Skip to content

Ted Schacht, Zen Master

July 17, 2009
"Schacht's orange Gamma-9 synthetic strings have AMF-Head Inc.'s weird Taoist paraboloid logo sprayed on.

"Schacht's orange Gamma-9 synthetic strings have AMF-Head Inc.'s weird Taoist paraboloid logo sprayed on."

I don’t know if you got this feeling too, but the section on Ted Schacht (~262-270) came as a huge relief. After Joelle’s march to her own personal scaffold; after the jagged-edged compulsions of the Ennet House residents; after, above all, the involuted mind-fuckery that passes for inner reflection and social interaction among the Incandenza family; after all this reading the Schacht section was like stepping into a breezy wide-open psychic space that offered visitors a comfy bench, maybe a cold refreshing beverage, maybe an open window nearby with long white flowy curtains set aflutter by let’s call it an early June breeze.

The section seemed to bring together a couple recurring memes, tropes, ideas, whatever-the-kids-are-calling-it-these-days:

  1. Zen/Taoist stuff: Erdedy not reacting to ideas and watching as they float away (p. 26), which is pretty much exactly how a lot of Zen teachers will describe what you’re supposed to do during meditation. Erdedy, of course, doesn’t quite get it — “he could not even begin to try to see how the image of desiccated impulses floating dryly related to either him or the insect.”Then, quite significantly, we’ve got Hal’s “hero of non-action,” (p. 142), “the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines.” Cf. the bejeezus out of this with Gately sprawled motionless across the Ennett House couch on pp. 270-281. In Taoism and Zen there’s this concept called Wu-Wei, which basically means non-action. See right near the beginning of the Tao Te Ching: “The sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.” And also basically a million other quotes like this throughout the text. And holy fuckeroo kiddos, get a load of this: according to Wikipedia, Wu-Wei is often represented in Japanese calligraphy as a ring. An annular ring, if you will.Finally, bringing this all back to Schact: I gave the quote above about the “weird Taoist paraboloid logo” on Schacht’s Head racket. See also p. 269: “As Schacht sees it, Schtitt’s philosophical stance is that to win enough of the time to be considered successful you’d have to both care a great deal about it and not care at all.” This sounds like a classic Zen koan, which is basically a sort of il-logic puzzle that Zen teachers give to their students and which don’t, on the surface, make any sense at all, but about which you’re supposed to puzzle over and attain some sort of trans-rational understanding (Footnote 89 alludes to ETA kids going through this same process). Schacht is described as having attained a sort of Zen-like state of calm and acceptance w/r/t tennis (p. 266, for instance).
  2. Schacht, along with Mario, Lyle, and Schtitt, is one of the few major characters in the book so far whose relationship with Substances could be described as “healthy.” Schacht “ingests the occasional chemical that way that grownups who sometimes forget to finish their cocktails drink liquor” (p. 267). He’s free of most of the drug-related stresses inflicted on his peers Inc., Troeltsch, and Pemulis. “He’s learned to go his own interior way and let others go theirs.” “He’s one of those people who don’t need much, much less much more.” Cf. JvD and the Fun dropping off Too Much Fun.
  3. Because of his physical ailments, Schacht has basically freed himself from the anxiety of trying to make The Show, which Hal “in a weird and deeper internal way almost somehow admires and envies” (p. 269). To resort to a handy cliché, he plays tennis simply for the love of the game. Most tellingly, perhaps, the Schacht section ends with the following one-line paragraph: “Schacht and his man play.” Contrast this with Hal’s paralytic dream in which the umpire whispers “Please Play” (p. 68), Kate Gompert’s admission that she “just wanted out. I didn’t want to play anymore” (p. 72), and Schtitt concluding his critique of U.S. culture by saying that the difference between “tennis and suicide, life and death, the game and its own end” is “the chance to play” (p. 84). Schacht just straight-up plays — simple, direct, no bullshit.

Finally, the real clue that Schacht’s overall take on things is generally reliable is the way he “deep down believes that the substance-compulsion’s strange apparent contribution to Hal’s erumpent explosion up the rankings has got to be a temporary thing, that there’s like a psychic credit-card bill for Hal in the mail, somewhere, coming, and is sad for him in advance about whatever’s got to give, eventually” (p.270). I’m usually hesitant to say that such-and-such character’s perspective is also the author’s, but given the way Hal ends up I think we can safely make that call here.

After getting into the minds of so many characters who are profoundly damaged and often self-inflictedly so, what a relief it was to arrive at these pages and spend some time with someone who seems to have their ducks in a row and their shit together. Or, as Marathe might say, all their duckshit in a row together.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 4:35 pm

    Well said, and some neat connections with the Zen stuff and annular ring symbol, etc.

  2. Miker permalink
    July 24, 2009 9:37 pm

    A non-annular ring would be even more zenlike…

  3. infinitedetox permalink*
    July 24, 2009 9:48 pm

    Love it. What is the sound of one ring annularizing?

  4. George Saunders permalink
    September 17, 2012 8:42 pm

    DFW is not into open windows. Check BIWHM. They’re closed and opaque and he doesn’t think of opening them.

  5. November 16, 2016 7:24 am

    In Dave Lipsky’s “Although Of course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” Foster Wallace brings up Ted when the author presses him on the addiction theme. Adamant not to appear anything like the “romantic writer-as-alcoholic-type,” F.W. goes on to say,

    “And I began to see more and more that I was doing it– that I wasn’t doing it the way grown-ups do. There’s this guy named Schacht in the book who’s sort of— he’s kind of ‘sketchy,’ because I didn’t understand his mentality very well.

    “But he’s supposed to be sort of the way a normal grown-up is. I mean, he uses stuff occasionally, to make a fundamentally okay life even better, you know? And that’s like, for instance, how my parents are. My dad will have one gin and tonic before dinner.”

    Just wanted to leave this here and finding such an excellent reading on the character.

  6. November 16, 2016 7:25 am

    ..this here after* finding such…


  1. Speaking of the Buddha… « ENG 590: Infinite Jest
  2. Schtitt on Two Worlds (vs. Buddhism) « Infinite Tasks, Infinite Summers, & Philosophy
  3. Long-form aphorism – no stories to show

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: