Illustrating ‘Moby-Dick’ – page 020

Queequeg stressed me out. A lot. I was enormously surprised, and continue to be so, at how much attention the Moby-Dick illustration project got very early on. It has generally been pretty wonderful to share the art with so many people, many of whom are total strangers. But something that I think even the most disciplined and focused artists experience is the weight of other’s expectations. While I think very few readers are likely to form a specific visual impression of Ishmael, which freed me to create that strange whale-like mask as his totem, many readers are either familiar with how Queequeg has been depicted in the various illustrated editions and films, or have in mind some kind of strange amalgam of a South Sea islander, tattoos, and shrunken heads. When trying to visualize Queequeg, I kept running aground on my fear of others expectations, and that froze me up for days. True artist block, for the first time on this project and one of the first times in my life.

In keeping with my initial focus on a reductionist approach to the art, I began stripping away what I knew I wouldn’t need. The body, the lean and athletic anatomy of a professional harpooneer was not important. Queequeg could just be a shape, like all of the other characters thus far. I had begun developing a sort of visual vocabulary that functioned as an easily readable catalog of symbols, each of which reflected a character’s role. The non-sailors, which I affectionately termed “landlubbers” on the blog, were all almost perfectly cylindrical, beak-nosed, wide-eyed toy-like shapes. The seamen and captains were all to resemble ships in some way, although, anachronistically, they generally looked more metallic and robotic. These forms have held up throughout the project so far. The harpooneers, of which Queequeg was the first, were different though. I’ve always thought of them as predators, or living weapons, beings frightfully perfect in their ability to battle and destroy monsters. For some time I thought of giving them all bird heads, but that seemed too obvious and, in a strange way, too consistent. Queequeg, Tashtego, and Daggoo are so alike and yet so vastly different and I didn’t want to be confined to a certain character type for each one of them. So for the harpooneers, the only consistency I wanted was inconsistency.

That didn’t get me much farther though in figuring just how I wanted Queequeg, that terrifying tattooed savage, to look. Back to the act of reducing, after discarding anatomy, clothing and accoutrements were next. I kept coming back to what I think each of us remembers when it comes to Queequeg. His friendliness and his tattoos. I quickly decided that rendering them too realistically would be pointless. We remember what our impressions of things are, not what they really are. Queequeg, like Ishmael, and like the captains and landlubbers, needed to be a living symbol. A mask that came to stand in for him, represent him, epitomize him.

Thoughts of his South Sea island home called to mind the bright turquoise blue of the ocean water in what I imagined would be his lagoons and beaches, so I began with that. A simple scalloped pattern, repeated over and over, built itself into a lushly but simply patterned face. For his eyes, the silhouette was a compassionate almond, but the eyes radiated red to remind the viewer that this man is indeed a killer of whales and an eater of men. All that remained was to cloak him simply in his woven poncho, equip him with his trusty harpoon, and give him a simple topknot. And of course, recalling the hilarious scene aboard the Pequod when Queequeg first signs on with Bildad and Peleg, I couldn’t resist including “his mark.”

Ultimately, I was quite pleased with this even though it has been one of the hardest of all the images to create. What has been fascinating is the way in which this color blue and this pattern have come to stand in for Queequeg. It’s been incredibly gratifying that some who visit the blog regularly even comment for that. It must have been a powerful image indeed for viewers to be able to connect these things so closely and so specifically with a single character.

Queequeg is still one of my favorites to draw. Besides whales, of course. When I finally finish, sometime next spring, I imagine I will create a more elaborate portrait of the man simply to frame and hang on my well. He always seemed like such a likeable cannibal, and I should like to get to know him better myself.

Illustrating ‘Moby-Dick’ – pages 004 and 006

I feel that my greatest artistic shortcoming is my absolute inability to render a convincing human figure. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the first Moby-Dick film as well as the exquisite Rockwell Kent illustrations. In each of those iterations, great care was taken to put forth convincing, unique, visually distinct representations of each of the characters. I didn’t think I would be able to pull that off, especially over 552 pages, and I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to. This was primarily because I wasn’t interested in creating a simple visual narrative, a linear A to B journey through the book via paintings and drawings. I wanted to dig much deeper, get to the meat of things, and show the book as I saw it in my own inner theater. One of the many things which has always astounded me about the novel and the men behind the harpoons is the staggering willpower involved in choosing such a path. I’ve already alluded to this, but the idea of leaving home for years and years at sea, for little money, living on a tiny wooden island, and setting out on the unknown watery deep to stab to death the most massive and often savage creatures to ever see the sun…well, I find that almost inconceivable. So before beginning the illustration for page 004, the first time  in this project that I would have to depict a seaman, I spent some time thinking about just who these men were. What drove them. What inner architecture supported these brave deeds. Gradually, these men began, in my mind, to resemble ships. The very ships they sailed on or the ironclads of the Civil War. In some ways, part machine, part tool, part man. That was quite honestly the only way I could even begin to rationalize the choice to endure such deprivation, such isolation, such wandering, all for the sake of a few barrels of whale oil and a handful of dollars.

The line I chose, from a much more poetic paragraph, is Ishmael wondering “What of it, if some old hunks of a sea captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks?” In a way, this quick piece was a good warm-up for what I knew would be many many more seamen and captains, Ahab and otherwise, throughout the book.

A simple, prow-like head. A band of some kind of optical devices. The anchor, (for me) the universal symbol of naval authority, radiating from his forehead almost aggressively. The booming voice bellowing commands. And again, an illustrated word. Words have shown up in many of these illustrations so far, and they have always seemed inseparable from my vision of the text itself.

These stylistic choices would repeat themselves many times until reaching their apotheosis in my vision of the mad Captain Ahab. But that’s a tale for another day.

Page 006 also represented a first in that it was my first opportunity to explore the whale as a visual symbol. In a bit of foreshadowing, Ishmael describes one of his most powerful reasons for choosing a life at sea as “Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself.” Knowing that I would be exploring the meaning of the whiteness of the whale at great length later, I chose instead to focus quite literally on Ishmael’s motive, “the great whale himself.” The meaning of the whale, as embodied by the whale. The proto-whale. The avatar of the whale.

Nothing but mass. Sheer, terrifying size, rising from the horizon. Something so huge that it cannot possibly be seen in its entirety at once, with one set of eyes. It must be broken into pieces, here by the borders of the paper, to even be comprehensible. An idol of the great leviathan. And an almost perfect fusion of power and simplicity. I was deliriously happy with this piece, and although many of the later images of whales would become a great deal more dynamic, detailed, fiddly, surreal, fantastical, and more, this to me is still the epitome of the great whale himself.

On Tuesday, I will introduce you to everybody’s favorite cannibal Queequeg.

Illustrating ‘Moby-Dick’ – page 001

I am often asked just how I decide which line of text from Moby-Dick I am going to illustrate, and if I simply read one page each day. Since I have read the book a number of times, I am relatively familiar with most of it (although each reading has revealed more and more to me). Generally, I will read a few chapters at a time and simply marinate on them for a while. Turn them over in my in my brain almost subconsciously. When the time comes, I will re-read a few pages and select a passage that I have an immediate response to. I’m not choosing passage that would simply be easy or fun to illustrate, nor am I necessarily choosing passages that I think will continue to advance the narrative in a visual way. I’m not trying to create a graphic novel version of Moby-Dick, or some sort of storyboard for the tale. I think it would actually be fairly difficult to follow and comprehend the thread of the story simply by looking at my illustrations alone, unless one had already read the novel at least once. That may be a weakness of the project, but to me it is simply another layer in the mosaic that’s been built up around the book over the decades and it doesn’t trouble me.

Once I’ve selected a line to illustrate, I will again let my subconscious go to work. I’m always aware that what I am really doing is channeling all of the visual imagery that I have soaked in over a lifetime of looking at things and reacting to the text from that state of mind. I can see all sorts of influences in nearly every one of the illustrations I’ve made so far. Some are almost obvious while others are more subtle. But again, as I mentioned before, each of these illustrations is an intensely personal reaction to the text and the novel itself, as I see it, as it plays out in my own inner theater. I’m not certain if this is the way I’ve always seen Moby-Dick, but I do know that many of these images are strangely familiar to me so at some point in the past this is what the novel became, visually, to me.

Unfortunately, I have a habit of never planning anything very well. A good example was my choice of the Signet Classics paperback edition of the novel, which uses Roman numerals for the “Front Matter” and begins Chapter 1 on page 1. That edition has 552 pages, meaning I would have to create 552 daily pieces of art. I have since learned that the Dover Giant Thrift Edition has only 464 pages, some of which are introductory material and that if I had done just a bit of searching and chosen that edition I would have saved myself almost 4 months of labor and obsession. Ah, well.

So we come to the first page. The first illustration. The first step on this 18 month (at least) voyage. To be blunt, the choice of text was a no-brainer. “Call me Ishmael.” One of the most well-known lines from the novel. Indeed, one of the most well-known lines in literature.

