Category: Wallace, David Foster

figurants traced in dope smoke


INFINITE JEST pp. 700- fucking /DONE

at last im free.

i finished it a week and a half ago, and like a really good weed bender i cant remember much of it anymore. im still up in the air about it. the final brace was really compelling, though it wasnt free of tedious shit.

do i regret reading all 544k words of the JEST? not at all, but i do regret choosing to blog about it — as if DFW isnt oversaturated with scholarship and online commentary as it is.

but here’s a thought from Bradley Fest, a Wallace critic: dfw’s first novel is open to an “apocalyptic reading,” so that when the novel stops mid-sentence, it’s because Bombardini has actually consumed the universe, or at least the novelistic landscape. the last we saw him he was leaning against the office building, where most of the cast had converged, and then they just kinda disappear, and we follow Rick Vigorous alone with Mindy, but perhaps Bombardini caught up with them too.

maybe the JEST sustains a similar reading. i like to think the wheelchair assassins successfully reproduce the master of Himself’s film, disseminate it, and that everyone sees it and everyone dies. There’s a hilarious dialog scene between president Gentle’s people and some media folks to make PSAs about un-labeled cartridges, so im assuming the separatists have made headway.

but the book’s opening scene, in the Year of Glad, has got to be almost a year after where the novel stops in late November of the YDAU; you’d figure society would be a little more destabilized by then. perhaps Hal has seen the film and is hallucinating everything, rather than having a DMZ flashback — although these symptoms of not communicating anything appropriate or understandable show up in the last reading set.

i enjoyed learning more about Himself’s filmography, especially One Tough Nun.

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.

interesting in light of Wallace’s essay “Fictional Futures” (people dont seem to talk much about this one). there he very strongly argues in favor of USen fictioneers reading more theory: Derrida (who seems to be underemphasized in Wallace’s work compared to Wittgenstein), Husserl, Heidegger, Bakhtin, Lacan, Barthes, Structuralism, post-Structuralism, Freudianism, Feminism, you get the idea. but above is that anxiety that this is just a compensation for being unable to write something “natural.” of course naturalistic fiction is just as artificial as anything else — it’s the values assigned to it that make the difference. the bigger point im thinking about is that Wallace always seems to come up short on his own theorization of literature in his fiction: he cant manage to get rid or irony or self-awareness, the fiction’s a lot more conservative than the non-fiction (until CONSIDER THE LOBSTER, i still wonder if a feminist colleague where he was teaching jabbed at the JEST too much). the novel opens with Hal surrounded by “heads and bodies” still an odd way to formulate the Cartesian subject, but perhaps Wallace’s non-fiction is the head, and the fiction the body, that is, what his own body actually allowed him to produce, even as it seemed to avant-garde for anyone’s good. The worry is that they come off the way Himself’s body of work does to Joelle: “Cold, allusive, inbent, hostile: the only feeling for the audience one of contempt.” (and consider what happens to the audience of Medusa v. the Odalisque and anyone unfortunate enough to see the JEST.)

a very important scene is between Marathe and Kate Gompert.

[Kate]: ‘My dad emotionally abandoned us and moved to Portland, which is in Oregon, with his therapist.’

good joke: Maine is gone, so there’s only one Portland left, so Kate’s being redundant.

there’s a long endnote with an ETA kid plagiarizing a paper, and we learn about how these wheelchair assassins injured themselves playing a hardcore train chasing game which the academic the student is lifting repeatedly describes as “nihilistic” which i take to be a serious primer for how to think about these guys.

Marathe shares his story from despair at his crippledness to activism:

I am too painful to care enough to fight. To me, the fight seems without point: our own Swiss leaders have been subverted to pretend the invasion is alliance; we very few legless young cannot repel an invasion; we cannot even make our government admit there is an invasion. I am weak and, in pain, see all is pointless: I do not see the meaning of choosing to fight.

“You’re depressed is what you are,” Kate answers.

then over two pages we hear how Marathe falls in love with his chronically mutated wife and then:

for now I saw the point not of winning but of choosing merely to fight

love brings Marathe from passive nihilism into active nihilism. actually, if he were easy to understand, he has the best politics in the novel. he makes the distinction between negative liberty (freedom from, US style) and positive liberty (freedom to, Marxist style). he also recognizes the pleasure-principle that has condemned the entire cast of this novel to living hell. but im not sure even militant politics is a way out of the suffering, or to face the dark questions of our nihilistic era, which drugs, tennis, entertainment, or whatever addiction of your choice staves off. the Dworkinite feminists are still a laughing stock (and the novel shows its age as a very 80s book in that sense). i mean, Wallace elsewhere writes about how irony betrays a fear of seeming to care, but…these people care. and they impact the course of events more than anybody else. but we still indulge in the South Park-style, smug white guy humor of deriding anyone who has a stake in social justice or what have you.

