Posts Tagged ‘Infinite Jest’

Slothrop and Orin

This isn’t likely to make too much sense if you haven’t read Infinite Jest, and it may also contain mild IJ spoilers. I offer it more as a set of idle observations than as any sort of thesis.

In David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, we meet womanizer Orin Incandenza, about whom I wrote the following a few years ago:

A bit more on Orin. His name can be switched around to “iron,” “noir,” and “orni,” which, this last, makes me think of ornithology. He plays football for the Cardinals and is actually made to don fake wings (I think) and like a jetpack and fly down onto the field earlier in the book. Then a bird falls out of the sky into his apartment’s pool (oddly reminiscent of the end of Barton Fink, starring John Turturro, whom I peg as a shoo-in for playing JOI and/or JOI’s father in a movie adaptation of Infinite Jest). Then, on page 294, we have Orin engaging Joelle “entirely through stylized repetitive motions,” making me think of the mating dances of birds.

Orin has a habit of tracing the infinity sign with his finger on the flanks of the girls he has bedded. Like Orin, Slothrop traces a mathematical sign as he sows his oats, though in his case, it’s a Poisson distribution scrawled over a map of London.

And like Orin, Slothrop is frequently associated with birds, especially in the pastoral section 1.4, in which he appears in the company of an owl, girls called Wrens, peacocks, and hummingbirds and in which he sports an erection (his “cock,” if we want to stretch the bird motif a bit) as a rocket explodes. This section also happens to deal pretty heavily in the contrast between the earth and the sky, a dichotomy the sky-bound but (if I recall correctly) acrophobic Orin also contemplates.

Both men sport a very special appendage, and both are subject to paranoia. As Orin begins to fear that he’s being followed and ultimately has his fears confirmed and culminating in his being taken prisoner, so Slothrop begins to feel as if he’s being watched, and as if his cubicle is a trap (early in 1.15). Also probably not significant but certainly attention-getting for me was the reference early in 1.15 to “Enfields” — a name whose singular form will resonate with readers of Wallace’s novel.

Unlike Orin, Slothrop at least writes nice letters home to his mother.

Te occidere possunt sed te edere non possunt nefas est

September 12, 2011 2 comments

Unit #4, more or less equidistant from both the hospital parking lot and the steep ravine, is a repository for Alzheimer’s patients with VA pensions. #4’s residents wear jammies 24/7, the diapers underneath giving them a lumpy and toddlerish aspect. The patients are frequently visible at #4’s windows, in jammies, splayed and open-mouthed, sometimes shrieking, sometimes just mutely open-mouthed, splayed against the windows. They give everybody at Ennet House the howling fantods. One ancient retired Air Force nurse does nothing but scream ‘Help!’ for hours at a time from a second-story window. Since the Ennet House residents are drilled in a Boston-AA recovery program that places great emphasis on ‘Asking for Help,’ the retired shrieking Air Force nurse is the object of a certain grim amusement, sometimes. Not six weeks ago, a huge stolen HELP WANTED sign was found attached to #4’s siding right below the retired shrieking nurse’s window, and #4’s director was less than amused, and demanded that Pat Montesian determine and punish the Ennet House residents responsible, and Pat had delegated the investigation to Don Gately, and though Gately had a pretty good idea who the perps were he didn’t have the heart to really press and kick ass over something so much like what he’d done himself, when new and cynical, and so the whole thing pretty much blew over.

