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Infinite Summer • View topic - "Wardine be cry."

Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
It is currently Sun Oct 25, 2020 3:52 pm

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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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Location: Chicago, IL
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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 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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"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you." DFW


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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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 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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