Tag Archives: infinite jest

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!

Faces and Floors, Beginnings and Endings

The end of Infinite Jest-abstruse and surreal-in a way brings the reader back to the beginning of the giant novel. Images from the first scenes of the novel float into the last scene, with Gately lying in the hospital room, feeling disembodied and gravitating his attention toward the floor.

Gately’s feeling and perception of disembodiment reminds us of Hal’s description of the cold room of the university administration office in the opening pages. The narrator informs us in the end that Gately experiences a physical sense of disembodiment:   “Gately felt less high than disembodied…his head left his shoulders” (981). Although Hal does not explicitly describe his own sense of disembodiment, the entire first scene deals with the university deans’ concern with “using a boy for just his body” (10) and the haunting disparity between Hal’s voice in his head and Hals’ voice-or “sounds” (14)-projected and heard by the people around him. Why is this sense of disembodiment present in both characters, and furthermore, in the bookends of the novel? How is Gately’s experience of disembodiment different from Hal’s, if at all?

Not only do Gately and Hal experience a sense of disembodiment themselves, but they also display a keen awareness of disembodied heads and faces around them. In the end, Gately perceives only faces (with the exception of the chinks and the Oriental-who are not exactly described, but just sort of thrown into the picture). The narrator, as if through Gately’s eyes, describes, “P.J.-J.’s face was gray and blue. The floor came up slowly. Bobby C’s squat face looked almost pretty, tragic, half lit by the window” (981). Thus, the concluding narration gravitates toward faces as opposed to whole bodies or whole people. The difference, between Gately’s perception of these faces and Hal’s, however, lies in that Gately describes these faces in vivid detail, as if they are close and familiar to him, while Hal describes what he sees as simply “heads and bodies…Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors” (3). Hal seems to be far more detached and distant than Gately in relation to the faces they identify. What accounts for this difference in their perception of faces? Is Gately’s ability (or Gately’s narrator’s ability) to vividly express these faces indicative of a trajectory of progress or some kind of healing or convalescence by the end of the novel?

Another commonality between the first and final scenes of the novel is the recurring image of the animated floor and its relation to the two main characters. With respect to Gately, the floor moves upward. In fact, the floor’s upward movement coincides with and intercuts Gately’s description of faces (see quote above). The narrator explains that “the last thing Gately saw was an Oriental bearing down with the held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced” (981). Thus, a pouncing floor (and an Oriental) stand out as the last things Gately sees and as one of the last images we as readers receive. Meanwhile, the word “pounced” dictates a sense of violence and in particular an animalistic one, which can be traced back to metaphors comparing Gately to animals throughout the novel and to Hal’s animalistic tendencies in the beginning:   “This sort of awful reaching drumming wriggle. Waggling” (14). Hal, on the other hand, seems to talk at or even to the floor:   “‘There is nothing wrong,’ I say slowly to the floor. ‘I’m in here'”(13), and later in the novel, we discover that Hal has nightmares in which he sees faces in the floor. Does “I say slowly to the floor” suggest that Hal simply looks down when he speaks these words, or does Hal actually talk to the floor? Is there something-another world or a phenomenon-on the other sides of these floors that the novel consistently and insistently wonders about?

all at once

I feel like this class would have been a lot different if I had been in, as they say, a ‘different place.’ My freshman year I blogged my heart out, but now I just feel like I’m running out of gas. Probably senioritis doesn’t count, but it sure feels like it should. (It may not be senioritis. It may be Wallace-itis. Something that fills and deepens a need I have yet to pin down). Thanks to Wallace my poetry has improved and I’ve been experimenting with footnotes. The aspect of Wallace I enjoy most is his humor. Something I recently liked was the bit about someone reading Howl aloud in a Chaucerian accent. Also; “You’re the second most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, the first most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen being former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher” (925).

 

This class has pretty much defined my semester (perhaps my year), and it’s all I can talk about. My dad said, “Sorry for talking you into that class.” It’s a strange body of work to be digesting right as I’m heading out.  On Friday I was overjoyed to be done with Infinite Jest and I’m looking forward to discussing it. Last night when everyone was having a jolly time at the Seven Deadly Sins party all I could talk about was the different kinds of depression.   Today I wiki-ed for a little while, and I got pretty overwhelmed (is emotional distress a sufficient excuse for anything anymore?). I don’t know if I have the right kind of something for this kind of thing. All I want to write about is Infinite Jest and I told my dad today that I’m going to reread it this summer. Who knows if I actually will, but it’s a nice thought.

