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An Infinite Literary Cock-Tease — Major Spoilers, BTW

September 4, 2009

Spoiler Line: ∞. Seriously. If you don’t want to know how the book ends run away right now.

Photo by Flickr user Project 404, used under a Creative Commons license

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This will be my last post for awhile, so I thought I’d put together some thoughts on Infinite Jest as a whole. So that ending, huh? Didn’t really tie up any loose ends. We still don’t know, for instance:

  • What happened to Hal;
  • What went down between the AFR and ETA;
  • What’s really shown in The Entertainment;
  • Whether JvD is hideously beautiful or hideously deformed;
  • What becomes of Orin;
  • Probably a million other things that I’m also forgetting.

All the strands of the narrative seem to want to converge together, but Wallace leaves them frozen in stasis right before the point of convergence. We only get the faintest backward glimpse at the convergence from Hal’s perspective, one year later, in the Year of Glad at the very beginning of the book. But Hal references only a handful of these things and then only in passing — they’re clearly insignificant to Hal, even if they’re of utmost significance to a reader 1,000 pages invested in Infinite Jest.

My frontal cortex gets why Wallace ends the book the way he does. It’s part of the Sierpinski structure of the novel — the AFR, Ennet and ETA sections of the book all want to converge in the Sierpinski’s center, but this center is blank, empty. It’s the gaping hole that structurally enacts the novel’s themes of emptiness and absence. Wallace doesn’t want readers who passively consume his entertainment — he wants us to wrestle with it, fill in the gaps ourselves, argue over the significance of certain clues, drive ourselves nuts trying to solve riddles and tease out themes and ideas.

Like I said — logically, I get this. But as a reader, who’s poured 1,000 pages of emotional investment into this novel and its characters, this rings hollow and false. Frankly, I’m pissed off. Look, ambiguity’s a useful fictional tool, right? Nobody opens a book of literary fiction hoping to be beaten over the head with blunt didacticism. But ambiguity can be abused. From the author’s standpoint, ambiguity may be the most self-serving of all literary techniques — nobody can call bullshit on the things you don’t come right out and say. Let’s face it — it’s easier to leave a bunch of loose ends lying around than it is to tie them up. And loose ends are what provide much of the fodder for discussions, term papers, dissertations, scholarly throw-downs — in short, the road to canonization is paved with ambiguous intentions. Please note I’m not accusing Wallace of canonization-mongering here. I’m just trying to point out that ambiguity, while cool and useful and necessary at times, is a pretty cheap commodity.

Bear with me here. Not only can ambiguity be abused, but there are different types of ambiguity. There’s a Pynchonian ambiguity, where characters and events just sort of fade off into inconsequentiality. Then there’s the more Joycean/Modernist ambiguity that trades in quotidian events that may or may not be of monumental significance. But Wallace’s ambiguity is a different beast entirely. Wallace sets all the engines of plot into action and brings everything right to the point of conclusion, and then withholds that conclusion from us. It’s not like in Pynchon, where there isn’t a conclusion. It’s not like in Joyce, where maybe there’s a conclusion and maybe not but who gives a fuck in the first place? In Infinite Jest there is a definite conclusion — something, after all, happens to Hal, and somehow he and Gately end up digging up Himself’s head, etc. — but this conclusion is withheld from the reader. It’s the ultimate literary cock-tease. And ultimately, to this reader at least, it comes across as just one more gag in a long list of cute post-modern jokes stretching all the way back to Finnegans Wake.

Here’s the irony: One of Wallace’s big projects in Infinite Jest was to champion the notion of sincerity, right? Of forging connections and telling the truth and dropping the anhedonic mask and opening yourself up to the emotional gooiness that may result. From an intellectual standpoint, Wallace is very much pro-sincerity. And definitely ambivalent about “hip irony”, if not downright hostile toward it. Wallace can talk the talk about sincerity and directness and forging connections, but it’s like when it comes to the point of enacting that sincerity, dramatizing it and building it into the very fabric of Infinite Jest, he can’t (or doesn’t want to) bring himself to do it.

