Tue Nov 2, 2010
The logic puzzle section of the GRE doesn’t exist anymore, does it? That’s too bad. The only real memory I have of my weekly G&T; class in elementary school was learning to solve the grid-style logic puzzles, whose presumed psychometric validity remain, as I have said before, one of the great unanswered questions of the 20th C.
Anyway, I’ve been preparing to teach Wallace’s “Mister Squishy” for the second time, and it occurred to me that there might be enough details offered for the members of the focus group (and the two unintroduced assistant facilitators) to deduce who is who using the grid-elimination format.
What seems to be an important detail in the story is that Schmidt misidentifies the second UAF, with the actual one being the co-conspirator of the wall-climber. The sudden shift in perspective to this character, with his improbable mission-time LED readout in his fake-glasses and emetic prosthesis and ejectable laminated card with his GRDS script written on it has led me to suggest the last time that I taught it that all of this is Schmidt’s paranoid—nay, psychotic—fantasy brought on by the stress of his tampering fantasy, et al.
I think there’s some support for such a reading through the story’s manipulation of free indirect discourse and other tricks of focalization. The fact that the perspective shifts to the first person towards the end of a long paragraph, for instance, and how there are thirty-or-so descriptive details given about the fourteen focus group members at different points suggests to me that Schmidt is trying to identify the enemies who are out to get him, and the revelation that there are enemies out to get him in ways that would seem to go beyond plausibility further supports the notion that it is all his invention.
I’ve tried sketching the configuration of conference room table in the story and going through and trying to establish the exact identity of the actual UAF as opposed to the presumed UAF. Wallace has done a subtle job in the story of making an attentive reader think that the cumulative weight of these details will reveal something outside of Schmidt’s understanding. But everything that we learn that is outside of Schmidt’s understanding is so implausible that it makes more sense as a discrete paranoid fantasy. So I am very reluctant to make any conclusions about where the diegetic lines can be drawn in this story. (At the same time, however, Wallace obviously enjoyed caricature in his social satire, so what I perceive as mimesis-breaking could easily be accommodated within his satirical mode. I still haven’t come to terms with this in Infinite Jest.)