In a sense, my illustration again demonstrates how I don’t necessarily always think things through. We all know that Ishmael is the narrator, and that in many ways it is his voice we hear throughout the novel. He is never far from the reader, a constant companion on the waves, and I mistook that constant narrative voice for a constant visual presence. One of the many tricks one learns when illustrating a comic book is to make the main characters as simple to draw as possible. This is especially necessary since the artist will be drawing them again and again and again, panel after panel after panel, page after page after page. While it may be a thrill to create some incredible vision replete with all sorts of fiddly details like folds and pleats in the clothing, belts and pouches, wildly colorful patterns and so on, those details can become sheer misery to draw so many times. So mistaking my Ishmael for a constant visual in this series, I depicted him as simply as possible.

In retrospect, I have absolutely no regrets. This image actually turned out perfectly, just the way it had to be. Ishmael, a vaguely whale-shaped mask. A cipher. A perfect stand-in for the reader. The man with the sea inside of him.

I had been thinking a lot about the simple, almost abstract art of painters such as Yuichi Yokoyama, Paul Klee and Joan Miro and the way that, for them, identity is often expressed through almost totemic masks. Ishmael, for me, became a mask. A symbol. Which I felt appropriate because even though his voice is our constant companion, we know next to nothing about him, even after the nihilistic fury of the novel’s climax has been spent. Ishmael is the one character everyone is aware of but nobody knows. This kind of symbolic, mask-like representation was something I had been thinking about for a long time, and something I would explore again and again with every one of the characters in the novel.

Beyond that, a few simple details remained. The first chapter and its first page are largely Ishmael’s thoughts alone as he half-drifts through a reverie of ennui and aimlessness. Best, to me, depicted through the vaguely ominous, bruise-yellow storm clouds gathering above. As for the name, well, honestly, how could that not be included? Again, a nod, perhaps, to many many years of reading comic books, but for me the word as a design element is something I would return to again and again. Perfectly suited, I think, for a novel like Moby-Dick, where the white whale himself is often compared to a kind of book.

On Friday, a nameless “old hunks of a sea captain” and “the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself.” As always, comments and critiques are always deeply appreciated, even if they are negative. I value honesty far more than praise.

What Would They Criticize?

There’s an awful lot of interesting stuff in the second chunk of reading on our schedule (how my tune changes in just 51 pages!), but I want to fly over everything in the middle and focus on the material that basically bookends the section: the story of Edwin Johns. Over at the Bolaño mothership, Brooks suggests that Johns may be based on a performance artist called Pierre Pinoncelli, and I can see where the self-mutilation invites the link, but I think of him much more as Damien Hirst. (Obviously, there’s the taxidermy, but there’s also his nationality, his age, his rebelliousness, and his outrageous sales.)

First I want to talk about the situation of the artist in the art market. We have received a Romantic idea of the artist as a brilliant male creator, receiving inspiration from external, divine sources (alright, the Muses are older than Romanticism) and struggling heroically against the world to produce great, pure testaments to his genius and skill. Art is the extension into this world of that which is divine and unsullied, and any other purpose behind the making of art—for money, for example—taints both the result and the artist. We have the stereotype of the starving artist, nobly refusing to follow any star but his art, regardless of petty concerns like lunch or rent.

And all that of course is a load of crap, foisted on the world by men who didn’t have to earn their bread or their keep, and were thus able to ignore the economic considerations that most everyone else has to take into account when deciding how to pursue their careers. (Not that they were above accepting money for their work; it just had to be a formal afterthought.) I don’t discount the expressive and aesthetic drives that lead a creative person to art, but I want to emphasize that most people have to balance the satisfaction of those drives with meeting the first one or two levels of needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. And to that extent, art must be an economic activity; it cannot be isolated from the flow of money. In truth, it can never be: the actual artist must buy her supplies from somewhere, and must have someplace to do her art (which place she either rents or pays property taxes on). But even outside the inescapable embedment of all living in economic activity, artists need to sell. To be a professional artist is to support yourself through the sale of your work.

I’m going to skip a discussion here of “selling out,” because I don’t think it’s particularly interesting. What I want to say instead is that it seems to me that the critical apparatus—the critics themselves, their reviews, their journals—is a necessary part of this situation, at least in the case of new art. (Like Edwin Johns’s.) After a certain time, artists and kinds of art and individual pieces acquire reputations, so that their relative values (both monetary and “artistic,” by which I suppose I mean a combination of aesthetic and intellectual) are reasonably apparent. With new art, though, it’s often useful to have someone to put it in context; indeed, for the purposes of market valuation, it’s essential. Basically, in my representation here, it is a purpose (among others) of the critical establishment to tell people what new art is worth.

