Monday, September 28, 2009

9/29/09 - Infinite Jest, page 700 - fin

Wow. Am I glad to be done with Infinite Jest. Not because it's a bad read or because I did not love it unabashedly (because it is not and and I did), but because I can finally put a normal size book in my bag again. No longer carrying a biblio-cinderblock around every day should do wonders for my shoulder muscles and overall posture. I can't imagine getting that thing out of the library and reading it in two weeks - I feel like I read it pretty quickly and yet it took me a good couple of months to get through. Nonetheless it's well worth reading and I'd recommended it wholeheartedly. Flaws and all, the thing is a work of titanic ambition and talent, and it's always worth it to grapple with art from an artist that aims high. So if you've got a desire to bulk up while entering the world of Enfield Mass. and everything connected with it, pick up a copy and carry it around and, you know, read it. The book's awesome.

Final thoughts:

1. The final 100 pages are a tour-de-force as Gately sees the first glimpse of his bottom with the death of Fackleman. That scene is another of Wallace's absolutely nightmare-scapes. I read (on Infinite Summer I think) a comparison of Wallace's descriptions of horrible violence and terrible occurences with Cormac McCarthy's with a particular eye toward McCarthy's elision of detail vs. Wallace's hyperdetail. In sequences like the whole Fackleman disaster, I'm reminded of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho in the depth of imagining Wallace is able to deploy to depict scenes of depravity. Wallace is much more elegant than Ellis, but it's a similar feeling as a reader: like pushing off at the top of some dark and terrifying rollercoaster-styled slide into the abyss. Once you're off you're hurtling forward and down with momentum. The only sequence I couldn't take in the whole book was the final film description with the depraved old man and the young hustler. Just couldn't take it.

2. The book really doesn't build to a climax, per se. The emotional levels and stakes seem about the same as they were early on - again, something I've noted before but classical plot is not Wallace's bag. However, I did find a really convincing description of a possible ending online, which was pretty amazingly well-argued and I thought picked up a lot of the threads that Wallace weaves throughout.


Somehow, the thought that Orin is responsible for the dissemation of the master copy of IJ makes his final appearance in the book easier to take - ending up in the position of Winston from 1984 is a pretty brutal way to go out.

3. Similarly, the way that Pemulis is ushered out of the book is pretty brutal. It's no secret that many court jesters carry a lot of malice behind the smiles, but Pemulis is such a grounding, earthy counterweight to all of the high drama going on with a lot of the other characters and storylines that his worst nightmare being realized (and taking place completely in footnotes, no less - being quasi-written out of the text itself!) seems a pretty dire fate. The Eschaton really marks a turning point in the events of the book, and of all of the Big Buddies Pemulis was definitely the one who saw trouble coming. He didn't exactly try to stop it but he did scream his head off. He does strike me as the kind of character that's a lot easier to like in fictional form, however - having interacted with a few Michael Pemulis's in my younger days, they can be no fun. Still, a pretty brutal end for M.P.

4. I loved the appearance of Himself as a ghost. His observations of Hal have a sad depth to them and really illuminate the ways that Hal is in the process of disappearing throughout the book. Plus it pretty definitively answers the question of what he was trying to accomplish with the Entertainment. For all the narrative threads left dangling, there's a lot of answers Wallace provides through JOI's shade. It also literalizes the way that Himself hangs over the emotional landscape of the entire book. The Incandenza family is deeply screwed-up, and James is the centerpiece of the hurricane that seems to be blowing through the entire family for the duration of the book.

5. I loved Gately's experience in the hospital bed. The psychological depths that Wallace plumbs in his description of Gately's recovery are really impressive. His imagination/hallucination of the Pakistani doctor trying to persuade him to take Demerol are as terrifying as Hal's glimpse of The Darkness's true features in the forehead-sticking incident. Amazing how as I read it I moved from a real anger at Gately and compassion for his victim at the outset to such a compassionate outlook on Gately. He counterpoints Hal in so many ways, and yet it's ultimately heartening to see both he and Hal take the direct actions of courage in the final pages of the book. Hal talking to Mario, and Gately bearing phenomenal pain.

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