This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.”
January 15, 2012, pgs 666-682/1052. To answer Steeply’s question, “Carved out of what, though, this place?” Wallace takes us down into the underground tunnels below ETA with the Tunnel Club. This is where The Lung is stored and where Hal went to get secretly high when he was still getting secretly high. The bumbling group of young adolescent males discover a refrigerator that has been stored but not emptied, and its contents have gone completely saprogenic. It’s a long path to take just to say that something is rotten in [the state of] the Enfield Tennis Academy. But nonetheless, Hamlet sighting there. It’s possible that Wallace is making some kind of point about how the exterior of ETA is designed in a cardioid shape, i.e. like a heart, but down below on the inside of the heart is something terribly rotten. But that seems a little too on-the-nose.
Poutrincourt begins to come under suspicion. And deLint describes Hal’s game in a way that is essentially the same way Wallace, who was ranked 17th in the USTA Western Section at the age of 14, described his own game as a “near-great* junior tennis player” in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” From the essay “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley”:
I was, even by the standards of junior competition in which everyone’s a bud of pure potential, a pretty untalented tennis player. My hand-eye was OK, but I was neither large nor quick, had a near-concave chest and wrists so thin I could bracelet them with a thumb and pinkie, and could hit a tennis ball no harder or truer than most girls in my age bracket. What I could do was “Play the Whole Court.” This was a piece of tennis truistics that could mean any number of things. In my case, it meant I knew my limitations and the limitations of what I stood inside, and adjusted thusly.
And from “Infinite Jest”:
Hal’s strength has become knowing he doesn’t have everything, and constructing a game as much out of what’s missing as what’s there.
The essay, from 1992, is where we learn that the real life DFW had a tennis friend/competitor named Gil Antitoi, and see what may be the earliest use of the phrase “chess on the run,” which Herr Schtitt used earlier in the novel. A few pages further on in “A Supposedly Fun Thing…” we get to another great tennis essay, “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Limitation, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness” in which a footnote points out that “very few of them [elite tennis players] wear eyeglasses,” which throws Poutrincourt into further suspicion as not exactly at ETA for the tennis, since she wears “thick rimless specs.”
And while Poutrincourt describes the emotional minefields of the life of competitive tennis, deLint makes clear that Hal is among the more emotionally vulnerable players at ETA.