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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?

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Antitoi Entertainent [sic]

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

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November 22, 2011, pgs 469-508/1033-1034.  Marathe and Steeply. Both the American/O.N.A.N. government and the Canadians have experimented with debilitating entertainments — which Steeply points out to demonstrate that choosing to overindulge is not a uniquely American weakness. He is being defensive in every sense of the word, trying to soften some of AFR’s murderous intent through a process of a geopolitical Identifying With. “I’m saying that if he could get past the blind desire for harm against the U.S., your M. Fortier might be induced to see just what it is he’s proposing.” But it doesn’t work; Marathe is Quebecois.

Click to enlarge. Credit: pooryorickentertainment.tumblr.com

Gately’s missle-strapped joyride takes us not only past the Bread and Circus/Whole Foods where I used to work (moved a few blocks in IJ), but also to the interior of “Antitoi Entertainent” [sic], which true to its translation, “Anti-you”, appears to be a nexus in the IJ universe where lots of harmful things come together. That does not, however, include the Antitoi’s themselves: “Once or twice doing work of affiliation with the Separatist/Anti-O.N.A.N. F.L.Q., they are for the most part a not very terrifying insurgent cell…spurned by the F.L.Q. after DuPlessis’s assassination* and also ridiculed by the more malignant anti-O.N.A.N. cells.”  They now have a “previously DuPlessis-restrained flair for stupid wastes of time,” for example, tying the Fleur-de-Lis flag to the statue downtown (which Joelle noticed a few chapters earlier), or taping bricks to the (banned in Canada) postage-paid return cards, a trick Wallace has one of his characters repeat in “The Pale King.” They also sell drugs, including some “trop-formidable harmful pharmaceutical no longer available and guaranteed to make one’s most hair-raising psychedelic experience look like a day on the massage-tables of a Basel hot-springs resort.” This seems to be the DMZ sold to Mike Pemulis.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Eschaton!

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

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October 7, 2011, pgs 321-342/1022-1025. The Eschaton game on Interdependence Day is quite possibly the signature piece of writing in David Foster Wallace’s entire body of work. I invite readers to agree or disagree in the comments. Allow me to point out, however, to those inclined to pose some counterargument about the way that the cruise ship essay or “Good Old Neon” or the Kenyon University commencement speech better capture DFW’s intangible essence, my point can almost be proven mathematically, with data. This section has tennis, trigonometry, violence, drugs and alcohol, overachieving kids, a beanie to provide a slight touch of dorkiness, rampant and disorienting abbreviations, chaos, humor, a sinister and mysterious element on the perimeter (the mint green sedan), Utter Global Crisis, serious consequences, technology, bodily fluids and a really long endnote. It is “Infinite Jest” at full throttle, Wallace at his most excessive, showcasing his best as well as his worst.

By way of visual aide, another great graphic from Chris Ayers at Poor Yorick Entertainment (click to enlarge; take some time to explore):

This is “Lord of the Flies” updated for the millenium, right down to the nerdy kid getting his head stuck in a computer monitor rather than crushed by a rock. I don’t actually think Wallace was deliberate with the parallels, I just mean its in the same spirit, that being the spirit of how quickly all hell can break loose.

Despite the elaborate mathematics — in fact, partly because of them — in the long Pemulis-narrated endnote, this chapter is one of the more absurd in the book. I admit I’m not a big fan of when Wallace pushes these boundaries. But even though they can be uncomfortable for 20 or so pages, they’re essential to the novel as a whole.  It just wouldn’t be the same without the occasional reality-busting weirdness. This chapter is also a pivotal point for plot movement in the pages ahead, with potentially far-reaching consequences. Plus, we get to hear a bit more from Pemulis, who I truly enjoy, even if he is “a thoroughgoing chilled-revenge gourmet, and is not one bit above dosing someone’s water jug…”

Another piece of evidence for Eschaton’s enduring and ouvre-defining (if such a thing is possible for Wallace) quality is the fact that it has been the focus of a stage adaptation of IJ:

And recently dramatized by The Decemberists in a really fantastic music video:

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