I am attempting to read David Foster Wallace’s very large novel and write about the experience as I go. That is all.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Six: Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment

And so we’re back with Hal and Mario (aka Booboo), and we’re back with tennis. I’m trying to avoid relying too much on data from external sources here, but we know that DFW was pretty handy at tennis and that he also had mental health problems, so is it too soon to agree that Hal is David? Hey – Hal David! I only just noticed that. Now I’ll be on the look out for quirky internal rhymes among the melancholy.

And there’s something *wrong* with Mario, even though he seems to be the happiest, best adjusted character we’ve encountered do far. The big head has already been mentioned, even if we don’t know quite how big. But then:
“You think I think fuzzy thoughts all the time. You let me room with you because you feel sorry for me.”
So is Mario somehow mentally damaged? Does his big head house a small brain? Or are his thoughts only fuzzy when compared with the dictionary-consuming mind of his brother? That said, Hal’s currently musing on God, a practice that rarely benefits from the deployment of rigorous logic. And then we discover that Himself, their father, the one with the stained sweater-vest, is no longer with us (although given the unorthodox chronology at work here, I rather suspect this is not the last we’ve seen of him). The brothers discuss grief, specifically the different ways members of the family grieved for Himself. Hal listened to Puccini; the whole bow-tie thing fits.

Then there’s some schtick about raising the flag pole instead of lowering the flag, which could have come out of The Goon Show (although they would have raised the whole ground). And then a brief status report on the medical attaché. Has he been watching what we’ve been reading? Or is he watching...

Orin? No, that can’t be, because it’s now October, YDAU, and the attaché was watching the cartridge in April. Orin is soaked in sweat and he got laid last night. Why is he #71? Is it his house number? His tennis ranking? Are we really in The Village? And what’s Ambush, with its damp scent? Ah, apparently it’s a perfume from the 1950s. (I’m allowing myself to use Google, but in regard to things that are specifically created as part of the Infinite Jest universe. Of course, Ambush might have been a DFW invention. But it isn’t. So that’s OK. And to be honest, I nearly had to Google all that stuff about free safety and reserve guards but some vague memory from when I was at high school in Canada suggested that it might be something to do with that peculiar game that North Americans persist in calling football. So is #71 Orin’s team number?)

At first glance, Orin appears to be normal, at least within the context of his peculiar family. But gradually the differences begin to leak out. His left arm and leg are noticeably bigger than his right. And he doesn’t like heights. And he has dreams about his mother’s detached head (and note that the shower/coffee combo is necessary “to loosen the grip on his soul’s throat”, echoing Hal and Erdedy with their variations on oral drought). On top of that, he can’t stand the cockroaches that infest his living space, but he also can’t bear the explosive results when he tries to kill them, so he’s developed a weird method of suffocating them, that ends up creating dozens of translucent little roach tombs around his apartment. And he chooses to watch cartridges about schizophrenia. And there’s a dead bird in his jacuzzi. Even the serial shagging seems to hint at something a little more pathological than the easy gratification that comes to a professional sportsman. So, yeah, he’s another damaged Incandenza:
Even when alone, able to uncurl alone and sit slowly up and wring out the sheet and go to the bathroom, these darkest mornings start days that Orin can’t even bring himself for hours to think about how he’ll get through the day. These worst mornings with cold floors and hot windows and merciless light – the soul’s certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer...
...which somehow makes me think of this recent cartoon from XKCD. But the footnote tells us that he’s “never once darkened the door of any sort of therapy-professional” (What? Not even a conversationalist?) so he may have a fighting chance. And while we’re in among those notes, the Kindle tells us that they begin at the 86% mark; approximately one-seventh of the book is given over to DFW’s “oh-and-by-the-way”s. Which sounds hefty, but I recently finished Arguably, the almost-posthumous collection of Christopher Hitchens’s journalism, and the notes in that began at 75%. Readers of my main blog, Cultural Snow, will know of my fondness for such embellishments, and my championing of works such as Pale Fire and The Waste Land, where the footnotes run riot, trampling over what claims to be the main text until it disappears under the mud and scuffmarks.

And in the may-or-may-not-turn-out-to-be-significant file:
  • More Töblerone; still with umlaut.
  • “Pandora’s box of worms”? Eh?
  • Actually, you shouldn’t shave south-to-north because it’s bad for your skin. Although maybe that’s another parallel universe thing.
  • And the line about Rod Stewart’s hair. Nice. 

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