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Intrigued by what feel more and more like deliberate nods to Joseph Merrick, AKA "the Elephant Man," in descriptions of Mario Incandenza. The oversized head topped with sparse hair, for instance, and the sly repeat notes about the piles and piles of pillows the bradypnea-afflicted Mario must sleep upon.



The connection is interesting in part because of Wallace's obsession with David Lynch. Lynch, in my opinion, found the heartbreaking existential crux of Merrick's narrative in his film: Merrick is never able to really leave the sideshow. When he is installed at London Hospital and visited by London's elite, he is only visited because of his deformities. There is no escape from the prison of his flesh. Even though his treatment at the hospital is far preferable to the nightmare of the Belgian sideshow, Merrick is still a creature whose interactions with the other are always mediated by his physical form.

This is a conundrum straight from the UHID handbook. The struggle for connection free from physical vanity or disgust is a part of Infinite Jest, even if it's a minor aspect that feeds into a larger question about existential skepticism or postmodern affect or any of the other ways we'd like to frame the book's core (the "excluded encagement of the self," let's call it). And like Merrick, Mario is both cut-off and priveleged: "One of the positives to being visibly damaged is that people can sometimes forget you're there, even when they're interfacing with you. You almost get to eavesdrop. It's almost like they're like: If nobody's really in there, there's nothing to be shy about. That's why bullshit often tends to drop away around damaged listeners, deep beliefs revealed, diary-type private reveries indulged out loud; and, listening, the beaming and bradykinetic boy gets to forge an interpersonal connection he knows only he can truly feel, here" (80).


Which is not to make assumptions about the types of connection Merrick made; who knows, after all, what he spoke of with his visitors? The point stands that both Mario and Merrick are curiosities whose dehumanization makes them so richly, abundantly human (maybe that's too simplistic a way to say it but for now it'll do).

on 2008-11-30 06:10 pm (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] dorothy-parka.livejournal.com
All the Incandenza boys are deformed in some way, in that way all great athletes are deformed. and of course there is also Joelle, who hides her deformity, whatever it might be, behind a veil. but no one thinks of them as deformed--even Joelle, which is odd, since she calls attention to her (possible) deformity.

Mario, of course, is also an innocent, which is something the others are not. Orin, Hal and Joelle are all very cynical. Perhaps that cynicism is also a deformity to Wallace--they use it to escape themselves and escape others, where Mario is able to use his deformity to get closer to other people. It's funny--because most of the protagonists in the story are so extraordinary, Mario becomes the most relatable of the non-Ennet House residents, and ultimately the only truly human Incandenza.

Altho I really like Avril. I'd like to see Julianne Moore play that role. She'd be an excellent Avril.

on 2008-12-06 05:21 am (UTC)
Posted by [identity profile] zenithblue.livejournal.com
I totally agree re: cynicism and deformity. I think BIWHM was in many ways a follow-up to IJ, a way to gather up some of the loose threads. I've always thought that there are plenty of hideous men at work in IJ, in any case.

I wrote a big chunk of my thesis on Mario to the point that my advisor was like, okay, that's enough on Tiny Tim. Another reason writing academically about Wallace doesn't work well: his project is in the end about empathy, and trying to make arguments about how that works just doesn't work with the supposedly dispassionate way a theory wonk is supposed to see things.

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