 

I can’t get the room full of all the meat he’ll ever eat and all the excrement he’ll ever shit out of my head. So maybe that’s my problem. Like Hal, I’m thinking of everything all at once. Joelle tells Gately “this is why I couldn’t get off and stay off…Did you ever hear of this fellow Evel Knievel? This motorcycle-jumper?” (859).  Side note: Also, I was sure that something was going to happen between Joelle and Gately.

Narration and Tennis

This is my second time reading Infinite Jest, and my second time being relatively confused by the ending. I have to say that the second reading is much easier than the first, and that you really do pick up a lot more details and make more connections the second time around.

One thing I didn’t pay too much attention to on my first reading, but that I noticed this time (partly due to our class discussions) was the use of the first-person narrative throughout the course of Infinite Jest. Or rather, the lack thereof. As we discussed in class, most of the novel is written in the third person; in the first 700 or so pages, there are only a few spots where that breaks and the story is told in the first-person. In the last 200+ pages, however, Hal’s story begins to be told in the first-person, yielding some interesting thoughts and results. One particular insight that I found interesting was Hal’s acknowledgement that “I didn’t want to play [tennis] this afternoon, even if some sort of indoor exhibition-meet came off. Not even neutral, I realized. I would on the whole have preferred not to play” (954). Throughout the last few Hal-related scenes in the book, we start to see his destruction that becomes painfully evident in the first scene of the book, which is the last chronologically. My main question about this passage is, what do you do at a tennis academy when you no longer have the drive to play? It’s clear that Hal still plays tennis at the end (or really, the beginning) of the book, because he’s being recruited for college-level play. So this desire to not play appears to be a problem in Hal’s mind, not one that he actually physically goes through with.

In fact, Hal doesn’t want to play so badly that he contemplates injuring himself so he is taken out for the day. But he goes one step further in his mind, stating that he could “fall so carefully badly I’d take out all the ankle’s ligaments and never play again. Never have to, never get to. I could be the faultless victim of a freak accident and be knocked from the game while still on the ascendant. Becoming the object of compassionate sorrow rather than disappointed sorrow” (954-955).   The phrase “never have to, never get to” seems to be quite indicative of Hal’s state of mind: in one respect he feels almost compelled by some force to play (“have to”), but on the other hand it’s something he chooses to do on his own (“get to”). His fear of disappointment if he can’t compete at the top levels of play-which he worries about after almost being beaten in a match by Ortho Stice-is evident, but even Hal is confused about who he is afraid to disappoint: “I couldn’t stay with this fantastic line of thought long enough to parse out whose disappointment I was willing to cripple myself to avoid (or forgo)” (955). This line of thought is particularly interesting given that it comes in the middle of several paragraphs of Hal talking about both the Moms and Himself; yet the Moms is adamant about not being disappointed by anything her children do or don’t do, and Himself is dead. So who is Hal afraid of disappointing? My guess is, himself. I think that this apathy is so unlike Hal that his contemplations of self-injury seem frightening and disappointing to himself, but he is so out of sorts that he doesn’t notice that he might disappoint himself. Does anyone have any other ideas of who he might be afraid to disappoint? Or why he doesn’t want to play anymore? Is it just fear of losing, or is it something more-DMZ-related, perhaps?

Sensitivity in Infinite Jest

A few of you have already written blog posts on Wallace’s style in Infinite Jest; nonetheless, the singularity of his style deserves yet another post. I just finished re-reading jtlax45’s post on the maximalist style of Wallace’s prose. I had not heard of the term maximalism in a literary context before (and I failed to find anything relevant when I googled the term), but if we take jtlax45’s definition of maximalism-“a deep and sometimes frivolous-feeling exploration of the minute details”-then that sounds about right in characterizing Wallace’s style in Infinite Jest (as well as his other works). In this post, I would like to expand on Wallace’s detail-driven style with special attention to the sensitivity and control Wallace exerts in his writing, focusing on this week’s segment of Infinite Jest.

