Some notes on the second milestone

In th readings for the second milestone (63-94), we learn, in a fairly straightforward fashion, a lot of backstory pertaining to Hal’s father, Dr James Orin Incandenza, as well as some details about Hal’s grandfather.

This is the first chapter in the book that I found challenging, both because of the the length of DWF’s sentences and because of the length of his footnotes, one of which contains the entire filmograhy of Dr. Incandenza, running to almost nine full pages and containing, depending upon how you count it, listings for almost 80 films.  Some of these entries are funny in the extreme, especially if you’ve ever suffered through too much really bad avant garde cinema.

Structurally, the details of Dr. Incandenza’s filmic output reveal many details about his own troubled life and, especially, his troubled relationship with his wife and, to a lesser extent, his son Hal.  Also notable, as I’ve been told to watch out for Hamlet references (and as I am something of a Hamlet freak), is that the production company for many of the films, especially the later ones, is “Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited” (990), which is, of course, a reference to the court jester whose skull Hamlet famously addresses in the speech from which Infinite Jest takes its title–a speech, not inconsequentially, about death and the purpose of life, given the fact of it.

Pages 68-78 comprise an interesting chapter about a Katherine Ann “Kate” Gompert, an attempted suicide now confined in the psych wing of some hospital. The cause of her attempt seems to be a combination of depression and pot withdrawal.  We see the chapter in limited omniscient (or maybe free-indirect?) POV from her doctor’s perspective. It’s a really great scene, as we get inside the head of the doctor (actually a resident) trying very hard to keep the clinically correct outward emotional affect, even as he seems to also become genuinely concerned (and maybe a little out of his depth) during this consultation. So, here, the communication theme appears again. There seem to be moments of genuine understanding here, when the doctor goes off script and Kate reaches out, attempting to be understood. I’m not sure the doctor ever gets named. Kate, mentions another doctor, Dr. Garton (a previous shrink?).

We get a really good chapter introducing Gerhardt Schtitt and his relationship with Mario Incandenza (79-85).  I like this one for a lot of reasons. First off, it’s one of the few places so far where DFW gets overtly philosophical, admiring–while also admitting the possible issues with–Schtitt’s pro-fascist upbringing (82), as it creates a sense of belonging and shared purpose, something DFW thinks is sorely missing from modern life (and that Schtitt thinks is missing from American life).  It also lets him philosophize more about tennis as a battle not between player and player or even player and objective rules but one between player and self.  Stylistically, it’s great because DFW switches, abruptly, from a free indirect POV (hovering in and out of both characters minds) to direct authorial intrusion (e.g. “This should not be rendered in exposition like this, but Mario Incandenza as a severely limited range of verbatim recall” [82]).

We also get into the really fascinating and strange chapter about Marathe, a wheelchair bound Quebecois separatist and member of an elite group of similarly injured assassins.  The origins of the injury itself are explained in detail in perhaps the longest footnote so far (Note 39, which leads to note 304, which tells the story of James Albrecht Lockley Struck, Jr. as he is plagiarizing an essay on Marathe’s group of assassins and the Quebecois separatists in general.  The story is eight pages long with several footnotes on it as well).

The tape (which Steeply calls “the entertainment”) which we now know has killed–or, at least, frozen, Medusa-style–the medical attache, his wife, and many others who entered the room and inadvertently looked at it, is mentioned.  Steeply wants to know if Marathe’s crew had anything to do with it, which he denies.  They speculate that it might have been personally motivated, which leads me to suspect that it might have been James Incandenza’s work, an effort to get even with the medical attache for sleeping with his wife.  But we’ll see.  It gets a little confusing there.

4 thoughts on “Some notes on the second milestone

  1. Daryl Houston June 30, 2009 / 12:04 pm

    Some of it gets confusing indeed. This is an outstanding summary, though.

    I really like the parts with Mario, and I wonder how much critical work has been done to understand him. He’s presented as being a pretty simple fellow, but here and there, there are hints that there’s a little more to him, I think. The Mario passages often seem sort of loving and fun, but also sad and a little uncomfortable, given his infirmity.

    I don’t remember whether the Schtitt section has stood out to me in the past, but I really dug it this time around. I find myself saying that of a lot of sections!

  2. kate July 1, 2009 / 3:21 pm

    this post is great!

  3. James Martin July 1, 2009 / 4:52 pm

    Thanks, Kate.

    I like the Mario and Hal/Mario sections, too, Daryl. At first, I thought Mario was younger than Hal. He has a certain innocence about him, which is charming, and his internal discourse is easy to follow, since he’s just not as complicated–at least for now–as some of the other POV characters we’ve been following around.

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