Thursday, January 8, 2009

Infinite Jest: 60-79

It's not just my bookmark that tells me I'm at the beginning of this novel: I can also sense that DFW is slowly building this strange, hyperactive world. It's like a Lego construction, built out of many small blocks rather than the traditional linear narrative. In this 19-page section alone we get:
  • a segment about a congested tennis student (echoing the illness of Gately's victim a few pages earlier)
  • Hal narrating a childhood nightmare (in the first person)
  • a dual history of the ETA &, in a footnote, James Incandenza's filmography
  • a segment about Orin's flamboyant football career
  • consecutive, wildly different pair of segments on adolescent drug usage at ETA
  • another addict, this one (Kate Gompert) hospitalized after a suicide attempt caused (?) by marijuana withdrawal

The breadth of the styles in IJ regularly astonishes me. The most substantial segments of this section -- the Gompert segment & the Incandenza footnote -- are on opposite ends of the style spectrum. On one hand, Gompert's interview w/ a medical resident is classic realism (that ol' "free indirect"), made deeply disturbing by its intimacy. (Incidentally, it's clever of DFW to keep focus on the MD, even tho' Gompert is the protagonist. It adds to her alienation & makes her voice more powerful.)

The Incandenza footnote, on the other hand, resembles a short story by Donald Barthalme. Though it describes the last years of Hal's father, it's presented not as a realistic narrative but in the form of a factual description of his experimental films oeuvre. It includes titles, film stock, running time, stars, & summaries. In it, you trace not only the auteur's aesthetic development but his emotional disintegration. It's my favorite bit of the entire book, & DFW sneaks it into a footnote! (Curious? Check it out online.)

2 comments:

Rodd said...

if i remember correctly, our man Wallace was sued by an estranged friend named Kate Gompert who felt that she was unfairly targeted and humiliated by this character in the book. Son't remember how the suit turned out.

Aaron Riccio said...

I've just now caught up to this part of the novel, so I can actually read your thoughts on it now, and I find myself largely agreeing. I actually counted the Incandenza section toward the daily page count, simply because it IS a self-contained experimental story. We even both jump on Woods's ol' "free indirect" for Kate's section AND on the way he chooses to write from the MD-in-training's perspective, rather than Kate's; I think you're right about it being for "alienation" purposes.

Just to continue the conversation on flow that you started with the rhinovirus, the way Kate describes smoking ("Do They Know, Can They Tell?") is very similar to way that Erdedy and Hal explain their rituals.