So there’s this tension in Infinite Jest, right?* On the one hand you have all these lovely paeans to sincerity and “this is water” and irony-free zones, but on the other hand, plot-wise, structurally, the book is extremely reader-hostile in its cock-tease of a non-conclusion, coupled with what I’d call an almost heightened use of irony in the latter sections of the book — see, for instance, Hal’s trip to the bear-hugging group (a true slap in the face to gooey sincerity if I’ve ever seen one), or the positively maddening slapstick horseshit with Ortho Stice’s face, which is probably my least favorite part of the entire book.

This creative tension between professions of sincerity and the performance of irony is a big part of what makes Infinite Jest Infinite Jest. And look, plot-wise the book is a failure. The non-conclusiveness of it, the deliberate withholding of essential plot information, is too much of a reader-hostile kick in the nuts to justify whatever formalistic/thematic/ideological points Wallace wanted to make by it. But, it’s a failure on the magnitude of the endless whale anatomy lessons in Moby Dick, which is to say the kind of failure that marks the work of an original mind dedicated to the pursuit of its ideas in full, at whatever cost. It’s a failure that I love and hate at the same time.

I’m hopping on a plane tomorrow and will be mostly out of contact in September, but I’ll be back shortly after Infinite Summer officially wraps up.

*I think Infinite Tasks is getting at something like this notion when he wisely speaks of the “potential danger of reading some of the recent sections of IJ in a fashion that seeks out unadulterated emotion.”

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The Endnoting of Michael Pemulis

August 31, 2009

Spoiler Line: 795

Photo by Flickr user Swamiblu, used under a Creative Commons license

This is my attempt to talk about the fate of Michael Pemulis without becoming upset or irrational, which is what usually happens when I think about endnote 332 and its consequences. CT and Avril have given Pemulis the administrative boot via their proxy Aubrey deLint. The proximate cause behind this is the inadvertent Tenuate dosing of John Wayne, although it’s clear that deLint has been gunning for Pemulis since the Port Washington dosing incident, while Avril has always disliked him, especially since the electrified-doorknob incident and now, most recently, the episode with the cheerleader outfit.

However, in the logic of the overall book it’s clear that Pemulis’ true sin is that he is a “brass-faced liar,” according to Hal. P. 774:

‘[Pemulis’] face was a brass mask. It was almost frightening… Boo, I think I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there’s simply no way to tell. The ones who give nothing away.’
‘But then how do you know they’re monsters, then?’
‘That’s the monstrosity right there, Boo, I’m starting to think.’
‘Golly Ned.’
‘That they walk among us. Teach our children. Inscrutable. Brass-faced.’

So, all right. This is an indictment of lying and insincerity, right? It comes right after we learn that Mario never lies and it doesn’t occur to him that anyone else could be lying, and right before Hal confesses the extent of his secret Bob Hoping in the pipe room. This is the new drug-free Hal saying this, remember, who at this point is 48 hours into withdrawal and feeling like he’s stuffed halfway down a chimney. Hal’s having something of a crisis and is re-evaluating his relationships and he doesn’t like what he sees when he looks at Pemulis in this new light.

The problem I have is that from a dramatic standpoint, the wave of Pemulis-bashing that gathers force on p. 774 and crests in endnote 332 isn’t convincing to me. For the first 773 pages of the book Wallace presents Pemulis to us as a lovable rogue and prankster — he has an acerbic wit, he’s nobody’s fool, he’s the Jack Sparrow of differential calculus. He wears a yachting cap, for Christ’s sake. What’s not to like about this guy? The Infinite Summer Twitter board has been intermittently aflame with declarations of love for Michael P. all summer.

Sure, he does some fairly reprehensible things — he nearly electrocutes a janitor and he conducts a drug experiment on his Port Washington opponent. But Wallace casts these episodes in an ironic, cartoonish light — I read these as the japes and capers of a high-spirited young lad, not as indicators of brass-faced monstrosity. But then on p. 774 Wallace does an abrupt about-face and turns deadly serious about Pemulis and the consequences of his actions, and now we’re supposed to be all “Michael P. is an asshole” along with Hal. I’m not buying it. Nearly everyone in this book is a liar of some type or another. What makes Pemulis any worse?

