Sunday, January 25, 2009

Infinite Jest: 79-137, part 2

My last post mentioned that this 60-page chunk gives us a few longer arcs (albeit broken up into segments). But I was wrong: it starts two arcs, but first it ends another. The tale that began back on p. 33 comes to a close on p. 87. It's the bit about the film that arrived in the mailbox of a medical attache. Apparently, this flick is so addictive, you can't look away. By the end of the interlude, it's incapacitated eight viewers. In my mind's eye, I imagine the room looking a little like Groucho's cabin in A Night at the Opera. The way DFW pops back into this scene regularly over 50+ pages helps the novel cohere in its early stages. It's like he's laying down a beat.

Then, p. 87, one month later. The novel, movie-like, fades up on a desert landscape & a lone figure in a wheelchair. Soon he's joined by a transvestite to watch the sun set over Tucson AZ. They discuss bring up the addictive film (AKA the Entertainment, AKA the Samizdat) & its victims. Once again DFW fills out the world of the novel through dialogue, description, & wandering interior monologues.

But what a crazy world! Quebecois separatists, legless assassins, cross-dressing G-men, goofy acronyms, mata haris, moles & turncoats at the highest levels of US intelligence. DFW burlesques Cold War thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Ipcress File. (But unlike those, this thriller is all about homeland security. America's porous boundaries, terrorist attacks conducted via US Mail -- this stuff is more timely now than when I'd read it in 2000!)

This scene -- which DFW periodically breaks from, just as he'd done with the medical attache -- gives the novel stability, pace, rhythm. It's a sort of heartbeat, really. But it's an odd one: it's so ridiculous, beyond anything else in the novel (so far). I can't help imagining a young Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers playing Marathe, laconically speaking his mangled English in a terribly nasal Quebecois accent.

But the exchange between Marathe & his American handler, Hugh Steeply, is also deeply moving. They fall to discussing the motivations of Rodney Tine (the J. Edgar Hoover of IJ heart of the novel), who may've been co-opted by his counterpart in Montreal. And their convo becomes pretty philosophical & abstract. They discuss fanaticism (the Latin "fanatic" means "worshipper at the temple"), tragic love, & definitions of freedom. Their opinions put the novel's themes of addiction & obsession in particularly American terms. It's astonishing how easily DFW slips it into a mad scene of cloak & dagger.

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