And I say Edwin Johns’s breakthrough exhibition, the one Norton tells Morini about on 52 and 53, is included in 2666 as a straight-up indictment of that critical establishment. The man chops off his own hand and puts it in an art show, and rather than recoil, the public buys up every single piece, “although the prices were astronomical.” That’s disgusting, and something that a responsible critic would feel obligated to oppose; societies obviously can’t afford to extend financial incentives for mutilation, and a critic who cares about the field he works in (or about people at all) ought to be horrified at the idea of his discipline as a beachhead for the practice. But rather than revulsion, Johns’s exhibition inspires a whole artistic movement. Not one of amputation, true, but I think it still has to be seen as the fruit of a poisonous tree. (I’m concerned that I’ve come to sound terribly moralistic here; I hope instead I just sound firmly convinced that chopping off your own hand for monetary gain is a bad kind of business.)

And if we believe Morini, Johns did it specifically for the money, “because he believed in investments, the flow of capital, one has to play the game to win, that kind of thing” (97). That’s so deeply cynical that it feels utterly sane. And it succeeded—he played the game very well, which I can’t help but see as proof that all the players must be corrupt and monstrous, whether or not they intend to be. Of course, the correspondence between their intentions and their actions is the kind of thing critics are supposed to investigate, and here’s where I come again to the failures of the critics in this scenario. I find this whole episode so savagely…critical…of criticism that it’s almost breathtaking, and I don’t think it’s balanced out by what I see as the tenderness and affection of page 72’s characterization of outré literary criticism as a cry for love. Lots of readers identified a kind of gentle mocking of academia in the first week’s reading, but this week is much more vicious on the subject.

There are two possible mitigations here (outside of the fact that I may be taking this much too far anyway). The first is that Johns is in a mental hospital. I’m surprised at the text’s implication that there was a process of going mad involved, because I’d have said the amputation was proof that he was a danger to himself. But in any case, he may be untrustworthy. Even more, though, Morini himself may be untrustworthy. He tells Norton “he thought he knew why Johns had cut off his right hand” (my emphasis); I don’t know where Morini’s uncertainty comes from, because the text is pretty clear that Johns whispers something into his ear. Then again, that scene (on 91) undercuts itself by pointing out that it’s too dark for Pelletier to see what happened. Maybe Johns never even answered the question. It looks like we can’t be sure. But it all seems pretty sordid to me.

What do y’all think?

Arcimboldo and the Composite Character

Whether or not it ever becomes explicit that Archimboldi’s name is a reference to 16th-century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, it is certainly a strikingly similar enough name that one is tempted to infer a link. The paintings for which Arcimboldo is most famous will be familiar enough to most of us, I think. After looking them up during my first read of the book a year ago, I was surprised to learn that a friend had had small prints of them hanging on a wall for years. I had simply never known who had painted them. The paintings are composite portraits whose parts are things like vegetables and fruits and fish and other people. Get a look at them here. (Side note: I learned while clicking around today that the familiar or spirit (or whatever; in any case, a humanoid whose body is composed of vegetables) who helps the chef cook soup in the movie The Tale of Despereaux is named Boldo after the artist who inspired that character’s composition.)

From the beginning of my first reading of the book, it occurred to me that the four Archimboldians seem to move and function almost as a single unit. Early on, they can always be found talking to one another in various permutations or walking together with one or another pushing Morini’s wheelchair while the others walk along beside or behind. If Pelletier’s not bedding Norton on a given night, Espinoza is, and for the life of me, I can’t keep the particular attitudes and traits of those two men straight. Norton stands out because she’s a woman and Morini because he’s crippled, but the other two are virtually interchangeable. Matt Bucher suggests that the way Bolaño tosses these people — all of different nationalities, recall — together points to a porousness of national borders, perhaps a comment on the degree to which nationality matters at all to this Chilean author who was himself a man more, in a way, of other countries than of his own. Arcimboldo too was a multi-national, Matt points out.

It strikes me that in the part about the critics (at least early on), it’s less the individual characters Bolaño has given us than the sum total of their collective experience as critics that is interesting. Maybe I’m just a cold fish, but I don’t have much feeling for any of the characters; still, I find their adventures intriguing, their slightly different introductions and approaches to Archimboldi of some interest. But it’s the composite of them all that I’m drawn to, I think, and the good-natured derision that I think attends the descriptions of some of their activities. It’s the critics and not any one critic whose story pulls me along. That they should spend their lives pursuing an author whose namesake seems to be a painter who created composites seems only fitting.