Keep in mind that getting booted from E.T.A. is literally Pemulis’ worst nightmare — his “deepest dread is of academic or disciplinary expulsion and ejection, of having to schlepp back down Comm. Ave. into blue-collar Allston diploma- and ticket-outless” (1035). The administrative boot in the ass delivered in endnote 332 is literally his Eschaton. Matty Pemulis’ story (682) gives us a harrowing glimpse of what the Allston of Pemulis’ childhood looked like — what do you think the chances are for a wise-cracking math nerd in an environment like that? Much like Randy Lenz, Pemulis gets banished from the “in here” of E.T.A. to the “out there” of Allston and environs. Pemulis’ fate seems incredibly harsh to me, especially coming as it does so abruptly. It doesn’t make dramatic sense. It doesn’t feel right to me. I wonder if some Pemulis-development was among the hundreds of pages that had to get cut? Probably.

Finally, note that Wallace relegates the final chapters of the Michael Pemulis story literally to the footnotes of the main story, as a sort of structural “fuck you” to Mikey P. Caleb Crain reports that Wallace referred to Pemulis as one of the “anti-Christs” of Infinite Jest. I don’t know about you guys, but my moral compass and Wallace’s are pointing in opposite directions on this one.

One Sexy Hammer

August 30, 2009

Photo by Flickr user Darren Hester, used under a Creative Commons license.

So, yeah: It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these. My relationship with Infinite Jest has taken a weird turn over the past week. You know the saying about how when you’re wielding a hammer everything begins to look like a nail? I’m finding it’s also true that when you’re wielding Infinite Jest, everything begins to look like an addictive compulsion. Or a paralytic thought-helix. Or any other of Wallace’s themes that he articulates so fiendishly well.

To put it another way, the world of Infinite Jest is starting to feel like a cage of its own. It’s easy to forget, when you’ve surrendered yourself (as I have) to Wallace’s world-view, that there are other ways to view the world. That you can approach things like addiction and entertainment and depression via non-Wallace vectors. Or better yet, that a lot of people don’t even ride the addiction- or depression- or entertainment-vectors to begin with.

Part of all this is due to my own addiction-experiences, and the fact that I’m experiencing throbbing-hot Identification on nearly every page. I think also that my own world-view pump is primed to accept and agree with most of the arguments that Wallace makes in Infinite Jest.

But I think there’s a danger to carrying around a hammer for too long — particularly a hammer that’s as sexy and well-crafted as Wallace’s book. For someone who’s going through an addiction/recovery thing, there’s probably a danger to devoting so much psychic energy to a book about addiction things. When you give yourself over to a book that presents addiction/recovery as traumatic, involuted and paralyzing, on some level you’re setting up your own addiction/recovery to be marked by trauma, involution and paralysis. There’s a danger that the experience of Infinite Jest is going to overwhelm and override whatever your own unmediated experience of the same phenomenon would have been had you not read Infinite Jest to begin with.

Like I said, I suspect this is largely a function of the white flag approach I’ve taken with the book. And make no mistake that its unlikely I’d be where I’m at now — 50 opiate-free days and counting — had I not decided to tackle my own dependency by diving into the book and blogging the ever-loving bejeezus out of it.

I need also to say that I’m thankful beyond what I can express in words for all the insights and encouragement that you all have posted in the comments here. Gratitude, is all I can say. Whole bucket-loads of gratitude.

I think now that I’ve identified my own encagement issues re: IJ I’ll hopefully be posting on a regular schedule in the next few days.

It’s been a great summer, but I’ll be glad when its over.

Tramadol Tales, Brought to You by AOL

August 23, 2009

Following in Eric Allam’s footsteps, below are chronological snapshots of the search history of seven different users who searched AOL for “tramadol” over a period of several months in 2006. I winnowed extraneous search terms to arrive at something approaching narrative coherence for each. Eric refers to this process as “curating,” which I think is awesome because it’s the word DFW used to describe the main character of Wittgenstein’s Mistress in her quest to make sense of a world that presented itself to her as an overwhelming rush of unrelated data points.

