The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial is going to come up again soon, so today we’ll focus on its appearance and unsuspecting role in a very different kind of civil war than the one in which its subject(s) fought. In the first of the statue’s two sightings in Infinite Jest, it is briefly described as a “black-bronze equestrian statue of Boston’s Colonel Shaw and the MA 54th” with a “raised sword.”
This is a pretty spot-on description for a passage that may have been written far away from Boston and in a time before the proliferation of the World Wide Web, let alone Wikipedia. The Shaw Memorial—full name: Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment—is indeed bronze, prominently features Col. Shaw (portrayed by Matthew Broderick in the 1989 film Glory) on a horse leading the all-black 54th down Beacon Street, sword in hand. To nitpick, its pigment is more of a blackish-bronze; black bronze apparently refers to a lost alloy of antiquity, which this surely is not. A less pedantic discrepancy is the positioning of Shaw’s blade: in the text it is held aloft, but in reality it is lowered in front of him.
The discrepancy at first seems less of an oversight than a narrative decision to facilitate the Shaw Memorial’s unwilling involvement in another prank by ex-F.L.Q. operative / Antitoi Entertainment proprietor Bertraund Antitoi. Since the attack on a Canadian official at the Sheraton Commander—and following the untimely demise of the Antitoi cell’s leader, much earlier in the story—Bertraund has apparently set his sights a bit lower. And so Shaw’s sword is
illicitly draped in a large Québecois fleur-de-lis flag with all four irises’ stems altered to red blades, so it’s absurdly now a red white and blue flag…
Or else Bertraund’s “harebrained” plan is, as it is described a few hundred pages later,
hanging a sword-stemmed fleur-de-lis flag from the nose of a U.S.A. Civic War hero’s … statue when it would simply be cut down by bored O.N.A.N.ite chiens-courants gendarmes the next morning…
In which case the raised hand is no longer a necessity, besides it seems apparent that Shaw’s schnoz is not quite prominent enough to hang a flag from. Whether the reshuffling of details was intentional or oversight I can’t say, though it’s at least a fair description of the flag, intentional alteration notwithstanding.
Astute readers will notice that I am leaving out a few details, including the free entertainment cartridges available within the vicinity; this is plot-relevant to be sure, but then again it’s also rather complicated to unpack, and best left alone here. Then there is the matter of the statue’s location itself—which I have purposefully excluded—and that we’ll talk about before the week is out.