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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed

December 6, 2011

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


December 6, 2011, pgs 530-538/1036-1037.  Gately and Joelle van Dyne begin to connect while swapping stories on Gately’s staff night. As Joelle speaks she dips in and out of her Kentucky drawl and her Boston/U.H.I.D./academic/12-step language. Without going so far as to call it deliberate, Joelle’s description of the U.H.I.D. process seems to parallel elements of Wallace’s prose:

What you do is hide your deep need to hide…You stick your hideous face right in there into the wine-tasting crowd’s visual meatgrinder, you smile so wide it hurts and put out your hand and are extra gregarious and outgoing and exert yourself to appear totally unaware of the facial struggles of people who are trying not to wince or stare or give away the fact that they can see that you’re hideously, improbably deformed.

The tendency Joelle describes of being “extra gregarious,” to “hide your deep need to hide” sounds like the excesses of DFW’s writing and the way he may have felt when sentences got away from him and the words just kept shooting out. It’s easy to see how that verbal maximalism could be seen as a deformity, and how a defiant Wallace might have  gone overboard with it to assert a kind of signature style. It’s a behavior typical of any writer walking a line between a unique voice and really bad habits. Gately’s responses heighten the comparison by asking Joelle to “Use less words” (not far from useless words) and complaining that, “You seem like you drift in and out of different ways of talking. Sometimes it’s like you don’t want me to follow.”

This is a sentiment I think anyone this far into IJ can totally ID with old Don G on.

Joelle tells Gately that she dons the veil because “I’m so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they’ve seen me they can’t think of anything else and don’t want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities and believe that if they can only have me right there with them at all times everything will be all right.” It is unclear whether this is actually the case, or if Joelle is genuinely deformed, but her diagnosis of is the same of that for The Entertainment she stars in. Gately responds to Joelle’s admission about her own face by showing her his “Staff face,” where “I nod and smile, I treat you like somebody I have to humor by nodding and smiling, and behind the face I’m going with my finger around and around my temple like What a fucking yutz, like Where’s the net.”

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

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