Shambles: Summer of Infinite Jestation

Of turnipcuts, embryoglios, and prosfeces

And also, the end of Infinite Summer’s weekly summeries, because apparently by this point in the novel, people seemed to have raced ahead to the finish.

I’m definitely tempted to, seeing as I still am not quite sure what this book is about–drug-use? entertainment? tennis? dysfunctional famblies? addiction? map-elimination? loneliness? depression? None or all of the aforementioned? Does anyone have a concrete clue?

All I know is that it’s hilariously fun to read sometimes, and completely depressing on some other levels. I think the fact that it has sustained my interest/confusion/mirth for over 883 pages is quite something though. For those of you who still dig some kind of a synopsis or summary, here’s a pretty exhaustive site, though if you scroll too far too fast you risk spoilering things for yourself.

So this week’s reading seemed to be heavily concentrated in the mind of D. Gately, which is good, because I’ve just been waiting and waiting whilst enduring excruciating amounts of worry and suspense about his probably critical condition. After all, he has Noxzema and y’know, a few bullets here and there. And JvD visits him, and we’re introduced to D. Gately’s attempts not to Step #13 her in his befogged state.

But so yeah. What’s up with the Hamlet references that’re rife through Gately’s section? Is he supposed to somehow stand in for Hal as Hamlet? Is there even a Hamlet? DFW does something really sneaky with the se offendendo footnote (#337) by suggesting that Ewell’s blunder is a “subtle jab at Gately from a Ewell intimate with the graveyard scene from Hamlet, namely V.i.9” (1076). I mean, DFW is all over the place with authorial intrusion (especially in the footnotes), but this one bothers me (I don’t mean bothers in the sense of annoyed, just causes me to think/wonder).

Weird fluttering dream v. reality sequences aside, the Wraith that visits D. Gately sounds (suspiciously at first, then unmistakably) like the Mad Stork. Why has Hamlet’s father’s putative Ghost come to visit, converse with, and divulge information to Don Gately of all people? I do like that we get the Mad/Sad Stork’s point of view (and he does seem both mad (in the slightly marbles-akilter sense) and sad), finally – we know his purported motive for creating the Sodom & Gomorrah-esque Entertainment stems from his desire to… some how connect with Hal? The exact quotation, taken from page 839 follows:

Games hadn’t done it, impersonation of professionals hadn’t done it. His last resort: entertainment. Make something so bloody compelling it would reverse thrust on a young self’s fall into the womb of solipsism, anhedonia, death in life. A magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy, to make its eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh. To bring him ‘out of himself’, as they say. The womb could be used both ways. A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard. A life-long dream. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.

Wait, what? So the whole point of the creation of The Entertainment was to grasp prince Hal–yes, that’s how, on p. 875, oddly ageless janitors Kenkle and Brandt (somehow, in their capacity as stewards, reminding me of less intelligent versions of Horatio) refer to him. Prince Hal, indeed–by the figurative lapels to reverse his apparently tragic thrust in the direction of solipsism/anhedonia/death in life? I guess that explains why its actual effect is to do the diametrically opposite thing to everybody else, i.e. grasp everybody else by the figurative lapels and draw them into a feature so entertaining that not only are tragic thrusts reversed away from solipsism/anhedonia/deathinlife, but they’re also diverted so far in the other direction–the “out of themselves” element–that they come full circle to death in life via over-stimulation of pleasure.

Also this week, we got into Hal’s mind, first person again, which hasn’t happened since the beginning of the novel. I wonder why this is. But it’s certainly nice to hear get inside this relatively emotionally with-held person (though honestly, I’d love to get inside one Avril Incandenza’s mind as well). There are beginnings of Hal’s “Year of Glad” ailment, something to do with his inability to control what his facial muscles are doing circa p. 874ish.

