This is the end. My only friend—The End.
Bingo bango! Cross another one off the bucket list.
And what a wild ride it has been, my friends.
We laughed, we cried, we loved it (well, some of us did, maybe) more than Cats.
Critic C.D paradoxically described it as being simultaneously “the best of times” AND “the worst of times”.
But damn it, man, we did it. As I mentioned last week, this has been an incredibly fun and interesting thing to do over the long, hot summer (absolutely sweltering here in Southern Ontario, Canada) with all of you kool kats, keeping it cool, oh so cool. Someday, in my 80’s, I will look back fondly (insert flashback Kung-Fu: The Legend Continues sound) on the memories of sitting by my Hampton Bay oscillating fan in July at 11 or 12 pm in my room, perspiring freely (itsokitsokitsokitsok), tip tap typing away, for the FUN of it. I will remember being so busy with being an adult that I was constantly wondering if I would just tap out in the following week.
Well, that never happened, and it’s because it was a conversation.
Speaking to all who participated here: thank you a billion + 1 for carrying my slouching disembodied brain-voice through this project. And for listening to my rambly things. And for being wonderful people. And, of course, for being a friend.
Yeah, I did.
Eight years ago, if you’d have asked me if I would voluntarily write a 1000-2000 word essay every single week , for, oh you know, the hell of it, I would have said you were seriously off your rocker.
Lost in Yonkers.
I’d have said something like, I’d say something like, I’d say, “stop suckin’ on grand pappy’s cough medicine, why don’t cha? Something uuuuh from the meatcase, Linda?”
Mind you, these posts weren’t exactly essays in the traditional sense, in that they were a lot looser and not subject to the same kind of professorial scrutiny as the good ol’ university days (and why did profs always seem to go easier on you, mark wise, than T.A’s?, hmmm?), but whatever, they still required a fair bit of effort. I’m proud of the stuff that came out of this blog and I hope you are too. I also hope Phil is able to use some of our stuff in his dissertation.
Phil, you should know that I’m eagerly anticipating reading the final product, and I fully expect/demand a hard copy personally delivered, hot off the presses (physically warm like a Cinnabon, please…but no frosting, thanks) hand signed (“best wishes”—pm, or something), with a case of tasty beer and/or fine scotch to my front stoop, where we will toast to your fine achievement.
Three cheers for Phil Miletic, they’ll say. Hip-hip! Hooray! (x3)
But anyway (to the task at hand!), enough of this self-congratulatory stuff: there you have it. We’re done!
So, what am I supposed to do now?
Am I supposed to be a man?! Am I supposed to say, “It’s ok, I don’t mind! (gesturing wildly) I don’t mind!” … Well, I mind! I mind big time!
(*dries tears using final three pages of footnotes that have separated from spine of well-loved copy of IJ)
So to delay the inevitable heartbreak and impending sense of loss, this brings me to the final thing that I would like to discuss: the treatment of Donald W. Gately. This is probably no surprise, as the novel fades out with a horrifying Gately experience (and someone over at Infinite Summer mentioned they imagined the Beatles song “A Day in the Life” [specifically the sustained chord at the very end of the song] sounding as Gately wakes up “flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand.” How perfect!)
So, I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m a Gately fan. I always have been and I still am even after this, my third reading.
Is he perfect?
Is he human? I think so…yes.
Way back when, Shazia wondered if Gately was actually just a creep. This is still a good question. More recently, I think Allie stated that she cared about all of, oh, perhaps, about a fraction of a fraction of a percent for Gately following his act of heroism that landed him in the trauma ward. I can’t blame her, really. He is a rough character who has had a rough life. But this is exactly what makes his decision to get clean and live life differently all the more commendable and admirable, from my perspective. When I think about all of the things Gately has had to contend with in his life (an abusive stepfather, a learning disability [arguably] that led to the denial of a sports scholarship, a mother who wasn’t there in any real sense, a biological father that didn’t care, witnessing a friend’s violent demapping, the list goes on), my heart hurts for him.
And then there’s all the stuff we get when Gately is in immense pain, laying in the trauma ward. I just can’t judge Gately when he is in this state. Yes, there is a hell of a lot of sexism, objectification, racism and generally icky things swirling around in his head at these points. But for God’s sake, he’s locked in his brain, suffering immense pain! I have to cut him some slack, here. This mentally imprisoned Gately is nothing like the one that we see in Ennet House: you know, the thing about preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet. The multi-dimensionality of any individual. All the world is a stage. Come on, guys–maybe? Just a little?
