Tag Archives: Don Gately

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Getting Chewed by Something Huge and Tireless and Patient

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

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December 20,2011, pgs 567-619/1044-1045. Let’s begin with the mention of the blind tennis player Dymphna, which seems insignificant aside from the fact that he is nine years old here in the Y.D.A.U., yet is sixteen when Hal says he has to play him one year later in the book’s opening chapter. I don’t know whether this is an oversight or something deliberate. What I do know is that the use of the name “Dymphna” here likely comes from St. Dymphna who, according to the prayer to St. Dymphna, looks out for those “afflicted with mental and emotional illness” to whom IJ is practically dedicated. The reference also bears weight based on the story of Dymphna, which is commonly called “The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter” and is about pretty much what the title says. It’s a flip on the Oedipal themes running throughout IJ and, as we will see, has some serious relevance vis-a-vis Joelle van Dyne.

While Idris Arslanian walks around blindfolded to study the blind-Dymphna method, Pemulis provides a useful explanation of annular fusion and the reasons for giant infants and large hamsters in the Concavity. Pemulis also mentions that James Incandenza helped design “these special holographic conversions so the team that worked on annulation could study the behavior of subatomics in highly poisonous environments. Without getting poisoned themselves.” This brings to mind the speculations Steeply’s people have made on holography in The Entertainment.

One also finds it amusing that the discussion of annular waste reuse happens as Pemulis solicits Arslanian to (re)use his urine.

The story then jumps between Orin Incandenza’s developing situation with the Swiss hand model and Lenz and Green’s walk home, which after a brief section with Mario ultimately climaxes at Ennet House.

Orin maintains his theory about his legless admirers while his dangerous liaison hides under the covers with a pistol and an oxygen mask. Again, this strange situation is balanced with Orin’s sadness and longing, and his Holden Caulfield-esque remark that “I miss seeing the same things over and over again.” Also an offhand mention of feeling “ready for anything” including “Swiss cuckolds, furtive near-Eastern medical attaches, zaftig print journalists.” Emphasis mine.

Bruce Green is sharing another of OJ’s tragi-comic back stories, including a note that “The creepily friendly bachelor that lived next to his aunt had had two big groomed dogs,” which I think is Wallace’s Man in the Macintosh* moment. Lenz is finally back to executing house pets and giving chase to large Canadians. Mario’s sojourn outside Ennet House is a brief, calm island in the middle of raging seas, even despite his uneasiness about Madame Psychosis. His feeling that “It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know” now has a sad extra valence of meaning to it. I wonder if maybe Mario is showing something of what Wallace felt like around AA, and why he felt compelled to write about it. “Mario’s felt good both times in Ennet’s House because it’s very real…once he heard somebody say God with a straight face and nobody looked at them or looked down or smiled in any sort of way where you could tell they were worried inside.” You can even hear DFW breaking through when he momentarily slips out of Mario’s voice to complain about the difficulties of finding “valid art” — which just doesn’t sound like Mario — about “stuff that is real.”

Then, during the Herculean and Kafka-esque moving of the cars at midnight, the ever-humble and ever-dutiful Don Gately gets into a brawl defending Randy Lenz. This is an incredible fight scene. Not only because of the balletic choreography of (as I think Lenz puts it) “some righteous ass-kickings,” nor for the beautifully illustrated pain, like the way Gately’s “shoulder blooms with colorless fire,” but because this fight scene is also a character study of Don G, while it is also a romance between Don and Joelle, while also being a pretty incredible ensemble piece about the people at the halfway house and environs. It’s the Ennet House Eschaton.

*Given the lack of any quick and dirty internet explanations to link to here, I should maybe just say that The Man in the Macintosh was an incidental character in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” long thought to be Joyce himself. After an evening’s Googling, however, there is apparently evidence that the Man is actually Mr. Duffy from the story “A Painful Case.” My point is, Wallace had two dogs and likely considered himself a creepily friendly neighbor at times.

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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: Analysis Paralysis

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

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September 23, 2011, pgs 270-283. First, thank you to The Howling Fantods for honoring this liveblog with a link on their site. THF is an incredible Wallace resource, and I encourage everyone, especially those unfamiliar or just getting started on David Foster Wallace, to spend some time with it.

As for these pages: I find it interesting that the one writer most often accused of excess verbosity, long-windedness, lexical maximalism and just overall overdoing it with the sentences is actually probably the world’s number one all time defender of the pithy phrase. Here we have the former professor Geoffrey Day waxing condescending to the group at Ennet House about AA’s ‘attitude of platitude.’ Per Day: “…life is so much easier now. I used sometimes to think. I used to think in long compound sentences with subordinate clauses and even the odd polysyllable. Now I find I needn’t. Now I live by the dictates of macrame samplers ordered from the back-page ad of an old Reader’s Digest or Saturday Evening Post. Easy does it. Remember to remember…” and so on. These are the phrases and dictates, as Gately describes them, “that look so shallow for a while and then all of a sudden drop[s] off and deepen[s] like the lobster-waters off the North Shore.” Consider the lobster-waters*. Gately looks forward to the Day who will finally surrender in understanding that “the clichéd directives are a lot more deep and hard to actually do.” I was reminded of a recent study about the varying speeds at which different languages appear to be spoken, in which researchers found “the more data-dense the average syllable was, the fewer of those syllables had to be spoken per second.” There is also something reminiscent of the repetition and eventual unfolding of constant prayer, which makes me think of Franny and Zooey. I don’t believe there’s a deliberate connection here, but there is some overlap for any fans of both books. I do see a deliberate connection to Wallace’s own experience with AA, and what seems like a dramatization of his own Before — the skeptical academic who “used to think in long compound sentences” etc. — and his After — the humbled and peacefully reposed Gately, 421 days sober, who looks on Day and folks like Randy Lenz as lessons in patience. It is one of the most important themes in the book.

Then, the Enfield kids are returning victorious from Port Washington. It seems unlikely that any writer has done a better job of capturing the fatigued exhilaration of a dimly lit tour bus of adolescents returning from a well-executed field trip, if any other writer has even tried such a thing, that is.

* Sorry.

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