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

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ten: 30 April – Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (D), plus Note 304

Sorry for the hiatus. Real life, work and all that.

We’re still with Marathe and Steeply, “the feminized American”, and they’re still talking funny. I’ve remembered two more examples of this translation-engine English: Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer (which is a good book) and Ludmila’s Broken English, by DBC Pierre, which is a book.

And the unlikely pair are discussing love, initially in terms of romantic archetypes, although Steeply’s grasp of detail is a little loose. Love of country? Love of Marathe for his wife? Love of Steeply for his car? But what’s really significant here is the tortuous link to note 304. (Well, it’s tortuous if you’re reading on a Kindle; note 45 refers to 304 but there’s no link per se, so you have to search for it, without really knowing what you’re looking for.)

We’re brought back to the tennis academy, where Jim Struck is desperately trying to piece together a paper for “Ms. Poutrincourt’s History of Canadian Unpleasantness course thing.” And I’m suddenly reminded of another book that appeared in the late 1990s, Stephen Fry’s Making History. It’s also an alternate history (this time on the evergreen what-if-Hitler-hadn’t-been-born? model) and it includes a sequence in which an aspect of the invented timeline is explained to the reader by means of a character viewing an academic text using equipment that exists only within the reality of the novel. As far as I recall, the medium for data in Fry’s parallel world is called a cart, short for cartridge.

Anyway, what’s important is what Struck – acting as our representative in the fiction – reads in the course of his research. We discover the full scope of the terrorist activity against ONAN, which is (I think) for the first time revealed to be the Organization of North American Nations. Intriguingly, the list of politicians who “heard the squeaky wheel” of their amputee assassins includes at least a couple of real individuals: Lucien Bouchard, who was prime minister of Quebec at the time Infinite Jest was published, and Jean Charest, who held the post for nearly a decade until he was defeated in last month’s election. (I don’t know about Schnede or Remillard; perhaps someone with a better grasp of Canadian regional politics could let me know whether these names ring any bells.) Are there any moral or legal implications in describing the deaths of real, living individuals in a fictional context? (1) Bouchard, incidentally, lost a leg in 1994, but to necrotizing fasciitis rather than a train.

Oh, and the shit pie attack is a delightful image. Thanks for that, DFW.

The description of the train jumping (“le Jeu du Prochain Train”) is intriguing. Clearly it’s meant to be something more than mere adolescent bravado, a simple game of chicken; it’s regimented, ritualistic, with the numbers of participants strictly prescribed. I’m guessing its origins go rather deeper than the collective existential death wish of the kids of asbestos miners. Who would gain from killing and maiming so many adolescent Quebeckers?

Another question: is Bernard Wayne, the one who ignominiously failed to jump, any relation to ETA student John Wayne?

Of course, just because Struck is reading all this, doesn’t mean it’s true; any more than the fact we’re reading Infinite Jest makes it true.

Do we get to plagiarise it?

1. In his novel, Fry killed Stalin with a nuclear bomb and had Churchill and George VI executed, but they were in reality dead before he wrote his book. (2)

2. Woo! Footnotes! Well, it was inevitable, wasn’t it?

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