Infinite Jest – Week Fourteen (pages 375-410)

Hello all. Next Tuesday we’ll be discussing pp.375-410. These pages include some snippets of Marathe and Steeply, Boston AA, and Lyle, and they mark the beginning of another long chapter that recounts some ONAN and ETA legends. Looking forward to discussing these.

‘Mario’s first finished entertainment consists of a film of a puppet show – like a kids’ puppet show’ (380)

Plenty to discuss this week.

Interview endnote we note Wallace’s first use of the ‘Q.’ to designated an interviewer’s question withheld from the reader (a technique later used to structure Brief Interviews with Hideous Men). This leads to an interesting discussion of how to handle this text (and others) in audiobook format – the vocalised repetition of ‘Q.’ is slightly unnerving, and affects the listener differently than the printed letter does the reader. We note that Orin’s sham (or performed) honesty is something like an analogue of postmodern metafiction.

The AA confession that follows here is announced by nothing more than a line break. Nestled between two James-and-Lyle-libation vignettes, this story, by ‘tonight’s meeting’s last and maybe best Advanced Basics speaker, another newcomer, a round pink girl with no eyelashes at all and a ‘base-head’s ruined teeth’ differs in important ways from the horrific ‘diddling’ story of the ‘hard-faced adopted stripper’ we read last week (376). Wallace’s use of ‘the mere mention of D.S.S.’ to skillfully examine the flashbulb ‘shudder’ of the room – where we realise there are children here at the meetings with their ‘alcoholic moms’ – is deft (377). The story ends with the ringing cadence of Gately’s melancholia over the ‘tragic adventure this is, that none of them signed up for’ (379).

The description of Interdependence Day celebrations at ETA is the culmination of something of a ‘hat crescendo’ in the novel: from Pemulis’s introduction, through the Eschaton debacle, and now at the ‘gala but rather ironic celebration of I. Day at an Academy whose founder had married a Canadian[…] Everybody’s supposed to wear some sort of hat’ (380). This seems to be some sort of a nod (or… tip of the cap?) to the Modernist co-option of Symbolism, especially in the importance of hats in the work of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett (Ulysses and Waiting for Godot in particular).

Mario’s puppet-show film stars President and Chief Executive ‘Johnny Gentle, Famous Crooner […] lounge singer turned teeny bopper throb turned B-movie mainstay, for two long-past decades known unkindly as the ‘Cleanest Man in Entertainment’ (the man’s a world-class retentive, the lat-Howard-Hughes kind[…]) […] whose Inaugural Address heralded the advent of a Tighter, Tidier Nation. Who promised to clean up government and trim fat and sweep out waste and hose down our chemically troubled streets and to sleep darn little until he’d fashioned a way to rid the American psychosphere of the unpleasant debris of a throw-away past, to restore the majestic ambers and purple fruits of a culture […] (first U.S. President ever to say shit publicly, shuddering) […] A President J.G., F.C. who said he wasn’t going to stand here and ask us to make some tough choices because he was standing here promising he was going to make them for us. Who asked us simply to sit back and enjoy the show.’ (381-3).

We talk about presidents and prescience.

Further nods to Ulysses can be seen in the Aeolus-esque headlines in Mario’s film: ‘CHARGES OF AN OVAL OFFICE LITTERED WITH KLEENEX AND FLOSS A ‘CLEAR CASE OF DIRTY TRICKS’ – Respectable Daily Header’ (393). Supplemental to the headers themselves are the information about their composition – in particular the gradual demise of a windbag ‘Veteran but Methamphetamine-Dependent Headliner Finally Demoted after Repeated Warnings about Taking up Too Much Space’ with his protracted, 70+word headlines. Back in the sauna, Lyle warns us ‘Do not underestimate objects!’  and Ortho Stice may be somno-telekinetic or just being punk’d (394-5).

Hal ruminates on watching his father’s film ‘The Medusa v. The Odalisque‘, an episode where we feel acutely aware of our own meta-level as readers. This play – within a film within a novel, which features antagonists who punish (petrify) those who look upon them – feels like a dramatic illustration of the strange optical physics operating within this particular narrative world, while also critiquing our capacity for ogling. The Medusa v. The Odalisque segues into the ‘most hated Incandenza film’ The Joke (397-8). Once again, we are particularly impressed with Wallace’s cutting (yet self-deprecating) parody of academic pretension, such as observing the ‘critics or film-academics in the seats, who studied themselves studying themselves taking notes with endless fascination and finally left only when the espresso finally impelled them to the loo’ (398).

Returning to Mario’s film, we are let in on an allusion to the ‘dark legend of one Eric Clipperton’. Once upon an Unsubsidized Time regional tourney, Clipperton had ‘just sort of seepily risen, some sort of human radon, from someplace low and unkown, whence he lent the cliché ‘Win or Die in the Attempt’ grotesquely literal new levels of sense’. Clipperton’s object – ‘a hideous and immaculately maintained Glock 17 semiautomatic sidearm’ – is certainly not underestimated as he takes himself hostage each time he plays, with the only ransom demanded is that he wins the match. The unsportsmanlike conduct turns the event into a non-sport, allowing the kids he eliminates to enjoy ‘a kind of unexpected vacation […] to reflect a little on what it all might mean’ (407-8). The dark episode ends, unexpectedly, on a note of tenderness as Eric and Mario exchange a moment of apparent friendship (410).

Word of the Week: ‘omniwetness’ (386)


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