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

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Twelve: Winter B.S. 1960 – Tucson AZ (A)

Without getting too ideological on your ass, Infinite Jest seems (so far at least) to be a rather blokey affair. OK, we’ve had The Moms and Millicent, Kate Gompert and Clenette and Mildred Bonk; and we might even be generous and include Helen/James Steeply. But there’s far more about Hal and his brothers and his variously gifted colleagues.

And now the chapter begins with a bit of chest-beating self-pity; James (Himself) is that way because his dad was that way and so was his dad and so on. The child is father to the man, we deduce through the gaps in the thicket of sport and cars and booze and Marlon Brando. “I’ve seen your long shadow grotesquely backlit,” the father bellows from 1960, but his shadow is just as long, haunting down the generations like Old Hamlet. [Thinks: A production of Hamlet with 1950s Brando as the Prince and late, fat Brando as the Ghost.]

...and it’s Pemulis again, going about his shady business, with another passing reference to Ennett House. The narrative shifts from the well-dressed piss-dealer to a discussion of DMZ, a drug I’d assumed to be fictional until I came across this:
I have two questions related to the steroid DMZ. First being is it safe to take? I am an 18 year highschool student at about 6'2 170, extremely lean and very athletic (I'm going to a large SEC school on a full scholarship for tennis in the fall) but I'm looking to put on some size. I have been working out hard and smart for the past 8 months, been taking protein daily and have pretty much doubled in strength but I'm not put on the visible size I was expecting.
...which could all be an elaborate bit of role-play on the part of an over-zealous DFW fan, but the responses seem to suggest that DMZ is a drug, albeit a steroid rather than a hallucinogen. Of course, they may be in on the act as well.

And as Pemulis gets back to ETA he finds Hal reading Hamlet. See, told you. And Hal’s speech for Mario’s film feels at first like one of the droney self-help mantras accompanied by footage of Stan Smith but it’s more father-son-father stuff:
Have a father whose own father lost what was there. Have a father who lived up to his own promise and then found thing after thing to meet and surpass the expectations of his promise in, and didn’t seem just a whole hell of a lot happier than his own failed father, leaving you yourself in a kind of feral and flux-ridden state with respect to talent.
And for some reason I start to think of:
Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! (Hamlet, act IV, scene 4)
Essentially, the inevitable futility of trying to live up to any standards other than one’s own; whether you’re trying to impress a father or a country. And for more disappointment, meet the inmates of Ennett House (coming next).


  1. I didn't know there was a steroid called DMZ. My guess has always been that Wallace's fictional psychedelic drug owes its name instead to DMT, which has a "qualitatively stronger than all other psychedlics" reputation in real life much like the one DMZ has in IJ's world. (Plus, presumably, the phrase "demilitarized zone.")

    (I'm really enjoying the blog so far, BTW.)

  2. Well, the military application was what I thought of first. But maybe DFW didn’t know about the steroid either...

  3. Oh and thanks, glad you're enjoying :-)


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