The Man Without a Bottom
July 29, 2009
A few sun-and-surf-addled thoughts prompted by the AA meeting section (pp. 343-379 of Infinite Jest):
- In the Boston AA addiction/recovery narratives, Wallace places high importance on hitting Bottom, “the kind of a hell of a mess that either ends lives or turns them around” (347). Question, though: what happens to the folks who never hit Bottom? You probably know several borderline addict-types (the friend who always has a drink in his hand, the older person whose One Glass of Wine With Dinner somehow always lasts from about 4 PM till 9, &c.) who bristle at any suggestion of overconsumption and who will never, ever, admit a problem or seek help. Do these people have a place in Wallace’s narrative?
- One of the dangers, I think, of focusing on the extreme cases (as Wallace seems to be doing) is that you can inadvertently normalize this type of behavior or minimize the dangers of less-extreme forms of it. Gately sort of addresses this when he tells Erdedy and JvD how he was “thinking how he bled from the ass and I didn’t and how that means I’m not as bad as him yet and I can still be Out There”(365). It’s easy to see how one of the functioning addicts described in (1) could read this book and walk away with a similar conclusion.
- The smiley-face meme is really gathering force with Gately’s dream on p. 359, and then Gately’ vision of the smiley-face superimposed on JvD’s veil on p. 367. Recall that the smiley was scribbled on the envelope containing The Entertainment sent to the Near-Eastern medical attaché (36). So we’ve got Joelle, The Entertainment and drug addiction all getting thematically linked via smiley face. I think there’s something crucial here re: Wallace’s critique of American notions of personal happiness.
- Did anyone else come away from Wallace’s treatment of the stripper (370-374) feeling that there was a jarring lapse in authorial compassion in this section? I get that the stripper’s main sin was trying to ascribe some sort of causality to her situation, which is a big AA no-no. But Wallace seemed to take this way over the top with the invention of the “Wounded, Hurting, Inadequately Nurtured but Ever-Recovering Survivors” (aka, WHINERS) 12-step group. This isn’t something you can just write off as coming from a biased narrator or speaker or anything, at least not that I can see.