‘d been a confarmed bowl-splatterer for yars b’yond contin’. ‘d been barred from t’facilities at o’t’ troock stops twixt hair’n Nork for yars. T’wallpaper in de loo a t’ome hoong in t’ese carled sheets froom t’wall, ay till yo. But now woon dey . . . ay’ll remaember’t’always. T’were a wake to t’day ofter ay stewed oop for me ninety-day chip. Ay were tray moents sobber. Ay were thar on t’throne a’t’ome, you new. No’t’put too fain a point’on it, ay prodooced as er uzhal and … and ay war soo amazed as to no’t’belaven’ me yairs. ‘Twas a sone so wonefamiliar at t’first ay tought ay’d droped me wallet in t’loo, do you new. Ay tought ay’d droped me wallet in t’loo as Good is me wetness. So doan ay bend twixt m’knays and’ad a luke in t’dim o’t’loo, and codn’t belave me’yize. So gud paple ay do then ay drope to m’knays by t’loo an’t’ad a rail luke. A loaver’s luke, d’yo new. And friends t’were loavely past me pur poewers t’say. T’were a tard in t’loo. A rail tard. T’were farm an’ teppered an’ aiver so jaintly aitched. T’luked … constroocted instaid’ve sprayed. T’luked as ay fel’t’in me ‘eart Good ‘imsailf maint a tard t’luke. Me friends, this tard’o’mine practically had a poolse. Ay sted doan on m’knays and tanked me Har Par, which ay choose t’call me Har Par Good, an’ ay been tankin me Har Par own m’knays aiver sin, marnin and natetime an in t’loo’s’well, aiver sin.

It kind of enrages Lenz to like somebody. There would be no way to say any of this out loud to Green. As it gets past 2200h. and the meatloaf in his pocket’s baggie’s gotten dark and hard from disuse the pressure to exploit the c. 2216 interval for resolution builds to a terrible pitch, but Lenz still can’t yet quite get it up to ask Green to walk back some other way at least once in a while. How does he do it and still have Green know that he thinks he’s OK? But you don’t come right out there and let somebody hear you say you think they’re OK. When it’s a girl you’re just trying to X it’s a different thing, straightforwarder; but like for instance where do you look with your eyes when you tell somebody you like them and mean what you say? You can’t look right at them, because then what if their eyes look at you as your eyes look at them and you lock eyes as you’re saying it, and then there’d be some awful like voltage or energy there, hanging between you. But you can’t look away like you’re nervous, like some nervous kid asking for a date or something. You can’t go around giving that kind of thing of yourself away.

And a lot of the people in the different brick houses are damaged or askew and lean hard to one side or are twisted into themselves, through the windows, and he can feel his heart going out into the world through them, which is good for insomnia. A woman’s voice, calling for help without any real urgency — not like the screams that signify the Moms laughing or screaming at night — sounds from a darkened upper window. And across the little street that’s crammed with cars everybody has to move at 0000h. is Ennet’s House, where the Headmistress has a disability and had had a wheelchair ramp installed and has twice invited Mario in during the day for a Caffeine-Free Millennial Fizzy, and Mario likes the place: it’s crowded and noisy and none of the furniture has protective plastic wrap, but nobody notices anybody else or comments on a disability and the Headmistress is kind to the people and the people cry in fron tof each other. The inside of it smells like an ashtray, but Mario’s felt good both times in Ennet’s House because it’s very real; people are crying and making noise and getting less unhappy, and once he heard somebody say God with a straight face and nobody looked at them or looked down or smiled in any sort of way where you could tell they were worried inside.

I wish for my death but have not the courage to make actions to cause death. I twice try to roll over the side of a tall Swiss hill but cannot bring myself. I curse myself for cowardice and inutile. I roll about, hoping to be hit by a vehicle of someone else, but at the last minute rolling out of the path of vehicles on Autoroutes, for I am unable to will my death. The more pain in my self, the more I am inside the self and cannot will my death, I think. I feel I am chained in a cage of the self, from the pain. Unable to care or choose anything outside it. Unable to see anything or feel anything outside my pain.

Sometimes Gately would come out of a Demerol-nod and look at pale passive Pamela lying there sleeping beautifully and undergo a time-lapse clairvoyant thing where he could almost visibly watch her losing her looks through her twenties and her face starting to slide over off her skull onto the pillow she held like a stuffed toy, becoming a lounge-hag right before his eyes. The vision aroused more compassion than horror, which Gately never even considered might qualify him as a decent person.

And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.

