Genius at work

This is one of the quieter and more perfunctory passages in Infinite Jest. Meaning that it represents no pinnacle of absurdity or insanity. Yet it represents some excellent writing and has some qualities and peculiarities that define the book or, better, the writer.

Like many gifted bureaucrats, Hal’s mother’s adoptive brother Charles Tavis is physically small in a way that seems less endocrine than perspectival. His smallness resembles the smallness of something that’s farther away from you than it wants to be, plus is receding.218 This weird appearance of recessive drift, together with the compulsive hand-movements that followed his quitting smoking some years back, helped contribute to the quality of perpetual frenzy about the man, a kind of locational panic that it’s easy to see explains not only Tavis’s compulsive energy – he and Avril, pretty much the Dynamic Duo of compulsion, between them, sleep, in their second-floor rooms in the Headmaster’s House – separate rooms – tend to sleep, between them, about as much as any one normal insomniac – but maybe also contributes to the pathological openness of his manner, the way he thinks out loud about thinking out loud, a manner Ortho Stice can imitate so eerily that he’s been prohibited by the male 18’s from doing his Tavis-impression in front of the younger players, for fear that the littler kids will find it impossible to take the real Tavis seriously at the times he needs to be taken seriously.
As for the older kids, Stice can make them all double up now merely by shielding his eyes with his hand and assuming a horizon-scan expression whenever Tavis heaves into view, seeming to recede even as he bears on.

218. The late J. O. Incandenza’s Meniscus Optical Products Ltd.’s development of those weird wide-angle rear-view mirrors on the sides of automobiles that so diminish the cars behind you that federal statute requires them to have printed right on the glass that Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear, which little imprints Incandenza found so disconcerting that he was kind of shocked when U.S. automakers and importers bought rights on the mirrors, way back, for Incandenza’s first unsettling entrepreneurial payday – E.T.A.’s like to postulate that the mirrors had been inspired by the always-foreshortened Charles Tavis.

Some consider DFW’s writing excessively convoluted and verbose, some sort of amused deliberate work that the author puts on the page merely to screw up with the reader and giving him an hard time or blatantly boast competency with words. Like a sort of stylistic mannerism that is all flash and no substance.

Instead DFW knows that words are nothing lesser than the fabric of reality and manipulates them with extreme care. Like something you fear and respect. There are no wasted words in Infinite Jest. Everything is deliberate. Every words has a weight that goes beyond what appears on the page. All that is written is complexly and deeply layered.

Even more important: Wallace has an obsession on truth. An analytical observation of things that are truthful. So he has to use words in a way that mirrors and reflects reality, maybe slightly refracted, like The Mad Stork’s lenses. And this obsession on truth is not something you can escape or betray. And it’s also not unlike the block/disconnection that Hal has at the very beginning of the book.

Also: Infinite Jest is the most generous book out there.

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