The Bifurcation of the Parabola
October 12, 2008 § 1 Comment
Now reading: Infinite Jest.
A couple of links, first, to pieces you’ve probably already read but that I’ve just been enjoying, both courtesy the Howling Fantods “IJ Theses” page. One is this excellent examination of DFW’s first draft by Steven Moore, a friend of his during his Illinois years. What it really does is makes me want to see the first draft for myself, but Moore’s notes are nevertheless immensely interesting.
The other is Chris Hager’s undergraduate thesis on IJ, which is embarrassing, given the general quality of my undergrad papers. I found especially interesting the section on the structure of IJ (it’s the section that starts with the quote about the difference between art and drugs). Hager posits that the book forms a parabola, a la Gravity’s Rainbow, with the book swooping down into narrative and then slowly coming back up to take us out of the book. Furthermore, the brutal broomstick-impaling of Lucien Antitoi at the book’s (more or less exact) halfway point bisects the parabola.
The Antitoi murder is a remarkable piece of writing in a number of ways. It certainly does appear to be a kind of exceptional passage in the book, both in its position and in its execution. We get to the Antitoi Entertainment shop by following Gately on one of his joyrides in Pat Montesian’s Aventura (which is very black, very fast, and very sleek, and seems a direct allusion to the Imipolex G Schwarzgerät — “black device” — in GR). What’s remarkable here is how we leave Gately, midsentence, post-semicolon: “and one piece of the debris Gately’s raised and set spinning behind him, a thick flattened M.F. cup, caught by a sudden gust as it falls, twirling, is caught at some aerodyne’s angle and blown spinning all the way to the storefront of one ‘Antitoi Entertainment’…” And suddenly we’re learning about the Antitoi brothers. That’s a cinematic segue rather unlike anything else in the book, and a very unusual move by this narrator, if the book can be said to have one consistent narrator.
So the wheelchair assassins come for the tape of Infinite Jest which the Antitois have unwittingly stumbled upon, and Lucien is impaled. (We learn via footnote that “To hear the squeak” is “the very darkest of contemporary Canada’s euphemisms for sudden and violent de-mapping,” thanks to the squeaks of the assassins’ wheelchairs. Incidentally, just a couple of pages later, we get the awful story of James I. and his father trying to fix a squeak in a bed, the father keeling over in his own vomit, perhaps dead — the parabola has started its ascent.) And but so after the horrible murder takes place — and it is horrible — we are told that Lucien “sees snow on the round hills of his native Gaspé, pretty curls of smoke from chimneys, his mother’s linen apron…” And that when he finally dies, impaled, he “sheds his body’s suit” and escapes, whole, and soars north, toward home.
Remarkable. The pole at the center of this book is death and a rather startling, unexpected declaration of rebirth. It is awful and disgusting and horribly symbolic (impaled on a broomstick, like the O.N.A.N. of the book, created by an obsession with cleanliness), and then, suddenly, beautiful, lovely, sincere. Lucien is an innocent, very like Mario, and DFW seems to have nothing but affection for both of these characters. (There’s a telling passage on p. 517 in which Mario’s sympathetic view of Charles Tavis is contrasted with Hal’s view, which tends to focus on Tavis’s effect on him, Hal.) In the escape of Lucien from his agonizing death, there’s this sense of the undoing of the horror of Gravity’s Rainbow: no longer strapped into a horrible body-suit plunging toward death, but “shed” of it, hurtling home, out of death. It’s an escape, or an attempted escape, from the irony and stricture and coldness of metafiction, through metafiction. There’s something remarkable, too, in the way Lucien’s spirit is “catapulted,” like the trash of the U.S., and in the way it “sound[s] a bell-clear and nearly maternal alarmed call-to-arms in all the world’s well-known tongues.” I am not sure I know what this means, I am not sure why the call is “nearly maternal.” Gorgeous phrase, though.
In a lot of ways, this is as much of an ending and beginning as the book has. For, although it’s a bifurcated parabola, the book must also be annular, a ring, a circle. The book dances around its center — what happens to Hal, what happens to Gately. Those two are the head and heart, respectively, of the work. (I’m noticing on this reading just how many of the footnotes occur in Hal’s sections. It’s disproportionate, let’s put it that way. Can’t stop thinking, that Hal.)