Monday, February 25, 2013

The Second Time Around (Through page 102)

After many months of struggling to read new fiction—new to me, ie. fiction I have not yet read—I’ve decided to put everything else aside and read Infinite Jest from front to back, again. I read it for the first time about 8 years ago and it’s haunted me ever since. Every novel I pick up immediately gets compared to it, and every novel, without fail, falls woefully short of IJ’s brilliance. I’m coming to terms with the very real possibility that nothing I encounter for the rest of my life will stack up to it, that it is my one true novelistic love, and that other books will be, at best, mere distractions or dalliances in between bouts of hardcore cogitation about IJ. So, instead of pretending I want to do anything else, I’m reading my clear-cut favorite novel for the second time.

Even though this is officially my second time through, I’m pretty sure I’ve read the whole thing at least once since my first read, and some sections I know I’ve read 3+ times. It was my coffee table book for the longest time; when I would eat lunch or have a few minutes to kill, I’d basically flip to a random section and start reading. There was a time I was following individual plot threads and reading them in order, eg. Marathe and Steeply’s confab on the outcropping overlooking Tucson, reading a section, skipping ahead 50 pages to the next section, etc. But I’ve never read Infinite Jest from page 1 to 981 since that first time.

What follows are some notes about the text as I read it again: interesting things I notice, observations, discoveries, things like that. Whatever halfway-interesting thing pops into my head while I’m reading. Some of this stuff will probably be pretty idiosyncratic and probably not the sort of general interest stuff you can find in such excellent book-length analyses as Elegant Complexity, for example. But while they are mainly for myself, if these notes can be of interest to other people—especially those already familiar with the text—then that would be cool, too.

Mainly I’m just excited to be revisiting my favorite place in the world: the world of Infinite Jest. Check back periodically as I make my way through it for the 2nd time (officially).


pg. 22/23 – Possible mistake: “Two dry mouths bumping at each other, trying to kiss, his self-conscious thoughts twisting around on themselves like a snake on a stick while he bucked and snorted dryly above her, his swollen eyes red and his face sagging so that its slack folds maybe touched, limply, the folds of her own loose sagging face is it sloshed back and forth on his pillow, its mouth working dryly.” As?
pg. 53 endnote 5 — It amused/delighted me that I just knew that the footnote (a.) attached to “Tenuate” would be about Michael Pemulis, even before directing my eyes downward. Rereading IJ really is how Michael Silverblatt described it: it’s like getting to know someone well.

pg. 64 endnote 24 — The infamous J.O. Incandenza’s filmography. When I first read it, this eight page section seemed wondrous, and I regarded it with that “I can’t believe someone wrote this” kind of awe. It seemed more transcribed than written, if you know what I mean. However, it was easy to buy into the argument that it was more than a little extraneous or unnecessary. Rereading it, its role in the book is almost forehead-slappingly obvious. James Incandenza was one of those autobiographical artists who make cringingly personal art. Some of his movies are scenes right out of his life (and the novel) like It Was a Great Marvel That He Was in the Father Without Knowing Him (the “professional conversationalist”, pgs. 27-31). Others fairly well explicate what he at least thought was happening domestically with his wife’s (imagined?) infidelities ((At Least) Three Cheers for Cause and Effect). Other films will be described pretty thoroughly as Hal watches them later, eg. Blood Sister: One Tough Nun.
I noticed that he often used P.A. Heaven to narrate his documentaries. I wondered whether this was because of Heaven’s dulcet voice, but a quick search of the book revealed this description on page 910: “Paul Anthony Heaven . . . reading the lecture in the deadening academic monotone that Himself so loved. The monotone was the reason why Himself used Paul Anthony Heaven . . . in anything that required a deadening institutional presence.” A sly joke by Incandenza/Wallace, I’d say.
Another funny bit is noting that his penultimate finished film, The Film Adaptation of Peter Weiss’s ‘The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade’, which from the description seems like a compendium of all Incandenza’s neuroses, is followed by three unfinished and unreleased films entitled Too Much Fun, The Unfortunate Case of Me, Sorry All Over the Place, as if Himself was trying to apologize to whomever was hurt by The Film Adaptation..., both emotionally and physically (the film was unreleased partly due to “HOSPITALIZATION”).

A final note: As a Paul Thomas Anderson fan, I couldn’t help noticing this entry in J.O.I.’s filmography: Let There Be Lite. Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. Documentary cast w/ narrator Ken N. Johnson; 16mm; 50 minutes(?)’ black and white; silent w/ narration. Unfinished documentary on genesis of reduced-calorie bourbon industry.

pg. 76 — “She now went through a series of expressions that made it clinically impossible for the doctor to determine whether or not she was entirely sincere. She looked either pained or trying somehow to express hilarity.” Sounds similar to Hal in the opening scene. I suppose it’s this line that lends credence to the theory that Hal is going through pot withdrawal in the Year of Glad.

