Thursday, January 22, 2009

Infinite Jest: 79-137, part 1

Ah, delinquency! I've been reading at a pretty good clip (honest!) but not posting. Time to start rectifying that. Fortunately, the next three 20-page sections are more unified than the earlier ones. In fact, it's a big structural shift from staccato bursts to longer narrative arcs. Two simultaneous narratives play out across these pages. But I'll defer those till tomorrow.

Tonight, I want to string together several of the
one-off sections. Previously, IJ had four to six of these per twenty pages; now the rate slows to that number in the whole 60-page chunk:
  • a philosophical conversation between Mario I. & Schtitt, ETA's Teutonic athletic director, on their way to an ice cream parlor
  • yet another addict, Tiny Ewell, hits bottom
  • a herd of feral hamsters (!!!) thunders across the plains of Vermont (!?)
  • Mario I. finds himself the object of lust by an ETA student who's so Amazonian she's nicknamed "the USS" Millicent Kent
  • ETA's own guru, Lyle, lives off the sweat of others. Literally.
  • A junkie nearly gets killed by Chinese drug lords before deciding to kick the habit
I feel like my incessant bullet-pointing has paid off by showing me the Big Picture. There are essentially four strands that DFW interweaves to create IJ: (1) Some sections (here, earlier, & later) simply introduce us to the ETA: its grounds, its founder, & its extremely eccentric staff. These overlap with (2) a focus on the three Incandenza brothers (as the eldest of three boys, I appreciate a good fraternity). (3) A distinctly separate strand sees Boston addicts dry out before moving on to a life of sobriety. (4) Finally, a satiric sci-fi espionage tale whose maguffin is a supremely addictive film.

But DFW doesn't make it easy for us to discern the Big Pic. I mentioned Lego blocks in a previous post. In more highfallutin terms, IJ has a montage structure (rather than personal or free indirect narration, stream-of-consciousness, or the esp. old-fashioned epistolary forms). Fellow Jester & namesake Aaron Riccio cites a DFW interview where the author (DFW, not Aaron) claims he's using a fractal pattern.

Okay, I'm not sure what DFW means by that (yet), so I'll stick with "montage." The fictionalized, satiric 21st century of IJ is built in snippets which connect, interweave, & play off each other based on their (presumably careful) order. Partly, the disjunctions from section to section keep us on our toes. But it also creates a mosaic that gives the world of the book a different sort of life than a linear narrative would. Forced to find (or create) connections between such disparate styles & stories, we're sucked into the artistic illusion. Think of it as a literary equivalent for the persistence of vision that turns a series of frames into a movie. I think it's grand & beautiful, how all these bits add up to something more than their sum.

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