Fragmented Into Beauty

Well there’s no getting away from mentioning note 24 this week. I skimmed it the first time I read the book because it seemed extra and annoying and probably extra annoying. End notes with footnotes of their own. A text within a text. Plots (or not) described within the text within the text. A tiny bit of plot among the players in Incandenza’s films (if you watch last names, you’ll see evidence of marriage and, presumably, divorce). Untitled. Unfinished. UNRELEASED. My feeling is that you don’t have to read most of these too carefully on a first dip into the book. It’s the kind of note that it might be instructive to read after you finish and on subsequent readings, and I find it more funny than annoying every time I’ve read it since that first.

I don’t have a lot to say about Kate Gompert. This section is hard to read after Wallace’s death. I have the impression that there’s something of a kinship between this section and the Erdedy section. Maybe it’s how they deal with something that is, or could be, treated as a very big cliche. Or it might be how they seem to try to deal with that cliche very honestly, how they’re pretty much devoid of some of the absurdity that occurs elsewhere in the book (feral hamsters and infants, anyone?). I’m not sure. But without going back and doing a side-by-side close reading of the two, I have an amorphous sense that the two are cousins.

From page 68:

We sort of play. But it’s all hypothetical, somehow. Even the ‘we’ is theory: I never get quite to see the distant opponent, for all the apparatus of the game.

I just dig that dream and its concluding sentences.

From pages 81 – 82:

[Schtitt] knew real tennis was really about not the blend of statistical order and expansive potential that the game’s technicians revered, but in fact the opposite — not-order, limit, the places where things broke down, fragmented into beauty…

And Schtitt… nevertheless seemed to know what Hopman and van der Meer and Bollettieri seemed not to know: that locating beauty and art and magic and improvement and keys to excellence and victory in the prolix flux of match play is not a fractal matter of reducing chaos to pattern. Seemed intuitively to sense that it was a matter not of reduction at all, but — perversely — of expansion, the aleatory flutter of uncontrolled, metastatic responses to those responses, and on into what Incandenza would articulate…. as a Cantorian continuum of infinities of possible move and response… beautiful because infoliating, contained, this diagnate infinity of infinities of choice and execution, mathematically uncontrolled but humanly contained, bounded by the talent and imagination of self and opponent.

I think that any time Wallace starts writing about infinity, it’s probably pretty important, given the title of the novel and the title of the film(s) that it references (didn’t catch that if you didn’t read note 24). This passage is kind of wonderful, and I have trouble not thinking of it as something of an artistic statement. Wallace’s work takes you in a million possibly chaotic directions. Understanding that his work can’t be forced into a template is, I think, a key to enjoying it. Your job as reader is to supply containment where he doesn’t and yet to let the work bounce about within your own sense of its containment, producing whatever associations it produces for you, which then feed back into your reading of the work. Reading Wallace is more like playing a match of tennis (I suppose that’s pretty trite of me) than sitting back in your special chair in front of the TV drooling into the tray strapped to your chin. It’s about engagement rather than passive entertainment.

I’ve always found the Steeply/Marathe scenes a little tedious and sometimes confusing.

8 thoughts on “Fragmented Into Beauty

  1. kate July 1, 2009 / 3:33 pm

    capital YES at the assessment of that passage and i agree with the final sentence.

  2. Giovane July 2, 2009 / 3:20 pm

    Hi, Daryl! Thank you for bringing IZ together. I’m finding your comments and those of your fellows very stimulating. For instance, it was good to know that I don’t need to feel bad about skipping most of note 24. I had thought something along what you said in the post, that maybe it’ll all make more sense after the first reading. For now, I only got attracted by the summaries of the “Infinite Jest” films (I to V), as it seemed somehow to be connected with the book as whole… Well, keep posting!
    PS. I think you are doing better than “A Supposedly Fun Blog”. They complain too much… 🙂

  3. yeah July 2, 2009 / 3:23 pm

    A-S-F-B is pissing me off more than anything.

  4. Daryl Houston July 2, 2009 / 3:48 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Giovane. I’m glad the tip re note 24 was helpful. I do think it’s good to give most of the book (notes included) the old college try because there’s lots of depth there, but there’s no way for a normal reader (or, probably, even a super-star reader) to take in all the depth on a first reading anyway. Among the blurbs in note 24, there are lots of little gems like the one Avery blogged about over at Infinite Summer today. And that film blurb is probably sort of emblematic of a lot of what the book’s about, though it’s not a blurb you’d necessarily pick out to read. It’s the sort of thing where what you don’t know (or read) probably won’t hurt you, but what you do know (or read) adds depth.

    Regarding complaining over at ASFB, I value other opinions. I’m such a flag-waving fan boy of Wallace’s that I probably lack sufficient distance to make sound critical judgments of his work. Reading opinions counter to my own is good for me, if not always easy or especially fun. And I’ve found some of the posts over at ASFB to be pretty thought-provoking. Their blog sure seems to get a lot more action in the comments, so they must be doing something compelling. 🙂

    Ah, and one more thing: Though I’m the most prolific of the bloggers here at IZ, I can’t take credit for organizing it. Scott Porch is the brains behind the operation.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  5. Michael July 7, 2009 / 9:56 am

    Yes. The mention of Cantor in this section I think very important; DFW exposing his true belief here, albeit briefly before retreating again behind his barrage of words back into his lonely, impenetrable cell. Please see his biography of Cantor, _Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity_.


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