One instance of the sensitivity ingrained Wallace’s writing occurs when the three White Flaggers visit Gately:   “The three all pause, and then Jack J. puts the back of his hand to his brow and flutters his lashes martyrishly at the drop-ceiling. They all three of them laugh. They have no clue that if Gately actually laughs he’ll tear his shoulder’s sutures” (844). The writing is sensitive because Wallace does not only depict what happens but also what does not happen-the non-events, the silence, the omissions, the what-might-have-happened-but-does-not-actually-happen-moments. In other words, the writing is sensitive in that it is aware of so much more than the plot that it describes; the writing notices even the elements that the plot excludes. In fact, the writing almost emphasizes the elements that the plot excludes by eliciting an awareness of these elements.

For example, by including the pause of the three visitors, the text draws attention to a moment of silence, which is in a way a moment of non-occurrence, non-plot. By informing the reader that “they have no clue that if Gately actually laughs he’ll tear his shoulder’s sutures,” the text gives the reader access to information apart from and outside of the plot. The text reveals its awareness of everything-the events that occur and those that do not. By including those details and elements of non-plot, Infinite Jest exudes a rare level of sensitivity-one often absent from other works of fiction.

Not only is the text itself sensitive to its milieu, almost every single character in the text displays an uncommon level of sensitivity. Earlier in the novel, we witness that even the despicable Randy Lenz is more sensitive than the average human being when he conducts an internal debate over how to tell Green to stop following him and “still have Green know he thinks he’s OK?” Lenz worries about every detail, from “where the fuck is he supposed to look when he says it” to the “voltage or energy there, hanging between you” (554-555). In this segment of the reading, we see Gately’s sensitivity, as an eight or nine year-old child. When Mrs. Waite brings a birthday cake, the narrator tells us, “Mrs. Waite had spared Gately the humiliation of putting just his name on the cake as if the cake was especially for him. But it was. Mrs. Waite had saved up for a long time to afford to make the cake, Gately knew” (848-849). These passages and many others imbue an unparalleled quality of sensitivity in the characters.

The passage about the M.P.’s fly-whacking style reminds me precisely of Wallace’s own style-not that Wallace’s style is as cruel as the fly-whacking style, but that Wallace’s style seems just as controlled and meticulous as the M.P.’s style. Wallace’s description of the manner in which the M.P. whacks flies creates an almost perfect mirror image of his own style. He expounds that the M.P. hits flies-

in a controlled way. Not hard enough to kill them. He was very controlled and intent about it. He’d whack them just hard enough to disable them. Then he’d pick them up real precisely and remove either a wing or like a leg, something important to the fly. He’d take the wing or leg over to the beige kitchen wastebasket and very deliberately hike the lid with the foot-pedal and deposit the tiny wing or leg in the wastebasket, bending at the waist. (842)

Like the way in which the M.P. smacks flies, Wallace’s writing peels apart each character carefully to his or her bare personality and inner sensitivity (in his non-fiction, Wallace’s writing peels apart issues such as the morality of cooking lobsters and the wars over usage in an equally exceptional and meticulous way). Every word and sentence and phrase in the text seems as deliberate and controlled and carefully selected and architected as this nasty, yet subtly similar scene of fly-parsing.

Musings on “Big Red Son” and IJ

The opening paragraphs to “Big Red Son” were so astonishing I actually read them aloud to my house-mates, because I felt the need to share the strange experience of reading them. For me, this was the most startling and repulsive and yet engrossing opening of anything I have heretofore read by David Foster Wallace. And based on the fact that the subject of autocastration never again occurs in the approximately fifty-page essay, I can safely say that that was its basic purpose: to mirror for the reader the atrocity of the AVN Awards show’s effect on Wallace. He practically says as much when saying that after being a judge for the AVN Awards, “We guarantee that you will never thereafter want to see, hear, engage in, or even think about human sexuality ever again” (5). Apparently just watching the show came pretty close to this for Wallace, and the disturbing opening paragraphs of the essay are certainly meant to convey some of this feeling of horror.


