Tag Archives: Don Gately

Gately’s Upbringing and the Origin of Addiction

Keeping it simple this time.  So, towards the end of Infinite Jest, DFW gives us a detailed look into Don Gately’s past and looks at the beginning of his substance abuse problems.  All this invites the reader to guess and check, trying to pin down the cause of Gately’s downfall, but there is so much wrong, that it becomes just a vague, futile game.  Why does Gately end up how he does?  

Gately, high school football star, could not handle the academic part of high school, relying for a while on compassionate teachers and one drug synthesizer/tutor named Trent Kite.  School had no real end or set of results in Gately’s mind, and neither did his outside life, given his broken family life and friend circle that focused on substance abuse.  All he had was football, and even then, “Quaaludes and Percocets were lethal in terms of homework, especially washed down with Heffenreffer, and extra-especially if you’re academically ambivalent and ADD-classified and already using every particle of your self-discipline protecting football from the Substances” (905).  He’s still in high school here, but having gotten such an early start, I think it said he started at nine, the addiction has already taken on a life of its own, deserving of it’s own capital “S,” Substances.  Once Gately’s Mom went to the mental institution he fell off completely, coping by trying newer and harder drugs and letting them take over his football career, a battle he lost unfortunately early.

Gately’s story’s a sad one, but brings up one final point about addiction: where does it come from? I mean exactly? Clearly we all don’t need such a tragic story like Gately’s to become addicts, but it would certainly push me down that road.  Is it something everyone is capable of?  Or is it more from a set of outside factors?  Some combination?  Would Gately still have been an addict had he not been in such a harsh school and home environment?  Or is it in him anyway?  Is it in everybody anyway?  God I don’t know.  Thanks everyone!

Belief vs. Understanding

As many posts have discussed, AA operates on cliches and mindless repetition.   Whether recovering addicts believe in these trite slogans is irrelevant as long as they, the addicts, keep coming, fighting the disease “one day at a time.”   Eventually, those recovering begin to realize that this seemingly mindless method actually works.   Understanding plays little to no part of the AA process, in the beginning.

I found it interesting that understanding almost seems in some way inferior to the faith that is required of a recovering addict.   The two (faith and understanding) are juxtaposed in the footnote 90 on p. 1000, the dialogue between Gately and Geoffrey Day.

Day, well-educated and articulate, makes a tenable argument against the fundmental beliefs of AA.   His skepticism is well justified, and his analysis for the most part logically sound.   Day questions the “obvious and idiotic fallacies and reductia ad absurdum” of the program in long sentences full of wit and sarcasm, and overall comes off as a pretty intellectual guy.   By contrast,   Gately speaks in sentences that are often under ten words long. He iterates cliches. Sometimes these short sentences are requests for clarification of Day’s part.   Other times, Gately is giving reassuring signs that he is listening, like “I hear you.”   In short, he does not come off as very bright.

Hence, it seems counter-intuitive to me that I somehow find Day’s cerebral breakdown of AA to be full of air, but Gately’s terse replies dense and full.   Day’s attempt to understand comes off as flailing and desperate, even though he makes valid points.   Yet there’s something moving about Gately’s humility and sincere attempt to keep up with Day.   The way Gately is trying to genuinely hear Day, and sympathize with him.   Gately’s reticence doesn’t come off dumb, but profound.

Did anyone else feel this way?