Monday, September 26, 2016

Infitnite Jest: Interlude

Like the growth of the Giant Sequoia, reading Infinite Jest takes time ... though ideally not three thousand years.

The President Tree
Sequoia National Park, California
September 21, 2016

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Infinite Jest: Pages 67-128: Kate Gompert suicide watch, surprised blue eyes, Steeply and Marathe, Gerhardt Schtitt and E.T.A.

We are moving slowly. This is hyperbolic understatement. "We" meaning the initial trio of readers, the three Jest-a-teers, each of us in Life's full embrace. 75 pages a week? More than a month has passed and even I, the docent, have only gotten to page 128 (though that does include thirteen pages of footnotes, wink) (but still).

I will say this. It's fucking awesome the second time.

This time around I'm savoring everything. Circling whole sentences with admiration and awe. Making notes in the margins. HFS. WTF. WOW.

Poor Kate Gompert.
There are dark halls and sad places

... the sour odor of medical waste awaiting collection ... (p69) Kate Gompert in the psych ward

... sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them. (p71)

On a single page, we get circumorals, thigmotactic, dentate, and synclinal. (pg75)

The Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) and Gerhardt Schtitt, the Head Coach and Athletic Director who ... has the creepy wiriness of old men who still exercise vigorously. He has surprised blue eyes and a vivid white crewcut of the sort that looks virile and good on men who have lost a lot of hair anyway. (p80)

Surprised blue eyes.

We also get a hefty dose of the tennis student-players themselves, teenage boys mostly, but also some girl players, and we start to form a picture of the culture at E.T.A. (which, I should say, is an abbreviation I find jarring and unpleasant to behold; it makes me think of the Basque separatist group ETA).

Hmm, but maybe that's DFW's point, to subtly insert the acronym of a famous international separatist group so that the fictional Quebecois separatist group in IJ seems completely plausible.

Note (from Google):

ETA (Basque: [eta], Spanish: [ˈeta]), an acronym for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna(Basque pronunciation: [eus̺kaði ta as̺katas̺una]; "Basque Country and Freedom") is an armed Basque nationalist and separatist organization in northern Spain and southwestern France.

Perfect entry for Marathe and Steeply (Marathe p87, Steeply p88) ... though not before the Infinite Jest entertainment cartridge strikes! (p87)

The first time I read this section, I had no idea what the fuck was going on. It was surreal and disconnected to anything that came before it. Who ARE these people and are we really talking about a guy in a wheelchair and a guy in drag way the fuck up on some cliff overlooking a city in Arizona?

Actually, yes. and - SPOILER ALERT - Marathe is a member of the A.F.R, Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents, the Wheelchair Assassins, ... pretty much Quebec's most dreaded and rapacious anti-O.N.A.N. terrorist cell; and  Steeply is an Unspecified Service's field operative. (We'll have to deal with what "O.N.A.N" is later on).

Marathe to Steeply (a LOL margin note), commenting on Steeply's woman's disguise:

And your tits, they have become cock-eyed, I will tell you, Services Without Specificity, they have given you ridiculous tits, and now they point differently. (p92)

Steeply is described as some type of brutal-U.S.-contact-sport athlete now become fat. Priceless.

Hal at E.T.A. The Halster. Halorama. Halation. (p97). I've written in the margin "Hal is the young, troubled, genius".
Hal Brushed

Hal is sleek, sort of radiantly dark, almost otterish, only slightly tall, eyes blue but darkly so, and unbearable even w/o sunscreen, his untanned feet the color of weak tea, his nose ever unpeeling but slightly shiny. (p101)

Hal is a stoner. This is DFW knowing what that means and describing Hal as if he, the author, were stoned and noticing Hal. There's a scene in the boys locker room, a bunch of kids are sitting around tired after a huge practice. In the margin I have written next to this "This is deep noticing!"

Hal's face's reflection just fits inside one of the wall-tiles opposite, and then if he moves his head slowly the face distends and comes back together with an optical tang in the next tile. (p104)

Are you fucking kidding me?

And then, 16 pages later, Mario, Hal's weirdly deformed (elephant head, claws for hands) younger brother, gets sexually molested by U.S.S. Millicent in the thicket on the perimeter of the grounds. I know. WTF.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Infinite Jest: Pages 49-66: Hal in the Lung Tunnels, Gately! Dr. James O. Incandenza, Filmmaker

It's like mining a hermetic text for clues to the Great Mystery, or like exploring the crevices and fissures of reality with an accomplished and garrulous guide. You need to read slowly, paragraph by paragraph, a notating implement in hand. I use a mechanical pencil.

The team's pace has slowed to a crawl, to a stop really. I have lost both ND and LL. The fabled 75 pages a week was a pipe dream; at current rate, we will finish (rather, I will finish) in approximately 15 months. Absurd!

Of course the question, from the docent's point of view, is - should I go on alone? Right now the answer is yes, albeit slowly. I am like a cat at a screen door sniffing airborne temptations wafting in from outside.