You can click each user number to check out their unedited search-stream.

I. Greek Drama (user #1302027)

greek drama
pisistratus
greek drama history
demeter
oedipus-ode

tramadol
drug users like tramadol
do frequent drug users like tramadol
pill poppers web site
pill poppers tramadol
tramadol vs. vicodin

joys of tramadol

how to get an opiate prescribed
prescribe me opiates
injuries for which opiates are prescribed

interesting one night trip in ny
hotel amenities
hotels with jacuzzi
luxury suite ny
romantic hotel room

oedipus irony

unlawful possession of marijuana
fine for possession of two dimes
speeding 50 in a 35 ny
fine imposed for 15 mph over the speed limit ny
alcohol volume of miller high life

nys unemployment

episodic memory
psychological analysis of an episodic memory

why is lil kim in prison
depression
tara reid naked
new fun sex positions
fun sex ideas

arnot ogden medical center

Read more…

A Field Guide to Occurrences of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Infinite Jest

August 20, 2009

Spoiler Line: 742

Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

I’ve been meaning to do this one for awhile.

Bernini’s statue The Ecstasy of St. Teresa is all over the place in Infinite Jest. Before I get into it I want to talk a little bit about this statue (it’s the one in the pretty pic above) to make sure we’re all on the same page.

St. Teresa of Avila was the founder of the Carmelite order of nuns. She was prone to mystical, visionary experiences, and wrote a lot about them. The most famous of her mystical experiences is the one immortalized in Bernini’s sculpture:

It pleased the Lord that I should see this angel in the following way. He was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire. They must be those who are called cherubim: they do not tell me their names but I am well aware that there is a great difference between certain angels and others, and between these and others still, of a kind that I could not possibly explain. In his hands I saw a long golden spear and at the end of the iron tip I seemed to see a point of fire. With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God. The pain was so sharp that it made me utter several moans; and so excessive was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one’s soul be content with anything less than God. It is not bodily pain, but spiritual, though the body has a share in it — indeed, a great share. So sweet are the colloquies of love which pass between the soul and God that if anyone thinks I am lying I beseech God, in His goodness, to give him the same experience.

During the days that this continued, I went about as if in a stupor. I had no wish to see or speak with anyone, but only to hug my pain, which caused me greater bliss than any that can come from the whole of creation.

Pretty intense, huh? Critics from Teresa’s time onward saw something not-so-subtly sexual about all this talk of ecstasy and penetration. Bernini, for his part, certainly didn’t shy away from the sexy angle when he did his sculpture. I think the important take-home here is that this is a moment of profound and sublime ecstasy and self-transcendence. A union with the divine.

Keeping that in mind, let’s move on to IJ. I think the E. of St. T. first shows up in Himself’s filmography:

Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell. […] God and Satan play poker with Tarot cards for the soul of an alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman obsessed with Bernini’s ‘The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.’ [988]

Not a lot to say yet except this: the title of the film is a riff on William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which opens up a Romantic/mystic rabbit-hole who’s depths I don’t have the gumption to plumb at the moment. Suffice it to say that in footnote 146 we learn that Himself’s movie was inspired by late-night drunken Blake marathons with Lyle, and that both Blake and the St. Teresa in question operated largely in a mystic/visionary register.

Next reference: Joelle’s having waaay Too Much Fun in Molly Notkin’s bathroom:

The ‘base frees and condenses, compresses the whole experience to the implosion of one terrible shattering spike in the graph, an afflated orgasm of the heart that makes her feel, truly, attractive, sheltered by limits, deveiled and loved, observed and alone and sufficient and female, full, as if watched for an instant by God. She always sees, after inhaling, right at the apex, at the graph’s spike’s tip, Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa,’ behind glass, at the Vittoria, for some reason, the saint recumbent, half-supine, her flowing stone robe lifted by the angel in whose other hand a bare arrow is raised for that best descent, the saint’s legs frozen in opening, the angel’s expression not charity but the perfect vice of barb-headed love. The stuff had been not just her encaging god but her lover, too, fiendish, angelic, of rock. [235]

Here Wallace is linking up the ecstatic experience of a visionary union with God to the ecstatic experience of a union with a Substance. Sex, drugs, religious ecstasy — I love how in Wallace’s hands all these things seem to come together at Bernini’s statue. Moments later, on p. 238, Joelle’s going through a life-flashing-before-your-eyes kind of thing and she notes that she’ll never actually get to see the real statue in Rome.

