So here’s why I think the smiley-face-embossed cartridge cases Marathe sees in Pat Montesian’s cabinet at Ennet House (p. 750) contain the duplicable Master of the Entertainment. It’s less rigorous reasoning, I admit, than I usually go for (see the title of the post), but for now I’m comfortable with a preponderance-of-the-evidence situation here.

Counting the chain of custody backward link by link, we learn on p. 754 that Clenette Henderson brought the cartridges downhill from E.T.A. as donations. We know Clenette works at E.T.A. as “one of the nine-month temps from down the hill” (p. 527), and on 11/11/Y.D.A.U., at dinnertime, Hal sees Clenette on her way back down to Ennet House with “a bulging backpack on her back, as in bulging maybe with dumpster-pilferage” (pp. 633–4).

(Some quick and disappointing timeline work proves that that backpack can’t contain the cartridges in question—Pat says Clenette brought them down “this afternoon,” so the question becomes, On which day does Marathe try to check in to Ennet House? Unfortunately, on p. 776 he tells Kate Gompert he has spent all day trying to find Madame Psychosis; Kate, who has stumbled into the bar to recover from being slammed into a lamppost by Poor Tony Krause when he stole her handbag—on 14 November [p. 682]. So that’s a bummer, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility that donie-cartridges from E.T.A. are somewhat regular, as Pat’s casual mention of them may even hint. I’ll take that hint, anyway.)

But why to believe that a backpack bulging with dumpster-pilferage might contain cartridges? It turns out we’ve seen cartridges consigned to the trash at E.T.A. The Tunnel Club does it, the same day that Hal sees Clenette with her backpack, on p. 670:

One whole box on its side with its frayed strapping tape split has spilled part of a load of old TP-cartridges, old and mostly unlabelled, out onto the tunnel floor in a fannish pattern, and Gopnik and Peterson complain that the cartridge-cases’ sharp edges put holes in their Glad bags, and Blott is dispatched with three bags of cartridges and fruit rinds, each only about half full, back to the lit vestibule outside the Comm.-Ad. tunnel’s start, where a serious pile of bags is starting to pile fragrantly up.

In the impressionistic mode of criticism I’m about to adopt, the throwaway nature of this moment tags it for my attention. That is, the Tunnel Club scene builds to a comic anticlimax that I think is a misdirection. I think the Goonies lightheartedness Paul notes is designed to conceal an important plot-mechanical revelation.

I’m building here on Daryl’s idea that the Tunnel Club scene might somehow represent an underworld scene. There are certainly cues for that association—the punishment angle, the heat, the subterranean location—but like Daryl, I wouldn’t want to be forced to push it. Instead, it seems to me we’re meant more specifically to think of Himself’s grave.

Remember from note 234 that Himself was buried “in the Moms’s family plot. St. Quelquechose Quebec or something. . . . Heart of the Concavity. . . . Bad ecocycles, real machete-country” (p. 1041). And there’s a suggestion on p. 31 that an entertainment cartridge may be implanted in Himself’s head, which dovetails with p. 993′s note that the Master cartridge of Infinite Jest (V?) may be “vaulted sui testator.”

We’re reminded over and over again in this section of the Concavity, directly and indirectly. The direct references are easy: Kent Blott insists he’s seen a “Concavitated feral hamster” (p. 668), and there’s a whole catalog of the various horrors of the Concavity—mile-high toddlers, skull-deprived wraiths, marsh gas that melts your face off (p. 670). Then, innocently, in the next graf after this parade of horribles related to the Concavity, come the TP cartridges. The indirect reminders of the Concavity that I notice are on p. 667. In the same graf, we have the tunnels characterized as essentially overgrown (with trash) during the warm season (which sounds like the Moms’s family plot’s “bad ecocycles”) and we see wrappers for cans of Habitant pea soup, which we know is a favorite of Marathe and the Antitois, all Quebecois.

So there’s our Concavity angle. The death component is actually where the little scene peaks, with the smell of “a like decay-element” (p. 672) and some sub-14′s creative misquotation of the Bible (“This is Death. Woe unto those that gazeth on Death,” p. 673). Every time I read this scene, I actually expect the Tunnel Club to find J.O.I.’s head in that fridge, not just mayonnaise, orange juice, sandwich meat, and maggots.

The point I want to make is that these impressions all combine to suggest that the Master of the Entertainment may be among the cartridges the Tunnel Club hauls out for disposal. The text doesn’t make any definite statement on the matter; in fact, it doesn’t even explicitly raise the subject. But I’m arguing that it implicitly associates these trash cartridges with death and the Concavity so that when we make the speculative connection between them and the cartridges donated to Ennet House that bear the smiley-face symbol we’ve come to associate with the Entertainment, we can also connect them to the suspected disposition of the Entertainment’s Master.

So, y’know, Q.E.D.

2 Responses to “Impressionistic Criticism Is Go!”


  1. Infinite Tasks on September 8th, 2009 3:45 pm

    I pointed to this post at Infinite Tasks today. I think you parse the difficult time-line issues very well, and I’m sure to return to this post once we’ve gotten just a bit more info – at least, I hope we get a bit more info, and soon! Sometimes it feels like there are cartridges everywhere, all on the move, and we just don’t know which ones we’re supposed to focus on! Every mention makes me jump – ooh! – is that IT?

  2. Jeff on September 8th, 2009 3:54 pm

    Thanks, I just saw the link over at your place! I definitely want to comment on your new post, but I want to give The Triumph of Life a read-through first. Looks like you’ve got a knockout, though!