pg. 78/79 — Possible mistake: “And just before 0145h. on 2 April Y.D.A.U., his wife arrived back home and uncovered her hair and came in and saw the Near Eastern medical attaché and his face and tray and eyes and the soiled condition of his special recliner, and rushed to his side crying his name aloud, touching his head, trying to get a response, failing to get any response to her, he still staring straight ahead; and eventually and naturally she—noting that the expression on his rictus of a face nevertheless appeared very positive, ecstatic, even, you could say—she eventually and naturally turning her head and following his line of sight to the cartridge-viewer.” I’d say that either the semicolon should be a comma, or, more likely, it should read “she eventually and naturally turned her head and followed his line of sight to the cartridge-viewer.” (Semicolons should separate two independent clauses.) The distended antanaclasis is a DFW trademark, and this one might have gotten the better of him.

pg. 83 — “Mario’s thinking-hard expression resembles what for another person would be the sort of comically distorted face made to amuse an infant.” Another case where someone’s outward appearance belies what the owner of the expression feels. Is this just an all-too-human situation?
pg. 84 — “Schtitt then falls into the sort of silence of someone who’s enjoying mentally rewinding and replaying what he just came up with.” F. Scott Fitzgerald being the only other writer I’ve read as ex-/intensively as DFW (well, maybe Salinger, too), this line made me think of The Beautiful and Damned, pg. 21: “Maury: (still considering his own last observation) I remember.”

pg.88, endnote 39 — Endnote 304 is a doozy. You are directed there in a footnote to endnote 39. James Struck is writing a paper on Canadian terrorist groups for one of his classes (History of Canadian Unpleasantness), mostly plagiarizing an obscure scholarly article. Wallace has a blast skewering the article’s “Academese,” an article written by Geoffrey Day, whose spoken words, we will later learn, have just as much power to annoy as the ones he indites. Solecistic howlers abound: “prominent, Canadian hearts”; “thin, double tracks”; “i.e., that is”; “comprised largely or perhaps even entirely of”; “among the male offspring of asbestos, nickel and zinc miners”; “geatalt”; and a healthy dose of “prior to”s, which we know incurred DFW’s opprobrium from this popular YouTube video. (It can probably safely be assumed that the narrator of this section is different from the other (main?) one who has no compunction labeling a lot of this stuff with “[sic].”) There is also a lot of comedy with Struck going through the mental cartwheels of adapting this stuff for his term paper, initially trying to change it enough to avoid the charge of plagiarism but eventually throwing up his hands and copying whole sections verbatim.

Like the filmography, a lot of this seems superfluous on the first read-through, but it actually contains a lot of vital information about Canadian terrorists groups, especially the A.F.R., which will tie in significantly with the subplot involving Marathe. Wallace also slyly throws in a reference to “Bernard Wayne,” who we can assume is related to John Wayne in some way, as they both come from the family of an asbestos miner. That this also flies over Struck’s head—“Disastrously, Stuck blithely transposes this stuff too, with not even a miniature appliance-size bulb flickering anywhere over his head”—induces a chuckle.

pg. 90 — Possible mistake: “ ‘A person with no political value to anybody except that the Saudi Ministry of Entertainment made one the hell of a shrill stink.’ ” Omit the “the”? Unless it’s some dialectal variant of the more commonly used expression, used by people in the Southwest U.S., where Steeply is apparently from? For whatever it’s worth, it was “corrected” to “one hell of a shrill stink” in the unfairly maligned audio book.

pg. 100 — Puzzling irregularity: “ ‘I’m waiting til the last second to even breathe. I’m not expanding the cage till driven by necessity of air.’ ” Whoever says this is thinking the word is “til” in one sentence and in the very next sentence is thinking it’s the more correct “till.”

pg. 101 — “…Hal is the only extant Incandenza who looks in any way ethnic…Hal is sleek, sort of radiantly dark, otterish, only slightly tall, eyes blue but darkly so, and unburnable even w/o sunscreen, his untanned feet the color of weak tea, his nose ever unpeeling but slightly shiny. His sleekness isn’t oily so much as moist, milky; Hal worries secretly that he looks half-feminine…Hal’s eldest brother Orin had got the Moms’s Anglo-Nordo-Canadian phenotype, the deep-socketed and lighter-blue eyes, the faultless posture and incredible flexibility (Orin was the only male anybody at E.T.A.’d ever heard of who could do a fully splayed cheerleader-type split), the rounder and more protrusive zygomatics.”

I’m trying this second time around to really see the characters in my head the way they are described. All too often, I’ll substitute my own visual version of the characters for what is actually written in a book I’m reading. I’ve talked to some of my friends who say they have the same problem. For whatever reason, we sometimes just throw out physical descriptions, unless we perceive them to be integral to the story. Take Hal, for instance. I’ve always thought of him as staunchly Caucasian, almost as white as can be. This is not correct, and going forward my mental picture of him will be duly corrected so to be better aligned with the text.

pg. 102 — “Every jr. player presently in this room is ranked in the top 64 continentally, except Pemulis, Yardley and Blott.” Omission of the serial comma here…significant? It’s doubtful that Hal would make this mistake. Is this observation from a different characters perspective? (I would say that the use of “presently” to mean “currently” is also un-Hal-like if Hal hadn’t used it on page 4.)