Five Years Cancer Free

Regular readers know that I have often posted about my desperate intellectual infatuation with the literature of David Foster Wallace. And an occasional video from an awesome band who created a beautiful in memorium piece for him.

This new homage to Wallace is just freaking awesome.

Happy anniversary to me. And here’s hoping everyone else who has gotten or will get a cancer diagnosis lives to find some joy. In something. Anything. I’ve found an awful lot in five years. And a geek-fest homage to my favorite book is delicious icing.

The Pale King approacheth

It took me a while to read the reviews of the soon-to-be-released David Foster Wallace novel The Pale King. I think I am the only academic who has cried at the two conferences I’ve attended where Wallace papers were presented. I might be the only contemporary literature scholar who is not eagerly anticipating the arrival of his final novel.

And I’ve been saying that since Michael Pietsch announced that Little Brown would be publishing whatever he could agglomerate of Wallace’s final, incomplete work. (Quick note: I am of the school that Pietsch and Green knew and loved Wallace and his work well enough to know whether they had enough to publish and honor the art and artist. I find it ludicrous that some people are alleging that this novel is about cashing in or commodifying Wallace’s death. Those people should, with no respect due, shut their pie holes.)

But I digress (so you don’t remember I’m the one crying when someone reviews a book I haven’t read yet. Ahem.)

I feel like an ass admitting that I cry every time someone mentions the upcoming book. I feel like a dolt blogging about it. But such is my asinine doltishness. See also my asinine doltish posts on parenting, scholarship, flotsam, and jetsam.

I read one sentence into the Esquire review of The Pale King and burst into tears. After two more tries (a couple of days apart) I actually made it through the glowing, bowing, scraping, and genuflecting review.

Now I might actually read the book. Who can turn down a text that Publisher’s Weekly calls “one hell of a document and a valiant tribute to the late Wallace, being, as it is, a transfixing and hyper-literate descent into relentless, inescapable despair and soul-negating boredom”? Not me. Already transfixed by boredom and relentless despair. To have that frustration and what’s-it-all-for anxiety narrated by my favorite author?

Sign. Me. Up.

Alsup alleges, in his Esquire review, that The Pale King might keep you up at night because “because D.F.W. writes sentences and sometimes whole pages that make you feel like you can’t breathe.” That is true, sir. That’s why I absolutely devour Infinite Jest each time I read it. That’s why I still wince at the pain of knowing David Foster Wallace isn’t writing any more. And I wince a bit with fear that The Pale King will be as uneven and good-but-uninspired as I found Oblivion.

If I read this novel, I need it to be earth shifting. I need it to top Infinite Jest. I need it to be a gift befitting DFW.

And that’s an unreasonable request, especially for an unfinished work.

That, probably, more than the sadness that lingers about his death, is why I don’t want to read The Pale King.

Ode to early 90s lit crit and football

Cup of hot tea, four piles of journal articles fanned around me, pocket full of tape flags, and this on a foggy October’s Sunday morning:

“A grunting, crunching ballet of repressed homoeroticism, football, Ms. Steeply, on my view. The exaggerated breadth of the shoulders, the masked eradication of facial personality, the emphasis on contact-vs.-avoidance-of-contact. The gains in terms of penetration and resistance. The tight pants that accentuate the gluteals and hamstrings and what look for all the world like codpieces. The gradual slow shift of venue to ‘artificial surface,’ ‘artificial turf.’ Don’t the pants; fronts look fitted with codpieces? And have a look at these men whacking each other’s asses after a play. It is like Swinburne sat down on his soul’s darkest night and designed an organized sport. And pay no attention to Orin’s defense of football as a ritualized substitute for armed conflict. Armed conflict is plenty ritualized on its own, and since we have real armed conflict (take a spin through Boston’s Roxbury and Mattapan districts some evening) there is no need or purpose for a substitute. Football is pure homophobically repressed nancy-ism, and do not let O. tell you different.”
–Infinite Jest p.1047

It’s like straight out of a pop culture and critical theory class in 1992, except they tended to deconstruct wrestling more often. Good, good times.
Happy American homoeroticism day, football fans.

Infinite summer

Discombobulated again by how I managed to stay ahead of Infinite Summer’s schedule and yet behind its emotional and intellectual curve.