I think it’s important to make the distinction that Gately’s thoughts are completely unleashed in these sections. There is no filter, nor is there any need for a filter, because he is not interacting with anyone here, nor is he acting/saying any of these things out loud. You need to stay alive before you begin to think about how others might perceive you, and Gately is right in the middle of that battle.
Now, does that excuse his type of racist, bigoted, sexist thinking, or make it ok? Well, no…but we are being granted some pretty intimate access to the inner workings of his brain here, via a wraith, perhaps? I think that, in a way, Gately’s consciousness is being violated by the wraith, who is putting suffering on display in the name of entertainment (the book). This makes his part even sadder, at least from where I am standing.
Yes, it’s true that he’s the product of a seedy upbringing, adolescence and young adulthood. Yes, he thinks in racist slurs, he objectifies women (in his mind, in fever dreams, at least) and his motivation for acting heroically in defence of his housemates may not be entirely altruistic.
Yet despite all of this, I like Gately. He’s a human being, flaws and all. I think he he is quite strong (not just physically). As I mentioned above, he is not a perfect character, by any means, but he is somebody who sincerely tries. He wants to get better, and he takes steps to do just that.
Gately could very easily say, “Fuck it what’s the point? I am who I am, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so why even bother?”, but he decidedly does not take this approach to life. Even when he fucks up, he seems to realize it, and actually feels terribly about actions that he seems to know are wrong, even if he lacks the will to stop himself. Here, I’m thinking about that part where he beats up a guy with blonde hair and a mustache (MP step father, anybody?)—if I’m somehow misremembering (highly possible), then you can also look at the parts where he violently collects debts for Whitey Sorkin. Anger issues gone awry. He always feels pretty badly about the brutal beatings he administers: “the big kid Donny’d get so guilty and remorseful he’d triple his drug-intake and be no use to fucking nobody for a week.” Again, are his actions excusable? No, not really, but he has remorse, and that’s something, I think.
Further, he signs up for something that requires, at its core, a belief in a higher power that he doesn’t even understand/believe in (AA). He makes a conscious decision to accept the help of other people (he listens). Gately then becomes part of a community and shows signs of developing/honing his sense of empathy in the absence of self-effacing substances that cloud his mind (Dilaudid, et al.). When he speaks to others in the house, he seems aware of how he is coming across to others, and sometimes corrects himself when he is about to use a slur (I don’t have a page citation for this, but I do remember it). While in AA, he shows consideration for others and does his best to be a decent human being.
Guys, I need to ask you: what else is there, really? Living this way seems very basic, but it’s actually a lot harder to do than it seems.
Again, it’s the battle of head vs. heart: a classic of our time.
Head: “I’m the most important here! What am I feeling? What are my needs?”
To which Heart replied: “Why do I feel sick?”
I found my own understanding of Gately deepening with each of the flashbacks that we get through the book. At the very end of the book, when Facklemann is getting violently demapped, Gately is powerless to do anything for him. It puts a whole new spin on his actions against the Nucks who were after his people in the street on that fateful night when he was critically injured. When I read that final part where Gately is stuck in his drugged up soup of powerlessness, I thought to myself, “No wonder he felt he had to do something.”First his mother, then Facklemann, now his Ennet Housers. He was a ticking time bomb.
Again, it seems like latent memories (and who knows how much of that Facklemann murder he even consciously remembers) are compelling him to actions. Maybe he felt guilty about this event and that’s the reason he felt obliged to step in for the scum o’ the earth, Randy Lenz? As Bobby C. narrates on page 977, “[Gately] didn’t need to do anything except kick back and enjoy the party and let Facklelmann face his own music and to not let any like 19th- century notions of defending the weak and pathetic drag Gately into this.” But (I’d like to know) what exactly is wrong with traditional 19th century notions like honour, loyalty and kinship?
So, I guess it’s hard to say for sure if the guilt of the past drives him into action, but it’s certainly possible. Will Gately ever reach the point where he worked through his problems/griefs/guilts enough to function reasonably in day-to-day life? That’s impossible to say, as all we have is the text, but I think Wallace deliberately left that open to debate.
