I did it! I kept pace with the first checkpoint! Which leaves us at 6% of the novel completed. Shit.
Before I get deflated by that daunting reality, let’s jump to my observations, interpretations, and inquiries for pp.17-63.
- The modern white man’s burden seems to be that all his pain is of the intellect, of the mind. (See: DFW’s Kenyon College commencement speech. OR this entire novel.) He’s all intellect, stuck in his head, not really ever feeling his body, or enough sensation/emotion/human connection. What’s a guaranteed physical experience? Drugs. And sports.
- “Once he’d been set off inside, it mattered so much that he was somehow afraid to show how much it mattered” (19). Fuller nailed this section of the novel. I say that because we shared a reading experience. We both rode the frenetic waves of his paranoid fixation on…well, everything really. Here’s a character who’s fixed by his desperate need for a fix, doing what – by all accounts – his environment has taught him to do. Like the insect, he’s stuck on a predetermined “course of action,” free of volition and responsibility. “He’d had to do” everything he did (20). Because if that wasn’t the case, he would’ve done otherwise. Or he would be able to change now. To actually treat this decision to get high as the last time. But no, there’s the inward spiral of addiction that betrays him at every turn, that guarantees his persistent relapse. Will and discipline be damned, he’s only good for debasing and debauching himself. When he “realized intellectually that the feeling of deprived panic over missing something made no sense,” even though it’s in reference specifically to the entertainment cartridges and his inability to distract himself from his attempts to distract himself, we should identify with this struggle. The learned inability to escape the crushing weight of the Ego. Or is it the Id? The Ego learns social order and then redirects the Id’s energy to follow suit. But what if the social order you learn places you at the bottom? What if your Ego learns that you’re an insect? How then will you be ruled? If your Ego is your social master, how horrible the pain must be to discover that you’re worthless. That the world would sooner kill you than wonder how you came to buzz about so beautifully.
- All conversations with Hal are fantastic. My side notes, not so much. Here’s one repulsive example from p.28: “juxtaposition of inarticulate consumption and articulate expulsion.” The fuck? That was my former self, but to be fair, I’ve hardly grown from such obnoxious annotative posturing. Anyway, the slow revelation about Hal is fascinating; this particular conversation with his father (who we quickly learn is no longer around, leaving Hal in a classic state of existential crisis/abandonment/alienation) confuses me. Why would Himself use this method to connect to Hal? If Himself is the God figure in Hal’s worldview, it is interesting that God is struggling desperately to reach his Son, when in any standard version of like Jesus trying to communicate with God, it’s the opposite. It’s always an eager Jesus shouting out to a reticent, if not altogether absent Father. A bit of retribution to the Almighty? A taste of His own terrible medicine? (p.32 – “Another way fathers impact sons…” Welcome to a primary thematic thread.)
- The set-up for the medical attache watching the Entertainment is hilarious, as are Don Gately’s burglary foibles.
- p.37 – I was totally numb to this description. Racial/class/linguistic bias? When the turn happened on p.38 to more “civilized” narration, I felt relief, until I got lost again in that description. Where’s context? Oh, is it the ole make the reader feel existential dread by getting him lost in the story, yearning for salvation from the Author? Like God, Authors are “pro-death” (40). Unrelated conclusion? Your call, reader. Go fuck yourself, is apparently the gist of postmodern expression.
- Orin’s encounter with the dead bird brings up an interesting theme: significance. What serves us as a sign? Why do we read certain things as a good or bad sign? Regardless, it’s clear that Orin’s arc is toward atonement with the father (see: p.46). Then again, that can be argued (blandly) for every character. And to every person, if we apply patriarchal psychoanalysis paradigms to the entire world.
- E.T.A. is this damn book. Structurally. Meaning that there are spots where we, readers, get absurdly high. Except that we’re not going out of our way to do it, in secret. It’s contact high.
- p.50 – I feel for Mrs. Avril Incandenza and her worry-not-overworry-which-leads-to-overworry stance about her sons. I’m sure Fuller is unsympathetic. (See: Stoner) Also, is she Penelope?
- p.53 – This felt like a DFW confessional to me. Suddenly, America – our America, not the book’s America, even if it still applies – is implicated in what he’s describing. “American experience seems to suggest that people are virtually unlimited in their need to give themselves away…”
- My man loves terminal modifiers, e.g. “Beyond that it all gets too abstract and twined up to lead to anything, Hal’s brooding” (54). This page is particularly guilty of such syntactical post-coital clarification, with coitus here signifying the rest of the sentence. Why would DFW deliver clarity about the subject as the terminus so frequently? Part of the story seems to be about misunderstanding that arises out of absent context. Or about language’s gaps no matter how you construct it. Place the modifiers wherever and whenever you’d like, you’ll still be lost on your reader, i.e. other people. Be as precise as Hal in your speech if you want, but it won’t ease your anxiety about being heard and/or understood one bit. Are we all doomed to be so lost? But what part of us are we hoping to be found? What wreck of an ego are we struggling to salvage and why? Another possibility with this terminal tendency is DFW playing around with when we receive particular bits of information and how that affects our relationship to those bits. Is it too late for that essential information to arrive at the end of the sentence? What understanding have we already formed prior to its arrival? Okay, it’s fruitless of me to continue, this analysis.
- Physical fragility amidst all the psychological excavation…just a thing I noted.
- And finally, those “root domestic particulars” that make Gately’s conscience itch (57). What is it about being attuned to cultural homogeneity that makes one feel icky? Is it the gross recognition of economic inequity? How the affluent tacitly conform to the same worldview and lifestyle, down to the smallest details in their homes? How noticing this brings you into the inauthenticity of the identities they construct through such things? Alas, poor Guillaume DuPlessis, I guess. It’s not his fault he was part of this grand farce, right?