There isn’t a line, really, from 694-699 that I didn’t star or underline or flag or highlight or take a deep breath and read again.
Kate Gompert narrates the difference between anhedonia and psychic depression. As it relates to happiness, to the world becoming a map. As it relates to Hal’s understanding of his father’s suicide. As it relates to millennial U.S.A. hipness. As it relates, specifically to cynicism and irony and, really, postmodern fiction, which Wallace seems to argue, kills humanity.
“We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naivete….the last true terrible sin in the theology of millenial America” (694).
And Hal notes what I’ve heard Wallace articulate in interviews: “that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naive and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclittically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for; this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia” (694-5).
Here’s the thing. This is why I read Infinite Jest. Not for this statement, though I believe it is the key to the post-postmodern literature we’re all alive and lucky enough to watch take shape. But because it took Wallace 700 pages to get the reader to a place where she could hear this. Read it without a sarcastic roll of the eyes. Until you see Ennet House and E.T.A. and Marathe and Gompert and Poor Tony and Matty Pemulis and Lenz and Gately and Mario, for heaven’s sake Mario, this section is just a throw away. Prosthelytizing. But we’ve earned it, reading this far. And it’s more intense than I can articulate. Maybe you can help me.
But here’s the kicker. It gets worse. When Gompert is done with Hal and his relatively petty problems, we get to the realization that “dead-eyed anhedonia is but a remora on the ventral flank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain” (695). That “the person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise….It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames” (696).
Holy f—ing….I can’t imagine the pain. I can’t stand to think some people are in that pain. And after narrating the civil engineer’s treatments and the shrugged statement, “This happens sometimes. some cases of depression are beyond human aid,” I cried for Wallace’s wife and his mother and his sister and his father. Intentional fallacy, nothing; nobody’s saying autobiography. But Jesus, people. This book is full of hope and humor and terror and violence and gripping pain. And I can’t believe more people don’t read it.
Thank you, Mr. Wallace for giving the coward, the weakling in me this out:
“She could barely stand to think about them, even at the best of times, which the present was not” (698). Because this is the kind of stuff, with Poor Tony and Matty’s childhood and Gately’s childhood and Lucien’s murder and the decaying baby and everything else in this novel, all of the psychic pain, to say that there’s even worse pain out there…how the hell are we supposed to sleep at night?
How did he make it as far as he did?