This collection of stories, like Broom deals a lot with relationships, how hard it is for people to connect and to communicate and how scary it is to give yourself over to another human being. DFW shows us how, more often than not, it fails to work out and ends with sadness, heartbreak and emptiness. Here and There deals mostly with the paralyzing fear Bruce has of connecting to others and the boundaries he creates (similar to Lenore’s) to protect himself from the vulnerability of human relationships, and I’m not so sure there’s a happy ending in this one either.
Like Lenore, he has a very thick, selective membrane. His membrane is the distance he keeps from people — how hard it is for him to connect here, his tendency to stay far away (there). He also seems to be strangely fixated on cleanliness like Lenore. I would go so far as to say he, too, is experiencing a bit of hygiene anxiety. He talks about tidying things up, keeping them clean. He is a poet who, “works all the time on well-formed formulas and poems and their rules” and admits that he, “enjoy[s] playing games with words in order to dodge the real meanings of things” (152,166). He wants to change “clumsy and superfluous” poetry diluted with metaphor and flowery language to writing that is mathematical, technical, logical and “organized”; poetry whose “meaning will be clean” (155).
He, like Lenore, refuses to allow his “interests be subordinate to those of another”, to take the opportunity to be “emotionally generous”, and instead only gives his girlfriend “distant affection” (153). He also describes kissing, a form of human connection it seems he did not enjoy, as “sucking a long tube the other end of which is full of excrement” rather than a sensual, connective act (151). In other words, for both Lenore and Bruce, connection is a messy, dirty, anxiety-attack-inducing thing.
Gray imagery is abundant (his world becoming “disordered, gray”, his grandmother’s gray hair) which I would suggest symbolizes black and white mixing, boundaries being crossed, connections being made and muddled. At the same time he describes his world as such he begins “to be anxious about something [he] can neither locate or define” (164). But as the story goes on we see that it is his fear of “feeling alone even when there’s somebody else there”, his inability to connect and communicate with other people. We see that this is not an irrational fear when his girlfriend tells him, “all this time you’re communicating with no one” (another similarity between him and Lenore) (166).
This fear of human connection is displayed clearly when he is fixing his grandmother’s old stove. Fixing the stove is literally about repairing connections: wires need to be rebound, they are unraveled and “stick out in different directions” and are “disordered” and it is his job to put them in correct bundles and connect them back together so his grandmother can “reblend” the chili (170,171,168). The stove represents human relationships. He says he is “deep in the bowels of the stove”, which takes us back to the image of kissing being connected to, well, bowel movement (169). The stove can no longer heat things because its connections are broken (heat symbolizing love, or relationship). Bruce states that he’s “never bound wire before”, and it obviously makes him very nervous (171). “…Feeling like he loved somebody scared him” (171). As he begins to repair the stove, repair his phobia of human connection, by “tidy[ing] things up” (this goes back to the hygiene anxiety, membrane stuff), he starts getting really scared, stops breathing, “almost begin[s] to cry” until it gets so bad that he finally admits to being afraid of “absolutely everything there is” (171, 172).
Bruce finally breaks the technical language he uses to describe fixing the stove and inserts real feeling and emotion — allows himself to connect with the reader. This is something he was once very against. He seems to break down his boundary at the end by expressing his sadness and fear, but is he a changed person? Or just finally admitting to himself that he has a problem? In other words, on the road to recovery?
He is afraid of love and everything scary and intense that comes along with it. Aren’t we all? But does Wallace offer us a solution? All these stories are about failed relationships, escaping connection, avoiding it, cheating on partners, sexual abuse, fetish, break ups, miscommunication… and at the end of Here and There, all we really get is that he is scared of connecting. But what are we supposed to do with that? Relate? Learn from the characters’ mistakes? Reflect, change our own detrimental habits? Stop using (metaphorical) skin-firming, pore-tightening facial masks and allow our membranes to give and little, get a little?
WHAT IS HIS POINT?!