I think part of the point is that recovery is a process and not an end. I doubt any of the people in AA would ever say, “I have recovered. I’m done.” Recovery is presented as an ongoing experience, or a way of living. It’s endless—punctuated by waves of doubt, joy, despair, understanding, confusion, and sorrow. It’s about having the courage to be vulnerable to others and the strength and endurance to keep coming in. It’s about having the serenity to accept the things you can’t change, the courage to accept those you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
That probably makes everything more ambiguous, though. But at least it’s true.
So, for all of his flaws, I’m not ashamed to say that Gately is a person that I would be happy to call my friend. And I wonder (do any of you guys wonder too?), at the end of the book: is he dying, or is he just experiencing another feverish dream? I wish I knew. I can only hope he got out of his predicament alive so that he can continue his personal journey toward redemption.
Additional thoughts about heroism (‘cause I still don’t believe we’re done):
To return to mythology, I was reading about Gately as a possible analogue to Hercules over on Infinite Summer. Remember that part way back when Steeply and Marathe are on the mountain, and the narrator mentions that the constellation of Hercules has a “big, square head?” I think it was on my second read through that I thought, “Hm…that sounds familiar!”
So are we supposed to see Gately as a modern day Hercules of sorts?
It’s definitely an interesting idea, and it makes more and more sense the more I crack into it.
Ok, so let’s say Gately is a hero. That’s problematic because a common conception of a hero involves nobility, self-sacrifice, altruism, a pureness of heart–a type of ideal individual.
Well, I’m sure we can all agree that Gately ain’t that.
But does that mean he doesn’t fit the Greek notion of a hero? I think that his character aligns pretty perfectly with it, when I take a closer look. (A commodius vicus of recirculation, once again?…possibly!). When people think of Hercules, I’m sure many will revert to pop culture representations of Herc (e.g- Kevin Sorbo [my dad] in the TV show Legendary Journies, the cartoon, etc.).
My Dad with custom airbrushed Himself as Hercules father’s day present 2016 (Go Habs)
In discussion of Herc, I can almost assure you that the average person on the street will not mention (or even have knowledge of) the murders of his wife and children that prompted the punishment/penance of the 12 labors. So there you have it: he does (a) shitty thing/things and embarks on a journey of redemption. I’m feeling some familiarity here.
So is Gately a hero then? Well, maybe he is…at least in the Greek sense.
Well, here are some illuminating points from the cats on the Infinite Summer forum:
OK, someone else in this forum – I can’t find the reference now – noticed that in one of the Steeply/Marathe passages, there is a reference to the constellation Hercules, who has a square head. Of course, our code hero, Don Gately, also has a square head. This got me thinking harder, and then I found this (here: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/labors.html
The goddess Hera, determined to make trouble for Hercules, made him lose his mind. In a confused and angry state, he killed his own wife and children.
When he awakened from his “temporary insanity,” Hercules was shocked and upset by what he’d done. He prayed to the god Apollo for guidance, and the god’s oracle told him he would have to serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years, in punishment for the murders.
As part of his sentence, Hercules had to perform twelve Labors, feats so difficult that they seemed impossible. Fortunately, Hercules had the help of Hermes and Athena, sympathetic deities who showed up when he really needed help. By the end of these Labors, Hercules was, without a doubt, Greece’s greatest hero.
His struggles made Hercules the perfect embodiment of an idea the Greeks called pathos, the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which would lead to fame and, in Hercules’ case, immortality.
So, the parallels here are huge –
1) As an addict, you lose your mind / go crazy and do stupid stuff.
2) The 12 labors are analagous to the 12 steps of AA – “Feats so difficult they seemed impossible” – this is very much in line with the philosophy of AA – that you could never do this yourself
3) Gately has to clean out the “Aegean stables” – he has to clean out the bathroom in a homeless shelter, which is about the lowest status work you could do in American society.
I haven’t read through all the 12 labors of Hercules, but maybe there are more parallels in there… This book is absolutely mindblowing in it’s referential scope.
Then, dioramaorama writes:
Interesting! This is what Wikipedia says about Hera:
Hera may bear a pomegranate in her hand, emblem of fertile blood and death and a substitute for the narcotic capsule of the opium poppy.
Ok, it’s me, Joe, again—that’s so great, isn’t it?:
Of course, since we’re dealing with a mythological character here, there may be more than one analogue to Hercules (apart from Gately) within IJ, so I wouldn’t let it rest there, if you were thinking of following that thread.
Here’s the full discussion, if you want to take a peak:
Bye, everyone! It’s been so much fun.
But you don’t have to take MY word for it. (patented Reading Rainbow ba-da-da sound)