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A Failed Entertainment

I got an email this weekend inviting me to publicize a project pertaining to Infinite Jest. From the email:

Open call for selected adaptations from “The Complete Filmography of James O Incandeza”. A previous iteration of this exhibition took place at Columbia University this past winter, in which a number of specific artists were invited to participate. We would now like to invite artists, film makers, and gifted amateurs world-wide to submit their work. There are no restrictions in terms of content, length, or genre. Accomplished auteurs and YouTube uploaders alike are encouraged to participate. In our last exhibition, we presented everything from 16mm film to cellphone video.

Information is available at

Any questions may be directed to

Seems like an interesting project.



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All That

December 10, 2009 11 comments

The New Yorker this week published online an excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King that has stirred quite a bit of discussion on the wallace-l mailing list, most of it centering, as the fragment does, on religious feeling. As an atheist myself, I have a tendency to think/wish/hope that smart people I admire are also atheists. It’s strange, I know, but why not hope for an extension of affinities into that area of thought and feeling? Although I don’t feel as if I really need (as in emotionally need) external validation of my position, it’s still neat to share a viewpoint with people you admire. It’s not really clear what Wallace’s beliefs with respect to religion were, though. We know from various sources that he went to church but wasn’t raised religious. He certainly seemed, in Infinite Jest, to acknowledge that there was value in recognizing a higher power. Yet he wasn’t the evangelical sort by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s pretty easy, from where I sit, to imagine that he valued the cultural and communal bits of religion while relying more on secular thought for his personal ethics. We’ll probably never know exactly where he stood in real life. In the new fragment, entitled “All That,” he seems to be pretty open to religion and to a sort of spiritualism.

Here I’ll begin to talk about the story, so if you haven’t read it yet and are anti-spoiler, you might want to mosey on along.

The narrator gives accounts of two events in his life that were instrumental in helping him form a religious sensibility. The first, in which his parents convinced him that a toy truck was endowed with a sort of magic, speaks (I think) to the idea of faith and how the not knowing via evidence that what you have faith in is true is a part of what makes it special. How sad it would be, he suggests, to actually trap the tooth fairy. And, by extension, how disappointing it would be, I suppose, to  finally find empirical evidence of God. A belief system constructed around the idea of faith becomes meaningless when faith is no longer a necessity. Magic tricks aren’t as fun to watch once you know how they’re done. Faith, which people like me see as a flaw of religion, may in fact be one of the points and joys of religion.

The second formative event centers on the narrator’s recollection of a movie’s plot and how it differs from his father’s recollection. The difference has less to do with faith than with actions. I guess it has something of love thy neighbor in it. More on that in a moment.

At the heart of both episodes is a sort of duality. The narrator says the following about differing perceptions:

Possibly, though, another cause for the sadness was that I realized, on some level, that my parents, when they watched me trying to devise schemes for observing the drum’s rotation, were wholly wrong about what they were seeing—that the world they saw and suffered over was wholly different from the childhood world in which I existed.

Later, we have the father and son’s vastly different recollections of the movie. And within the movie itself, we’re told of a prevailing sentiment and a sentiment (on the part of the narrator within the movie) at odds with it. In all cases, given the same objective inputs, opposite subjective conclusions are reached. There’s a failure to align perceptions.

Interestingly, our narrator hears voices as a child whose speakers do inhabit the same space he does. Their perceptions agree with his in a way that, he figures, biological adults’ perceptions can’t, and the voices are a source of real fits of ecstasy (as in rolling on the floor, capital-E Ecstasy) on the boy’s part. Of that ecstasy, we learn the following:

[M]y father (who clearly “enjoyed” me and my eccentricities) once laughingly told my mother that he thought I might suffer from a type of benign psychosis called “antiparanoia,” in which I seemed to believe that I was the object of an intricate universal conspiracy to make me so happy I could hardly stand it.

