Once again, a post over at A Supposedly Fun Blog made me want to comment, but my post, submitted in two or three different non-spammy ways, was marked as spam. So here’s my reply, whose trackback to that post will hopefully cause it to be seen and possibly responded to over there (though I’ll have no way to reply back short of posting another thing here, which I really don’t want to do over and over).
The post’s author talks about skipping over what is admittedly a rough patch to get through as we wander about the streets with C and Poor Tony, et al, as they try to get a fix. My reply:
The sections in this voice (as with the Wardine section earlier in the book) have always puzzled me a little bit. There are certain characters from these sections (especially Poor Tony and Roy Tony) whom you’ll see again in sometimes sad and sometimes funny (and sometimes both simultaneously) ways. How important this sketch is in its particulars I don’t recall, other than that it gives some background on Poor Tony. (That said, I don’t think either of the Tonies is a particularly major character, but my memory of the last half of the book is pretty vague.) I think what Wallace may be doing with this section is in a way trying to be democratic or exhaustive about the addiction thing. He’s trying to present addiction and its effects in many settings. I think he’s also pretty careful about not sitting in an ivory tower about it all. Not only criminals and street folk are drug addicts, he pretty clearly points out. I think that’s a big part of why he wrote the big Erdedy section and put it near the front of the book. Yet a depiction of addiction and the horrors it can lead to would be incomplete without this sort of view from the street. Whether or not it was necessary to write it in a voice from the street is debatable. It’s a difficult section to get through, for sure. I probably had a similar reaction upon my first read of IJ. This time around, it didn’t bother me so much, but I won’t pretend I thought it was the best writing in the book.
I think part of what Wallace tried to do with Infinite Jest, which came through in the post-mortem New Yorker profile, is to describe the whoe experience of what it is to be human. Some film or another in the Incandenza filmography also alludes to wanting to tell the story of everyone that appears on-screen, IIRC. (I don’t have the book in front of me just now.) IJ tells a dizzying number of stories, from major to incidental characters, and it would be poorer for exluding these perspectives.
Plus, as becomes clearer later (and least after a lot of flipping back and forth), many of these characters are connected.
Hello, Daryl! I heard about your blog on Twitter a few days ago and the posts here seemed interesting so I thought I’d contribute to the “First Milestone” thread but I haven’t heard back in two days so I’ll try one last time.
I think there are two separate traditions represented here: Social realism, which begins with Richard Wright and the publication of “Native Son” in 1940 (the first bestseller by an African American); and dialect writing, whose history goes back much further and is related to minstrelsy. The two get mingled together at some point, at least by the 1960s and early 1970s with books by much-acclaimed black and white authors like Claude Brown (Manchild in the Promised Land) and Warren Miller (The Cool World) and becomes a formulaic approach for writing about the urban “black experience.” [Note: I’ve read “Native Son” but not the other two].
Anyway, I think that this style of urban or social realism is what DFW is attempting here, but he hasn’t read enough of the literature to imitate the usage, for example, of the invariant be and invariant bees (as in “It bees that way sometimes”).
My first impression, as someone who lived in Allston for three years while attending college, was that he overestimates the black population of Allston (that Internet estimates list as 5.3%) as a kind of fictional license, but I would have to check the text to tell you exactly why I felt that way.
OK, thanks, man!
Hi, Steven. Thanks for your comments. I did see your comment on that other post but have been a little busy this week and hadn’t had a chance to respond. I’ll hop over there to address a couple of things shortly.
Re race in these sections of dialect, I think the Wardine section is pretty clearly narrated by a black speaker, but I’ve changed my mind on the yrstruly section. Someone had suggested that it was spoken by Pemulis’s older brother, but it actually turns out to be Emil Minty (evidence on page 300), who has a swastika and another racist tattoo (207). I had always pictured Poor Tony as black too (I think influenced by the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet movie in which the black actor playing Mercutio dances around at one point in a feather boa), but I’m thinking I was wrong on that count as well.
Of possible interest is Wallace’s collaboration with (I think) Mark Costello entitled “Signifying Rappers.” I haven’t read it, but I wonder if it wouldn’t shed some light on his approach to race and black (or perhaps I should say “street”) dialects.
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