In the body of the essay, though, the strangest thing was that I kept finding echoes of
Infinite Jest. Take, for example, the description of one of the male porn stars: “The infamous T.T. Boy is here, standing alone with his trademark glower, the Boy who is rumored to bring a semiautomatic pistol with him to the set . . .” (15). (Not to mention that Max Hardcore declares that he will get a trophy whether legitimately or not [32].) Anyone else get the sudden image of Eric Clipperton? One has to wonder what it is about a gun that helps a guy perform in a porn scene, and how that may be similar to Clipperton’s tennis performance. It didn’t sound like the gun was actually a threat for the Boy; rather, it was just sort of there. Clipperton, on the other hand, had the gun held to his head for entire matches–and the threat was implicating others in his suicide. For the Boy, the short sentence didn’t make it sound like suicide was really a possibility. Truly, though the two both had guns involved in their performances, and I immediately thought of Clipperton when reading this, I’m not sure what their real connection is. It seems like the symbol for the Boy is really just a symbol, but for Clipperton it’s a very real thing.


A clearer connection is made between pornography and the Entertainment, though not by Wallace himself. He quotes David Mura: “The addict to pornography desires to be blinded, to live in a dream. Those in the thrall of pornography try to eliminate from their consciousness the world outside pornography, and this includes everything from their family and friends or last Sunday’s sermon to the political situation in the Middle East. In engaging in such elimination the viewer reduces himself. He becomes stupid” (19). Like the Entertainment, it seems Mura is afraid that the porn “addict” ceases to care about anything outside the world on the screen. He uses the word “stupid” not in the sense of “less intelligent,” but in the older sense of being literally stupefied, falling into a state of stupor–much like the watchers of the Entertainment. It makes sense, since pornography certainly claims to be about pleasure in the various forms of sex, that these two would relate. Moreover, the draw of porn for people like the LAPD detective is the open humanity that sometimes appears (despite the fact these people are actors) as a direct result of pleasure (16); and while the Entertainment does not give pleasure because of sex, it does appear to touch on the basics of humanity.


Finally, the discussion of reality and representations thereof appears in both
Infinite Jest and “Big Red Son.” In IJ these discussions mostly arise from things like the map vs. territory dispute during Eschaton. In “Big Red Son,” we get the porn genre “Gonzo,” which “videos push the envelope by offering the apparent sexualization of actual real life,” “. . . whereas traditional, quote-unquote dramatic porn videos simulate the 100 sexualization of real life . . .” (26). The question of which genre is more real becomes unnecessary here, because people know that neither is. It becomes a question more of truthfulness: the dramatic porn never claims to be real life in the way Hollywood movies never claim to be real; but Gonzo porn is by all appearances real–and yet no discerning watcher would believe that. But then, I have a feeling most people watch porn not to analyze it but to gain some sort of pleasure from it. One has to ask, would any watcher even care?

Selfish Charity

The one part of last week’s Infinite Jest reading that I thought was particularly interesting was in the long footnote of Marlon Bain answering Steeply’s questions–particularly when Bain begins a discussion about charity in regards to Avril and Orin. kk wrote a really nice post last week about Avril and ‘Politeness Roulette’ that explained a lot of Avril’s self-absorption, and I feel like we learned even more about Avril and Orin this week that is worth looking at.

First off, we get an interesting description of Orin and his tendencies with women: “Orin can only give, not receive, pleasure, and this makes a contemptible number of them think he is a wonderful lover, almost a dream-type lover…” (596). This is something we’ve seen before, both with Avril (in the Politeness Roulette), and in “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and “Good Old Neon”: the idea that what seems like a selfless endeavor is actually quite the opposite. Neal only gave to charity and worked at the church because he selfishly wanted to be seen as “good” in the eyes of those around them. He gained pleasure from being seen this way. Similarly, “it gave [Orin] real pleasure to give the impression of care and intimacy” (596). Essentially, “the subject’s pleasure in him has become his food” (596). Wallace seems very concerned with people who not only seek pleasure, but whose highest forms of pleasure somehow involve them giving some form of pleasure.

In the footnote, Bain clearly explains this phenomenon: there is a

sort of philanthropist who seems humanly repellent not in spite of his charity but because of it: on some level you can tell that he views the recipients of his charity not as persons so much as pieces of exercise equipment on which he can develop and demonstrate his own virtue. What’s creepy and repellent is that this sort of philanthropist clearly needs privation and suffering to continue, since it is his own virtue he prizes, instead of the ends to which the virtue is ostensibly directed. (1052)

Wallace here brings up a very essential and human question–in regards to defining charity, do one’s actions or one’s motives count?

