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[personal profile] zenithblue
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).
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