Another Brief Comment on Wallace

Thu Oct 2, 2008

Characters like Schmidt in “Mr. Squishy,” the dead man in “Good Old Neon,” and, in particular, the law student in the last BIwHM, are far more verbally (and intellectually, in the middle case) adept than realism would dictate. I know that the Yale Law School doesn’t just let anyone in (and the only language missing from the frequent quotations at Scott Horton’s Harper’s blog, as far as I can tell, is Hittite), but what are the chances that this law student being interviewed would a) know the word “catamenial” and b) use it in conversation?

Very small. And furthermore, I think Wallace is much more aware of this than it may seem. He consistently uses a technique similar to free indirect discourse except that the entire consciousness or mentality of a character is distorted or replaced by the narrator (narrative function, some more technical term is probably needed.)

Also, from the same text, “gambrel” is, as you might suspect, not “from the Hindu for leg.” Notable that this is the only word she asks about, apparently, when “acerose” (used, improbably, for “needle-like”) and others pass unmentioned.