Here’s the next occurrence, in the story of the stripper who tries to ascribe a causality to her addictions. The statue goes unnamed but you can bet your ass it’s the same one:

Its facial expression [after being diddled by its father] was, in a word, the speaker says, unspeakably, unforgettably ghastly and horrid and scarring. It was also the exact same expression as the facial expression on the stone-robed lady’s face in this one untitled photo of some Catholic statue that hung (the photo) in the dysfunctional household’s parlor… this photo of a statue of a woman whose stone robes were half hiked up and wrinkled in the most godawfully sensually prurient way, the woman reclined against the uncut rock, her robes hiked and one stone foot hanging off the rock as her legs hung parted, with a grinning little totally psychotic-looking cherub-type angel standing on the lady’s open thighs and pointing a bare arrow at where the stone robe hid her cold tit, the woman’s face upturned and cocked and pinched into that exact same shuddering-protozoan look beyond pleasure or pain. The whacko foster mom knelt daily before that photo [and also required that It be hoisted up to do the same]. 373

Gately notes a few pages later that Joelle’s veil billows in and out with her breath as she’s listening to this story. Note that while the whacko mom reads the statue religiously, It seems to respond more to the sexuality of the statue.

The last reference, on p. 742, ties it back into Himself’s film.  Joelle’s thinking back on it:

Like e.g. the 240-second motionless low-angle shot of Gianlorenzo Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa’… Joelle started to see the four-minute motionless shot as important for what was absent: the whole film was from the alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman’s POV… [the salesman’s head was on screen for the entire film] except for the four narrative minutes the alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman stood in the Vittorio’s Bernini room, and the climactic statue filled the screen and pressed against all four edges. The statue, the sensuous presence of the thing, let the alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman escape himself… the mediated transcendence of self was just what the apparently decadent statue of the orgasmic nun claimed for itself as subject… self-forgetting as the Grail [as you can see I’ve truncated this one big-time — it’s wicked long]

What does this all add up to? I think self-transcendence is the big ‘theme’ at work here. The statue stands at the nexus of many of the types of self-transcendence dealt with in the book — s.-t. via drugs (Joelle and her coke visions), sex (the orgasmic nature of the statue; the catatonic Its expression of diddled rapture); total self-forgetfulness via art (kind of a meta-theme of the whole book, if you ask me — one some level isn’t that what IJ is trying to do for the reader?); religious ecstasy (this inheres more in the statue itself than in the book). The statue, and the ecstatic transcendence it represents, is a kind of stand-in for all the forms of transcendence the book’s characters are seeking. It represents that lost infinite thing that Wallace speaks of in the Kenyon address. In her vision Teresa is both literally and metaphorically experiencing death (piercing of her heart and the pulling out of entrails) via pleasure. This is obviously analogous to the Entertainment and its effects on viewers, as well as the rats and their p-terminal stimulation.

Here’s another interesting thing: the narrator never gives the reader a direct, unmediated experience of the statue. Instead, the book’s characters are either describing the statue as seen via a pharmaco-religious vision (Joelle), a photograph (the stripper), or a film cartridge (Joelle again). Joelle, for her part, acknowledges the distance between herself and the statue when she realizes in Notkin’s bathroom that she’ll never get to see the real thing in Rome. The reader’s own experience of the statue is highly mediated through various representations of it. And of course, the statue is itself a representation of a woman’s written account of a visionary experience, which is itself a mediated representation of her actual experience! The actual transcendent experience, the thing itself as experienced by St. Teresa, the lost infinite thing that Wallace speaks of in his Kenyon address, that experience is enclosed, Russian-doll-style, by A) St. Teresa’s writing and then B) Bernini’s statuary interpretation of Teresa’s words and then C) Wallace’s character’s accounts of the statue and then D) Infinite Jest‘s accounts of its characters and then finally E) the reader’s understanding of Infinite Jest. Teresa’s true, transcendent, ecstatic and infinite thing is separated from us, the real-world readers, by layer upon layer of art and abstraction and representation.