How can it be that every measly span of pages (less than 20 for this entry) delivers brilliance and amazement? The margins in my copy are well-scrawled-in, almost every page. How can a mere 20 pages of a 1000+ page novel deliver plot hints and directional foreshadowing? Maybe it takes a second reading to recognize how much is going on in every passage, in every sketch and interlude, in every endnote.

Hal with "his little brass one-hitter" getting stoned by himself in the Lung Room deep under the Enfield Tennis Academy, in the tunnels. Every preppy stoner past & present relates immediately to this chapter:

A one-hitter, sort of like a long FDR-type cigarette holder whose end is packed with a pinch of good dope, gets hot and is hard on the mouth - the brass ones especially - but one-hitters have the advantage of efficiency: every particle of ignited pot gets inhaled; there's none of the incidental secondhand-type smoke from a party bowl's big load, and Hal can take every iota way down deep and hold his breath forever, so that even his exhalations are no more than slightly pale and sick-sweet-smelling. (p49)

HFS, absolutely. He nailed it.

Endnote madness! Page 53, in one paragraph come endnotes 5 - 9, all drug-explications.

Gately's first appearance! (p55). Autumn - Year of Dairy Products From the American Heartland. An utterly horrifying vignette that introduces one of the central characters of the ensuing thousand pages and suggests future passages of cringe-inducing stories and imagery.

... ferocious jolliness... (p55)

The thing started out looking like tit on a tray, burglary-wise. (p56)

Then there's the passage (beginning on p63) on James O. Incandenza, Hal's father (deceased), founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy but, more importantly, the noted avant garde filmmaker and creator (one learns if one reads endnote #24) of the eponymous cartridge/entertainment, Infinite Jest.

Endnote 24 is staggering. The James O. Incandenza Filmography, nine pages long. There are footnotes within the endnote!

And there are crucial details and clues to the whole novel contained within the film descriptions. Each film listed in the filmography warrants a close read because the details and synopsis are so fucking rich and wacky and make you write in the endnote margin HFS. To wit:

Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell. B.S. Latrodectus Mactans Productions/Infernatron Animation Concepts, Canada. Animated w/ uncredited voices; 35 mm; 59 minutes; color; sound. God and Satan play poker with Tarot cards for the soul of an alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman obsessed with Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa." PRIVATELY RELEASED ON CELLULOID AND MAGNETIC VIDEO BY LATRODECTUS MACTANS PRODUCTIONS. (p988, endnote #24)

I mean, the whole filmography is a creative achievement in its own right. Hilarious, twisted, really Out There in a laugh-out-loud sort of way. Not to mention that the last entry cited in the filmography is Infinite Jest, the film. Essential to read this. Anyone skipping the endnotes is automatically disqualified from the club of Infinite Jest Totalists.

Sentence Alert! On page 64, the middle paragraph is comprised of two sentences, the first one a 145 word gem (the word count disputable depending on whether you treat hyphenated words as one or two words, i.e., hard-drinking or U.S.-spoused). Regardless, the paragraph is not to be missed.

Infinite Vocab

parget(ed) (p51) - plaster or any similar wall covering.

apocopes (p57) - the cutting off or dropping of the last sound or sounds of a word.

bolection (p62) - a molding that projects beyond the surface of a panel

reglets (p62) - (architecture) a flat, narrow molding, used to separate panels.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Infinite Jest: Pages 17-49: Erdedy, the Howling Fantods, and the Infinite Jest Entertainment Cartridge

A lot happening. Very little overt connection. Erdedy. Wardine. The Medical Attache. Mario. Orin. The professional conversationalist. The Appropriation Artist. Oh my.

The Erdedy chapter is priceless. Erdedy is someone completely alone with his anxieties. We can all (most of us anyway) relate, if not to the anxious waiting to score weed then to the very condition however it arises of being extraordinarily anxious about something.

It wasn't that he was afraid of the dope, it was that smoking it made him afraid of everything else. (p22)

I have a new acronym to write in the margins when I encounter some phrase or passage that blows me away: HFS. It stands for Holy Fucking Shit!

The bottom half of page 22 earned an HFS, as did the sentence: The last woman had been sexy but not pretty, as the woman he now didn't want to see but was waiting anxiously for was pretty in a faded withered Cambridge way that made her seem pretty but not sexy. (p23)  HFS.

Endnote #3 earned a loud HFS.

At Random

Is Hal mute? Is the scene with the professional conversationalist (who turns out to be his own father) actually dialog that goes on in Hal's mind but that he doesn't actually say? Remember, the opening scenes of Hal's meltdown occurs when the administrators insist that Hal speak for himself - and he can't. Or doesn't. And freaks out.

What's with Wardine and the Black vernacular? (p37)

Hal, Orin, and Mario are brothers. Orin is an NFL punter. Hal a tennis prodigy. Mario the youngest, apparently disfigured or handicapped with an over-sized head.

The Medical Attache is succumbing to the Infinite Jest entertainment cartridge.
fantod (by Edward Gorey)

The howling fantods first referenced on page 45. Roaches gave him the howling fantods.

