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

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Ten: 30 April – Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (B)

OK, next bit.

We’re in the Tennis Academy again, not only physically, but immersed in the timetable, the workings of the thing, in the guts of the machine. And it’s pretty banal, isn’t it? I don’t mean that Wallace’s prose is banal – simply that he’s depicting a state of banality. Adolescent boys doing adolescent boy things, distinguished from their peers solely by their ability to do one thing well. But what they’re discussing as we begin to eavesdrop is not tennis, but Tolstoy; and specifically Tolstoy’s syntax, not the accuracy of what he says about families, just in case any of us might be drawing any conclusions from that.

And then a brief, tired silence.

And then they move on to communication technology, allowing Wallace to create things that must have seemed pretty exciting back in the mid 90s but now feel either quaint or ordinary or mildly steampunk or just plain wrong. Of course, now we know that the boys are discussing the technology that played the work of James O Incandenza and allowed it to cause the unspecified paralysis of the attaché and those around him, and that has some link with the nefarious goings-on being discussed on that hillside in Arizona. But do we need to know how it works? (By the way, I saw the film Looper yesterday, and one thing that impressed me was that nobody wasted time trying to explain how the time travel technology actually worked. It didn’t matter. It was a plot device. Move on.)

That said, it’s the little passing references that come up in the course of the discussions that matter to us, almost the gaps between the things that are important to them. The red weal that Stice’s waistband leaves feels pretty irrelevant; the stuff about halation, “that most angelic of distortions”, takes us back a few pages to Marathe’s Bröckengespent. And of course, we are reminded that Hal has a big vocabulary.

And then we’re back to Marathe and Steeply again. But nothing happens. Which makes me think of Godot, but specifically Godot’s syntax, not the accuracy of what he says about life, just in case any of you might be drawing any conclusions from that.


  1. Hi Tim, catching up after a holiday. I am now 20% of the way through and am quite *irked* but not enough to give up. The Marathe bits have been annoying.

    A question: I have been ignoring all the footnotes (as I don't know how to access them on my Kindle) - do you reckon that this is a Terrible Mistake in a book that is already a touch incomprehensible?

  2. Hi Spin. I think at least some of the notes are important. Some are just straightforward clarification of language, abbreviations, etc, so if you understand those anyway you don't need them; but others (note 24, about Incandenza's filmography) are crucial.

    Use the arrows on the large middle button to get to the footnote number; click on the middle square to take you to the note itself (follow link); click on (back to text) at the end of the note once you're done. It's a bit fiddly, but it works.


What do you think of it so far?