The Great White Shark of Pain
October 20, 2008 § 3 Comments
Now reading: Infinite Jest.
Remember The Raw Shark Texts, that book I told you to read a couple of months ago? Well, here’s a strand of its source code.
Other than that, I don’t really feel like saying much about this; I’d forgotten about its existence; it is very sad and terrible and scary in a number of ways, but reading it also felt strangely therapeutic. Some small measure of explanation, perhaps, or at least my assumption thereof. (And it is my assumption; this section is from Kate Gompert’s point-of-view, mostly.) But it felt like DFW telling me how it was, I guess, and horrible as it is I was glad to hear it from him. I hope it did him good, and I think it helps us understand how maybe he hung on for longer than he thought he could.
Hal isn’t old enough yet to know that… numb emptiness isn’t the worst kind of depression. That dead-eyed anhedonia is but a remora on the ventral flank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain. Authorities term this condition clinical depression or involutional depression or unipolar dysphoria. Instread of just an incapacity for feeling, a deadening of soul…. Kate Gompert, down in the trenches with the thing itself, knows it simply as It.
It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself…. Its emotional character… is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.
It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed…. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one….
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise…. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.
-David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, p. 695-6