Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer of Infinite Jest -- 5

Last night I read the section from page 193 to 210 which introduces Ennet House and its surroundings and denizens. Yes, we've seen some of them before, but in this section the author does a very head-on description of the place -- its surroundings, including with respect to the tennis academy which has dominated the first two hundred pages, plus a long section on the things "you learn" in rehab there. After several pages of this (for example, you learn "that no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that," and "that the metro Boston street term for not having any money is sporting lint"), the narration shifts to several pages about the various tattoos of Ennet House denizens.

The information on tattoos is presented as the fruit of an obsessive interest by one of the residents, Ewell, but the passage struck me as the first part of the book which is truly dated. When the author wrote the book in the early 1990s, tattoos were still largely limited to the kinds of people described here -- prisoners, gang members, and the more outre members of the drug or queer community. Tattoos are depicted as disfiguring, as one of the stupid and "permanent" consequences of the poor judgement that results from doing drugs. As large as the author's imagination clearly is, he obviously never imagined that tattooing would become so mainstream that it's now unusual for a youth in his or her 20s or 30s not to have one.

Before tattoos, piercing was in vogue. In the 1990s, I got pierced. I never got tattooed. Now age 55, all my piercings are gone except one. Still don't have a tattoo.

I haven't mentioned, by the way, the section which precedes this, about Madame Psychosis' radio show. I enjoyed the section, and not because I expect or hope this radio show or its mysterious host to appear anywhere in the rest of the book except maybe in passing reference, but because I love weird radio that's on late at night and that almost no one listens to.

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