Tag Archives: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

America This is Quite Serious: What Just Happened Was the Easy Part

FA serious

I began this series with the declaration “Politics sucks.” Boy was I right.

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet lately, you’ve already heard what others have to say about racism, sexism, coastal elite bubbles, millennials, the FBI, voter turnout, minority voter turnout, the real media, the fake news, the electoral college, etc. — basically any and every reason Hillary Clinton did not close the deal on November 8th. In the spirit of this series’ mission to recommend the best coverage, I found the most insightful and comprehensive reaction piece to be this one from Dave Roberts at Vox. For myself, I have largely stayed quiet because, as election day showed, it’s a bad idea to make decisions when you’re scared and angry.

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But a series about the 2016 election should include some response to the results. And in the time since those results came in, we’ve seen a lot of evidence for a very unpleasant truth: Continue reading

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Something is Rotten in the State of Enfield

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

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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.

One possible, though not definitive, illustration of the ETA layout. Source: http://www.unendlicherspass.de/2009/11/08/bilder/

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.

*also familiar

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: ONANism

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

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October 31, 2011, pgs 380-418/1028-1031.  I think I enjoy this section most as storytelling strategy. Wallace obviously had to at some point explain the development of his near-future reality of subsidized time and President Gentle and Interlace teleputers. He could have done it with a standard flashback, or obliquely through the development of other parts of the story. It’s possible that Hugh Steeply could have been a narrative vehicle, or James O. Incandenza’s ONANtiad. Instead, we get Mario’s puppet show spoof of his father’s film, viewed annually at Enfield Academy on Interdependence Day.  The format allows for a fleshed out telling of the story in a way that enhances, without undermining, the fundamental ridiculousness of a microbe-phobic ex-crooner maneuvering his party into governmental leadership and his struggling nation into the Organization of North American Nations. I was reminded of Homer Simpson’s rise to Sanitation Commissioner of Springfield, as captured in image and song below:

Then on to Lyle, whose relationship with the hyperhidrostic Marlon Bain seems to have been the basis for JOI’s movie Death in Scarsdale. As Mario’s film plays in the cafeteria, Lyle counsels various ETAers in the unlit weight room. His visitors include Ortho Stice who is struggling (along with this reader, so far) to understand why his bedroom furniture is being rearranged while he sleeps.

At the same time, Hal is ingesting massive amounts of sugar, noticing a toothache, and thinking about his father’s films, in particular The Medusa v. The Odalisque.  Again with the St. Therese, who in this case is “a character out of old Québécois mythology who was supposedly so inhumanly gorgeous that anyone who looked at her turned instantly into a human-sized precious gem, from admiration.”  A deadly, mythical, Canadian PGOAT.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: White Flag

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

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October 24, 2011, pgs 343-379/1025-1028. This is one of those sections that makes you think someone could pull a Jefferson Bible on IJ and, by removing all the tennis and Incandenza and deadly entertainment stuff, end up with a quiet, sad, hilarious novel that would be among the best AA stories ever written. If it wasn’t already taken, a good title might be “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

The previous chapter was all about fighting; this one is all about surrender. And it’s easily one of the most religious things I’ve ever read. The Don Gately-POV is outlining a conversion experience, complete with capital-M Miracles, and the maintenance of life under a Higher Power. I don’t have any William James to back that up, just some limited experience of interpreting faith in the face of serious skepticism. Wallace is tricky on faith; he was a churchgoer, though for all I know that may be entirely related to AA meetings. According the this story (NYT paywalled, sorry), “Back in Illinois, he began to attend Sunday services at various churches around town — there is something about religious faith, which was missing from his rearing by two atheists, that entices and calms him — and he formed his closest social relationship with an older, married couple, Doug and Erin Poag. They met at a Mennonite house of worship.” Then this from a Details profile: “Brought up an atheist, he has twice failed to pass through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, the first step toward becoming a Catholic. The last time, he made the mistake of referring to ‘the cult of personality surrounding Jesus.’ That didn’t go over big with the priest, who correctly suspected Wallace might have a bit too much skepticism to make a fully obedient Catholic.” Gately’s experience with the program sounds, to me, almost exactly how religion should be: humbling, confusing, questioning, supportive, inclusive (i.e. “They can’t kick you out.”) and just in general content with giving people what they need to be normal and functional. “Only in Boston AA can you hear a fifty-year-old immigrant wax lyrical about his first solid bowel movement in adult life.” I would like for church to be like that too.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Another Aside: DFW on Charlie Rose

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

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October 20, 2011, Another Aside: DFW on Charlie Rose, N/A. The current entry is taking a bit longer than it should. Here is something great to fill the gap — David Foster Wallace’s full 1997 interview with Charlie Rose, taped while DFW was making the publicity rounds for “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

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I have got news for you:

Coming on a television show stimulates your What Am I Gonna Look Like gland like no other experience.

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Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog.

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