Yes, Orin gives his Subjects pleasure, but doing so isn’t for the sake of the Subject, but instead for himself. In the same way, Avril is completely selfless for the sake of her children, but the motive for her selflessness comes from a place of selfishness. But which one matters: action or motives? On which do we make a judgment? This question seems even more complicated to me in so far as we came across it in class in regards to Lenz. If I remember correctly, some people were arguing that Lenz is bad because of his actions: he is a bad person because he kills dogs. No matter what Lenz is feeling inside, the fact that he kills dogs defines him as a despicable character. But others were saying that Lenz’s motives don’t necessarily come from an evil place and so, though his actions don’t coincide, he is redeemable.

But what about Orin and Avril? After this passage, I realized how similar the two characters are. I am tempted to look at them both with disgust for their seemingly charitable, yet selfish actions. What I wonder, though, is how this similarity affected any incestuous relationship they might have had. If both characters only get pleasure through giving pleasure to others, how might such a relationship have worked? Maybe this is why they don’t get along. Just something to think about…

Ultimately, it seems as though Wallace comes down pretty strongly on the side of the importance of motives in actions. In the end, both Orin and Avril’s selfish charity seem to hurt rather then help those around them. But, then again, this issue gets complicated by the fact that AA is a strong proponent of the action mattering more than the reason or motive behind it (it doesn’t matter why you do it, but thank the ceiling every morning and night). So I guess I’m not sure what to think. Any ideas?

P.S. Just thinking about the wiki and themes, I think this whole concept could be engulfed by the larger theme of appearance vs. reality or inner reality vs. outer reality. We’ve seen so many characters who think very differently than they act or look…

A Universal Problem?

What is Steeply describing when he says, “‘Stuck. Fixed. Held. Trapped. As in trapped in some sort of middle. Between two things. Pulled apart in different directions'” (IJ 647)? In context, Steeply is describing the expression of his old man’s eyes, glued to the television screen. His words, however, also seem to describe precisely the existential traps that multiple characters in Wallace’s writing find themselves stuck in.

In the pre-fight scene, as Lenz dashes behind Gately to use Gately as a shield, Gately literally stands between Lenz and the Nucks, “as in trapped in some sort of middle. Between two things” (IJ 647). But more than being physically positioned between two forces or groups, Wallace reveals Gately’s psychological positioning as being similarly stuck between two seemingly conflicting forces. Wallace writes, “Late in Gately’s Substance and burglary careers, when he’d felt so low about himself, he’d had sick little fantasies of saving somebody from harm, some innocent party, and getting killed in the process and getting eulogized at great length in bold-faced Globe print” (IJ 611). The text portrays Gately as a character who is “stuck, fixed, held, trapped” in a state of contradiction. Gately wants to perform an act that simultaneously captures both selflessness and selfishness.

The writing highlights the two opposing forces combating inside his head. On the one hand, by sacrificing his own life, his act would ultimately save somebody from harm (this half of the fantasy seems to be at least partially performed within the next few pages, even though we do not know if Gately actually gets killed). On the other side of the hand (as Lenz often says), the text reveals his effectively selfless act as ultimately stemming from selfishness, from the desire of “getting eulogized at great length in bold-faced Globe print” (IJ 611). Apropos, after being shot, Gately imagines:   “SHOT IN SOBRIETY in bold headline caps goes across his mind’s eye like a slow train” (IJ 613), which reiterates the voice of self-interest chugging through his head. Moreover, the text flops back and forth in the characterization of this act. First, the text labels this act with negativity-“sick little fantasies” (IJ 611)-but later, in portraying Gately as “a big animal that’s hurt” (IJ 615), the text wipes away all stains of negativity and instills a blanket of sympathy, for Gately and his selfless act. Thus, Gately, much like the expression of the eyes on Steeply’s old man’s face, exists or lives in the trap of being “pulled apart in different directions” (IJ 647)-these directions seem diametrically opposite and incompatible, yet coexisting for Gately.

