Sunday, August 15, 2010

Infinite Jest’s Enfield Tennis Academy & End Zone’s Logos College

The similarities between Don DeLillo’s End Zone and the tennis sections of Infinite Jest are pretty astonishing. End Zone features a small-time college’s football team as they go through a (mostly) successful season. The team is composed of an eclectic group of student athletes, all with their own little quirks, and they are coached by equally strange taskmasters. This set-up closely resembles the set-up at ETA in Infinite Jest. Here’s a rundown of some of the more overt similarities:

(N.b.: A lot of this stuff has been pointed out by Matt Bucher and Chad Harbach. (And if I can take a quick trip to tangent city here, I feel compelled to mention that Chad Harbach, one of the founders of n+1, sold his debut novel to Little, Brown earlier this year. There was an auction for his book and he reportedly took less money for the opportunity to work with Wallace’s editor, Michael Pietsch. Which is exactly what I would’ve done. I’m convinced that Mr. Pietsch belongs in some sort of editor Hall of Fame, along with Maxwell Perkins and Robert Gottlieb. To get the chance to work with him, six years after writing an ostensible review of Oblivion that is really just a DFW fan piece, must be the thrill of a lifetime for Mr. Harbach, who is now in the position all Wallace-influenced writers secretly dream about.))

In both books, there are coaches with faux-German names: Rolf Hauptfuhrer in End Zone, Gerhardt Schtitt in Infinite Jest.

The head coach in End Zone, Emmett Creed, observes the players during practice from a tower (“Creed himself was up in the tower studying overall patterns.” [EZ, 9]); Schtitt does the same (“Schtitt is up in his little observational crow’s nest, a sort of apse at the end of the iron transom players call the Tower...” [IJ, 452]).

The coaches have a pithy and enigmatic way of addressing their players:

“Write home on a regular basis. Dress neatly. Be courteous. Articulate your problems. Do not drag-ass. Anything I have no use for, it’s a football player who consistently drag-asses. Move swiftly from place to place, both on the field and in the corridors of buildings. Don’t ever get too proud to pray.” [EZ, 11]

‘Hit,’ he suggests. ‘Move. Travel lightly. Occur. Be here. Not in bed or shower or over baconschteam, in the mind. Be here in total. Is nothing else. Learn. Try. Drink your green juice.’ [IJ, 461]

The players in both books have a playfully antagonistic rapport:

“Is he here?”
“He is everywhere,” I said.
“Supreme being of heaven and earth. Three letters.”
“You know who I mean.”
“He’s here all right. He’s all here. Two hundred and fifty-five pounds of solid mahogany.”
“How much?” Fallon said.
“They’re thinking of playing him at guard. He came in a little heavier than they expected. About two fifty-five. Left guard, I think Coach said.”
“You kidding me, Gary?”
“Left guard’s your spot, isn’t it? I just realized.”
“How much is he weigh again?”
“He came in at two fifty-five, two sixty. Solid bronze right from the foundry. Coach calls him the fastest two-five-five in the country.”
“He’s supposed to be a running back,” Fallon said.
“That was before he added the weight.”
“I think you’re kidding me, Gary.”
“That’s right,” I said.
“You son of a bitch,” Fallon said. [EZ, 8-9]

‘My bones are ringing the way sometimes people say their ears are ringing, I’m so tired.’
‘I’m waiting til the last possible second to even breathe. I’m not expanding the cage till driven by necessity of air.’
‘So tired it’s out of tired’s word-range,’ Pemulis says. ‘Tired just doesn’t do it.’
‘Exhausted, shot, depleted,’ says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand. ‘Cashed. Totalled.’
‘Look.’ Pemulis pointing at Struck. ‘It’s trying to think.’ [IJ, 100]

In both books there is a player more interested in sportscasting than playing the sport:

Jessup didn’t like the arrangement because Raymond practiced his sportscasting in the room all weekend. When he wasn’t studying theories of economic valuation, he was camped in front of his portable TV set. He’d switch it on, turn the sound down to nothing, and describe the action. [EZ, 23]

A cartridge of a round-of-16 match from September’s U.S. Open had been on the small room viewer with the sound all the way down as usual and Troeltsch’d been straightening the straps on his jock, idly calling the match’s action into his fist, when it came on. [IJ, 60]

I sat on the bench, noticing Raymond Toon down at the far end; he seemed to be talking into his fist. [EZ, 114]

And irritating throughout was the heavy-browed red-nostriled kid James Troeltsch at the very end of the top bleacher, speaking into his fist, coming at the fist from first one angle and then another, pretending to be two people. [IJ, 677]

Even their commentary is similar:

“There they go. Andy Chudko, in now for Butler, goes in high, number sixty-one, Andy Chudko, fumble, fumble, six feet even, about two twenty-five, doubles at center on offense, Chudko, Chudko, majoring in airport commissary management, plays a guitar to relax, no other hobbies, fumble after the whistle. College football--a pleasant and colorful way to spend an autumn afternoon. There goes five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven yards, big thirty-five, twelve yards from our vantage point here at the Orange Bowl in sun-drenched Miami, Florida. John Billy Small combined to bring him down. John Billy, as they break the huddle, what a story behind this boy, a message of hope and inspiration for all those similarly afflicted, and now look at him literally slicing through those big ballcarriers. Capacity crowd. Emmett Big Bend Creed. Mike Mallon, they call him Mad Dog. Telcon. Multi-talented. A magician with that ball. All the color and excitement. He’s got it with a yard to spare off a good block by fifty-three or seventy-three. Woof. Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh or Cincinnati. Perfect weather for football. Time out on the field. And now back to our studios for this message.” [EZ, 138-139]