So though I have more quotes of the day for you from the novel itself, today I give you a pastiche of the Guides’ synergy at the end of this fascinating, compelling, and comforting summer of reading…

“By giving us the ‘shave and a haircut’ and foregoing the ‘two bits’, Wallace leaves us feeling like we’re perpetually in the middle of the novel, even after we’ve ostensibly finished” –Matthew Baldwin

“You know what the ending made me think of? That E-chord at the end of the Beatles’ ‘A Day In the Life’ — that long sustained chord that just slowly fades out until you hear the piano bench creak under John’s butt. That’s what reading Gately on the Beach felt like.” –Eden Kennedy

“I think the fact that he pulls that ending off (at least to my mind) shows he is about as attuned to the reader as any writer I know.” –Kevin Guilfoile

“I think that he was attuned, or that in writing this novel he was trying to attune himself, to the human heart, almost desperately sometimes.” –Eden Kennedy

Thanks, ladies and gentlemen.

IJ quote of the day 57-60

Oooh, I’m in big trouble. I’m way behind on my quotes. In my own defense, the last 100 pages of this novel read like trying to hike down a sheer cliff that’s been greased with WD-40. Talk about payoff.

The speedy descent of the novel, Wallace’s deathiversary, a precocious preschooler (when, when will the waiting list dwindle so he can actually *be* a preschooler?!), and two new clients who have deadlines this month mean I’m reading IJ but not posting.

No spoilers, though. Finished the book twice, read all available scholarly work published on it, working on a conference paper, and reskimming for quotes but I won’t spoil your last 5%.

So, though not much can touch Mario’s concern that nobody can be sincere about emotions, and Gompert’s narration of a whole ‘nother Dantesque level of Hellacious Depression, and Gately’s defense of the indefensible, here goes:

“Any one second: he remembered: the thought of feeling like he’d be feeling this second for 60 more of these second—he couldn’t deal. He could not fucking deal. He had to build a wall around each second just to take it….A breath and a second, the pause and gather between each cramp. An endless Now stretching its gull-wings out on either side of his heartbeat’ (859-60). Freaking gorgeous prose enveloping intense ideas. Every page. Damn.

“He hadn’t quite gotten this before now, how it wasn’t just the matter of riding out the cravings for a Substance: everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news you then somehow believed” (861).

Seriously? That’s genius. Welcome to my head. it’s too busy hopping the wall to check out the potential and make shit up to scare me for me to be actually living right now. That has blown my mind for the past week.

Hal similarly living in his own head:
“It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately—the subject seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, or to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into” (900). And he goes into his metaphor about rooms full of meat and feces, the sheer volume of a life’s work laid before you in disgusting subtotals.

That one I’m letting lie for a while. I can’t deal this week with the thought of escapism and avocations and rooms full of meat and shit. I’m noticing more and more that huge momentous lessons of honesty and philosophy and reality from IJ are getting pushed to the corners of my mind, compartmentalized, labeled, and stored for much, much later. I’m clearly not doing my job. But with all due respect, I think letting all this sink in at once would cause the black billowing. You know? So bite-sized Wallace creeps in and the rest comes later.

“The parts of this Gately can follow he doesn’t care for one bit. He doesn’t want to know his body even fucking has something with six syllables in it” (921).

I love this book, and I love Don Gately. And his sternoclastomastoid is the least of his problems, right now. In fact, given the size of his melon, his SCM is probably a really meaty part of him, holding up his head and turning it and whatnot.

I’m pretty crushed we’re finishing soon, but I do have a life to get on with. I have three careers and a human to gestate while raising a small person. But this chance to reread IJ with a group of open minded people has been such a gift. Thanks.

IJ quote of the day 52

Mario and the Moms.

I know Orin argues vehemently, as does his old buddy, the recluse whose name I don’t feel like dredging up, that Avril is manipulative or absent or something other than human and trying her best. And I’ll tell you something, as a mom, that scene 761-769 is touching and sweet: two damaged people trying their best. It’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s evidence that human beings need to find a better way to communicate than using words. Let’s move toward Heinleinesque grokking.