I suppose there are certain resonances of this fragment with parts of Infinite Jest. There’s the infantilization of rolling around on the floor, being stroked lovingly by his mother, being more or less cradled in the father’s lap, and of course this idea of being the center of a happiness conspiracy. But the first of Wallace’s works that sprang to mind when I read the fragment was “Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from it All” (the state fair essay), in which Wallace writes the following:

One of the few things I still miss from my Midwest childhood was this weird, deluded but unshakable conviction that everything around me existed all and only For Me. Am I the only one who had this queer deep sense as a kid? — that everything exterior to me existed only insofar as it affected me somehow? — that all things were somehow, via some occult adult activity, specially arranged for my benefit? Does anybody else identify with this memory? The child leaves a room, and now everything in that room, once he’s no longer there to see it, melts away into some void of potential or else (my personal childhood theory) is trundled away by occult adults and stored until the child’s reentry into the room recalls it all back into animate service. Was this nuts? It was radically self-centered, of course, this conviction, and more than a little paranoid. Plus the responsibility it conferred: if the whole of the world dissolved and resolved each time I blinked, what if my eyes didn’t open?

Maybe what I really miss now is the fact that a child’s radical delusive self-centeredness doesn’t cause him conflict or pain. His is the sort of regally innocent solipsism of like Bishop Berkeley’s God: all things are nothing until his sight calls them forth from the void: his stimulation is the world’s very being. And this is maybe why a little kid so fears the dark: it’s not the possible presence of unseen fanged things in the dark, but rather the actual absence of everything his blindness has now erased. For me, at least, pace my folks’ indulgent smiles, this was my true reason for needing a nightlight: it kept the world turning.

Back to the story at hand, we begin with the narrator making discoveries about faith and about his own agency. But there’s a sort of inversion from what Wallace writes about in the essay excerpted above: the world (or the cement mixer’s drum) revolves (he believes) only when the boy isn’t looking at it vs. the world existing only when Wallace, as a child, was looking at it.

In the essay, Wallace writes specifically of solipsism, of being trapped more or less within yourself. I am in here. In the fragment, I think he’s writing about getting outside yourself. It’s not that the world stops when you close your eyes to it but that no matter how hard you try, you can’t really see or understand certain forces external to your direct experience. So a certain amount or sort of faith becomes useful. Wallace first gives us something of a thought experiment with the toy cement mixer, but in the movie scenario, he gives us a more complex situation to ponder. The conflict in that scenario is whether it’s nobler to protect your own or to protect others from your own. It’s a very complex question within context, for you have to consider the broader war itself, the particular roles of the participants in question within that context, the particular moods of and recent influences on all participants, and so on. But if we’re a little more reductive about it, I think we can boil the scenario down a bit and understand it as a consideration of the other vs. the self (another duality), with Wallace suggesting that reaching out to protect the other — getting outside your self — may sometimes be the nobler path.

The narrator views the movie’s lieutenant’s last noble act (as the narrator remembers it, that is) with a sort of ecstasy that calls to mind the ecstasy he felt as a younger child when listening to the voices in his head. But this ecstasy is the result of external forces rather than of internal agreeable voices and so shows a sort of development outward from in here.

There’s a lot I’m still trying to unpack about this fragment, and I’m not at all satisfied with what I’ve written above as an interpretive essay. There’s some big connection I feel like I’m missing. But it’s a start.

A couple of other things have come up on the list. For example, why did the narrator’s parents screw with him with the whole magic thing, especially if they’re devout atheists who you wouldn’t think would want to promote superstition? I think the simple answer is that sometimes parents just say silly things because it’s fun to joke around. Every morning that I drive my daughter and a neighbor to kindergarten, I ask if I should speed up and jump the railroad tracks (it’s a big hump and would cause a lot of damage to my vehicle if I jumped it). When they scream gleefully that I should, I slap my thigh and lament that I thought of it too late, that there’s simply not enough runway to get adequate speed. Remind me tomorrow, I tell them. Ever since my children were old enough to understand and respond to language, I’ve presented them with goofy scenarios and waited for them to correct me. Parents just do this sort of thing. In the fragment, it does seem that the parents play an active role in perpetuating the magical thinking, but the germination of the thing doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary. And sometimes you just want your kids to work things out for themselves. We do the whole Santa thing, but when my kids start thinking critically about it and questioning the stories, we’ll encourage it obliquely so that they arrive at appropriate conclusions without being force fed the truth.I can’t help thinking that Wallace is saying something else about faith here. There’s plenty of magical thinking involved in faith. You can never really know for sure that God’s there behind the scenes making stuff happen, and maybe the harder you look, the more likely you are to determine that God’s not really there — that the drum isn’t spinning after all. If we think of it this way, then the parents almost become God surrogates, providing information about the truck (or about reality) but requiring that the child work out on his own whatever his beliefs about the truck are. The narrator doesn’t understand why his parents have made a puzzle of this for him any more than people understand why God isn’t more obvious about his existence and plan, and yet the fact that it’s a puzzle has turned out to be valuable to the narrator. Faith, as I suggested above, may be one of the joys of religion.

