Fragmented Into Beauty
Well there’s no getting away from mentioning note 24 this week. I skimmed it the first time I read the book because it seemed extra and annoying and probably extra annoying. End notes with footnotes of their own. A text within a text. Plots (or not) described within the text within the text. A tiny bit of plot among the players in Incandenza’s films (if you watch last names, you’ll see evidence of marriage and, presumably, divorce). Untitled. Unfinished. UNRELEASED. My feeling is that you don’t have to read most of these too carefully on a first dip into the book. It’s the kind of note that it might be instructive to read after you finish and on subsequent readings, and I find it more funny than annoying every time I’ve read it since that first.
I don’t have a lot to say about Kate Gompert. This section is hard to read after Wallace’s death. I have the impression that there’s something of a kinship between this section and the Erdedy section. Maybe it’s how they deal with something that is, or could be, treated as a very big cliche. Or it might be how they seem to try to deal with that cliche very honestly, how they’re pretty much devoid of some of the absurdity that occurs elsewhere in the book (feral hamsters and infants, anyone?). I’m not sure. But without going back and doing a side-by-side close reading of the two, I have an amorphous sense that the two are cousins.
From page 68:
We sort of play. But it’s all hypothetical, somehow. Even the ‘we’ is theory: I never get quite to see the distant opponent, for all the apparatus of the game.
I just dig that dream and its concluding sentences.
From pages 81 – 82:
[Schtitt] knew real tennis was really about not the blend of statistical order and expansive potential that the game’s technicians revered, but in fact the opposite — not-order, limit, the places where things broke down, fragmented into beauty…
And Schtitt… nevertheless seemed to know what Hopman and van der Meer and Bollettieri seemed not to know: that locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern. Seemed intuitively to sense that it was a matter not of reduction at all, but — perversely — of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate…. as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response… beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent.
I think that any time Wallace starts writing about infinity, it’s probably pretty important, given the title of the novel and the title of the film(s) that it references (didn’t catch that if you didn’t read note 24). This passage is kind of wonderful, and I have trouble not thinking of it as something of an artistic statement. Wallace’s work takes you in a million possibly chaotic directions. Understanding that his work can’t be forced into a template is, I think, a key to enjoying it. Your job as reader is to supply containment where he doesn’t and yet to let the work bounce about within your own sense of its containment, producing whatever associations it produces for you, which then feed back into your reading of the work. Reading Wallace is more like playing a match of tennis (I suppose that’s pretty trite of me) than sitting back in your special chair in front of the TV drooling into the tray strapped to your chin. It’s about engagement rather than passive entertainment.
I’ve always found the Steeply/Marathe scenes a little tedious and sometimes confusing.