Tag Archives: Gately

Gately’s click, and some semi-related questions

I was quite taken with the fight scene when Gately stands up to the “Nucks.” Two things interested me in particular. First, the way the fight forces Gately into an animalistic, instinctual mode seems similar to what DFW is driving at in general.The immediate threat and adrenaline surge make Gately feel alive: “At the blade’s sound teh situation becomes even more automatic and Gately feels adrenaline’s warmth spread through him as his subdural hardware clicks deeper into a worn familiar long-past track. Having no choice now not to fight and things simplify radically, divisions collapse” (612). Since DFW is writing about what it means to be human, here, the definition of human seems to be a racing pulse, but more importantly, a stripping down of divisions. The “subdural hardware clicks” obviously remind me of DFW’s own clicks- for Gately, the fight causes something to click into place, and he feels alive. The fact that he clicks into a “familiar long-past track,” however, troubles me, because this track seems to refer to his former track as a burglar. In the face of danger, Gately is reverting back to a pre- or uncivilized nature. When he was a burglar, he clearly disregarded society’s laws and ethics, and now, he enters a sub-dural place where animal instincts alone determine right or wrong, although those terms no longer apply, because “divisions collapse.”

Furthermore, I think Gately’s click back into a pre-societal, animal state relates to a click back into a pre- or just non-linguistic state. The divisions that collapse exist through words, as language creates difference. This is tangential, but seems worth noting- something I’ve been thinking about generally w/r/t DFW is how différance seems quite similar to the infinite space between two objects; the infinite regression of 1/2’s between two points, for example, reminds me of the eternal deferring of signs. Back to Gately.

However, the fact that “Gately has just division enough to almost wish he didn’t feel such a glow of familiar warmth, a surge of almost sexual competence” (612) shows that he is still embeded in culture enough to know that his animal urges are (at least in society’s mind) “wrong.” He is sufficiently immersed in division (i.e. language) to consciously recall the difference between right and wrong. The “surge of almost sexual competence” reinforces the instinctual nature of his click- Gately is an animal with powerful sex and death drives, and his competence is neither right nor wrong, but totally natural.

I was also taken by the metafictional way DFW choreographs this fight scene, but also talks about choreography as it if were something different; the ultimate effect is that, just as with Gately, “divisions collapse.” Although DFW states: “it’s impossible, outside choreographed entertainment, to fight two guys together at once; they’ll kill you” he immediately writes that “the trick to fighting two is to make sure and put one down for long enough that he’s out of the picture…” (613). Essentially, even though it’s impossible, DFW is telling is how to do it. But the question remains- can it actually be done, or is Gately only so capable because he is in choreographed entertainment? For example, Gately “pirouettes around twisting the broken arm behind the guy’s back,” “the guy rolls gracefully,” and Gately “gets all his weight into a Rockette kick” (613). These images are not only choreographed fight moves, but reference dance choreography. There’s nothing incredibly lethal about the fight scene at all- it doesn’t seem scary, and is funny because of the dance imagery. Later, Gately “waves off concern with the left hand and goes ‘Flesh-wound'” (615). This Monty-Python reference adds to the humor and choregraphed-nature of the scene, but is also unsettling. I can’t get my head around why, in a scene where Gately’s clicking into something so primal and human that DFW can’t drop the irony… Is the fight figured in dance-terms because of the beauty of being human and animal? And if so, where does that leave the flesh wound irony?

I was also curious, what do you make of the fact that the Canadians have so much Hawaiian-themed shirts and leis? I find them funny, but also unsettling. Is it that Hawaiian culture has been so coopted and bastardized by America that now they are being reclaimed by a completely different group of anti-Americans as a statement of independence? What does that say about the Canadians? About Americans?

It works if you work it

The whole concept of cliché has caught my attention recently. At the Ennet House, we get introduced to a character named Geoffrey Day, who proclaims that he has come to Ennet House “to learn to live by clichés” (IJ, 270). How exactly does something become cliché and what does it mean for one to “learn to live by clichés?”

To start with a solid definition, a cliché is “a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cliche). Day, a “recovering” drunk desires to “turn [his] will and life over to the care of clichés” (270). He wants to seek solace and comfort in phrases such as “One day at a time. Easy does it. First things first.” (270). In so doing, we learn that the result of Day’s surrendering to a life of clichés is that his life becomes “easier” (271). He explains that before a life a clichés, “I used to sometimes to think. I used to think in long compound sentences with subordinate clauses and even the odd polysyllable. Now I find I needn’t” (271). Day needn’t think because the clichés do the thinking for him. All that is necessary to live a life of clichés is to follow the directions of the short phrases, which have already been thought about, which have already been defined by others. There is, definitionally, no original thought involved in clichés. Therefore, Day’s life of clichés is an escape from personal thought or initiative.

Gately’s response to Day’s philosophy of a clichéd life seems to parallel DFW’s own response to modern societies’ creation of cliché. If Gately could, he would tell Day “that the clichéd directive are a lot more deep and hard to actually do” (273). This is the essential point. Clichés have become cliché because they have been repeated too many times to hold any significant meaning any more. But, the important thing to remember is that at some point in time, before the cliché was a cliché, it actually had meaning. It was once new and original and significant. The only reason that a cliché has lost its meaning is because we have taken it away.

DFW’s work thus far has, in part, been a plea to stop the removal of meaning and value from what become clichés; from what we create to be clichés. In his works and in his interviews he calls for a return to the basics: to real love, and genuine emotion, and true sentimentality. But, the problem he faces in attempting to return to these basics is that we as a society have overused these ideas and made stereotypes out of them so that now they have become trite. As he talks about in the McCaffrey interview, love has become so clichéd that we can no longer talk about it or express it without an ironic wink or a nudge. We have created platitudes where there used to be meaningful thought.

As he recognizes this sad fate of meaningful thought, in his writing DFW tries to get us to work to make the clichés relevant again. This is not an easy task, for they have been so overused and ingrained in us that it is almost impossible to see them as anything but stereotypical. This is why Gately wants to warn Day that clichés are “hard to actually do.” Contrary to what Day believes to be the case, if one were to truly live a life of clichés, one would have to live the clichés completely, fulfilling the value of each phrase. But, in order to do so, one would have to instill meaning back into the clichés–and this is no insignificant task.

Ultimately, Day and Gately’s comments on cliché highlight one of the biggest issues DFW sees with regard to modern society. But, we are still left wondering how this work to revert the clichés must be done–in neither his interviews nor in his writing does DFW give us clear directions. I suppose that merely being aware of the problem is the first step to solving anything, but what can we do next?