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 Entertainment, posthumously 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.