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: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:31 am 
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Hello!

Can anyone transcribe that first passage about Kate Gompert? Including the part where her teeth brushing habits and the nigh cosmic feeling of her depression is described? I don't have a copy of the book on hand, and I can't find it anywhere on the web. Probably one of the best passages in the book besides the one on addiction -- the smiley face with fangs, if I remember, creepy!


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 9:29 pm 
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I agree that the Kate Gompert sections are very, very good.

The one thing I felt seemed very odd and implausible was the resident's interest in Kate Gompert's way of being depressed. His strange excitement and fascination. Like he was impressed with her illness. This is not something that even a psychiatric resident would be likely to think or feel.

It is almost like a fantasy of what someone who is ill might imagine a doctor would do--be interested in the peculiar manifestations of their disease. As if their way of having the disease or experiencing it or dealing with it would be unique or original or special. This simply isn't how they think of patients, though, unless the patients have something truly rare, such as genuine and complete amnesia.


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:56 am 
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miel wrote:
The one thing I felt seemed very odd and implausible was the resident's interest in Kate Gompert's way of being depressed. His strange excitement and fascination. Like he was impressed with her illness. This is not something that even a psychiatric resident would be likely to think or feel.

It is almost like a fantasy of what someone who is ill might imagine a doctor would do--be interested in the peculiar manifestations of their disease. As if their way of having the disease or experiencing it or dealing with it would be unique or original or special. This simply isn't how they think of patients, though, unless the patients have something truly rare, such as genuine and complete amnesia.


Can you explain why you think this is implausible? The narrative POV in this section gives us equal parts what's going on inside Kate's mind & what's going on inside the resident's mind -- we have no reason to think that these are Kate's thoughts about what the resident is thinking.

- Jess


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Fri Jul 17, 2009 3:40 pm 
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miel wrote:

The one thing I felt seemed very odd and implausible was the resident's interest in Kate Gompert's way of being depressed. His strange excitement and fascination. Like he was impressed with her illness. This is not something that even a psychiatric resident would be likely to think or feel.


I don't know... If he were really a newly minted M.D., I find his internal dialogue and behavior believable. I'm not terribly familiar with what goes on in a residency, but wouldn't this be the first time a doctor would have patients of their own? I'd probably be overthinking how to act in a psych ward. But I'm not an M.D., so could very well be wrong.


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 9:33 am 
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In my first read, and second as well, this has always been the most impressive portion of an impressive novel and was reread in it's entirety more than once despite the fact there were always tears on my face by the end. That was before Wallace's untimely death and learning of his life long battle with depression. This time the impact was even greater. Normally the death of famous people doesn't faze me in the least but it has been different with David Foster Wallace. It makes one wonder just how long he held on by his fingernails before sadly letting go.


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Thu Jul 23, 2009 11:54 am 
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miel wrote:
The one thing I felt seemed very odd and implausible was the resident's interest in Kate Gompert's way of being depressed. His strange excitement and fascination. Like he was impressed with her illness. This is not something that even a psychiatric resident would be likely to think or feel.


It's not just plausible, it's perfectly normal. It's probably even preferable. Doctors are people that geek out on medical conditions, at least the good ones are. That means that yeah, whatever level of empathy they feel with patients, they're interested in the diseases. If they aren't interested in the diseases they will suck at fixing them. Doctors are mechanics- if you want total empathy, go talk to your mother. But chances are she doesn't know squat about effective treatment.

Also, empathy is something you have to balance as a doctor. If you have too much empathy you're going to burn out and not really be able to help anyone. None at all makes you a surgeon. :) The right amount lets you go home at night or go on vacations and have families and hobbies and be a normal human.

(<- is a medical geek.)


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 5:51 am 
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quinn I love what you wrote about medical professionals.

Aside from being so well-put and so true, it relates to my own life, weirdly, for yours is the best explanation of why I did not become a surgeon as I often dreamed I would, as a kid. But it turns out I am far too much of a mom!! I told my husband I would really really love to be a surgeon, but only if I knew every patient would be completely cured! Ha ha.

As for Kate Gompert: when I first read this book in 2001, I had the absolute conviction that the sections dealing with addiction and with depression were the author's lived experiences. I didn't know a thing about Wallace at that time, having picked the book up at a thrift shop (vaguely remembering that there had been some kind of a fuss about it when it came out.) Having learned so much about him since then, I trust that conviction a little less, maybe. He had been around so many addicts and so many depressives for so long, and also he was such a skilled writer, that I think he might have taken a certain pleasure in transcending his own demons by cutting them all up, making pastiches of them, mixing them in with other people's demons. Like a way of gaining the upper hand.

Nobody can say how long he would have stayed functional on the meds he took for so many years, had he not decided to change them. If you want to know more about how those meds affected him, read this story he wrote in 1984. http://paulhabeeb.com/d/the_planet_trillaphon.pdf

There's something weirdly seductive about that idea, that we know when something is "real" and when it is "made up." -- ??

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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 12:46 pm 
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bluestocking wrote:
If you want to know more about how those meds affected him, read this story he wrote in 1984. http://paulhabeeb.com/d/the_planet_trillaphon.pdf

There's something weirdly seductive about that idea, that we know when something is "real" and when it is "made up." -- ??



Thanks for that link, bluestocking. It was a bit of a difficult read for me, emotionally, but it is very evocative of what I think the sensation of depression is like for some of us.

I think that when it comes to "real" and "made up" in fiction, it doesn't so much matter what's "made up" as long as it rings true. So much of Infinite Jest feels "real" because it has this sense of being somehow true. It can often be very difficult to describe the experience of depression to people who don't live with it. (Or even people who have had situational depression that's not chronic in nature.) I know that reading the initial Kate Gompert section -- much like reading The Planet Trillaphon -- struck a chord with me, as someone who lives with chronic Major Depressive Disorder, because although it's not precisely how I have experienced depression myself, it was near enough that it felt true.


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 4:45 pm 
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For awhile, I had been bringing the book to work to read at my desk during lunch breaks. After barely getting past that chapter with my composure intact, I decided to just read at home. KG's section of the chapter, which if I remember right was alongside Hal reflecting on his own "anhedonia"- it just got too real.

It seems that many people just don't understand depression. Sure, someone can say, "oh yeah- a drug addict having trouble kicking their addiction- I can see why they'd be depressed!" On the other hand, people don't understand how those with intelligence, talent, and potential can feel just as empty and helpless. There seemed to be a little bit of DFW in KG and Hal.


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 Post subject: Re: DFW and Kate Gompert
PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2009 2:05 pm 
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Location: Salt Lake City and no, I'm not one, either.
The Kate Gompert section made me think of William Styron's memoir "Darkness Visible," which offers some quite disturbing insights into the nature of depression. I was particularly reminded of that book by her unforgettable words, "It's not wanting to hurt myself, it's wanting to not hurt."


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