Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Infinite Jest, sadness

Avril Incandenza, “the Moms,” is explaining to her son Mario that “‘There are, apparently, persons who are deeply afraid of their own emotions, particularly the painful ones. Grief, regret, sadness. Sadness especially, perhaps’”:

“I am saying that such persons usually have a very fragile sense of themselves as persons. As existing at all. This interpretation is ‘existential,’ Mario, which means vague and slightly flaky. But I think it may hold true in certain cases. My own father told stories of his own father, whose potato farm had been in St. Pamphile and very much larger than my father’s. My grandfather had had a marvelous harvest one season, and he wanted to invest money. This was in the early 1920s, when there was a great deal of money to be made on upstart companies and new American products. He apparently narrowed the field to two choices — Delaware-brand Punch, or an obscure sweet fizzy coffee substitute that sold out of pharmacy soda fountains and was rumored to contain smidgeons of cocaine, which was the subject of much controversy in those days. My father’s father chose Delaware Punch, which apparently tasted like rancid cranberry juice, and the manufacturer of which folded. And then his next two potato harvests were decimated by blight, resulting in the forced sale of his farm. Coca-Cola is now Coca-Cola. My father said his father showed very little emotion or anger or sadness about this, though. That he somehow couldn’t. My father said his father was frozen, and could feel emotion only when he was drunk. He would apparently get drunk four times a year, weep about his life, throw my father through the living room window, and disappear for several days, roaming the countryside of L’Islet Province, drunk and enraged.”

She’s not been looking at Mario this whole time, though Mario’s been looking at her.

She smiled. “My father, of course, could himself tell this story only when he was drunk. He never threw anyone through any windows. He simply sat in his chair, drinking ale and reading the newspaper, for hours, until he fell out of the chair. And then one day he fell out of the chair and didn’t get up again, and that was how your maternal grandfather passed away.”

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).
Snopes has the scoop on Coke and coke. As for Delaware Punch, it’s a (not the) real thing, now owned by Coca-Cola, and still sold in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Infinite Jest is in truth infinitely sad.

Other Infinite Jest posts
Attention : Description : Loveliness : “Night-noises” : Romance : Telephony : Television

comments: 6

stefan said...

Pot? Kettle? Meet Mrs. Incandenza.

Michael Leddy said...

She’s quite a piece of work, isn’t she?

mari said...

I love her definition of existentialism: "...vague and slightly flaky". I got my library copy of Infinite Jest about a week ago, Michael. You should see my arm muscles now.

Michael Leddy said...

No joke. I ended up reading much of the novel at a table in the library. My usual sitting against our upright piano with book in hand became impossible.

I hope you love Infinite Jest, Mari. The rewards, if you keep with it, are great.

mari said...

I am not inclined to say "why does it take this guy 15 pages to tell how he turns over in bed at night" and cast it aside. Proust has taught me the value of sticking with the work, as long as I can see the quality of the writing and the intensity of personal insight involved. So far, this looks to fulfill expectations. Thanks, Michael.

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Mari!