we find Molly Notkin again! she’s interrogated by the intelligence folks (ONAN’s “unspecified” stasi) regarding the film and family that concerns the wheelchair assassins. there’s some good info here about the Entertainment, how Joelle got deformed (finally explaining why Orin is an acid-dodger extraordinaire), and there’s a gag with a fictional book by Deleuze called Incest and the Life of Death in Capitalist Entertainmentposthumously published. Deleuze killed himself in ’95, so i figure this is a very late addition to the text. (so many suicides in this novel.)

and finally i arrived on the fantasia with Himself’s ghost visiting Gately in the hospital, revealing his motivation for creating the Entertainment:

The wraith feels along his long jaw and says he spent the whole sober last ninety days of his animate life working tirelessly to contrive a medium via which he and the muted son could simply converse. To concoct something the gifted boy couldn’t simply master and move on from to a new plateau. Something the boy would love enough to induce him to open his mouth and come out — even if it was only to ask for more. Games hadn’t done it, professionals hadn’t done it, impersonation of professionals hadn’t done it. His last resort: entertainment. Make something so bloody compelling it would reverse thrust on a young self’s fall into the womb of solipsism, anhedonia, death in life. A magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy, to make its eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh. To bring him ‘out of himself,’ as they say. The womb could be used both ways. A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard. A life-long dream. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.

whoa, it’s all in this paragraph isnt it; the “plateu” image from ETA, the “inner-infant” pleasure-principle business, the older-generational help like in One Tough Nun (a pattern that’s overwhelmed by all the sexual abuse from fathers). i wonder if Hal has seen the film before his opening Year of Glad scene. maybe unlike the cartoons, he’s not too stupid for the killer cartridge to work but too clever. maybe combined with DMZ he’s actually escaped sideways out of the text like Nabokov’s Cincinnatus C. and found something more than the flight from the novel’s unreal reality. but the result is that he’s completely incomprehensible to the rest of the world (the classic symptom of encountering the Unnamable) and will be institutionalized.

i barely scratched the surface in this work. there’s a lot i avoided talking about, like the politics of the actual reconfiguration. im like a hundred pages into GRAVITY’S RAINBOW and the JEST is different in a lot of obvious ways, but the influence is still there and Wallace is in dialog with Pynchon. Drugs are an umproblematic prompt into reverie with Pynchon, but in Wallace it’s like gravity has finally taken hold. there’s no one in the JEST who is not addicted. it’s an incredibly hopeless world. but at the same time you’re invited to love all of these broken miserable souls, from the Reagan-like Gentle down to Poor Tony and yrstrly. (it’s a lot like how it feels to live in New York.) but im glad i read IJ before GR, ’cause Pynchon is fun; i want to read the episode with the dodo birds over and over — i dont want to see another word put down by Wallace for at least two years. im Wallaced out. all the same im glad the JEST exists, that novels like it are possible. there wont really be anything like it again.

oh! we also learn Rush Limbaugh was assassinated. suddenly this story world doesnt seem so bad.


INFINITE JEST pp. 602-700 (notes 246-286)



i had twenty pages left of this reading set, and then i became disinclined to do much of anything for a little bit. then i had the worst cold of my life for two weeks, and basically, i didnt glance at this novel for almost a month until i read up to p. 700 yesterday morning. so much for finishing it by the end of 2015. this wasnt a good place to break since these hundred pages had a lot of important information in them.

one thing ive felt for a while is this: i wish i hadnt read the D.T. Max biography, EVERY LOVE STORY IS A GHOST STORY. it’s not terrible or anything, but it has juicy life details which i then see or project to be embedded in the JEST. there’s the resentful feelings towards the mother, Orin’s sex addiction, the black widow spiders, and the AA business of course — the edition notice has an extended disclaimer:

Besides Closed Meetings for alcoholics only, Alcoholics Anonymous in Boston, Massachusetts also has Open Meetings, where pretty much anybody who’s interested can come and listen, take notes, pester people with questions, etc. A lot of people at these Open Meetings spoke with me and were extremely patient and garrulous and generous and helpful. The best way I can think of to show my appreciation to these men and women is to decline to thank them by name.