And that tennis tournament that the AFR are trying their level best to infiltrate to get close to Hal, while the Bureau of Unspecified Services tries to get their Public Service Announcements together enough to help protect citizenry from The Entertainment with Phil the Ass. Ortho Stice’s forehead skin gets stuck to cold glass.

Does anybody have any theories as to what this has all been about?

Abandon All Hope (Ye Who Enter…)

I made it all the way up through page 809; Infinite Summery reads through 812.

But so, interesting: Joelle recalls some really awkward/uncomfortable/facially traumatic Thanksgivings past in the footnotes; Marathe gets into Ennet House; John Wayne goes apparently apeshit; (relatedly) Pemulis is about to be Xed administratively (probably because of his blackmailing Mrs. Inc b/c of her… extracurricular activities… well, that and the possession); Hal, in his attempt to leave Bob Hope behind, seems to be salivating a great deal and accidentally walking into non-NA meetings involving men with underdeveloped inner infants who excrete large amounts of fluid and can projectile-cry (impressive, in my opinion).

I don’t know if I buy Ms. Notkin’s recantation of Joelle’s thanksgiving facial disfigurement. I suppose this is owing mostly to D. Gately’s glimpse of JvD’s lovely unblemished chin. That, and what JvD tells Don – that her loveliness is so extreme as to be disfiguring – though he doesn’t believe her… But evidently, the authority figures all know about the Entertainment, called Infinite Jest (V + VI?), and would really like to locate it, which Marathe seems to be quite on the verge of doing.

I’m also not surprised, but definitely a bit offput by the corroborative accounts of Mrs. Inc from both MP/PGOAT/JvD and O/Orin. On that note, interesting incest stories from both households (and also in Pemulis’s house… lots of weird Oedipal-ish undertones) – of Mrs. Inc’s indiscriminate Xing things with Y chromosomes (Orin included? hopefully not. but then who can say?), of JvD’s crazy “purist love” father, and the Mad Stork’s sobriety prior to his death by exploding head in microwave. Madame Psychosis is becoming an increasingly intriguing character; I sort of like her psychoanalysis of Orin and his serious Daddy issues, and find her perception of the second saddest family, ever, to be useful for my own understanding of them. Why is it that she has such a negative reaction to Mrs. Inc, like why so physically repulsed/disturbed, to the point of individual hairs/hackles raising? The whole S. Johnson debacle sounds horrific, Mrs. Inc’s response does seem… rather incorrect, which accords with the disturbing heliotropic effect she has on her offspring/fambly.

And now that we know more about both the background and Mrs. Inc’s creepy, JvD’s private conjecture as retold by Molly Notkin that IJ (V/VI) might actually be the Mad Stork’s take on Mrs. Inc… well, the parallels between the fertile/maternal/morbid nude figure so paralyzingly entrancing/engrossing to behold and how Mrs. Inc described effects on her family… seem to me to be too uncanny. Mrs. Inc as Death?

In any event, I found her conversation with Mario to be unsettling, and I think DFW is doing a great job of making her constant kindness and desire to be the most supportive/unobtrusive/caring mother ever to be completely eerie, like she’s hiding something sinister.

And then there’s Marathe’s + Katie Gompert’s conversation. Concussion aside, Gompert seems to be doing alright and it is becoming increasingly revealed that she likes romance. Esp. given how Marathe repeatedly emphasizes his relationship with his skull-less wife. Choosing to love in order not to want to die, which Gompert sees as not true choice, but the kind you make when there’s a gun to your head–I love particularly in that section that she repeatedly tries to correct the story to fit her romantic notion of what love is (her definition and Marathe’s are obviously worlds apart). And then I sort of wonder about DFW’s actual take on human romantic (or platonic) love, which I imagine, given his stance on empathy, as a version of Shelley’s description of poetry/art as empathy (in his “Defence of Poetry“), a looking continually outwards to imagine how it feels to be in somebody else’s shoes, etc.