Orin Incandenza faces an analogous trap. Wallace writes, “Orin can only give, not receive, pleasure” (IJ 596). In this line, Wallace depicts Orin as not only compassionate, but also tragically compassionate-to the point that he can “only give,” but not receive any pleasure. The following sentences, however, unveils the other side of the view:   “But he cannot show the contempt, since this would pretty clearly detract from the Subject’s pleasure. / Because the Subject’s pleasure in him has become his food….It gave him real pleasure to give the impression of care and intimacy” (IJ 596). Thus, like Gately, Orin also seems trapped in the loop of simultaneously giving selflessly and taking selfishly, unable to do one without the other. On the one hand, Orin does give others pleasure, making women believe “he is a wonderful lover, almost a dream-type lover” (IJ 596), but on the other hand, Orin feeds off of and consumes the pleasure he gives to others, a description that renders he himself contemptible.

A similar symptom manifests in the speaker of “Good Old Neon,” but there, with a heightened sense of self-awareness created by the first person narration, that symptom becomes paralyzing. From the age of four, Neal begins to experience the “Stuck. Fixed. Held. Trapped” (IJ 647) feeling of “trying to create a certain impression of me in other people…to be liked or admired” (Oblivion 141) and actually making others feel good-for instance, by pretending to tell the truth to his stepparents or playing dumb with Dr. Gustafson so as to “let him feel like he was explaining to me a contradiction I couldn’t understand without his help” (Oblivion 155)-a feeling, or “problem” as he calls it, that he “couldn’t seem to stop” (Oblivion 143) and ultimately takes his life away. I wonder, to what extent is this feeling a problem? Is this feeling universal? Selflessness and selfishness seem mutually exclusive, but are they in fact inescapably intertwined? And to what extent does the selfishness matter, if the impression or effect of the act helps another-even if fraudulent, insincere, or self-interested?

Mario Stands Alone

Over the course of reading Infinite Jest, we’ve all pretty much come to the conclusion that Mario holds a unique place in the novel. He stands apart from all the other characters in the novel, both physically and emotionally. In the last section of reading, we learned a little bit more about Mario and about what exactly makes him so different.

In a society where irony, cynicism, and sarcasm prevail, Mario doesn’t fit in. His seeming ignorance and his inability to understand the language of irony around him causes him to be largely ignored by most of the characters in the novel. Ignored might be too harsh; maybe it would be better to say Mario is not exactly listened to. His words and ideas don’t seem to be taken for their full worth by the other characters. But, to the reader, (or at least to me), Mario’s naïveté serves as a refreshing reminder of what it would be like to view the world unironically.

We learn that “the older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that’s really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. It’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy” (592). While everyone else in the novel is trapped in the cage of cynicism, unable to express true emotion and instead hiding behind a veil of irony, Mario is left outside of the cage. He can only understand the truth in its purity. Therefore, he fails to grasp the significance of the winks and the nudges that normally accompany any truth.

This is why Mario likes visiting the Ennet house. The Ennet House residents are all learning how to rid themselves of Substance addictions. But, the foundational principle of the AA program is not to rid the alcoholics of their addictions first and foremost, but instead to release their members from the cage of irony so that they may then be open enough and truthful enough to slowly work their way to sobriety. The escape from irony comes first (through the meaningful work of doing clichés, etc.), and only then can one escape addiction. “…Mario’s felt good both times in Ennet’s House because it’s very real; people are crying and making noise and getting less unhappy, and once he heard somebody say God with a straight face and nobody looked at them or looked down or smiled in any sort of way where you could tell they were worried inside” (591). Mario, in his attraction to pure truth, enjoys being at the Ennet House because all of the residents are in the process of stepping out from the cover of cynicism and becoming truthful themselves.

But the most important question to address when it comes to Mario is what does it mean that Mario, the only truly unironic character, is also the only extremely physically disabled and deformed character? Near the beginning of the book, we learn that “Mario is basically a born listener. One of the positives to being visibly damaged is that people can sometimes forget you’re there, even when they’re interfacing with you…That’s why bullshit often tends to drop away around damaged listeners, deep beliefs revealed, diary-type private reveries indulged out loud; and, listening the beaming and brady-kinetic boy gets to forge an interpersonal connection he knows only he can truly feel…” (80). Here, it is implied that the only reason Mario is able to be so truthful and irony-free is because of his damaged quality. It is only because he is ignored and becomes invisible that other characters can drop the “bullshit” when talking to him.

