Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Let me apologize in advance for this post, the contents of which will concern material likely read many weeks earlier by the better lot of you. Clearly I'm just a bit behind on my reading. Hopefully my tardiness won't invalidate or in any way make less valuable my comments.

I'd like to discuss in brief the section in which the WYYY M.I.T grad-student engineer is abruptly abducted. Of Wallace's merits, I think his penchant for that strange and peculiar brand of humor, the one that provokes pity, discomfort, and riotous laughter simultaneously, is critical to the success of the novel (that is literary/artistic success, not market success though i suppose the two are intertwined). This little vignette is deceptive-- it's short (620-626) and the action is almost entirely passive but it's still wildly funny, and in my opinion one of the better testimonies to Wallace's supposed comedic brilliance insofar.

Wallace introduces the scene patiently and quietly. He spends the first few paragraphs (which I feel are a bit separate in regards to themes and actually warrant their own discussion) transitioning into the section's setting and immediately breaks into meticulous detail once he gets there. The scene he reveals is one of relative, if not still entirely bizarre, serenity: a crowd gathers to watch the annual pond draining on a bleak autumn day as a variety of characters mill about on an adjacent hill. Yes there is the M.I.T student tanning despite what sounds like inappropriate climate and the assortment of bums, one of whom is wretching violently, but these are irregularities that have come to help constitute normalcy in IJ. For the most part, Wallace's prose is slow-- it is clear that he intends to convey the perfect essence of the moment. He creates a mellow atmosphere, choosing to include every subtlety about this apparently routine day. It isn't until the quick mention of a conspicuous white van, interjected in the middle of a tangent about the absence of Madame Psychosis, that Wallace allows the reader to feel that anything is really amiss (again images of bums spewing blood and bile have become banal as a result of ubiquity). Here Wallace begins to charm with his brand of humor-- he makes a reference to the white van's handicap sign; though the Wallace makes clear that the van's sudden presence is suspicious, the fact that the driver of said van is in someway physically disabled rips away its credibility as any sort of villainous entity. Wallace continues unphased, making sure to indicate that nothing really notable has changed in the scene with exception to the unnoticed arrival of the van. When the second white van arrives and a ramp portrudes from interior (this one at the top of the hill) it is clear that something sinister is about to transpire-- yet again, the image of the disabled and the diabolical stand in stark and ridiculously hilarious contradiction. The scene erupts moments later when a man in a wheelchair explodes from the white van at the top of the hill and comes roaring down the hillside and snatches up the sun-bathing engineer in a sort of scooping contraption connected to the front of his chair. Wallace describes this entire event in one long and laborous sentence that extends nearly have a page. Here, his stylistic choice is well suited for the content's satire-- up until this point the passage has been pensive, but all in anticipation for the sudden change of pace that captures the reader in this final paragraph. The peculiarity of the action and the abrupt transition in tone make for an overwhelming reading experience, but nevertheless one that leaves you reeling with laughter immediately. The entire notion of wheel-chair assassins is in itself funny (there's something wonderfully impossible and thus entertaining about devious paraplegics) but to actually witness them in action is many times funnier. That they are actually successful in their scheming further emboldens the humor. Turns out abduction is really very entertaining when executed by the least likely to abduct.

I'd also like to give mention to what I feel are some profound insights, whether intentional or unintentional, in the first few paragraphs of the section. First, a quote that deserves more analysis (both interpretive and evaluative) than I'm capable of providing: "nobody but Ludditic granola-crunching freaks would call bad what no one can imagine being without" (620-- reference page for context). Second, a few sentences later, is Wallace's description of total personal spectation (basically you can watch everything from the confines of home) as "total freedom, privacy, choice". Of course what resounds about this characterization is that these are all ideals that persist as the foundation of American democracy. It seems that Wallace is being quietly sardonic when he describes the opportunity for total reclusion because of all the readily available entertainment.


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