This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.”
November 16, 2011, pgs 450-469/1032-1033. After some tonal dissonance, we are back in harmony with two sections — one from Ennet and one from ETA — that mirror each other with training motifs. But first, a Hamlet Sighting: Tavis surveying his (usurped) kingdom while working himself into a state of “Total Worry.” There is also a mention that Tavis may in fact be Mario’s father.
Then on to the morning conditioning at ETA, a scene that is physically punishing to read and probably raises unpleasant memories for anyone who’s ever practiced with a team and/or been compelled to do exercises appropriately named “suicides.” (These pages are owed a great debt by many of the pages in The Art of Fielding.) They also bring the ETA part of the story back down to earth after the I-day puppet show. It probably has the same effect on the kids, who are up early the day after their sugar binge to do this conditioning. Some great moments include Wallace’s point about Schtitt: “Like most Germans outside popular entertainment, he gets quieter when he wants to impress or menace.” Along with Edgar Marsalla in chapel at Pency in the early pages of “The Catcher in the Rye” and Gately being “the one who’d farted” earlier in the book (281), the part when “Left-hander Brian van Vleck picks a bad moment to break wind” is among the better uses of a fart in literature.
Over at Ennet House, Gately is engaged in a similar kind of training regiment. But first, a quick “Gravity’s Rainbow” sighting with Gately who feels like he’s “strapped into a missile and launched at the site of a domestic errand” while driving Pat M’s car.
Regarding his struggles with the Higher Power and over whether the program actually works, Gately is told that “it didn’t matter at this point what he thought or believed or said. All that mattered was what he did.” So he does his own daily conditioning, including the calisthenics of getting down on his knees every AM and PM, regardless of whether he believes: “he treated prayer like setting an oven-temp according to a box’s instructions.” He gets active and goes to Commitments and finds that suddenly, he’s gone days without craving substances.
The ETAers and Gately are both following Schtitt’s instructions to “Fire at your will,” a clever mistranslation on Wallace’s part. And Schtitt’s internal world for the players echo’s the in here/out there of AA. To top it off, toward the end Wallace notes “the extremely low resting pulse-rate of a guy with geologic amounts of sober AA time,” a quality that is most often connected to elite athletes, including, presumably, the ETA kids.