This is my bone to pick with DFW. If all of Wallace’s work is about the cage of irony and how we need to get out of it and get to someplace free and open and truthful, why create the physically-impaired Mario as the only example of someone who has escaped the cage? In so doing, Wallace seems to be implying that it is only those who are abnormal, those who are flawed, and those who are ignored by the majority of the society that are able to escape from under the cover of the veil of irony. Yes, Wallace introduces us to the problem of irony in our society, but he himself doesn’t seem to be able to do more than diagnose the problem. Where is the solution?

Gately’s click, and some semi-related questions

I was quite taken with the fight scene when Gately stands up to the “Nucks.” Two things interested me in particular. First, the way the fight forces Gately into an animalistic, instinctual mode seems similar to what DFW is driving at in general.The immediate threat and adrenaline surge make Gately feel alive: “At the blade’s sound teh situation becomes even more automatic and Gately feels adrenaline’s warmth spread through him as his subdural hardware clicks deeper into a worn familiar long-past track. Having no choice now not to fight and things simplify radically, divisions collapse” (612). Since DFW is writing about what it means to be human, here, the definition of human seems to be a racing pulse, but more importantly, a stripping down of divisions. The “subdural hardware clicks” obviously remind me of DFW’s own clicks- for Gately, the fight causes something to click into place, and he feels alive. The fact that he clicks into a “familiar long-past track,” however, troubles me, because this track seems to refer to his former track as a burglar. In the face of danger, Gately is reverting back to a pre- or uncivilized nature. When he was a burglar, he clearly disregarded society’s laws and ethics, and now, he enters a sub-dural place where animal instincts alone determine right or wrong, although those terms no longer apply, because “divisions collapse.”

Furthermore, I think Gately’s click back into a pre-societal, animal state relates to a click back into a pre- or just non-linguistic state. The divisions that collapse exist through words, as language creates difference. This is tangential, but seems worth noting- something I’ve been thinking about generally w/r/t DFW is how différance seems quite similar to the infinite space between two objects; the infinite regression of 1/2’s between two points, for example, reminds me of the eternal deferring of signs. Back to Gately.

However, the fact that “Gately has just division enough to almost wish he didn’t feel such a glow of familiar warmth, a surge of almost sexual competence” (612) shows that he is still embeded in culture enough to know that his animal urges are (at least in society’s mind) “wrong.” He is sufficiently immersed in division (i.e. language) to consciously recall the difference between right and wrong. The “surge of almost sexual competence” reinforces the instinctual nature of his click- Gately is an animal with powerful sex and death drives, and his competence is neither right nor wrong, but totally natural.

I was also taken by the metafictional way DFW choreographs this fight scene, but also talks about choreography as it if were something different; the ultimate effect is that, just as with Gately, “divisions collapse.” Although DFW states: “it’s impossible, outside choreographed entertainment, to fight two guys together at once; they’ll kill you” he immediately writes that “the trick to fighting two is to make sure and put one down for long enough that he’s out of the picture…” (613). Essentially, even though it’s impossible, DFW is telling is how to do it. But the question remains- can it actually be done, or is Gately only so capable because he is in choreographed entertainment? For example, Gately “pirouettes around twisting the broken arm behind the guy’s back,” “the guy rolls gracefully,” and Gately “gets all his weight into a Rockette kick” (613). These images are not only choreographed fight moves, but reference dance choreography. There’s nothing incredibly lethal about the fight scene at all- it doesn’t seem scary, and is funny because of the dance imagery. Later, Gately “waves off concern with the left hand and goes ‘Flesh-wound'” (615). This Monty-Python reference adds to the humor and choregraphed-nature of the scene, but is also unsettling. I can’t get my head around why, in a scene where Gately’s clicking into something so primal and human that DFW can’t drop the irony… Is the fight figured in dance-terms because of the beauty of being human and animal? And if so, where does that leave the flesh wound irony?

I was also curious, what do you make of the fact that the Canadians have so much Hawaiian-themed shirts and leis? I find them funny, but also unsettling. Is it that Hawaiian culture has been so coopted and bastardized by America that now they are being reclaimed by a completely different group of anti-Americans as a statement of independence? What does that say about the Canadians? About Americans?