This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.”
February 9, 2012, pgs 755-785/1062-1066. I recall reading, in an essay I can’t dig up for the life of Google, how DFW’s fiction shows a special affinity for the deformed, the ill, the afflicted and so on. It was not that Wallace wrote with a special sympathy for them; kind of the opposite really. It was that they seemed to be the only category of people in his fiction who were capable of genuine happiness. They were not Frankenstein monsters that deserved pity so much as genuine heroes. Exhibit A in this theory is Mario Incandenza, the homodontic, bradykinetic, macrocephalic and eternally cheerful middle son, who is wandering the halls getting footage for his annual ETA documentary. His conversation with LaMont Chu (perfectly healthy; punished by desire to appear in magazines) taps us in to the gossip around the grounds, and as Mario shuffles into his mother’s office (tall and beautiful; wildly unhappy and neurotic), the scenery has more to tell us than the interaction itself. A blue blazer with the O.N.A.N.T.A. logo on it hangs in the office, curiously similar to the one the urologist was wearing previously. Avril still has a coach’s whistle around her neck, and the reference to “An old folded pair of U.S.A. football pants and a helmet” as Avril’s “one memento of Orin” (professional athlete and excellent seducer; let’s not even get started on how nuts he is) comes creepily soon after Avril volunteers to be “a subject” for Mario’s filming.
It’s easy to make the assumption that Mario is as mentally slow as he is physically, but there is a mention here that his awareness goes all the way back to his days in the incubator. Or at the very least, as he says, “I have a phenomenal memory for things that make me laugh.”
Remy Marathe (deformities self-inflicted; losing his faith) and Kate Gompert (physically attractive; metaphysical horrorshow) have a late-night rendezvous in Ryles Jazz Bar (a real place), where she has come after being mugged by post-seizure Poor Tony Krause (who himself is headed towards the Antitoi’s shop and another kind of rendezvous), and where Remy has come to call Steeply and betray his comrades. Both are drinking as Remy tells his own story of need and addiction, and how he has no choice in the matter of loving and saving his wife. Kate seems to have been well-cheered by adrenaline and alcohol, though Remy’s story seems to bring her down, as most stories with lots of bodily fluids will. Here again we have someone physically grotesque who, if not happy herself is the sole source of happiness for Marathe.
When Remy asks Kate if she would like to go view The Entertainment, it’s hard, knowing her history, not to think that she probably should say yes.
If many of Wallace’s afflicted are heroes, then the opposite can be true with unafflicted and villains. Consider the lobber: Hal’s unsettled state about Pemulis’ ability to lie starts to reveal a sinister side to a character who was until now just a savvy sidekick. Hal even equates his lying with the monsters that once terrified him: “I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there’s simply no way to tell.” Hal’s confession to Mario reveals some building anxiety around his own situation too — in particular his worry about passing the urinalysis because the THC in pot is “fat soluble. It stays in there, in the body’s fat.”
In (another) extended endnote, Hal tells Pemulis about a dream where he is trying to say words but is unable to do anything but sing Ethyl Merman tunes, a la the soldier who took DMZ. His appeal that “It’s me! It’s me, screaming for help!” sounds similar to the opening chapter of the book. Pemulis’ assurances to Hal that he should take a “cobweb clearing” dose of DMZ, or try some other drug to replace the pot would have sounded like reasonable, or at least normal, advice had it not been endnoted right off a section where Hal is deeply skeptical and almost scared of Mike.
Pemulis’ warnings that continuing with weed will make Hal indecisive tug on the Hamlet themes, and I’d bet some enterprising academic could write a solid thesis on the link between marijuana and Hamlet in Infinite Jest. You could start with the second chapter of the novel with Erdeddy, make some connections between Hal secretly smoking in the subterranean pump room and Hamlet in the crypt, and call it ”A Hit, a Very Palpable Hit: Marijuana, Hamlet and Infinite Jest.”
Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog