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Epic preposterousness…

November 19, 2008

Infinite Jest.  Most excellent fancy.  It’s like a Terry Gilliam movie directed by Ralph Steadman—psychedelic and distorted and fundamentally humane.

“I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.  My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair.  This is a cold room in University Administration, wood walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. de Lint and I were lately received.”

Heads and bodies.  Could be Brazil.  Or a mescaline-fueled drawing from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  Or an album by Frank Zappa like Freak Out (1966). In the liner notes Frank cites his influences, from Edgar Varese (“the modern composer refuses to die!”) and Igor Stravinsky to the Surfaris (Wipe Out).  No, I made that up.  Frank didn’t include the Surfaris, but he did include Elvis and Brian Wilson and the Beatles.  But the point is that the range is wide and all over the map.  Highbrow, lowbrow. 

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Here’s a snippet of dialogue between 18 year old tennis prodigy and brilliant student Hal Incandenza and his older Arizona Cardinal punter brother Orin.  Hal answers the phone:

‘Mmyellow.’

‘Presenting Speedy Seduction Strategy Number 7.’

‘Orin. Happy Inter-Day Eve. E unibus Pluram and so on. Still dodging the disabled?’

‘A proviso up-front Hallie: Number 7 never misses.’

‘And not every Dickinson poem is singable to ‘Yellow Rose,’ O.  Sorry to disappoint you.  For instance like “Ample make this bedmake this bed with awe” isn’t even iambic, much less quatrameter/trimeter.’

‘Just a theory. Just tossing it out for the machine’s consideration.’

A practice to be encouraged.  This particular theory’s unfortunately a dink.  Plus I don’t think you quite meant proviso.’

‘Number 7 remains a no-miss proposal, though.  Picture this.  Obtain a ring. As in a wedding band.  So you present yourself to the Subject as visibly married.’

‘You know I hate these Strategy calls.’

‘Also of course works if you really do happen to be married.  In which case you’ve got a ring already.’

‘I’m sitting here soaking my ankle, O.’

‘The object being to present yourself to the Subject as married….’ 


Note: Emily Dickinson and the Yellow Rose of Texas.  I’ve always believed that all of her poetry can indeed be sung to that tune.  Sadly, Hal busts that myth.  And it isn’t even iambic.

Note: Juxtaposition of high and lowbrow; iambs and dinky seduction strategies.  Pomo.

Note: DFW’s dialogue flings open a window that had been painted shut.  A) Two brothers talking but not necessarily on the same wavelength.  Each line doesn’t necessarily follow and direct response isn’t necessary.  E.g. “You know I hate these Strategy calls.”  B) Orin ignores the comment.  These are two intelligent characters out-smarting each other, very brotherly.

Note: “Mmyellow” is Hal’s trademark phone answering device.  I never thought about how you’d actually write that.

Note: This bit of dialogue appears in Endnote #110, page 1007 to be exact, which happens to be 18 pages long—nearly all of it unattributed dialogue as above.  Yet, the reader is not left backtracking trying to find the sequence.  Each character’s consciousness is vivid and recognizable.

            Subnote: Dialogue innovation further along in the above conversation and throughout the novel:

                        ‘Can you be that sick that you can’t even admit it over the fucking phone?’

                        ‘…’

                        ‘Or what?’

                        ‘…’

                        ‘I’m sorry, O. I apologize.’

                        ‘Think nothing of it.  I know you didn’t mean it.’

            First time I’ve ever seen this—a fabulous way of conveying a moment of silence, perhaps an uncomfortable non-reply or somebody simply ignoring somebody else.  I have already stolen this device (see this month’s episodes).

Note: Sometimes endnotes behave as complete chapters, interchangeable, as in the above.  Also, the endnotes have endnotes.  The result of all this is a disruption to the linearity of the whole thing—which would have driven Gardner crazy—but it seems to me that the narrative is not disrupted.  It adds to the extravagant sense of addled consciousness that pervades the entire novel.

Which brings up the question of who’s in charge here?  Anybody?  There are a few passages in the first person (Hal), but the rest seems to be in a very close, present tense narrator—sometimes close to Hal, sometimes close to Gately, (the Ennet (halfway) House resident AA counselor and purported chef) and sometimes I don’t know who.

Here’s Gately:

“Chef-wise, he offers up an exception-less routine of: boiled hot dogs; dense damp meat loaf with little pieces of Chicken soup over spirochete-shaped noodles; ominously dark, leathery Shake ‘N Bake chicken legs; queasily underdone hamburgs; and hamburg-sauce spaghetti whose pasta he boils for almost an hour.  None but the most street-hardened Ennet residents would ever hazard an open crack about the food, which appears nightly at the long dinner table still in the broad steaming pans it was cooked in, with Gately’s big face hovering lunarly above it, flushed and beaded under the floppy chef’s hat Annie Parrot had given him as a dark joke he hadn’t got, his eyes full of anxiety and hopes for everyones’ full enjoyment, basically looking like a nervous bride serving her first conjugal dish, except this bride’s hands are the same size as the House’s dinner plates and have jailhouse tatts on them, and this bride seem to need no oven-mitts as he sets down massive pans on the towels that have to be laid down to keep the plastic tabletop from searing.”

Forgive me.  It’s a long passage.  But the set up for Gately’s big face hovering lunarly above the steaming pan is worth it.

 

Surrounded by heads  (Terry Gilliam's Brazil)

Surrounded by heads (from Terry Gilliam's Brazil)

 

 

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From → Infinite Jest

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