This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.”
August 26, 2011, pgs 176-193. So this section of evasive and antagonistic little snippets of unattributed speaking seems like a pretty good look inside Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, which it is. But it also serves as a really good window into Wallace. A lot of these are examples of addicts and alcoholics being too smart for their own good, trying to find the weaknesses in the program (which we’ll hear more about later) and the regiments that are supposed to be protecting them from their disease. Note, in particular, the second big chunk of text in which someone is “simply asking you to define ‘alcoholic.’ How can you ask me to attribute to myself a given term if you refuse to define the term’s meaning?” and so on. Many of the early Ennet House sections are written almost in quiet awe of 12-step programs and how even really smart people can’t think themselves out of this jam and have to surrender to a series of banal clichés in order to just get through the day (which, one at a time, as they say). This section is pretty excellent on its own, but also benefits from the added knowledge that Wallace himself struggled with similar issues and that the subtext here is something like the confessions of an powerless genius who had to give himself over to people and a program he felt were beneath him. The whole thing is rather beautifully related in an anonymous, suspiciously-Wallace-esque piece called “An Ex-Resident’s Story” posted on the website of Granada House, a treatment facility in Allston, Mass.
Then another drunken-father monologue? Actually, just ‘Those Were the Legends That Formerly Were,” the absurd radio show “right before Madame Psychosis’s midnight show on M.I.T.’s semi-underground WYYY.” There is some stuff happening here. First of all, this is a deliberate feint back to the JOI Sr chapter. It also appears to be a story about Orin Incandenza kicking a football. It’s being broadcast from a building (shaped like a brain) designed by the same guy who designed ETA, A.Y. (‘Vector Field’) Rickey (per endnote 3). And across town the broadcast is being listened to, at very low volume, by Mario Incandenza during one of his and Hal’s visits to the Headmaster’s House (HmH) for the late dinners that Avril eats because, apparently, it’s a Canadian thing. Nevermind, for the moment, who Madame Psychosis is, though Mario’s thinking of the word “periodic” is not coincidental. It is also worth noting the connection to “Ulysses” and the early conversation when Molly Bloom asks Leopold how to pronounce “metempsychosis.” Not that I can explain it, but it’s worth noting.
Also take a look at endnote 61 about “anticonfluential cinema,” which is “characterized by a stubborn and possibly irrationally irritating refusal of different narrative lines to merge into any kind of meaningful confluence.” Read that. Then fan through the remaining 900 pages and wonder — in the comments, if you like — what you’ve gotten yourself into.