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(Wow, flashback to opening night of Mortal Kombat. On the one hand, I don’t like remembering that I was such a dork as to stand in line before the box office opened, just to make sure I was there that first night; on the other hand, being in a crowd that whooped and hollered and cheered when the title appeared on screen meant it was a lot easier to ignore that the movie was bad in a bad way.)

So Infinite Summer is finally underway. It’s not like I needed an excuse to reread Infinite Jest again—this is my fourth time through, the third in the past two years—but I’m still excited. Also exciting is the fact that Mimi Smartypants is (unofficially) on board, and that her take on the book is 100% accurate about one DFW’s two main goals, in my opinion.

According to the schedule, the line of completion is still at page 63 (which means I have to save footnote 24, “James O. Incandenza: A Filmography,” for later, which is probably just as well, since it deserves a whole post to itself). Some introductory fragmentary remarks, then:

Hal’s admissions interview is so funny, but it’s also deeply disorienting and defamiliarizing. The incredible attention paid to communication and the concern for making sure that one’s intended meaning is carried over to the person it’s intended for are major signals toward my and Mimi’s understanding of the book. But they’re also tied up in the way the book itself teaches you how to understand what it’s trying to say. Along with The Book of the New Sun, Ulysses, and I’m sure others, Infinite Jest requires you to make sense of it in ways it doesn’t warn you about. There is no “As you know, Bob” infodump at the beginning, no stage-play phone conversation with the other party’s every line repeated for the audience’s benefit; it starts out confusing and makes you construct a provisional framework around it to construe the abundant information in ways that mean something.

(A dim recollection suggests that I’m talking about the invocation of what a very long afternoon’s Googling reveals to be reading protocols. Unfortunately, there is apparently no copy of “About 5,750 Words” available online. Some of its material comes up in this interview with Delany, though.)

The writing is of course magnificent: sensitive, overinformative, thoughtful, urgent, hilarious, tender, bitterly sad, and chameleonic. In the first 60 pages, you get at least four or five different narrating voices, plus various shades of the third person and a sort of transcription style that has its own deadpan quality (questions answered with ‘…’).

I guess the last thing I’d want to open with is a quick mention of the terrifying death of M. Guillaume DuPlessis, anti-O.N.A.N.ist P.I.T.* As a sufferer of seasonal allergies, I think I have never read anything that so quickened my pulse with anxiety as the detailed description of DuPlessis’s last, congested moments. Every time I reread that section, I get a little panicky. It’s not a comfortable thing to read, but much of Infinite Jest is about imaginatively sharing the experiences of others—that’s what empathy is, in some respects—even when they’re difficult. Indeed, that’s when it’s most important to try.


*Une Personne de l’Importance Terrible,’ presumably.

(Title from Harry Partch’s US Highball.)

I’ll do a post sometime comparing Goodridge, In re Marriage Cases, Kerrigan, and Varnum v. Brien—the four decisions by state supreme courts mandating marriage equality—but for now I just want to note some of the standout features of the Iowa decision (Varnum). (Chris Geidner covered the substance of the ruling in a clear, nontechnical post worth reading.) The primary salience, of course, is that it is the first unanimous decision by any court of final appeal in the country finding that equal protection requires recognition of the right of same-sex couples to marry. It’s the first time an entire supreme court has found me equal to my sister. From the get-go, that’s a powerful statement for a court to make.

More than that, though, it’s a shockingly comprehensive and generous ruling. The opening insists again and again that the plaintiffs in the suit are no different from other Iowans. “Like most Iowans,” it says, “they are responsible, caring, and productive individuals.” “Like many Iowans, some have children and others hope to have children.” “Like all Iowans, they prize their liberties and live within the borders of this state with the expectation that their rights will be maintained and protected—a belief embraced by our state motto.” “Despite the commonality shared with other Iowans, the twelve plaintiffs are different from most in one way.” (They’re gay.) “Each maintains a hope of getting married one day, an aspiration shared by many throughout Iowa.” “As other Iowans have done in the past when faced with the enforcement of a law that prohibits them from engaging in an activity or achieving a status enjoyed by other Iowans, the twelve plaintiffs turned to the courts to challenge the statute.” They are us, it says repeatedly—the original empathic move from which all the rest flows. I’ve never seen a court decision that so warmly embraces a minority group, and so concretely claims that group as part of the whole of society. As a gay man, I don’t just feel vindicated by the ruling; I feel valued.

Then the court situates the ruling in a line of important civil-rights cases it has decided over the past 170 years: the abolition of slavery in Iowa in 1839, cases in 1868 and 1873 that struck down racial discrimination in schooling and public accommodations, and the 1869 admission of the country’s first woman to legal practice. It makes the point that, although sometimes stumbling, the Iowa Supreme Court has consistently aimed to be in the vanguard on equal protection. This decision arrives well ahead of societal consensus on the matter, but when it comes to equality before the law, that has long been the court’s practice.

The fireworks begin when the court takes on the state’s proffered justifications for discriminating against same-sex couples. In arguments, the state gave five reasons for the law: maintaining traditional marriage, promotion of optimal environment to raise children, promotion of procreation, promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships, and conservation of resources (nonparallelism sic). The court slaps every one down like a game of Whac-a-Mole. On maintaining traditional marriage: “The County has simply failed to explain how the traditional institution of civil marriage would suffer if same-sex civil marriage were allowed.” Whac!

On promotion of optimal environment to raise children: “If the statute was truly about the best interest of children, some benefit to children derived from the ban on same-sex civil marriages would be observable.” Whac!

On promotion of procreation: “While heterosexual marriage does lead to procreation, the argument by the County fails to address the real issue in our required analysis of the objective: whether exclusion of gay and lesbian individuals from the institution of civil marriage will result in more procreation?” Whac!

On promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships: “While the institution of civil marriage likely encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships, we must evaluate whether excluding gay and lesbian people from civil marriage encourages stability in opposite-sex relationships. The County offers no reason that it does, and we can find none.” Whac!

On conservation of resources: “The trait of sexual orientation is a poor proxy for regulating aspiring spouses’ usage of state resources.” Whac!

The court then takes the surprising step of addressing an issue not actually raised by the parties to the case: religious opposition to marriage equality. It makes the point that many religious people understand their faith to forbid the solemnization of marriages between two loving, committed people of the same sex—but that many others understand their faith to require it. In any case, though, that’s none of the court’s business, because the law deals strictly with marriage as a civil contract. And with this decision, “civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law.”

In all, it’s a deeply thoughtful, thorough, and fair decision. It could serve as a model for any court facing the same issue. Say, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Dee dee dee dee blessings be upon you…