Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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The Inficratic Oath: first, post no spoilers. Limit your I.J. discussion to only those events that take place on or before the page 981 (100%).



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 Post subject: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:48 am 
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I'm sure that there's more going on in this passage and that it will be important later, but my first reaction upon reading this whole portion is, "Has DFW ever even met a black person before?" There's ebonics and then there's...this. Characters speaking like people don't. Is there something deeper going on in this weird pidgin language he's chosen, or is it just Clueless White Midwestern Ivory Tower Guy trying to write "like those base Negroes talk?"


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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 12:20 pm 
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Where exactly does it say that Wardine is black? You've assumed that she is (as probably most everyone has), but it's never actually stated.

I think the language in this passage may be more indicative of some mental illness or developmental delay in the narrator -- possibly from abuse -- than some attempt at ebonic mimicry by DFW.

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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:18 pm 
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TransistorRhythm wrote:
Is there something deeper going on in this weird pidgin language he's chosen, or is it just Clueless White Midwestern Ivory Tower Guy trying to write "like those base Negroes talk?"


That's a fairly stark pair of choices, especially as DFW, junior tennis background aside, doesn't strike me as an "Ivory Tower Guy," much less a clueless one. He's already established some trust in the chapters leading up to this one. So, even if this particular rendering of vernacular ends up being a failed experiment, I'll withhold judgement of it until I'm deeper in. And I think you should, too.

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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:19 pm 
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Even Midwestern Ivory Tower guys take sociology classes in college. I bet DFW probably had to read To Kill a Mockingbird or Their Eyes Were Watching God or something with a Black person in it, just like the rest of us born after 1960, and knew perfectly well the difference between creating an authentic character through an ethnic dialect and creating an offensive stereotype.

I'm glad someone started a discussion on this section. I didn't know quite what to make of it. I actually did assume that the characters were black, maybe because of the language, or maybe because they seemed to be living in such poverty and in North America, the two do go together so often; but on some level I also felt that the language conveyed a problem communicating, not just a fully functioning form of communication that I am not used to. The language/thoughts are stilted, the lines between people are blurry, and the whole narrative takes place inside one person's head. These ideas, to me, form the main theme of the novel—using communication as a means of breaking down the walls that separate us from our fellows.

PS—Sorry to gang up on TransisorRhythm. Thanks for starting the discussion.


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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:44 pm 
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Unfortunately, since his death, we now know that DFW did probably have some experience with the "seedier" side of life, and probably spent some time personally with psych patients and substance abusers. It's not unlikely that he would pick up some lingo from those who were "down and out" and adapt the language in his novel. Yeah, it may be somewhat over the top, but I can't say, never having lived with the people or places he's writing about in this particular section. I give him the benefit of the doubt, since I think his intentions here are to convey the setting as honestly as a white boy from IL can, as opposed to him just trying to sound "really black" or "really poor" or whatever.

Hopefully I'm not offending anyone here with these remarks. I know this issue about this particular part of the book has been brought up before and I just wanted to add my .02. ;)

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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:51 pm 
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No kidding—he nailed that Kate Gompert (sp?) psych ward scene. I read that part about six years ago and I remember it so vividly, and it disturbed me so much (having had my share of anxiety and depression) that I couldn't take reading it again this time around and just skipped over it.


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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 2:43 pm 
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It strikes me terribly odd that anyone would expect DFW to write in a dialect that was a literal representation of a particular group much less accuse him of being a guy from an Ivory Tower who never encountered a black person. As pointed out a book would accomplish that mission much less television and movies. Nothing else in this novel has been a literal representation of the world we live in. Readers are in for a long haul if they start doubting DFW's technical abilities so early in the novel.


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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 9:51 pm 
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This section is really tricky... Having granted its surface offensiveness, in light of what DFW has to say in his essay "Authority and American Usage" (from Consider the Lobster) I just see a lot going on here, most of which I can't figure out yet.


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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:17 am 
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Good points all brought up so far. Would like to remind everyone of the front page of IS, where the following was posted on June 17th in the "How To Read Infinite Jest" topic:

Quote:
Persevere to page 200: There are several popular way stations on the road to abandoning Infinite Jest. The most heavily trafficked by far is “The Wardine Section”. Where the opening pages of IJ are among the best written in the book, page 37 (and many pages thereafter) are in a tortured, faux-Ebonics type dialect. “Wardine say her momma ain’t treat her right.” “Wardine be cry.” Potentially offensive (if one wants to be offended), and generally hard to get through. Hang in there, ignore the regional parlance, and focus on what the characters are doing. Like most things in the book, you’ll need to know this later. Likewise for the other rough patches to be found in the first fifth of the novel.


So it's a notorious passage, we all might agree, and is often a point of contention and even abandonment for readers.

I would suggest that the vernacular has some significance, but is not meant, on Wallace's part, to draw attention to itself, much less be Wallace's way of showing off what he saw as his dialectical prowess, and thus failing miserably. That seems like a mistake - I can't believe Wallace, in his linguistic genius, was so closed off as to think that the Wardine section contained particularly accurate language.

Another thing that should be considered is that this section is one of the few in the novel I can think of that seems to be narrated completely by another person other than our normal, 3rd person omniscient narrator.


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 Post subject: Re: "Wardine be cry."
PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 4:53 am 
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Another thing to consider: It's not like this is the only instance of black dialect in American lit. Twain, whose ear for dialects of all kinds, was very good, uses it in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to great effect. Claude McKay, and quite a few other Harlem Renaissance writers used it (he most famously in Home to Harlem). McKay's a good case in point here, as he took heat both for his use of dialect as well as for the way in which he portrayed "low life" Harlem culture. There was a running debate, one of many, among Harlem Renaissance writers about whether dialect should or shouldn't be used, whether it was a tool for creating realism or caricature.

There's more to dialect than Uncle Remus stories.

I'm starting to think that the narrator here probably is black, but might also be 1) very young or 2) mentally deficient in some way, or 3) has an idiosyncratic way of seeing and describing the world, as many characters in the novel do.

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