Another issue that came up on the list was the narrator’s statements that he wasn’t very articulate and the fact that he is actually pretty articulate. Whether it points to insecurity or to false modesty or to real modesty I’m not sure. It certainly seems like one of those framing or narrative tricks that Wallace has used before to remind us that what we’re reading is mediated.

Not discussed as yet on wallace-l is the Catholicism present in the story. It’s minor, but the boy mentions going to Mass with neighbors. Given my last paragraph, I’m having trouble not saying something about the mediation inherent in that religion, though I don’t think Wallace is really doing anything with that here. But the ecstasy, in association with the presence of Catholicism, calls to mind the various references to The Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Infinite Jest, and I wonder if more couldn’t be mined out of this material. In the gruesome ecstasy scene in IJ, there’s actually quite a bit more Catholic subtext than is apparent to a recent or non-Catholic (do a little research on the titles of the magazines named in the scene, if you’re curious), and that makes me all the more curious about the reference to Catholicism in this fragment.


September 21, 2009 2 comments

If I have had a more enriching reading experience in my life than Infinite Summer has been, it was the semester I spent studying Milton as an undergrad with a professor who can be described as brilliant and probably on speed. That semester was intense and focused. I don’t know really how to describe this summer briefly other than to say that it’s been fun.

When I answered a call to write for Infinite Zombies, I had this to say (among other things):

I guess I shouldn’t try to sell myself as one who’s terribly likely to be prolific or brilliantly insightful. I’d enjoy having an excuse to write about my reading this summer and was already thinking (cued by Matt Bucher’s post at about his first reading) about putting something together about how I first got a taste of Wallace’s work. If you’re up for occasional casual (and probably not terribly probing) observations about the book as I go along, I’m game. If not, no hard feelings.

So much for occasional and casual and a failure to be terribly prolific, huh? I really had intended just to read the darned book and write something about it every once in a while. But as I began to anticipate the read, I started writing these little preparatory posts because I was the veteran reader of Wallace (among the Zombies), and these posts got me pumped up to write about what I was reading, and before I knew it, I was churning out 2-4 posts a week. Having the structure of IS to push me along really helped keep me honest, and then people started actually reading the stuff and responding back to me in the comments, and there was just no slowing down (or wanting to).

What I discovered about the little bit of something like accountability that came with having a schedule and a small following was that it made me a more careful reader, which made the whole experience so much richer for me. And while I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to keep up with the forums or all the blogs, the ones I was able to read provided that much more insight and incentive for me, showing me things I hadn’t thought of and often providing depth where my own reading (and writing) had been shallow.

So thanks for that. Thanks for reading and thanks for writing (here and elsewhere). And special thanks to Matt Baldwin for thinking this whole thing up and ushering us through the summer and to Scott Porch for dreaming up this blog venue. It’s all meant a lot to me and been a great experience.

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The End

September 21, 2009 15 comments

I’ve agonized a bit over what to write here at the end of the book. There’s a lot to say and nothing to say. I’ll start with a confession. I think I’ve probably never really understood the end of the book, and not just in the usual “what happened to everybody?” way. I think that I’ve probably tended to race down the hill of those last 200 pages and just lost the end amid the swirling thoughts of how ambitious and crazy and good the whole book is, and I’ve never given the actual end — the stuff about Gately specifically — very much thought. I remember that during my first read, the stuff about Gately’s stint as an enforcer and the attendant misadventures seemed almost irrelevant. Why was this whole new history being described for me here at the end of a book when there were so many other things I was eager to read more about? (Infinite Jest was the first thing I ever read that didn’t adhere more or less to standard literary conventions.) I guess I’ve just tended to write if off as a weird ending that was more than made up for by the rest of the book.

