Like Starship Troopers but with Tennis

This novel is in love with two words: post-prandial and hirsute

INFINITE JEST pp. 241-321 (notes 85-119)


First im going way back to p. 138. That’s where we get the insurance/worker’s comp claim email (re-reading i notice the guy has a blood-alcohol of “.3+” yiiikes. The clip that follows is a bricklayer who goes through a brutal slapstick routine with a bucket of bricks and a pulley. It comes after the brief introduction to Ennet house, and is before a series of small primary documents, including Hal’s first paper, the Moment magazine article involving the owner of the purse Yrstruly stole (another dark joke), the table of anti ONAN separatists, and the long consumer article about videophones.

Some good work was done on the Infinite Summer blog to show how this fragment is a variation on an old-as-the-hills joke. There’s another version pulled from a ListServ which shows the changes DFW made, mostly to make the letter fit into the twisted story world of the JEST, using the metric system and making the brickload much bigger. This is the sort of thing that encyclopedic narrative and the “baroque” structure is inclined to do, pull in scraps of info from the literature and paraliterature outside the text (not to mention the references to “appropriation art” in the story so far. And it’s par for the course with postmodernist writing or the “hypertext” theories from the same kind of milieu.

Just as far as personal taste goes, i like these “primary source” bits more than the straight narration. ive been reading some of Joseph Tabbi’s scholarship on postmodern hyper-text, and his work raises a distinction between conventional literature which “moves us through” the text in the way we know and love, and the “recombinant sensibility” of hypertexts, which i think can also apply to the “maximalist” novels. The latter is “recombining” chunks of information, accumulated without a sense of narrative direction. i prefer these bits in the JEST because i dont like the narrator’s persona — the tennis academy scenes read like such a boys’ novel, as in it’s not just about boys but is so casually chauvinistic that if i wanted to hear this kind of tone i could just hang out in the coffee shop at my undergrad campus.

But i guess it’s effective. Maybe these ignorant teenage boy thoughts voiced by the narrator, and Orin’s gross “Subject”-naming of his conquests and enumerated seduction strategies are part of the story world’s insanity. But i remember a sound byte from Samuel R. Delany that women writing and reading boy’s books is more constructive as far as political values go than boys reading boy’s books. One woman in our reading support group didnt view Orin’s sex addiction as being framed as a problem in the novel; she took it as very typical frat boy attitudes. What do litbros who read the JEST make of these bits? — actually i dont wanna know.

Another question i have: ive read so much about DFW and the JEST about his rebellion against 70s Pomo irony and going for a new sincerity, that being straight once more is the new kind of rebellion. But, so far, i just dont really see it?

Like, im not sure why we get a 10-page section on our ETA boys at the Port Washington tourney, and all the brands of their equipment and stuff. Is this majorly different from what Pynchon does? And if the JEST was supposed to be a way towards new sincerity, the narration is still undercuttting itself. Like when Joelle is about to kill herself:

The idea that she’ll never see Molly Notkin or the cerebral Union or Uncle Bud on a roof or her stepmother in the Locked Ward or her poor personal Daddy again is sentimental and banal. The idea of what she’s about in here contains all other ideas and makes them banal. Her glass of juice is on the back of the toilet, half-empty. The back of the toilet is lightly sheened with condensation of unknown origin. These are facts. This room in this apartment is the sum of very many specific facts and ideas. There is nothing more to it than that. Deliberately setting about to make her heart explode has assumed the status of just one of these facts. It was an idea but now is about to become a fact. The closer it comes to becoming concrete the more abstract it seems. Things get very abstract. The concrete room was the sum of abstract facts. Are facts abstract, or are they just abstract representations of concrete things?

So maybe the novel is a cautionary tale leading by negative example. But self-reflection seems to be a compulsion, and in this case it leads an interesting line of thought about facts vs. ideas and such. i guess what i mean to say is that i dont know why IJ wouldn’t be called a postmodernist book. That term is bandied about endlessly as to dilute its definition already. To argue that it’s actually modernist, like how THE PUBLIC BURNING is actually modernist, just makes me more confused! (There are those mythological and religious allusions though.)

A lot of important stuff happened in this reading set: Hal and Orin have a long phone conversation in which we learn about James Incandenza’s suicide in detail, already sketched out for us at the grad party scene where Joelle makes crack and OD’s in the bathroom. That sequence had some nice cinephile references. We’ve also figured by now that Steeply, the USen spy dressed as a woman who dialogues with Marathe in the desert is the reporter for Moment magazine trying to do a profile on Orin. The link between the Incandenzas and the Quebecois separatists is still unclear beyond the use of IJ or “the Entertainment” as a weapon. What did Avril do in Canada? And why is Orin specifically targeted when he’s the most estranged of the three brothers from their father by a long shot?

Things are starting to get interesting. ive never been thrown between entrancement and resistance with a novel like this before. i cant trust my own reactions.


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