July 22, 2009

Way down in the hole

The second round of paper grading in my American Lit. II class put me way behind on the Infinite Summer project.  But I’m catching up, just now passing the milestone for 7/13 (page 242). It will take some time to catch up with the pack, but I’ll get there.

The nice thing about being behind is I don’t have to worry about spoilers, but I also have had to avoid reading posts here and at the mothership for fear of the same. So it’s a decidedly mixed blessing.

But, to the text. I found the Madame Psychosis chapter (starts at the bottom of 181) a blend of really interesting and really tedious. This was really the first section of the book where I wondered if DFW was maybe trying just a little too hard. I found it hard, no so much for the description of Madame Psychosis’ show itself or for the audience’s weird fascination with it as for the architecture of the building it is broadcast from, the MIT Student Union, which is a head with one dangling eyeball and topped with an exposed brain. DFW has a lot of fun making the arrangements of buildings (e.g. the ETA campus) and towns (e.g. Enfield, MA) fit into plans borrowed metaphorically from the human body. I haven’t decided what to make of that, yet. I’m suspecting they’re part of an overarching metaphor of some sort, but they may just be a visual metaphor for holding things together.  We’ll see.

It’s worth the trip though, as the scene that starts on 193 and continues on 200 gives us an extended and valuable look at the “Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House [sic],” where we meet and learn more about several of the characters who have been introduced in previous chapters and scenes. Don Gately is here, and is considerably more complex than our first glance at him, a long while back. Tiny Ewell is here, as are Kate Gompert and Bruce Green. This was the point of conversion that I had hoped for in all the disparate tales that are the opening chapters. So the novel starts to come together a bit for me here.

Even better, the narrator of the scene that starts on page 200 lays down some wonderful nuggets of wisdom, or as the narrator labels them “exotic new facts” (200), including these:

“That no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that” (201).

“That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them” (203)

“That concentrating on anything is very hard work” (203).

These can sound a little trite, ripped from their context, but they’re wonderful in context, and they are a wondeful blend of obvious, profound, sad, serious, and, occasionally, side-splittingly funny.

[This post was dual-published here and at Infinite Zombies, where I am blogging my summer reading of Infinite Jest, as part of the Infinite Summer reading project.]

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