We know that the ending has made a huge impression on some. Take Greg Carlisle’s explanation from last week:

I find the depth of the last sentence to be unparalleled in literature. Only the endings of Ulysses and Beloved come close to affecting me so profoundly. Thankfully in that sentence, Wallace leads Gately and us out of the hell of that last sequence into a transcendent moment of peace, cold and fleeting but also unbearably beautiful, striking a chord of sadness that still rings deep inside me.

Greg writes a bit more on the ending in a special section on Wallace in a recent double-issue of Sonora Review:

As the last section of Infinite Jest begins on p. 972, Gately is experiencing dangerous medical complications. Wallace leaves the crisis event undefined and has Gately retreat into a state of hallucination-dream-memory that builds to a horrific crisis event in early Y.W.: Gately’s loss of consciousness as a motley crew of a dozen nightmare characters prepares to kill Gene Fackelmann, who has been on an all-night narcotics binge with Gately. Thankfully, Wallace ends his novel with one of the saddest, most beautiful sentences in all of literature, letting us have a touch of solace in seeing Gately just on the other side of the crisis event.

I can sure agree that the sentence evokes a peaceful image. What’s not altogether clear to me is which crisis event this image is the other side of. What exactly is Gately coming to from? At first, you assume he’s waking up from the post-Fackelmann debauchery. But why would he be on the beach? Would C and the rest of the crew really have moved him? He surely wasn’t moving under his own power when last we saw him. And he was soaked in his own urine and so wasn’t really going to be much of a companion out on the town, so it doesn’t seem likely that he went out and about with C and crew after recovering a bit.

Did you notice this on page 974?:

Somebody overhead asked somebody else if they were ready, and somebody commented on the size of Gately’s head and gripped Gately’s head, and then he felt an upward movement deep inside that was so personal and horrible he woke up. Only one of his eyes would open because the floor’s impact had shut the other one up plump and tight as a sausage. His whole front side of him was cold from lying on the wet floor. Fackelmann around somewhere behind him was mumbling something that consisted totally of g‘s.

Right there in the middle of the paragraph, the scene shifts seamlessly from the hospital to the apartment in which Fackelman and Gately are having Too Much Fun. So what I find myself wondering is whether the book’s last sentence isn’t also a shift. Is Gately perhaps waking up back at the hospital? Well the hospital’s no beach, and it has a ceiling rather than a raining sky, so maybe not. But then, Gately has had sky hallucinations before, when high:

Then after five or so seconds the Dilaudid would cross over and kick, and the sky stopped breathing and turned blue. (915)


moving like men deep under water, heads wobbling on strengthless necks, the empty room’s ceiling sky-blue and bulging (934-5)

Somewhere in the last few dozen pages, Gately more or less surrenders to the fact that if he’s offered Demerol again, he’ll take it. Then on page 974, Gately feels that horrible upward movement as his infection has reached a crisis point and he’s being worked on. So I find myself considering the possibility that during those medical ministrations, Gately was offered and accepted Demerol complete with the little self-dosing button he fantasized about while trying to rationalize surrendering and the further possibility that the final sentence represents not his emergence from the Fackelmann high after which he ultimately began to set his life straight but rather his stepping into a high that signals at least a step backward and at worst a total relapse.

If we grant that Hal and Gately do actually meet and try to dig up Himself’s head (maybe not actually possible — consider Joelle’s revelation of the fact that JOI’s burial place is itself buried in a toxic wasteland), then I guess we can say that at least Gately doesn’t have a total relapse into the life of a thug.

Still, I wonder whether the last sentence is a touch of solace, as Greg suggests, or whether it is a further plunge into a deeper sadness, which is, after all, what Wallace said he wanted to write about in Infinite Jest. What do you think?