Hobbesian Sewers (p45)

Who starts a sentence like this?! And so but since the old CBC documentary's thesis ... "And so but since..." that is really ballsy. (p47)

Infinite Vocab

phylacteryish - a phylactery is a small leather box that contains Hebrew texts and that is worn by Jewish men at prayer as a reminder to keep the law. (p47)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Infinite Jest: Pages 3-17: Hal's Meltdown

Infinite Jest: Notes from Pages 3-17 

Hal's meltdown. Told in Hal's first person narrative.

Note that page 3 in the 20th anniversary paperback is actually the first page of the novel. The first phrase that grabbed my attention occurs on the first page.

"... the impermanent quality of something stamped into uncooperative material ..." (p3)

I love the idea of "uncooperative material," as if "material" had a will, as if inanimate objects have preferences or manifest purposeful resistance. And then there are these gems:

The familiar panic at feeling misrepresented ... (p8)
Jet contrail

... the defecatory posture of all athletes at rest ... (p9)

The blue sky is glassy and fat with heat ... (p15)

The jet's movement and trail seem incisionish, as if white meat behind the blue were being exposed and widening in the wake of the blade. (p16)

Infinite Vocab

IJ is a vast trove of quirky words and curious references. Keeping a dictionary handy helps the reading experience.

Kekulean Knot (p6) - a sideways reference to Friedrich August Kekule.

Brewster's Angle (p10)

presybyopic (p11) - a vision condition that develops around the age of 40 when people experience blurred near vision when reading, sewing, using the computer, etc.

creatus (p12)

enfilade (p13) - a volley of gunfire directed a long a line from one end to the other; or, architecturally, a suite of rooms with doorways in line with each other.

hypophalangial (p16) - missing one or more phalanges from fingers or toes

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rereading Infinite Jest: The Beginning

In my last Lescaret post way back in February, referring to Infinite Jest, I wrote:

"There is so much in this book, so much extraordinary writing, so many vivid descriptive phrases, that reading it only a single time seems inadequate."

Today I set out to remedy the inadequacy of having read it only once.

Two close accomplices, ND and LL, and I have agreed to take on this enigmatic and confounding masterpiece, reading it concurrently and sharing thoughts & comments via email. We're reading the paperback 20th anniversary edition from Back Bay Books (February 2016). All pagination references pertain to this edition and the novel itself will be referred to subsequently as IJ.

Neither ND and nor LL have read IJ before but both are familiar with DFW and have read some of the non-fiction.

I read IJ more than four years ago (see Infinite Vocab 101 and 1,079 Pages, in Paperback). Fascinated with the enormity of the novel, I wanted to know more about its author. Some would argue for the separation of art from artist, that great art stands alone, irrespective of its creator, and should be approached that way. Less ideologically committed, I always want to know the memoiristic details of my author heroes and mentors. I want to understand the Artist in relation to her Art; therefore, I want to know both - the art and the artist.

So for more on DFW, I read Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (2010, David Lipsky) and Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (2012, D.T. Max). And dipped into The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (University of Iowa, 2012, edited by Samuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou), and Conversations with David Foster Wallace (University of Mississippi, 2012, edited by Stephen J. Burn).

All are worth investigating, the first two in particular: The Lipsky book for its intimacy and its day-in-the-life-of qualities (in this case, week-in-the-life-of), and Max's biography for the DFW's years at Amherst College. As a note of personal connection once removed - the years DFW spent at Amherst (1980-1984) roughly coincided with my years at UMass-Amherst (1981-1985). It's not inconceivable that we passed each other more than once browsing the bookshelves of the then numerous independent bookshops in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Of course, whether you know the biographical details of David Foster Wallace or not when approaching Infinite Jest is irrelevant. In this instance, the art speaks for itself.

In the coming posts I'll visit our reading progress, list vocab words that sent me to the dictionary, cite sentences or passages of extraordinary composition, and offer general comments and insights that emerge from ND, LL, and myself as we go.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Infinite Winter

Infinite Jest turns twenty this year and, though the work emerged in the 1990s and though some of the 'advanced technology' of the time now seems old-fashioned, the novel remains relevant as well as fascinating, challenging, and ultimately rewarding to those who persevere and read the entire work.

Some folks are doing that right now. just got underway with readers accepting the challenge of absorbing 75 pages a week (does that take into account end notes?) and sharing their thoughts and perceptions of the experience and the book.

There is so much in this book, so much extraordinary writing, so many vivid descriptive phrases that reading it only a single time seems inadequate. I underlined the following sentence in my copy when I read it, but how many sentences like it did I overlook?

"The river at dawn is a strip of foil's dull side." (pg 452 of the Little, Brown paperback).

Or this idea:

"The whole cubular building seems to Hal to hold the tensed menace of a living thing that's chosen to hold itself still." (pg 798, ibid).

The writing in Infinite Jest is the kind that dazzles, amazes, makes you laugh out loud. It's the kind of writing that doesn't need a plot.