Monday, January 5, 2009

Infinite Jest: 39-60

Break this section into 5 pieces:

1. Another Hal/Mario midnight convo, on their mother's seeming lack of grief at their father's death

2. Eldest brother Orin augers bad news from a bird dropping stone dead in his jacuzzi

3. Hal gets high in secret, for no reason he understands or even question

4. Addict Don Gately hits bottom when he's busted for the death of a Quebecois secret agent during a burglary

5. The medical attache re-watches the unlabeled cart late into the night, w/o concern for personal hygiene

Simple stuff, really. DWF feeds the pharma theme, esp. #3, which footnotes in great detail the drugs that the ETA (Enfield Tennis Academy) students take. It nicely feeds into the theme of obsession, since they're huffing & puffing to balance the extreme focus & regimens of adolescent professional sports. DFW also shows us the obsessive-compulsive habits of Hal, Orin & mother Avril Incandenza.

A few things about that. First, I'm imagining the brains of every character in IJ fizzing & popping with chemical reactions, like beakers in a science lab.

Second, DFW specifically mentions how teens generally (& Hal specifically) refuse to think about what drives them to abuse drugs. Similarly, Hal nor Orin actively avoid considering the psychological causes of their OCDs. I'll make an early stab at a humanist theme here: addiction & other psychological debilitations stem from such refusals to examine one's self.

I mentioned Ben Jonson in my previous post, but I'll back off from that comparison. Jonson mocked the imbalances & appetites of his characters; DFW seems to feel a lot more compassion. There's a nice bit on p. 47-8 that describes a paranoid-schizophrenic who believes that "radioactive fluids were invading his skull"; his doctors, to study him, inject his brain w/ radioactive dye. But where Jonson would've focused on the quack doctors, DFW describes the poor victim. The scene is funny, but compassion undercuts our laughter. IJ is full of these humane ironies.

Probably the biggest development of these 21 pages is the intro of Don Gately, the book's second protagonist. But I don't actually have much to say about him yet. He's an addict, & his brief brush w/ the Quebec subplot sends him to jail & withdrawal. Really, it's more revealing that the Canadian subplot functions as a catalyst than anything.

Well, I'm a day behind, but I'm hoping to catch up with three posts in the next two days...

1 comment:

Josh said...

Great idea, Aaron! Thanks for the blog. I will read regularly. After a hiatus (I decided to wait until your visit to pick up the companion), I'm back at Gravity's Rainbow. The love story between Roger Mexico and Jessica is almost sweet just now.

I haven't read DFW in a long time - Infinite Jest is the only fiction of his I have sat down with. Slate posted a rather haunting interview of him by Charlie Rose just after he died. I've never enjoyed a book vicariously before. I look forward to following your take on IJ.