The parts of the book are listed as follows:

  • The Part about the Critics
  • The Part about Amalfitano
  • The Part about Fate
  • The Part about the Crimes
  • The Part about Archimboldi

Note that three of the five sections refer to things in the singular. Since we all know by now that the book is at least in part about a bunch of murders, I don’t believe it’s really so much of a spoiler  to give away in advance that a bunch of bodies will pile up in the part about the crimes and that, as with the critics (though to a more pronounced extent), the particulars of the crimes and their poor offended bodies will begin to run together. Thus the part about the crimes also becomes a composite of sorts, the bodies constituent parts of something bigger (though exactly what, who knows? Evil? The human condition? That oasis of horror in a desert of boredom that Bolaño invoked in the epigraph?). And so, again, the reference to Arcimboldo, with his composite images, seems fitting.

Archimboldi’s portrait of Eve depicts her wearing a low-cut bodice (whether or not immodest for the period I can’t say) with a rose and red bows. In her hand she holds the fateful apple, her pinky upraised (phallic or just dainty?). Her face, in profile, is composed of what look to me like children cavorting, some in possibly sexual attitudes. One has his back turned and his hand apparently down in his lap. Others are embracing. One is bent over, as if presenting for rear entry (though to be fair, he or she is the cheekbone, so the pose may be more pragmatic than risque). In the portrait of Adam, the children seem younger and more innocent (perhaps in keeping with some readings of the Bible in which Adam is lured by temptress Eve), though here and there a hand does seem to be exploring a crotch. Of note with respect to our critics, Adam is cradling a book and wielding a rolled paper, almost as if he’s holding forth (perhaps, paradoxically, from a scripture that didn’t yet exist?), looking for all the world like some literary critic.

I imagine Bolaño working backward from these images of bodies made of bodies, with the Cuidad Juarez murders in mind, and constructing a composite of horror using the pile of murdered bodies and a composite of academic endeavor (with its fun and its follies) from the four critics. It’s a weird intersection of knowledge in the Biblical sense and knowledge in the academic sense. I think it may be useful, as we move forward, to consider our attitudes to reading both sections and what effect the blurring and blending of critics/victims (a parallel Bolaño must have seen if not written purposefully) has on our take on the different portions of the text.

No comment

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.

and:

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.

A Solution without a Problem?

In the July/August edition of Poetry, Daisy Fried writes a nice little piece on reading Paradise Lost in its original form and in a recent parallel prose edition, which is offered, apparently, as “a way to deal with the epic’s difficulty” (Fried’s words). She pulls out a few clanger passages in translation to illustrate how impoverished they are (however well-meaning) next to the original poetry, which, at least in the examples she gives, isn’t really all that hard at all to read. Some passages from Fried’s short and sort of delightful article that seem relevant to much of the hoopla about how hard it is to read Infinite Jest:

Taking the Milton out of Milton emphasizes how much we need Milton’s language to create his effects.

No one ever told me Paradise Lost was difficult.

[Reading Paradise Lost] was like walking into a museum or gallery and seeing something you’ve never seen before which astonishes you. You don’t know why it does. You can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have the same reaction. Is it possible that teachers are preventing their students from seeing Milton as Milton, scaring them off, by talking too much about how much good-hearted help they’ll need to understand him?

Danielson’s Paradise Lost: Parallel Prose Edition is clearly a labor of love by someone who knows Milton.The trouble is, Danielson wants to orient rather than disorient — and that’s not Paradise Lost. It’s not what poems do… [Milton] was enacting my own disorientation. He was mattering to my life.

Fewer Words

I read something recently (I forget where, though I suspect either a comment to a blog post or perhaps even a tweet, which, this latter, would be pretty fitting) about how Wallace could be saying a lot of what he says with a whole lot fewer words. The idea, I guess, is that the sort of prose Wallace gives us in Infinite Jest is in a way masturbatory and hostile to the reader. I remember feeling this way about books I was forced to read in high school. It’s related to the “I’ll never use this algebra stuff again anyway” attitude I also had in high school. It arises out of a sort of pragmatism, I guess: For the person wanting simply to say that he read the book, all those words do rather hinder progress.

The thing about literary fiction is that it has mannerisms, and these mannerisms are often what make it worth reading. A Dan Brown book and a John Grisham book are more or less interchangeable in terms of the prose framework across which the often riveting (I’m not throwing stones here) plots are strung. It’s the style, the tics and quirks and fluidity or herky-jerkiness of the prose (and a thousand other things) that make literary fiction fun to read. It’s not about efficiency.

Saying that an author like Wallace is using too many words is like saying that — well, let’s just go with a big obvious but simple example here — DaVinci should have rendered the Mona Lisa as a stick figure. Surely no one will doubt that that modified painting I’m imagining would in a general sense convey the idea “woman” (or “person,” at least), but all of the nuance, all of what makes the picture art rather than just a picture would be leached out of it.

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.