Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer of Infinite Jest -- 6

I read two long scenes: the phone conversation between Orin and Hal on just what happened when their father committed suicide by putting his head in a microwave oven, and the following section, almost as long, about the Port Washington tennis match. Or at least the lead-up to it; I don't know if we get more of a it later.

I actually skipped the first five or six pages of the brothers' phone conversation, which simply looked like banter, and got to the meat of it: the part about their father's death, a section which answers the question of how anyone could actually commit suicide by putting their head in a microwave oven. I won't spoil it for you if you haven't read it. What impressed me about this whole scene is the mastery of black comedy. The whole idea of committing suicide by microwave is so absurd that it's impossible to believe, but when the author clearly describes how it might actually be accomplished, and its results, you the reader are forced to deal with this event along with the characters.

That said, I am just not finding anything about the dad figure all that interesting. Oh, I forgot about the whole scene that precedes this -- the scene of Joelle Van Dyne at a party of film grad students. Somewhere else in this blog I have expressed my revulsion at film grad students, a revulsion born of close exposure to them when I was a film criticism undergraduate. And they don't seem any more likable through DFW's eyes. As for the positively baroque and obsessive drug preparations which Joelle goes through, that was hard to read too. Clearly the author is both 1) comparing the anticipatory pleasure experienced by an addict before getting high with the anticipation of a suicide, and 2) himself taking a definitely weird obsessive pleasure in depicting it. Of course most of the over-detailed parts of this book, which are so many as to actually take up most of the book, share in this delight in obsessive detail, so that it comes to seem as if it's one of the author's main themes. If it's true that this is a book about the seductive nature of consumption, then I find this strategy on the part of the author to be wrong-headed. The joy he takes in depicting obsession is itself obsessive: there's not enough irony between them. It's like reading erotica that you know the author was turned on by when he or she wrote it.

I pretty much enjoyed the tennis match. I want to make it clear that I don't care about tennis one bit, but the pleasure I take in reading about it in this book is like that of any reader who learns about a subject by reading a novel about it. (Cf. my I.J. entry no. 4 in which I remarked on this effect as well.)

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