September 18, 2009 8 comments

One of the most vivid scenes in Infinite Jest for me has always been the description of JOI’s film, Accomplice!, that depicts a sagging old man sodomizing a male prostitute. The prostitute insists that the man wear a condom, and the man takes this as a personal affront. The prostitute happens to be inarticulate. The john vindictively slices both the condom and his penis mid-intercourse, but when he finishes and the boy realizes with horror what he’s done, we learn that the boy was trying to protect the john from contracting HIV, not the other way around.

This has always had the feel to me of something like a double-bind, though that’s not quite what it is. It’s not quite cutting off your nose to spite your face, either. I’m struggling to articulate it, but I think maybe it has something to do with irony. The man undercuts his appearance of complying with the prostitute’s wish — irony being the presentation of something contrary to fact or actual meaning — and it winds up being his undoing. The pathos in this scene always gets me, something about the combination of grit and, in a way, tenderness (on the boy’s part). And it supports what we’ve been told in many of the bits about AA and in one kind of touching description of Mario: that irony is toxic.

Beyond its statement about irony, the film has something to say about art as well. Here’s Hal’s assessment of the film:

As I see it, even though the cartridge’s end has both characters emoting out of every pore, Accomplice!‘s essential project remains abstract and self-reflexive; we end up feeling and thinking not about the characters but about the cartridge itself…. Did Himself subject us to 500 seconds of the repeated cry ‘Murderer!’ for some reason, i.e. is the puzlement and then boredom and then impatience and then excruciation and then near-rage aroused in the film’s audience by the static repetitive final 1/3 of the film aroused for some theoretical-aesthetic end, or is Himself simply an amazingly shitty editor of his own stuff? (946)

How many people have said similar things about Wallace’s fiction? Those goddamn end notes! Those long sentences! All those words most dictionaries haven’t even heard of! All those words, period! How many critics have said that Wallace needed a more bloodthirsty editor? Are Wallace and JOI guilty of bad editing and self-indulgence, or is there in fact an emotional payload behind the self-consciousness of their work? (Accomplice!, by the way, has a footnote onscreen at some point about the fact that it’s following a particular gay-porn convention.) I don’t really have a pat answer. I’m suddenly reminded of the scene in Blue Velvet in which the female character sings a rendition of Crying that, if memory serves me correctly, is simultaneously very emotional but also self-consciously stilted. [Note: ray gunn kindly reminds me in the comments that this scene in fact appears in Mulholland Drive and not Blue Velvet and that it's not a main character doing the singing.]

What I can say is that for all that I found myself thinking about the book as much as its characters, by the last 150 pages, I was on a downhill slide. I took fewer notes and had trouble stopping my reading. Even though I had read it a few times before (having forgotten most of the end, conveniently), I was just gripped and wanted to see what exactly was going to become of Gately, Joelle, Hal. It became about the story more than about deciphering the structure and way of meaning of the book, and it happened for me unintentionally. I was just pulled in. Maybe it was just a sort of gravity. Or did something change in the pacing or self-consciousness of the end of the book?

Whatever the case, the facts seem to be that for those readers with whom Wallace’s work resonates, it does so powerfully and emotionally. This is in spite of any distancing effect of all the narrative and lexical gymnastics. And it may even be partially because of that effect. In certain of his short stories, Wallace kind of pulls back the curtain to show the back of the shop, what’s going on in the mind of the author, what insecurities there are, what framework he’s draping his story across. And the effect for me is one of honesty and sincerity: “Yes, I’m manipulating you with an eye toward provoking a particular response, but so that you’re ok with it, I’ll tell you exactly how I’m going to do it, so that it can be an honest transaction.” And because it becomes a self-aware, two-way transaction, you become an accomplice to the outcome. Of course, that sort of exposure or sincerity can have a distancing effect by yanking you out of the very story that is supposed to make you emote. But for some of us, it’s the transaction as much as the payload that has meaning. Is that maybe the answer to Hal’s question? Am I making any sense?

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