I think this is fucking brilliant because Wallace, by assembling this literary Russian doll that in effect puts the reader at a distant remove from the unknown infinite thing that his characters strive for, Wallace is in effect enacting the very separation that is at the heart of the book!

Contractual Obligations, Or, Swearing on Infinite Jest

August 20, 2009

Spoiler Line: No spoilers

Photo by Flickr user ~Aphrodite, used under a Creative Commons license

This is the story of how last night, c. 9 PM, I pretty much Gave In to my inner tramadol demon. It went down like this:

Starting around Sunday evening, when I got back from a long, tiresome (and sober) weekend, I experienced a familiar tramadol-jonesing that went along the lines of “Boy, it sure would be nice to unwind with some Vitamin T right now.” No biggie, right? Typical craving stuff.

This time, however, it went from a basic craving to an elaborate and exhaustive process of rationalization. I started wandering down a dark twisted spider-hole of equivocation, the details of which I’ll spare you. But it ended at this: I was convinced that there would be nothing wrong with re-entering into a relationship with tramadol, provided that the relationship was strictly governed by an iron-clad written contract meant to enforce moderation and restraint. The contract, as I envisioned it, would stipulate that I would indulge in tramadol no more than once a week, and no more than 100 mgs. at a time. I couched my thoughts in a lot of over-intellectualized bullshit about things like ebb and flow and tension and release, and how it’s only natural and human to partake in a little edge-bevelling from time to time, under tightly-controlled circumstances.

My spider and I talked this over for several days in excruciating detail.

In my kitchen, there’s a small, odd-looking drawer under the counter. It looks like something you’d see in an apothecary shop or a hobbit-house or something. It contains various multi-vitamins and supplements and also happens to be the drawer I used to keep the tramadol in. I don’t think I need to tell you that because of this fact, this drawer has always had and always will have a certain numinous aura attached to it, for me. The only thing remotely pharmacological in there now is a bottle of fioricet, which is a low-octane barbituate that my partner has a legit prescription from an actual doctor for, and which my partner has occasional recourse to when experiencing one of those tornado-in-the-eyeball headaches that Hal talks about in Infinite Jest.

This fioricet stuff has never rung any addictive bells for me — it pretty much feels like a burlier version of benadryl. But here’s the thing. I’m in the midst of a multi-day arachnoid dialogue in which I’m ironing out the terms and clauses of this hypothetical tramadol contract, which contract I feel is necessary because I feel I’ve got some psychic edges that could really use an occasional beveling. And while there’s no tramadol in the magic hobbit-drawer, there does happen to be another edge-beveling substance that comes in a white-capped orange bottle.

Furtively, secretly, without telling my partner, I help myself to a fioricet on Tuesday night.

Another one on Wednesday night. Also in secret.

But look, the fioricet doesn’t do shit for me. It’s not what I’m after. It’s working as kind of a stop-gap measure while my spider and I hammer out contractual terms (which we’ve been busy at, believe you me). During this period I experience some quibbles, some qualms. I’m a little conflicted by it but I’ve convinced myself that I’m thinking and acting rationally, that I have, in fact, lit upon a laudably pragmatic middle-ground between total enslavement and Puritanical abstinence. In all honesty, I didn’t put up much of a fight at all.

At this point it’s Wednesday night. Yesterday. The original contract, as envisioned on Sunday night, would have taken effect after I return from overseas at the end of September. But by Wednesday, the contract has been amended to become active this Friday. I decided Friday would be a good day for it because I have edges that need beveling, and Wednesday night is the latest I can order the drugs and be sure that the nice Fedex lady brings them to my door in a conspicuously-rattling package before the weekend. Funny how these things have a way of escalating.