IJ quote of the day 51

La Mont Chu, worried about the Eschatonial consequences for the Buddies, tries to get info out of Mario. And after nine full back-and-forth where filmmaker is talking like a director and Chu is staying in character, we hear:
‘Jesus, Mario, it’s like trying to talk to a rock with you sometimes.’
‘This is going very well!’ (759).

hi.larious. And probably very important from a narrative-metanarrative standpoint, but for now I’m hopped up on Ben & Jerry’s and just find it touchingly funny.

IJ quote of the day 50

So far behind. Have no idea what to focus on. Thinking through pudding. Mmmmm. pudding.

Anyway. highlight quotes from the days and days I’ve missed…

Poor Tony pathos at a new low:
“Krause whimpered raggedly and flew west, up on his bloody toes, hearing his breath off both alley walls, negotiating broken glass the the homeless supine, hearing it back behind him several steps crying a tight-echoed Stop Motherfucking Stop!, with a supine person Krause vaulted lifting a decayed head from the alley floor to counter with: Go!” (721)

Derision of the ignorant at a new high:
‘Did you hear what she said?’ the ironic man on the divan laughed. ‘Potable means drinkable. It’s not even the same root. Did you hear what she said?’ (734)

Orin’s psychological issues turn a corner:
“The Orin she knew first felt his mother was the family’s pulse and center, a ray of light incarnate, with enough depth of love and open maternal concern to almost make up for a father who barely existed, parentally” (737).

And the whole Joelle-at-the-Incandenza’s-for-Thanksgiving-scene: you thought Home for the Holidays was classic Americana lovable weirdness…this scene makes the Incandenzas undisputed next door neighbors to the Addams family.

Gotta tell you…I’m running out of steam on this quote of the day bit. I have used way too many tape flags and folded too many corners and I have stuff to do and…and…and I just want to read it, not blog it. But, sigh, these are the posts nobody reads anyway, so I might as well keep going.


IJ quote of the day 48

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?

IJ quote of the day 47

Wallace’s scene shifts often represent ripping the reader out of one state of mind and cramming her into another, and as such require masterful transitions.
Two such transitions rock my world:
“Poor Tony Krause had a seizure on the T” (299) is possibly the best transition in the whole novel, because it sets the stage for the whole scene, effectively rips us out of the HmH at E.T.A., and yet doesn’t really give anything away.
The second best, I feel, is:
“the Man o’ War Grille on Prospect: Matty sat in the hot clatter of the Portuguese restaurant with his hands in his lap, looking at nothing. A waiter brought his soup. The waiter had bits of either bloodstain or soup on his apron, and for no discernible reason wore a fez. Matty ate his soup without once slurping. He’d been the neat eater in the family. Matty Pemulis was a prostitute and today he was twenty-three” (682).
Yes, it helps that these two transitions, PT Krause and Matty Pemulis set up what are, for me, two of the most visciously and viscerally disturbing scenes of the book. Randy Lenz stayed with me over 12 years, but in this reading both Poor Tony and Matty lept from their pages, slapped me in the face, ripped out my entrails and threw them on the floor before retreating to anonymity in Boston’s dark streets.

Another of the most moving sections has the single worst transition of the novel, thus far. We go from Krause’s release from Cambridge City Hospital to the genesis of his garb to walking by Matty in pursuit of Gompert to Lenz “brandishing the Hog” to “And re Ennet House resident Kate Gompert and this depression issue:”
Appropos of nothing. Out of the blue. And not artful. In the way I suppose the whole anhedonia versus psychotic depression topic is often awkward and forced and uncomfortable.

But Gompert’s depression section is a whole ‘nother quote of the day. Talk, if you’d like, about how Wallace transitions from channel to channel in IJ, how the characters and scenes and triparite narrative objectives work in the jump cuts he offers.

IJ quote of the day 45

Been a while. I’ve been captured by the great apathy monster and could not give a flying fig newton about blogging or quoting.

But, it seems time to sink into the depths with Wallace, to the description of what an intentional fallacy argument might suggest was a reality in Wallace’s life. Here’s the first heart wrenching discussion between psychotically depressed Kate Gompert and generally bedridden Geoffrey Day. The latter is telling her how his depression felt.

“‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can’t be more more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’
‘But it was inside you, though.’
‘Katherine, Kate, it was a total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey….It was total psychic horror: death, decay, dissolution, cold empty black malevolent lonely voided space. It was the worst thing I have ever confronted’ ” (649-50).

