made if it hadn’t come out just as InterLace was starting to purchase first-run features for its rental menus and hyping the cartridges with one-time Spontaneous Disseminations. It was the sort of sleazy-looking shocksploitation film that would have had a two-week run in multiplex theaters 8 and above and then gone right to the featureless brown boxes of magnetic-video limbo. Hal’s critical take on the film is that Himself, at certain dark points when abstract theory-issues seemed to provide an escape from the far more wrenching creative work of making humanly true or entertaining cartridges, had made films in certain commercial-type genre modes that so grotesquely exaggerated the formulaic schticks of the genres that they became ironic metacinematic parodies on the genres: ‘sub/ inversions of the genres,’ cognoscenti taken in were wont to call them. The metacinematic-parody idea itself was aloof and over-clever, to Hal’s way of thinking, and he’s not comfortable with the way Himself always seemed to get seduced by the very commercial formulae he was trying to invert, especially the seductive formulae of violent payback, i.e. the cathartic bloodbath, i.e. the hero trying with every will-fiber to eschew the generic world of the stick and fist and but driven by unjust circumstance back to the violence again, to the cathartic final bloodbath the audience is brought to applaud instead of mourn. Himself’s best in this vein was The Night Wears a Sombrero, a Langesque metaWestern but also a really good Western, with chintzy homemade interior sets but breathtaking exteriors shot outside Tucson AZ, an ambivalent-but-finally-avenging-son story played out against dust-colored skies and big angles of flesh-colored mountain, plus with minimal splatter, shot men clutching their chests and falling deliciously sideways, all hats staying on at all times. Blood Sister: One Tough Nun was a supposedly ironic lampoon of the avenging-cleric splatter-films of the late B.S. ’90s. Nor did Himself make any friends on either side of the Concavity, trying to shoot the thing in Canada. Hal tries to imagine the tall slumped tremulous stork-shape of Himself inclined at an osteoporotic angle over digital editing equipment for hours on end, deleting and inserting code, arranging Blood Sister: One Tough Nun into subversive/ inversion, and can’t summon one shadowy idea of what Himself might have been feeling as he patiently labored. Maybe that was the point of the thing’s metasilliness, to have nothing really felt going on. 289

289. In point of a fact wholly unknown to Hal, BS:OTN was in fact a very sad self-hate-festival on Himself’s part, a veiled allegory of sponsorship and Himself’s own miserable distaste for the vacant grins and reductive platitudes of the Boston AA that M.D.s and counselors kept referring him to.

*

I’ll never watch B movies the same way again.

*****

Excerpt from 12-22:

‘Well, don’t go,’ the woman of authority ejaculated from coming out of her reverie of sadness, giving her seat the rotation to face him.

*

Ah-ha! My suspicion is now so obviously confirmed. IJ is an (infinite) jest. Fellow writers know what I’m talking about.

*****

Excerpt from 12-24:

‘Hey Hal? What are you going to do?’ ‘…’ ‘Hal?’ ‘Booboo, I’m up on my elbow again. Tell me what you think I should do.’ ‘Me tell you?’ ‘I’m just two big aprick ears right here, Boo. Listening. Because I do not know what to do.’ ‘Hal, if I tell you the truth, will you get mad and tell me be a fucking?’ ‘I trust you. You’re smart, Boo.’ ‘Then Hal?’ ‘Tell me what I should do.’ ‘I think you just did it. What you should do. I think you just did.’ ‘…’ ‘Do you see what I mean?’

*

DFW gets dialogue right. Or maybe IJ has done something to my brain.

*****

Excerpt from 12-26:

So Hal’s most vivid full-color memory of the non-anti-Substance Meeting he drove fifty oversalivated clicks to by mistake will become that of his older brother’s doubles partner’s older brother down on all fours on a Dacronyl rug, crawling, hampered because one arm was holding his bear to his chest, so he sort of dipped and rose as he crawled on three limbs toward Hal and the needs-meeter behind him, Bain’s knees leaving twin pale tracks in the carpet and his head up on a wobbly neck and looking up and past Hal, his face unspeakable.

*

One of many well-written-yet-painful-to-read recovery episodes. This one isn’t overtly drug-related.

*****

Excerpt from 11-27:

‘You’re going to be fine,’ I said. I got right behind Stice and bent slightly and got an arm around his chest. His wooden chair creaked as I braced my knee against it. Stice began breathing fast and hard. His parotitic jowls flapped a little as he breathed. Our cheeks were almost pressed together. I told him I was going to pull on the count of Three. I actually pulled on Two, so he couldn’t brace himself. I pulled back as hard as I could, and after a stutter of resistance Stice pulled back with me. There was a horrible sound. The skin of his forehead distended as we yanked his head back. It stretched and distended until a sort of shelf of stretched forehead-flesh half a meter long extended from his head to the window. The sound was like some sort of elastic from hell. The dermis of Stice’s forehead was still stuck fast, but the abundant loose flesh of Stice’s bulldog face had risen and gathered to stretch and connect his head to the window. And for a second I saw what might be considered Stice’s real face, his features as they would be if not encased in loose jowly prairie flesh: as every mm. of spare flesh was pulled up to his forehead and stretched, I got a glimpse of Stice as he would appear after a radical face-lift: a narrow, fine-featured, and slightly rodential face, aflame with some sort of revelation, looked out at the window from beneath the pink visor of stretched spare skin. All this took place in less than a second. For just an instant we both stayed there, straining backward, listening to the little Rice-Krispie sound of his skin’s collagen-bundles stretching and popping. His chair was leaning way back on its two rear legs. Then Stice shrieked in pain: ‘Jesus God put it back!’ The little second face’s blue eyes protruded like cartoon eyes. The fine little thin-lipped second mouth was a round coin of pain and fear. ‘Put it back put it back put it back!’ Stice yelled. I couldn’t just let go, though, for fear that the elastic stretch would snap Stice forward into the window and send his face through the glass. I eased him forward, watching the chair’s front legs descend slowly to the floor; and the tension of the forehead’s skin decreased, and Stice’s full fleshy round face reappeared over the small second face, and covered it, and we eased him forward until nothing but a few centimeters of decollagenated forehead-skin hanging and sagging at about eyelash-level remained as evidence of the horrific stretch. ‘Jesus God,’ Stice panted. ‘You are really and truly stuck, Orth.’

*

Included as (late) comedic interlude.

*****

Excerpt from 12-31a:

It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately— the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into. Flight from exactly what? These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat? To what purpose? This was why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions why and to what grow real beaks and claws. It was kind, in a way.

*

This paragraph is an example of a paragraph taken out of context.

*****

Excerpt from 12-31b:

The CD playing was one C’d played all the fucking time in the car when Gately had been with him in a car: somebody had taken an old disk of McCartney and the Wings— as in the historical Beatles’s McCartney— taken and run it through a Kurtzweil remixer and removed every track on the songs except the tracks of poor old Mrs. Linda McCartney singing backup and playing tambourine.

*

I end this Infinite Jest of December blog post with an except including the word “Kurtzweil.”

*****

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