My own personal goose is roasting nicely and I’m cookin’ up some fixins to serve on the side. In my head, I’m drafting the blog post that will explain to you all my new contractual arrangement and I’m trying to arrive at a happy medium between contrition and resoluteness. The draft begins like this:

“This is going to be difficult for all of us.”

However.

Before I can order the drugs, thereby basically signing the contract with my spider, in blood, I need to run this by my partner. Note that I don’t want to run this by my partner. No sir. But we share bank accounts and credit cards and all that shit, and fioricet-incidents aside I’m generally not a fan of secrecy in our partnership. Also, I’m looking for even the slightest glimmer of like, benediction from my partner. I want my partner to agree, just a little bit, a little teeny-tiny bit, that yes there are edges in life that need to be beveled and that I’m making a rational decision to resume a course of pragmatic, rational and controlled edge-beveling whose moderation is guaranteed by contract.

After a lot of hemming and hawing and passive-aggressively forcing my partner to draw this all out of me (because it’s not like I want to come right out and say all this), instead of benediction what I get (although in not quite so many words), is this:

“Are you out of your fucking mind?”

Obviously not the response I’d been hoping for. This is at around 9:30 last night. A long process of inter-partner hashing-shit-out begins. Again, I’ll spare the details.

What happened last night, kind of magically, is that through careful talking and consideration and reasoning my partner was able to dispel the madness that had descended upon me Sunday night. I became able, finally, to take that crucial step outside of my equivocations and intellectualized horseshit, so that I was no longer trapped within those thoughts but observing them as they truly were from a position outside of them. I would not have been able to do this by myself. As I mentioned in the first line of this post, I had given in. I was at the precipice, ready to leap, and it took somebody else — a power completely external to me — to pull me back.

I fessed up to the purloined fioricet (it’s now gone, out of the house and in a secure location unknown to me). And as it turns out a contract was drawn up last night, on the back of a spare piece of paper. This contract is between me and my partner, and not me and my spider. I’m going to reproduce the text of it here because quite frankly, the more witnesses the better. Note that in the course of conversation last night certain metaphysical edicts were made w/r/t tramadol. Some of these edicts made their way into the contract and may not seem to make sense. The important thing is they’re crystal-clear to me.

Important Contract !!!

There will be no contracts re: controlled re-entry into a relationship with tramadol. In fact, there will be no re-entry into any relationship with tramadol no matter how much you try to rationalize it to yourself, you asshole. You are done. For all intents and purposes, tramadol does not exist. It is like sex with unicorns. For all eternity!

Signed the 19th of August, 2009
&c

Once we drew this up, my partner made me go get my copy of Infinite Jest. My partner then made me put one hand on Infinite Jest and the other up in the air, and recite the contract and swear to uphold it. The contract was then folded up neatly and placed between pages 834 and 835 of Volume III of the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd. ed.), which is where you will find the entry for CONTRACT.

The sense of release I felt, when all of this was done, is basically indescribable. Wallace, in I think the Kenyon address, talks about a lost infinite thing that many of us spend our entire lives searching for. For a good long while after the events of last night, I felt the way I imagine I’d feel if I ever found it.

As of this morning I am 40 days tramadol-free and counting.

To my partner: thank you.

The Real(?) Housewives of Infinite Jest

August 19, 2009

Spoiler Line: 680

Photo by Flickr user freeparking, used under a Creative Commons license

There’s been some chatter around #infsum precincts about the role of women in Infinite Jest — why there are so few fully fleshed-out female characters and whether or not Wallace is an asshole for building the book this way. I generally stay out of these discussions, although my instinct is to defend Wallace against any claims of phallocentric assholery. Yes, there are very few plausible non-two-dimensional females in the book, but I can see Wallace making the call that he doesn’t know much about what it’s like to be in a woman’s head, so he’s not going to write from that perspective. I think there’s something good and direct and honest about that. Also, it’s worth pointing out that the protagonist of his first novel, The Broom of the System, is a lady.