A guy who writes a thousand page novel, within which lie four distinct objective and plotlines, further within which are sierpinski’d convolutions and fissures and faultlines of meaning and intertextual references to classics and postmodern and popular culture alike, and in which the he presents odes to the novel’s forebears as his text mocks those predecessors and commits violent patricide and seeks to move beyond them…this author—who announces in interviews that the text exists between the reader and the words but not with him, the author, for once he is done he might as well be dead—was also reportedly tormented by a depression that goes far beyond the anhedonistic depression most of us think of as debilitating. This man uses a fictional character to explain  in detail how every moment and every cell is pain in Gompert and Day. He chronicles others’ moment to moment conundrum of  staying in the flame or jumping.
This guy breaks. my. heart.

IJ quotes of the day 44

“Gately shrugs at the Nucks like he’s got no choice but to be here” (611).

Oh, Don. Of all the mythological pathos. Really? For Lenz? I haven’t read a character in a long time that I actually believed was a damned fine human being.

While we’re at it, in the damned fine human being category, I need to address what I feel is the book’s most important (spoiler-line-limited) line. Sorry to all the Infinite Summer participants who’ve seen this from me on the forum. But in light of the novel’s purpose for locating a post-postmodernism in the heart of something anti-ironic and genuine and human and painfully real, and in light of This is Water and the Kenyon commencement, 592 strikes me as intensely important.

“The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that’s really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. it’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy” (592).

Between Gately’s honesty about hitting his knees every night to beg the ceiling for something because he can’t believe in anything but the ritual and Mario’s transcendental human beauty, I am even more moved by this novel the second time than I was the first. Because the drugs and the Entertainment and the tennis and the horrible demappings are all secondary to the intensely important project of moving beyond poststructuralist dehumanizing Lacanian Derridean postmodern posing into art that is, at its core, a beating heart.

IJ quote of the day 43

Don Gately love fest continued from quote 42

Endnote 249
“It’s maybe significant that Don Gately never once failed to clean up any vomit or incontinence his mother’d just drunkenly left there or passed out in, no matter how pissed off or disgusted he was or how sick he himself was: not once.”

Seriously. Mr. Gately. The offer I made yesterday to tuck you into bed with homemade soup and let you relax and clean up nothing for a year stands. Spouse knows. He’s cool with it.

IJ quote of the day 42

[Randy Lenz, I’m boycotting you. Don’t think I didn’t flag like 312 quotes from your nonsense, but don’t think for a minute I’m blogging any of your skulking as a quote of the day.]

“Somebody has made those disgusting marshmallowy Rice Krispie things in the kitchen and then not cleaned up after themselves, and Gately has to clomp around finding out who’s responsible and get them to clean it up, and the code about ratting among the residents is such that you’d think he was a narc all of a sudden. The daily bullshit here is hip-deep and not so much annoying as soul-sucking; a double-shift here now empties him out by dawn, just in time to clean real shit” (594).

Okay, first, I want to take Don Gately home and make him a pot of soup ad tuck him in after a long day and tell him he doesn’t have to clean anything for a year. I think I need an “I Heart Don Gately” bumper sticker. He would be the best sponsor ever. EVER.

And Mr. Wallace, you’d better be pretending to find those Rice Krispie things disgusting; this had better be a narrator or Gately himself balking at the mess because, really, I might forgive you the horrors you’ve created in Randy Lenz, but I don’t think I can continue to be enormously enamoured of a SNOOT who doesn’t like Rice Krispie treats.

IJ Quote of the Day 41

Today’s quote straddles the spoiler line, so consider yourself warned if you haven’t hit 568 yet…

‘I therefore experiment with volunteer blindness. Training the ear in degrees of intensity in play. Today versus Whale I was wearing the blindfold to play.’
‘How’d it go?’
‘Not as well as hoped. I frequently faced the wrong direction for play. I frequently judged the intensity of balls struck on adjacent courts as ran onto adjacent courts, intruding play.’ (568).

Combine shadenfreude and tennis and I’m yours. Better even that the Eschaton’s aftermath because nobody really gets hurt. That’s my kind of slapstick.