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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: This is Water

November 10, 2011

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 


November 10, 2011, pgs 434-450. In his review of IJ back in February 1996, Sven Birkerts wrote that “Wallace is not afraid to commingle various tonal and thematic registers.”  It’s one of the great things about this book. But right around these pages, the registers are more dissonant than at most other times.

Gately’s truly awful day job is almost touching in its extreme unpleasantness, since it’s just a miracle that he’s sober to do it.  Set in such close juxtaposition, his trouble doesn’t quite square with the grisly fates of hyper-achieving (and stone sober) tennis kids who do things like blow their brains out after reaching the top rank, or win a tournament and then go home to kill themselves — and accidentally kill their family through a comic, cascading and really pretty gross sequence of events. There’s also the fact that Mario’s puppet show is basically exposition set 400 pages into the book, whereas Gately story is moving along.

To handle the light work first, Mario gives us the advent of subsidized time, as inspired by the “Ken-L-Ration-Magnavox-Kemper-Insurance-Forsythia Bowl.” (This actually does resonate emotionally, as it might for anyone who, like me, has painful memories of confusion and unhappiness from the first time the college Bowl games became the All State Orange Bowl or the Tostitos Insurance Bowl or whatever the hell they were.) There is also note 176, which features a “malevolent young Canadian Candida albicans specialist” as part of JOI’s ONANtiad, who sounds very much like the Near Eastern medical attaché of chapters past and once again mentions Candida albicans.

Gately is struggling with the higher power question, which brings Wallace to the “This is Water” moment, when Robert F./Bob Death tells the joke about the two fish.  As DFW unpacked in a 20 minute graduation speech nearly ten years after publishing this book, the “What the fuck is water?” joke gives you some serious things to think about.  And Gately does think about it, feeling like he “wanted to both cry and hit somebody” and moving into his own version of exposition, which are the risen memories of a crummy, drunk childhood.

The vision of a child BIM as “Sir Osis of Thuliver,” or as an adult re-hearing the “Clopaclopaclop he used to make” when pretending to ride is just…

Gately dreams that night of being deep in a sea of silent, dim water the same temperature as he is, which is hard to ignore with all the mother business going on around this book.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mike permalink*
    November 14, 2011 9:54 pm

    An interesting piece that uses IJ to help explain the whole subsidized college bowl game thing:

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