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Beyond the Pale, pt. three (of seven)

(continued from pt. two)

Maps of Death

Entering the Pale King is like entering a familiar room, now stripped bare, but with the footprints of its former occupant, your departed friend, still visible in the dust on the floor. For example, the good old names are back, strange and unharmonious, vaguely Germanic, Latinate, French, at root un-American; names like Lotwis and Glendenning and Bondurant and Henzke, not zany and humorous like Pynchon’s (it seems to me that the names and the scope of his books are the only reasons he has been called an epigone to Pynchon, nothing else), but rather like clothes one cannot find it in himself to feel at ease in, even though they aren’t tight or loose, but just right. They also seem like they were once normal, everyday names –names like George Smith and Janet Cooper– but at some point were taken apart and reconstructed by a neurotic tinkerer, in order to establish how long they can go on working before exploding.

There is also a Likourgos Vassiliou on pg. 373, another Greek-in-passing (something which I am told is all the rage in literary fiction lately, what with Skippy Dies’ Odysseus Antopopopoulos, The Ask’s Nick Papadopoulos and Asterios Polyp’s Asterios Polyp). But for the puzzling use of i instead of y.

Also some new Wallacisms here, like the annoying “squeez[ing] my shoes”. Most important at the first fifth of the book (it fades later): “at root”, which I swear if I go all over IJ again I’ll probably find maybe one mention three mentions of[1], but at the start of the Pale King it gets repeated and probably reflects Wallace’s inner fear that all his verbal polytechnics, ear for the real, artfully constructed dialogue and heavy core concepts actually served to disenfranchise his work of clarity, which is probably true, hence the use of multiple “at root”’s to drive the point home, to make sure that the reader understands that Wallace is actually speaking about something rather than spouting off postmodernist/meta stuff. Or he just liked the sound of it.

He still favors the odd nickname, purposefully and at the same time whimsically invented (cf. IJ’s Lateral Alice and the Pale King’s Iranian Crisis) and still, I feel, more fraught with undercurrents of malice threaded with desire, more courageous, and spectacularly more inventive than any real-world counterpart. The nicknames’ effect is further aggravated by the fact that he keeps bringing them up time and again, never explaining them, before he finally tells the origin story something like 500 pages later, nonchalantly, but also, I feel, with the secret glee of a boy who has made a fine homegrown physics science fair project, a really thoughtful Christmas present for his parents, or a very clever and well-meaning prank (or, it seems possible, a combination of the three, a really thoughtful homegrown physics science fair project presented to his parents as a Christmas present, which at the same time is a subtle and funny good-natured joke at their expense), something built to last, to be remembered fondly by his parents years later when the boy is a grown man and has left his hometown to study marine biology, or when he is safely tucked away in the family mausoleum, after a freakish accident involving a Schwinn bicycle, an uncovered well, and an industrial combine.

[1] Tim Gray helpfully pointed out that there actually three of them in Infinite Jest.

(the fourth part is scheduled to appear on Wednesday, 21 September 2011)



3 thoughts on “Beyond the Pale, pt. three (of seven)

  1. I found 3 instances ‘at root’ in IJ (a pdf version)

    Posted by Tim Gray | September 30, 2011, 19:58
    • It seems I was quick to put myself under oath. And that is why ebooks are a good thing. I don’t have an e-reader, so I had to work from memory (spin it, that is). Thank you for the clarification and I will amend the text shortly.

      Posted by Kechagiar | October 1, 2011, 12:43


  1. Pingback: Beyond the Pale, pt. four (of seven) « Seven Steps Back - September 21, 2011

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