That being said.

Even if Wallace doesn’t write from a female perspective he does write about an awful lot of women in IJ. We only hear about many of these women through the little anecdotes and mini-short-stories that run throughout the book. Many of these women, as it turns out, are married to or otherwise cohabiting with men. And many of these married/cohabitating males do disturbing or downright unspeakable things to themselves or others all under the knowing gaze and passive enabling of their wives/partners. To wit:

  1. Wardine’s Momma (37-38)
    When Roy Tony attempts to molest Wardine, Wardine’s mom blames Wardine and beats her with a hanger.
  2. Mrs. Catholic Diddler (~372)
    Mrs. Catholic Diddler’s husband, Mr. Catholic Diddler, diddles their catatonic daughter repeatedly. Mrs. Catholic Diddler is in “all kinds of deep Denial” about this, turning to “her beads and Hours and lay breviary” and a photo of the Ecstasy of St. Theresa to help her avoid facing up.
  3. Mrs. Gately (~447)
    Mrs. Gately accepts the regular beatings from the former Navy M.P. stoically, consoling herself with huge quantities of Stoli vodka.
  4. Mrs. Incandenza the Elder (~500)
    James Incandenza’s mom stands by smoking cigarettes and folding sheets while his father inaugurates the drunken chain of events that leads to him tipping ass-over-teakettle into his own puke. She then vacuums up said puke.
  5. Mrs. Incandenza the Younger (fn. 269)
    Avril is probably the most borderline of these cases, but she exhibits some of the same tendencies: She’s all too willing to believe Orin’s lies about the ringing phone, enabling the subsequent “mendacious idiocy” of the S. Johnson incident and its corresponding lies.
  6. Mrs. Steeply (~640)
    Mrs. Steeply is in obvious denial about the severity of her husband’s M*A*S*H obsession. She “never mentions” Mr. Steeply’s letters to the fictional M*A*S*H characters, instead leaving them out where Steeply and his sister would find them. Mrs. Steeply was “uncomplaining throughout.”
  7. Mrs. Pemulis (~680; fn. 278)
    This is the most explicit instance, so far, of the mother-as-enabler phenomenon. Mr. P. submits his son Matty to frequent nightly “fooks in t’boom.” In fn. 278, the narrator asks:

Where was Mrs. Pemulis all this time, late at night, with dear old Da P. shaking Matty ‘awake’ until his teeth rattles and little Micky curled up against the far wall, shell-breathing, silent as death, is what I’d want to know.

Where indeed? This is the question, isn’t it — what are all these mothers up to while their husbands (or kids, in Orin’s case) are running around tearing apart the familial fabric from the inside?* Or, if I were feministly-inclined, I might be asking “Why are all of Wallace’s women passive enablers bereft of agency whose husbands run around actively brandishing their phalluses every which way? Could Wallace be any more gender-stereotypical?”

I’m not sure I could give a convincing rebuttal to this. There are a lot of messed-up families in Infinite Jest, true. And Wallace does seem to be setting up a fairly strict dichotomy in which the Dads do most of the active fucking-up, while the Moms stand by and let it happen. All I could say is that this is probably the way it most often happens in real life? But co-dependent enabling is certainly a two-way street, and God knows there are probably plenty of families in which the woman brings on the domestic Armageddon while the man sits on his ass and enables. Why Wallace chose to take a one-way approach to this issue is beyond me.

* Note that in most of these instances, the behavior of the fathers and the complicity of the mothers leads to a sort of complicity among the children: Wardine doesn’t want Reginald to do anything about Roy Tony; the stripper quietly cleans up after Mr. Catholic Diddler’s escapes so as not to “shatter” the mother’s denial; Don Gately cleans up after his own mom and is sure to leave her an extra swig of Stoli for the A.M.; young James Incandenza says awkward conciliatory things to smooth over the tension between his own parents; Orin is completely f-ed in the head w/r/t Avril; Steeply and his sister question themselves as the father’s obsession progresses imperceptibly, wondering if they’re the unbalanced ones; Matty P. blames himself for his Da’s predations.