Yes, I’ll start off by apologizing for that post title. It’s an awful pun, rendered more awful when viewed in light of the fact that it doesn’t even make sense. Still — we’ve just spent the summer reading Infinite Jest, so hopefully we’re used to things not making sense.
I, for one, thought I was used to it. Wheelchair assassins, massive concavities, an institute full of jocks who somehow posses higher brain function — these were all concepts that astounded and befuddled me, but they were at least possible according to physics, if a little unlikely. Or a lot unlikely, in the case of the clever athletes.
To me — an avowed atheist who has occasionally been referred to as “too rational” — the wraith that visits Don Gately in the hospital room doesn’t so much test my suspension of disbelief as it does rip it apart and stomp on the broken remains whilst screaming “You’re damn right there’s ghosts now, Avery. How you like me now!?”
Of course, this book is far from didactic and should not be taken literally. So it it’s okay with you guys104, I’d like to explore some possibilites that could explain the presence of unusual words in Gately’s head and the rather personal details of Himself’s life that have also found their way into Don’s indestructible noggin’ without having to resort to The Haunting Of ICU Ward 7.
The most boring answer105 is Joelle. Pages 856-7 show her recounting — with no consideration of the “anonymous” part of Alcoholics Anonymous — the partial life story of the hatchet-dented Little Wayne chap. It’s not beyond the realm of rationality to conclude that she might also tell Don about the Incandenzas, and that the bizarre and sudden appearance of the ‘wraith’ can be put down simply to the delusions that accompany massive physical trauma.
We’ve already witnessed Don claiming that he doesn’t understand Joelle’s speech at times (during their first few conversations at Ennet House), and it’s quite possible that this is another of those times — hence the words appearing in Don’s head.
Alternatively, Joelle could have left behind some tapes of Sixty Minutes More or Less to keep him company whilst she is gone, hoping that her voice is something that would comfort him. The show often consists of nothing but words that Don wouldn’t understand, often without context and daunting even to those who haven’t just had their shoulder blown off.
Another explanation is that Gately, in his capacity as one of the Ennet House Staff, may have watched some of J. O. Incandenza’s works and been subjected to some kind of info-dump. We already know that Ennet House — care-of Clenette — has recently received some cartridges from E.T.A, and has apparently been a beneficiary of the tennis academy’s generosity before. Perhaps Himself’s experiments into the technical capabilities of film enabled him to create a Work that taught you things on a strictly subconscious basis.
One can assume that, towards the end of his life, the Mad Stork was sufficiently mad enough to encode his biography into the annular pulses of his movies. Perhaps Gately, reviewing cartridges donated before his hospitalization, viewed just the right combination of entertainments to unlock this knowledge. Perhaps the aforementioned trauma has done so instead.
My third theory106 is far more outlandish, while still fitting in to a world that doesn’t include supernatural beings (yes, I’m still annoyed about the ghost. Okay?) Perhaps Don Gately has been unfortunate enough, after assaulting the three Canadians, to fall into the hands of the Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents.
Perhaps the A.F.R. are under the impression that Gately’s murder of Guillaume DuPleiss (infamous anti-O.N.A.N. organizer) coupled with his association with Joelle, mean that Gately is some kind of government operative or otherwise shady person with knowledge of the location of the master copy of Infinite Jest. Perhaps the A.F.R. are — with their demonstrated ability to play the long game — attempting to fool Gately into thinking he is in hospital, and are providing actors or masked decoys or people he knows to try and coax this highly sought information from him. Perhaps the Wraith is Gately’s mind’s reaction to such a terrible and insane situation.
Perhaps if you think such a plan is too outlandish or nonsensical for the AFR to enact, you have a wonderful seventy-five pages ahead of you.