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

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Eleven: 3 November Y.D.A.U. (C)

Videophony is one of Wallace’s predictions that really has come to pass, even if some of the incidental details are different. Of course, it didn’t require an enormous imaginative leap on DFW’s part, as one-to-one audio-visual communication has been a science-fiction trope going way back; see Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm (1932), for example.

So I’ve known about it for far longer than it’s existed in practical form; and yet I’ve never particularly liked the idea. Now I have Skype, but I have no particular wish to inflict my horrible face upon the person to whom I’m talking and to be honest I can take it or leave it whether I can see them or not. And Wallace’s farcical description of “video-physiognomic dysphoria”, and the “optimistically misrepresentational masking” and “transmittable tableaux” used to combat it, sums up all my reasons for resistance. (Although to be honest, I’ve never much liked audio phone conversations either; or, for the most part, face-to-face contact. The first time I sent an e-mail, in about 1993, I experienced a dizzy little rush, similar to when I first heard a song by The Smiths; it just felt right, somehow.)

Of course, Wallace’s satire is not directed at the technology per se. It’s about the many madnesses of consumer capitalism; punters are encouraged to make incremental spends on innovations that supposedly cure one problem (that you never knew you had) only to throw up a new problem (that you never had before but, hey, here’s someone with a cure that you can buy). And they all become agoraphobic but that doesn’t matter; capitalism can find you, wherever you are.

…and the clearest manifestation of such capitalism at the Enfield Tennis Academy is Michael Pemulis with his “warm pale innocent childish urine”, sold from a battered hotdog tray. But Wallace is rather less cutting about this example of entrepreneurial spirit; it’s more of a hook upon which to hang various members of the ETA community and the respective roles they play in the big, dysfunctional family structure:
...Mario will be the only one of the Incandenza children not wildly successful as a professional athlete. No one who knows Mario could imagine that this fact will ever occur to him.
I do like Wallace’s treatment of Mario, refusing to let us feel any pity for him. Ennet House also gets another mention, as a source of cheap labour for Michael’s endeavours, helping to facilitate the very “self-abuse” that got them into trouble in the first place. Also, note the ONAN heraldic design:
...a snarling full-front eagle with a broom and can of disinfectant in one claw and a Maple Leaf in the other and wearing a sombrero and appearing to have about half-eaten a swatch of star-studded cloth...
The various components of North America are all present and correct, but why the cleaning materials? Wasn’t there a waste truck involved somewhere during the Mario/Millicent encounter? Clean? Getting clean (Ennet; Michael’s clean urine)?

Oh, incidentally, do check out the ever-droll Expat@Large on fat and/or difficult books in general, including Infinite Jest.

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