The “Dicalced monastery” is mentioned in Infinite Jest precisely once, in the early chapter listing the notable addresses of Enfield. Actually, I’ve truncated this slightly; in full it is referred to as: “a Dicalced monastery”. Like the Father & Son Market, it is a minor location that turns out to be real.
It also turns out to be a mistake. The word “dicalced” is not one; unless intentionally altered for reasons not apparent, the word David Foster Wallace should have used was “discalced.” From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
A term applied to those religious congregations of men and women, the members of which go entirely unshod or wear sandals, with or without other covering for the feet.
The Discalced Carmelites are a barefoot mendicant order of the Roman Catholic Church, and the Monastery of the Espousal of Mary and Joseph is indeed a “discalced” but not “Dicalced” monastery, as the photograph above makes unambiguous. And following St. Columbkille Church, it is the second Catholic institution of Brighton covered in this series to have lost a letter in transition to the page.
In this book of more than half a million words, it’s not at all surprising that such a tiny error—and this one is microscopic, really—would escape its copy editors. (Infinite Jest is nothing if not a book of unusual words, many of which are identified in another ongoing blog: Definitive Jest.)
Yet those who have studied the novel closely are aware of some curious discrepancies throughout. Any Francophone who has appraised the novel’s garbled French, or mathematician who has worked through its questionable algebra, knows the book contains some very sophisticated mistakes. These apparent lapses despite Wallace’s known familiarity with the first two subjects have puzzled observers for years. But the “dicalced” error is perplexing not because of his expertise in Catholic religious orders but because of his proximity to this one: as I realized upon my visit, the discalced Carmelites of Brighton were once his next-door neighbors.
According to the Carmelite Friars’ U.S. website, the order was newly arrived to Brighton in 1989, having moved from nearby Brookline. But as of 2011, its building on Foster Street at the far Western edge of Enfield appeared to be nearly abandoned—or at least very badly maintained.
While most other locations in mythical Enfield seemed to be on the rebound and in far better shape than the novel would suggest, this one was much worse for the wear. If I hadn’t bothered to consult a dictionary, or look closely at the sign outside, I might have thought: yeah, looks pretty dicalced to me.