The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Using Your Head

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

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March 29, 2012, pgs 902-911/1077. Many questions in just a handful of pages. We continue to get Gately’s backstory, which is kind of funny in a you-don’t-get-the-backstory-of-a-major-character-until-the-last-hundred-pages kind of way. We establish that Gately was nine years old during what sounds like the Rodney King riots.  Assuming Wallace is referring to these specific riots, that means Gately was nine in March of 1992, and is 29 here in the YDAU, making it 2011 or 2012. It’s unclear when his birthday is, though I’m sure some enterprising young obsessive could figure it out. For not, it’s another clue in nailing down the exact year.

Gately’s relationship to his head, at least in his younger days, is far different from the way Wallace usually deals with heads. Gately’s is a tool, a physical object so large and indestructible that it serves as a net positive in his social interactions and overall happiness. Most of the other heads in this book are portrayed as something along the lines of locked cages and/or torture instruments.  The “here” from Hal’s “I am in here.” on the first page of the book is reasonably interpreted as inside his head. It’s the first of many times when someone is basically trapped by their head — but not the young Don Gately, who uses his head to get laughs, get beers and get touchdowns. For more on how Wallace felt about heads, check his Kenyon University remarks.

Speaking of being inside Hal’s head, we swing back to another of his first person sections. “Some more heads came and awaited response and left.” This section marks the return to the main text of Mike Pemulis, who appears looking haggard. When Hal says “I could see my asking him where he’d been all week leading to so many different possible responses and further questions that the prospect was almost overwhelming,” it sounds an awful lot like the way being high has been described earlier in the book.

As I said, there are many questions, for example…

Pemulis says that Petropolis Kahn, who Hal appeared to ignore a moment ago, had “mentioned hysterics” when reporting to MP about Hal being in the room.  Hysterics?

Hal is thinking of his father’s funeral.  Why?

There is “a whoop and two crashes directly overhead.”  Significant? Or just general ETA-waking-up noises?

There is what seems to be a deliberate mention that Hal hasn’t seen C.T. or his mom all week. Where are they?

When asked about going to get food off campus, Hal finds that “I couldn’t decide.” Hamlet Sighting? (Yes.)

When Hal says that Pemulis “blarneyed” the urinalysis guy into giving them 30 days, Pemulis, who is itching to talk to Hal about something important, replies “Blarney wasn’t why we got it, Inc, is the thing.” Why did they get it, then?

Pemulis remarks that he hasn’t even heard of half of JOI’s stuff, followed by “And me using the poor guy’s lab.” What is Pemulis using the lab for?

Pemulis misreads that Annular Fusion is Our Fiend, and is corrected by Hal that it’s our Friend.

The closing of the section focuses on JOI’s film Good Looking Men…etc, with Hal specifically requesting to watch the last part in which Paul Anthony Heaven delivers a pedantic lecture on ancestors and inherited behaviors. When JOI enters the pages I always consider him as a stand in for Wallace, or at least Wallace’s artistic ambitions, and here we have his work appearing as Pemulis wears rimless specs and talks about blarney, while Hal considers the insertion of references to the artists JOI loved while the lecturer refers to generational hydrophobia. These cues make me think of James Joyce, and may perhaps explain Wallace’s struggle to avoid being “deprived of some essential fluid, aridly cerebral, abstract, conceptual, little more than hallucinations of God,” and step out of the shadow of his ancestor: “it is, finally, artistic askesis [discipline, or asceticism] which represents the contest proper, the battle-to-the-death with the loved dead.”

…tears run down Heaven’s gaunt face…

Last question: The book ends in 70 pages. How is he going to wrap this up?

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

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