Max has an anecdote i cant remember for how this note came to be. it seems wheedling to me right now as i go over it. its not like withholding the real names to the crazy stories an author filches is above the line in terms of consideration. (Max also goes into the mysterious dedication, F.P. Foster, R.I.P., which i cant remember either but it’s something bitter, like Rot in Pieces.)

But so what there are bits of Wallace’s autobiography in the text? i resist reading it in this light because it seems too easy or reductive, but there’s nothing wrong about fabricating around elements from your life. though it is a tricky balance: real life is so absurd that it’s far beyond any average reader’s threshold for credibility in literary fiction, so just telling it as it happened is actually unbelievable. Your mom as a character in the story would never have behaved in that way, even though the real mom in real life did. the writer has to make shit up to give it — not coherency, but an even more elusive quality, credibility perhaps. i took a stab at auto-fiction, mostly to re-arrange events that took place across two days into one action-packed night, and it was dead on arrival when i sent it in for workshop. the “I” persona in my essays is perceptive but very cold and aloof, so once the work became a fiction, the narrator was a bloodless heel who couldn’t react to anything that was happening. it struck me as true: a great deal of the time i feel so estranged from my true emotions that it’s hard for me to make simple decisions like what i want for lunch, or what do i really want to write. this is why two characters that fascinate me deeply are Camus’s Mersault and the narrator of Tom McCarthy’s REMAINDER. Two murderous white male sociopaths — i dunno how that bodes for me.


on being blue

INFINITE JEST pp. 503-601 (notes 209-245)


You know what, im starting to like it.

It only took 500 pages, and strangely enough as my enjoyment began to increase it’s become harder to read, or maybe that’s just my stamina lowering. But I’ve finally realized that even though the novel has a consistent literary persona, that DFW quirky, verbose, earnest voice, it’s still free indirect discourse depending on the given strand’s central character. So we’re getting the ETA boys’ or Gately’s bits of cluelessness along with the authority and control (yet untamed) of the narrator. I remember hearing James Wood quoted as saying no matter what character we’re aligned to, it sounds like Wallace is still talking, which is right.


the game is a foot

[i think there’s going to be a hiatus on this blog, or at least a drastic decrease in what was already a lax update schedule. Productivity in all areas of my life is slowing way down, my energy level is almost nil; it feels like my mental bandwidth has narrowed so much that i cant think straight on anything and yet everything i want to read and write about is logjamming somewhere behind my frontal lobes. Anyway, im just gonna ride this out and see if things get better.]


[CN: misogyny]

At this rate ill be getting through DFW’s three novels within nine months of each other, since the philosophy dept. book club plans to hit up THE PALE KING immediately after the JEST. How do i feel about this work? Not overwhelmed like with IJ, but certainly not underwhelmed, either. Just whelmed. It’s a romp. And it’s a dry run for a few ideas that show up again in the JEST, like the need to escape the System. There are at least three dimensions to this System to which this Broom belongs that i can identify: the family, technology, and language. But they are all mixed together in the novel, especially technology and people, human bodies — an important sub-plot involves the telephone lines getting messed up underneath the building Lenore works in because the temperature in the phone line tunnels has increased to that of a human body’s. The repairman goes on about the cable network being analogous to a nervous system.

These notes will include spoilers, but, you know, it’s Wallace. If folks come to this novel for the mystery they will be sorely disappointed, as you can see in the Goodreads reviews. It’s a shaggy story — the text ends mid-sentence, and the missing word is “word.” i read this for my philosophy elective class, which has a classmate who’s also part of the writing program, and she was dissatisfied with the novel until the ending saved it for her.


your (large, square) head asplode

INFINITE JEST pp. 399-502 (notes 156-208)


No activity on the blog this week. ive been chronically tired, that is exhausted, heavy head, foggy thinking, all the time regardless of how much i sleep or how well i eat. It happens pretty often. (It took a while to recognize this as one of the symptoms of depression since it’s not in the routine narrative.) Moreover, i actually dont have a lot to say about this reading set, even though it’s huge. i liked it quite a bit tho. Especially the brief history of advertising, involving some surreal and shocking art used to sell aspirin — these data dumps are my favorite strands by far. Forgive me if i just gloss over this section. i cant vigilantly address everything that happens all the time anyway.


i see queen map hath been with you


INFINITE JEST pp. 322-398 (notes 120-155)

In the seventh grade, when i was twelve or so, my best friend and i were assigned to invent a game from scratch to be played in P.E. So over the weekend we cooked up something really elaborate, with a convoluted point system and involving every ball on offer in the gym. Implementing the game with our class on Monday was so frustrating that the teacher, swear to Satan, threw down her clipboard on the floor.

Still, not nearly as crazy as Eschaton.


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.