Eric Clipperton and the Clipperton Brigade

Infinite Jest, pages 407 to 410.  These pages are singular within IJ.  Incredible.  Unbelievable.  Hilarious.  Mind bending.  I don’t even know, man.  If you’ve read IJ before, you know what I’m talking about.  If not, here’s the setup from the horse’s mouth:

For the Clipperton legend derived from the fact that this Clipperton kid owned a hideous and immaculately maintained Glock 17 semiautomatic sidearm that came in a classy little leather-handled blond-wood case with German High-Gothic script on it and a velvet gun-shaped concavity inside where the Glock 17 lay nestled in plush velvet, gleaming, with another little rectangular divot for the 17-shot clip; and that he brought the gun-case and Glock 17 out on the court with him along with his towels and water-jug and sticks and gear bag, and from his very first appearance on the East Coast jr. tour made clear his intention to blow his own brains out publicly, right there on court, if he should lose, ever, even once.

He just starts materializing, always alone, at increasingly high-level junior tournaments, appears on draw-sheets with ‘Ind.’ by his name, plays competitive tennis with a Glock at his left temple; and his opponents, unwilling to sacrifice Clipperton’s hostage (Clipperton même), barely even try, or else they go for impossible angles and spins, or else talk on mobile phones while they play or try to hit every ball between their legs or behind their backs; and the matches’ galleries tend to boo Clipperton just as much as they dare….

This is one of my favorite moments in this book.  It really is kind of inspiring that DFW put together such an incredible physological/philosophical metaphor (for something), and that the point of the whole thing isn’t so much Clipperton but rather “The Clipperton Brigade.”  That is, it’s mostly about the damage done (or not done) to the boys that play Clipperton, especially Ross Reat (“of Maddox OH and the just-opened Enfield Tennis Academy”).

Since I’ve got so much other reading to do for my class right now, all I can give right now are some notes I took while reading this section last week.  I leave it as an exercise for Canelli to do a deeper interpretation of what this section is about.

  • Note the initial focus is on what happened to the boys who played him, not on who Eric was, where he came from, or what his motivation might have been. That seems to be secondary. Also note “brinkmanship” on the tennis court (eschaton).
  • Next, the “mechanics” of what Eric did (how he started and how he announced his intentions).
  • After that, how this affected Reat. Note that his psychic meltdown is forever immortalized by the picture glued to Struck’s dorm room door.
  • Last paragraph of 409: note his ghost-like qualities. Wraith-like, *cough* *cough* in fact….
  • At the end, Mario, as Alyusha again, is the only one to ever gain Clipperton’s confidence.

I don’t remember, but I think there’s another section about Clipperton’s demise later.  Can’t wait for that.

Update: It’s pages 430-434.  Clipperton comes to E.T.A. to speak with Mario and Himself and ends up shooting himself in the right temple with his Glock.  This is kind of a heavy thing in that

  • It’s a ghost-like character appearing at E.T.A., foreshadowing the revelation of Himself’s ghost haunting E.T.A. later in the book.
  • It’s a suicide, yes, but specifically it’s a firearm wielded against a head.  What did DFW say about this in his Kenyon Commencement Address?

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

  • Second note about the suicide: it recalls Himself’s own suicide (microwaving the head).
  • Finally, there’s the “creation” of the Clipperton Suite, a now haunted space that isn’t used by E.T.A. anymore and is avoided at all costs.  Why isn’t there a physical space reserved for Himself’s suicide?  Probably because the “space” is actually an emotional one: the emotional/psychic space Hal abandons (and is explained in Hal’s conflict with the grief counselor) after finding Himself suicided.

Infinite Jest is turning out to be nothing but a super elaborate post-modern ghost story.  There’s Himself, Clipperton, Lyle, dead Quebecker boys who were “train-kissed,” and the ghost of addiction that haunts pretty much every other character in this book.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *