Gately’s Upbringing and the Origin of Addiction

Keeping it simple this time.  So, towards the end of Infinite Jest, DFW gives us a detailed look into Don Gately’s past and looks at the beginning of his substance abuse problems.  All this invites the reader to guess and check, trying to pin down the cause of Gately’s downfall, but there is so much wrong, that it becomes just a vague, futile game.  Why does Gately end up how he does?  

Gately, high school football star, could not handle the academic part of high school, relying for a while on compassionate teachers and one drug synthesizer/tutor named Trent Kite.  School had no real end or set of results in Gately’s mind, and neither did his outside life, given his broken family life and friend circle that focused on substance abuse.  All he had was football, and even then, “Quaaludes and Percocets were lethal in terms of homework, especially washed down with Heffenreffer, and extra-especially if you’re academically ambivalent and ADD-classified and already using every particle of your self-discipline protecting football from the Substances” (905).  He’s still in high school here, but having gotten such an early start, I think it said he started at nine, the addiction has already taken on a life of its own, deserving of it’s own capital “S,” Substances.  Once Gately’s Mom went to the mental institution he fell off completely, coping by trying newer and harder drugs and letting them take over his football career, a battle he lost unfortunately early.

Gately’s story’s a sad one, but brings up one final point about addiction: where does it come from? I mean exactly? Clearly we all don’t need such a tragic story like Gately’s to become addicts, but it would certainly push me down that road.  Is it something everyone is capable of?  Or is it more from a set of outside factors?  Some combination?  Would Gately still have been an addict had he not been in such a harsh school and home environment?  Or is it in him anyway?  Is it in everybody anyway?  God I don’t know.  Thanks everyone!

4 responses to “Gately’s Upbringing and the Origin of Addiction

  1. icantbelieveyoujustsaidthat

    The answer to your question about the origin of addiction is found in the mini autobiography of Wallace that was published in The New Yorker.

    Throughout the article we get bits and pieces of what Wallace went through in falling into depression:

    1) Mental breakdown as a sophomore.

    2) He “took a year off,” came back to school and decided to stop doing math and focus on writing.

    3) Attempts suicide once with pills, lives and checks himself into a series of halfway houses and mental hospitals.

    4) Recovers from addiction, takes jobs teaching, and writes a book where the central character is a recovered drug addict that protects or teaches others.

    To this end, Gately is purely autobiographical.

    Addiction, in the metaphysical sense, “comes from” a need to escape a sense of overwhelming pain.

    Science attributes addiction to physical reactions in the body that make you want something so bad you feel sick without it.

    Though I suppose you’re asking about the metaphysical root, in which case see the first answer.

    Link:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/09/090309fa_fact_max

  2. It seems ridiculously simplistic and rductive to claim that Don Gately is, to this end [sic] or any other, “purely autobiographical.” If the New Yorker article were really sufficient to understand what DFW was about, we wouldn’t need the fiction. I don’t know any single human being who is as simple as you seem to assume DFW is, and I don’t know any work of literary fiction that can be mapped to biography without losing serious value. If you really think a ten-page postmortem biography can sufficiently explain and encapsulate an extraordinary (or ordinary) life and mind, it’s really your own loss. I need more. As much as I understand the instinct to try to understand how and why Infinite Jest was created in real-life terms, the best evidence for the mental state of the author and the spirit of the text lies in the book itself. (Note: I am not saying the only evidence is in the book.) Regardless of the book’s circumstances, its meaning is way bigger and deeper than anything you can get out of even the most thorough biography.

  3. icantbelieveyoujustsaidthat

    What you’re describing is an idol.

    I don’t have any idols, as I realize that every human is the basically the same as far as mortality goes and skill goes.

    The danger is creating idols is that humans set themselves up for a great pain if the idol should fall.

    And as someone who’s studied the business of being successful in writing, I understand that the initial fame of an author has nothing to do with what they wrote, but because of what people say about the writer, about the writer’s reputation as built by hearsay.

    The personal reaction a reader has to an author is not something that’s shared with others.

    As humans we like to pretend that everyone feels the same way, but humans aren’t telepathic, we can’t share exactly how a book makes us feel.

    To this end, the biography in The New Yorker provides un-idolized facts about his life that I repeat for the sake of understanding his life not as an idol, but for understanding how human he was.

  4. icantbelieveyoujustsaidthat

    [minor edit]

    What you’re describing is an idol.

    I don’t have any idols, as I realize that every human is the basically the same as far as mortality and skill goes – if we weren’t then there would be no more writers, but there probably will be in the future as the ability to do so is not something impossible to learn.

    Though the danger in creating idols is that humans set themselves up for a great pain if the idol should fall.

    And as someone who’s studied the business of being successful in writing, I understand that the initial fame of an author has nothing to do with what they wrote, but because of what people say about the writer, about the writer’s reputation as built by hearsay (which could also come from reviews of what they wrote).

    The personal reaction a reader has to an author is not something that’s shared with others.

    As humans we like to pretend that everyone feels the same way, but humans aren’t telepathic, we can’t share an exact outlook or exactly how a book makes us feel.

    To this end, the biography in The New Yorker provides un-idolized facts about his life that I repeat for the sake of understanding his life not as an idol, but for understanding how human he was.