Two previous posts (#1, #2) have focused on errors of geography in the Infinite Boston series, and today I’d like to add a few non-location-based mistakes. All have since been corrected or clarified, but not fully explained. Here are three I know I screwed up:
Somehow I managed to read Infinite Jest twice without it properly registering that the sign for Antitoi Entertainment, the “low-demand old film-cartridge emporium” which ties a few plot strands together, actually reads “Antitoi Entertainent” (note the missing letter “M”). The original version of my post made no such reference until Greg Carlisle, author of the estimable Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest pointed this out in a comment, with reference to a footnote making this unambiguous:
203. Whether English misspelling or Québecois solecism, sic.
As Carlisle noted, Anglophone POV characters Poor Tony Krause and Michael Pemulis both refer to it as “Antitoi Entertainment”, adding: “I’m assuming Pemulis, Poor Tony, and you are mentally correcting the sign, right?” It is fine company I keep.
In the entry about M.I.T.’s twin student unions (one real but intact contra the novel, one mostly fictional but actually housing similar facilities) I had listed Steven Pinker as “a Harvard man” based on the fact that the Canadian-born cognitive scientist and writer received his Ph.D. at Harvard and teaches there now. Well, I should have read Wikipedia more carefully, because as it states, he taught at M.I.T. from 1982 to 2003, a not-insignificant period of time. To mangle the title of one of Mr. Pinker’s books, it appears my mind was not working.
Somewhat relatedly, the series’ references to Harvard and M.I.T. generated at least one comment based on the schools’ longstanding rivalry; in a post asking why the Harvard Bridge is so much closer to M.I.T., one reader offered this finite jest:
As a side note, I heard that MIT won the right to name the bridge connecting their Cambridge campus with Boston. After discovering many structural defects they decided that they should name the bridge after Harvard.
Perhaps the most embarrassing textual oversight in the entire series is writing about a connection between scenes without actually realizing they were connected until this was pointed out by readers. In the entry about the difficult-to-locate Cambridge City Shelter I wrote about Burt F. Smith, a resident of Ennet House during the novel’s primary timeline, who had spent “nine months stuck” at this homeless shelter. I didn’t mention how he had come to get stuck there, although in retrospect I clearly should have. Nor did I mention his most prominent physical characteristic: when we meet him he has lost his extremities, and is introduced smoking a cigarette “by holding it between his stumps with his elbows out like a guy with pruning shears…”
The following week, I wrote about the defunct Bow and Arrow Pub, outside of which Emil “yrstruly” Minty and two fellow junkies beat up an “older type individual” on Christmas Eve and leave him in a snowy garbage pile. So, you can see where this is going. The error was worse than that; I’d taken away an impression that the victim had died but, as readers pointed out, it would be more correct to say they left him for dead, because there is no question at all that this is Burt F. Smith. From the very same passage introducing him:
Burt F.S. got mugged and beaten half to death in Cambridge on Xmas Eve of last year, and left there to like freeze there, in an alley, in a storm, and ended up losing his hands and feet.
All I can say is that, in this book of a half million words, if the author can be forgiven for the original mistake, so can the reader.