Mario Incandenza’s James Incandenza’s O.N.A.N.tiad
October 8, 2008 § Leave a comment
Now reading: Infinite Jest.
Since my first reading lo those many years ago, I had forgotten, more or less completely, about Mario Incandenza. Which is sad, since Mario is such a lovely, strange, mysterious character. (Also, in a completely inappropriate way, he reminds me of Buster Bluth, from Arrested Development, both in his childlike nature and in his uncertain parentage: whenever it’s mentioned that Mario might be Charles Tavis’s son, I start hearing that soap-opera music they used for Uncle Oscar’s heavy-handed hints about Buster.)
Mario had a premature and very weird birth after Avril’s “hidden pregnancy.” It sounds like nothing so much as the baby in Eraserhead. Now he’s bradykinetic (slow of movement and response) and has shriveled S-shaped arms and can’t stand upright. Allusions are made to robots, spiders, the mentally retarded, and homunculi, when it comes to Mario, but none really apply for anything but physical appearance. He also seems to be utterly without irony, ulterior motive, or disturbing doubts about his family, unlike everyone else in said family. He loves Madame Psychosis’s radio show for reasons he can’t explain and is more or less traumatized when she goes off the air (as a result of her overdose/suicide attempt). He was extremely close to James “The Mad Stork” Incandenza, his father(?), and helped on his films.
In fact, he created a parody/homage to one of those films: The O.N.A.N.tiad, described in the note 24 filmography as an “Oblique, obsessive, and not very funny claymation love triangle played out against live-acted backdrop of the inception of North American Interdependence and Continental Reconfiguration.” (Here’s what appears to be a simple error: the JOI original is listed as 76 minutes in the filmography but said to be four hours long in the text.) It’s “anti-confluential,” meaning it resists the trend to tie all the threads of its narrative together in a nice little package, a school of filmmaking JOI helped to create. (Presumably in reaction against Magnolia, or Crash, or another look-how-we’re-all-connected-and-depend-on-each-other film of 1996’s future.) On Interdependence Day (Nov. 8th) every year, when the continent “celebrates” the creation of the Organization of North American Nations, the E.T.A. students and staff watch Mario’s version, made in a broom closet with puppets. We get DFW’s (or Hal’s?) ekphrastic description of it.
In this way we get a lot of the complicated geopolitical background and exposition for the novel. And part of the point here is how mediated this exposition/background is: we’re watching a homage of a parody of world events which were really, it would seem, much less important to JOI than the affair he thought Rod “the God” Tine was having with French-Canadian operative Luria P., which served as a kind of allegory of the affairs he thought his wife was having with French-Canadian operatives more or less all the time (and perhaps accurately). There’s an interesting comment that “somebody else in the Incandenza family had at least an amanuentic hand in the screenplay.” Who? Avril? Hal?
(Sidebar: there have apparently been theories floating around about Avril’s “amanuentic hand” being more or less all over this book, and it’s true: she seems to be lurking everywhere, especially in the French-Canadian separatist shenanigans. Lots of little intimations in the footnotes, here. And it does make you wonder about that head in the microwave…)
And through this filmed puppet-show we meet “Johnny Gentle, Famous Crooner,” leader of the Clean U.S. Party, surprise winner of the U.S. election, utter obsessive about hygiene and cleanliness, possibly a real-life puppet for Rod “the God” Tine, head of the Office of Unspecified Services. (This possibility, emphasized in Mario’s remake, is downplayed by the narrator, which is interesting.) The Johnny Gentle/Rod Tine relationship, and the whole “experialist” Gentle presidency, is more or less uncomfortably familiar, after eight years of Bush/Cheney. Experialism could be construed as just being the opposite of imperialism, in that it involves forcing other countries to take your land, but there’s really a much more complicated relationship between the two concepts, experialism really meaning something more like exploiting the danger of your enormous and even obvious power to do whatever you want with parcels of land that you’ve “generously” “given” to other countries who you railroad into being or at least publicly acting like your allies. It involves finding an “external Menace to hate and fear,” even if it’s just something you’ve made up, or that was made up or impotent but that you’ve actually made real and potent through either your bungling or your Machiavellian scheming. (See: Quebecois terrorist groups.) Hell, I’m sure there are whole dissertations in the works about DFW’s experialism and its Bakhtinian implications or whatnot.
The best part of the movie, by the sound of it, is the newspaper-headline interludes, flashing us through swaths of history a la old movies and (more commonly) homages to old movies. DFW creates this great mini-narrative, in the narrator’s ekphrastic descriptions of the headlines, about a “Veteran but Methamphetamine-Dependent Headliner” who writes incredibly long run-on headlines that are basically articles in themselves, and we follow this meth-addict headline-writer from his gig at a major newspaper to smaller and smaller towns where he continues to be unable to kick either his meth or logorrhea habit. (And, of course, a self-reflexive joke on his own run-ons and stylistic quirks, since the headlines are more or less quintessential DFW-style headlines.)
I actually wouldn’t be too surprised if someone did make this movie, someday. I’d watch it, even if it was “openly jejune.”