This week’s early milestone stops right in the middle of what is both metaphorically and literally a pivotal scene. I can’t even pretend to say anything useful about it until the scene is resolved. Maybe later in the week, I’ll come up with something about stuff that happens through page 611, but for now, I’ve got nothing. There’s stuff to say. The stuff about Mario, for example. Weird little motifs (e.g. fingers). That sort of thing. Sinister (by which I mean not just sort of malignant but also left-handed, which I think is a good thing to notice) Swiss Subjects. There’s plenty to write about — just not much I’ve got the urge to sit down and do anything with just now.
Two things that sort of broke my heart, reading this far in the book for the first time since Wallace’s death:
It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not sure you even know.
Madame still had a slight accent and often spoke on the show as if she were talking exclusively to one person or character who was very important to her… Mario’d fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she’d taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way.
I commented on another blog (I think it was Repat, but I may have said something similar here or at Detox — so much chatting!) that I don’t have a strong Identification with any characters, and thus don’t feel especially bad when they die (with the exception of if anything happens to Joelle, on whom I crush, and possibly Orin, possible candidate for existential anti-hero). But I don’t need Identifying to appreciate what they go through, natch.
So I was surprised when my heart took a little turn at Mario’s expression of powerful, overwhelming love for Hal. Add that to his love for MP, and probably a pretty decent attachment to JOI, walks with Schtitt, etc., and the little locked-up, hunched-over dude is just a mongo love source in a book with not-much-love in it.
Yeah, Mario is the bee’s knees. I had forgotten until this read what a sympathetic, lovely character he is. I think I used to crush on Joelle, but I’m less inclined to this time around, for reasons I can’t quite articulate yet (not because it’d necessarily spoil anything but because I haven’t identified just what it is yet).
Oh, zombie, I love these quotes. I don’t know how I missed the first one. And Mario’s Psychosis quote goes into what I’ve always found is the most important quote of the novel, in defining the post-postmodernism, anti-irony of Wallace’s work.
“The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that’s really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. it’s like there’s some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy” (592).
Every Mario scene makes me loathe Orin even more, and champion Hal despite his flaws.
Glad I *finally* came over to your blog.
Thanks, naptimewriting. I think this whole Mario section is gorgeous and touching. I agree that the quote you pull here is really important. It gets at the whole irony-as-a-masking-and-disconnecting thing that Wallace is all about, and it does so from such a simple, sweet, honest perspective (versus all the tricky framing and perforating of borders and exercises that seek somehow to turn irony back on itself) that it’s hard not to figure Wallace must be right about it.
So why does Mario have to be so deformed for that to work?
That’s a good question. It may have something to do with something Wallace said pretty early in the book about deformity making you sort of invisible, so that people can open up to you as if you weren’t even there. No need to be ironic about things if you don’t see a reason to let your guard down. Maybe it also has something to do with simple sympathy for the character. I wonder if we’d feel quite the same about Mario in this section if there weren’t the pathos about him that’s described elsewhere. I’m guessing it’d feel a little different. There are lots of damaged people (kids in particular) in Wallace’s work, and whether or not there’s a broader sense of redemption for them, etc., is something I’m considering pretty heavily right now.
Sorry I’m late to this party.
I was caught up short by both of those things this time around also, especially the first one.
About Mario… Wallace was quoted somewhere (and I can’t find it!) saying that Mario is actually the hero of this book, that he is the ideal in terms of frame of reference because of his relationship (or lack therof) to irony. The fact that he has to be physically deformed in order for this to work is because that’s the only way we as readers can take him seriously and believe that there is no pretense. It provides just the right amount of frisson when a convention is subverted. In early American literature (see for example Hawthorne) there was a one-to-one correspondence between a character’s exterior and his interior. Someone ugly to look at would be a villain. Someone fair of face would be a paragon of humanity. While this trope hasn’t been in use for centuries, the vestiges of “lookism” are still at work in our lives and in our media and are worth plumbing.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about Mario’s similarities to Irving’s Owen Meany, which I think is an apt comparison, although I think Wallace takes it much further.
I’m really glad you brought up Owen Meany. He’s on a list of characters I want to read about again as I ramp up efforts to write an essay about children in Wallace’s work. It’s been years and years since I read the Irving novel, but there’s a clear relationship. I’m also trying to think about all the poor damaged children in Wallace’s work (they’re found everywhere, not just in IJ) with the work of people like Hardy and Dickens in mind. These venerable old gents give us damaged/orphaned children, but there tends to be more redemption for them than in Wallace’s work. Why does Wallace do it, then? What are we to take from it all? Is he a sadist? I don’t think so, but I haven’t worked out entirely what he’s up to. That’s what I hope to do in the essay I’m working on. Mario’s a pretty rare example in Wallace’s work of a damaged kid who turns out ok.
Another thing that has come to mind as I’ve pondered all of this is the notion (probably also from older lit, with the one-to-one correspondence you mention, though I can’t really think of many examples [hmm, maybe this is common in fantasy and sci-fi?]) of damage resulting from the circumstances of a person’s birth. Ie, if you were born out of wedlock, you might be deformed or retarded, as a sort of reflection of or punishment for your parents’ sin. Mario would fit into this category, in a way, but he also undercuts it, for while he’s woefully malformed, his heart is just perfect. I haven’t solidified my thoughts around this issue or its relevance to the larger topic I’m contemplating, but it’s swirling around in my head with all the rest.
When I was in my teens and just getting into makeup I had a real affection for makeups with glitter in them. ,
We have abdicated our political duty. ,