‘Incandenza the controller. Incandenza the tactician.
‘Rare tactical lapse for Incandenza, following the serve in when he’s just finally started establishing control from the baseline.
‘Have a look at Incandenza standing there waiting for Ortho Stice to finish futzing with his socks so he can serve. The resemblance to statues of Augustus of Rome. The regal bearing, the set of the head, the face impassive and emanating command. The chilly blue eyes.
‘The chilly reptilian film of concentration in the cold blue eyes, Jim.
‘The Halster’s been having some trouble controlling his volleys.
‘Personally, Jim, I think he’d be better off with his old midsized graphite stick than that large head the creepy Dunlop guy got him to switch to.
‘Stice being the younger player out there, he’s grown up with the extra-large head. A large head is all The Darkness knows.
‘You could say Stice was born with a large head, and that Incandenza’s a man who’s adapted his game to a large head.
‘Hal’s career dating back to before your polycarbonate resins changed the whole power-matrix of the junior game, too, Jim.
‘And what a day for tennis.
‘What a day for family fun of all kinds.
‘This Bud’s for the Whole Family. It’s the Bud Match of the Week. Brought to you. [IJ, 677-678]

The players in both books are inordinately concerned with the milk they are being served in the refectories:

“This milk is putrid,” Jessup told him.
“What do you want from me?”
“You’re one of the captains. Go tell Coach. They shouldn’t give us milk like this. They should be more careful with the athletes’ milk.”
. . .
“This is shitpiss,” Jessup said. “This is the worst-ass milk I ever tasted.”
Kimbrough drank from his little carton.
“I’ll tell you something,” he said. “This milk is putrid.”
“Damnright,” Jessup said.
“This milk is contaminated. It’s putrid. It’s the worst I ever tasted. Back home it’s the water. Here I guess it’s the milk. I’ll be sure and tell Coach.” [EZ, 24]

Pemulis shakes his head very seriously at Troeltsch. ‘Not a chance, brother.’
‘I’m telling you man this milk is powdered.’ Troeltsch peering down into the tumbler, probing the milk’s surface with a thick finger. ‘Me I can tell from powdered. . . .And do I ever know what to look for, to verify. . . .Namely your telltale residues along the sides of the glass, when swished.’ [IJ, 630]

The players in both books take very weird, abstruse-sounding classes. In End Zone, subjects include monolithic integrated circuitry, Mexican geography, an introduction to exobiology, and aspects of modern war. In Infinite Jest, students take courses with titles such as “Deviant Geometries,” “Introduction to Athletic Spreadsheets,” and “From Scarcity to Plenty: From Putrid Stuff Out of the Ground to the Atom in the Mirror: A Lay Look at Energy Resources from Anthracite to Annular Fusion.”

One of my favorite lines in Infinite Jest apparently comes from End Zone:

“What I know about football you can inscribe with a blunt crayon around the rim of a shot glass.” [EZ, 152]

‘Inc, what I know about your Da could be inscribed with a blunt crayon along the rim of a shot glass.’ [IJ, 1065]

Wallace himself said that my favorite section of Infinite Jest, the eschaton sequence, owed a “rather uncomfortable debt” to a sequence in End Zone where a teacher and student play a sort of war game on paper. The similarity of the two lies mainly in the terminology:

“The commander of an AMAC truck convoy, following orders fails to stop at an East German roadblock along the Autobahn; shots are exchanged and the convoy breaks through. A Dutch-built factory ship, being delivered to NORKOR, is struck by torpedoes and sunk outside Chong-jin. COMRUS objects strongly. Several explosions damage Nike-Hercules installations on Okinawa. COMCHIN negotiators suspend talks with the Japanese over ownership of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Within a time-frama of ten hours there are over a dozen small clashes, involving demonstrators and troops, on both sides of the Berlin wall. Messages are exchanged. There are reports that Egyptian troops have retaken El Arish. COMRUS demands gradual allied withdrawal from West Berlin. COMRUS demands withdrawal of all AMAC auditors in Indochina.” [EZ, 221-222]

A Russo-Chinese border dispute goes tactical over Sinkiang. An AMNAT computracker in the Aleutians misreads a flight of geese as three SOVWAR SS10s on reentry. Israel moves armored divisions north and east through Jordan after an El Al airbus is bombed in midflight by a cell linked to both H’sseins. Black Albertan wackos infiltrate an isolated silo at Ft. Chimo and get two MIRVs through SOUTHAF’s defense net. North Korea invades South Korea. Vice versa. AMNAT is within 72 hours of putting an impregnable string of antimissile satellites on line, and the remorseless logic of game theory compels SOVWAR to go SACPOP while it still has the chance. [IJ, 325]

There are major snowstorms and very tall widowers of founders of schools who become president of their respective schools and occurrences of the word “picayune” in both books. Probably a few other connections. I hope this has been halfway interesting.

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