I hope Pemulis doesn’t get totally and irrevocably Xed, though it certainly seems as though he’s crawled into a very very deep hole.

And as much as Hal kind of creeps me out too, with his unnaturally fabulous memory, I’m relieved to see at least that he also finds something perfidious about his mother’s constant glowingness and gratitudinousness (in his convo with Mario). I wonder if Mario has also inherited the Moms’ creepy conciliatory nature and just constantly giving and accepting (on the Shelley-ian note again: too much empathy?). Anyhow, hopefully Hal will find a real outlet for his Abandon All Hope descent into lord only knows which level of hell it is to try to pry oneself away from addicted substances. Because I don’t think the whole teddy-bear hugging regression to infantile begging plus snot and tears dripping from face is going to help him too much.

Oh, I found a sound recording of DFW’s commencement speech at Kenyon.

DFW on the Magnificent Narcissists (in the vein of John Updike) — this article is also included in the essay-anthology Consider the Lobster.

Gaudeaumus igitur

Or De Brevitate Vitae, or Let Us Rejoice.

And um, there might be spoilers in here up through page 367.

Of course, Infinite Summer’s weekly summery.

Things are kind of coming together (well, okay. They’ve been coming together for about 200 pages now, so maybe they’re not really coming together, or at least not in the sense of resolution). We now know what prorectors’ courses at ETA sound like (Introduction to Athletic Spreadsheets; The Toothless Predator: Breast-Feeding as Sexual Assault); Orin’s sudden interest in Quebecois separatism a la beautiful if Reubenesque reporter (and the sad way in which he avoids his ma); Mario’s many superficial defects (so many so that he was approached by UHID to don a veil); Marathe and Steeply stuck on a cliff somewhere near Tuscon, AZ; Eschaton (O, Eschaton – I will dwell shortly); and what makes Boston AA so unique (a welcome to Madame Psychosis/PGOAT).

The game of Eschaton, especially with Pemulis/Lord (haha, playing God. Of course)/Ingersoll’s debate about the real world versus the map that only seems and does the snow falling in real time count as Real-Snow or Snow-Falling-On-A-Representation-Of-Territories, recalls for me some scenes/themes from Hamlet (the kids are even called Players on p. 338, which is what Shakespeare’s stage directions also indicate) with regards to the age old philosophical problem of is/seems.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the speed at which Eschaton devolved from a cold cerebral exercise into a crazy, blood-letting battle royale, complete with the youngsters running around a faux map of the world (haha, I LOVED the slapstickness of all the kids stomping over countries) and vomiting into oceans, etc. (here’s a forum).

I’m also pretty impressed by DFW’s ear for dialects – especially the Irish truck driver who soliloquizes about his amazing, practically breathing turd.

And maybe it’s just me, but the thematic Hamlet stuff seems to be piling up – I’m still waiting for something incestuous to happen or to be revealed w/r/t Mrs. Incandenza – but Hal, especially with the drugs, seems to be adequately not doing anything (again, that section on Eschaton really got me, the way Hal was just so fascinated by watching the Players do their playing that he couldn’t bring himself to… any real-time action).

Entertainment as a action-inhibiting source of thrall? Well, I suppose we’ll see what happens with Marathe, who is obviously aware of this video that causes medical attaches + wives to watch and watch and watch and die watching leaving a room smelling very bad indeed.

and also, (thanks alf), this made me sigh.

Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited

Hamlet, Act V, Scene I, Lines ~165-185:

FIRST CLOWN: … The same skull, sir, was, sir, Yorick’s skull, the King’s jester.

HAMLET: This?                        [Takes the skull]

FIRST CLOWN: E’en that.

HAMLET: Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a thousand times, and now how abhorr’d in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kiss’d I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning – quite chop-fall’n*. Now get you to my lady’s [chamber], and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor**  she must come; make her laugh at that. […]

*note from editor: 1) lacking the lower jaw, or 2) downcast

**ne: appearance