A bit of a digression here, but something that piqued my interest: what is Wallace doing with all the art allusions? The word “baroque” comes up three times alone in the Boston AA chapter (344, 346, 359), and while of course Wallace isn’t referring to the actual art movement of 17th century Europe but rather to the adjectival term which has come to mean “extravagantly ornate, florid, and convoluted in character or style,” I still don’t think the term is accidental. Just to name a few instances where Wallace engages with a Baroque painter/sculptor (I think I missed some):
- Titian (not Baroque, more involved in Mannerism, but heavily influential on the Baroque movement): U.S.S.M.K is describing her father’s fetishes and says he was “striking a pose from a rather well-known Titian oil in the Met’s High Renaissance Wing” (125). I thought this might be Titian’s Rape of Europa, but that’s located at a different collection.
- Rubens: Hal tells Orin that Stice is a “Rubensophile” (1015), meaning he enjoys larger women, the type of figures Rubens painted. Rubens was fascinated with flesh and also made copies of Titian’s works.
- El Greco: Hal says Pemulis looks like a “bad El Greco” (334) (El Greco painted some weeeird stuff, so I can’t imagine what this could look like).
- Bernini: Bernini obviously plays the biggest role. Starting on 988, we get the description of James Incandenza’s Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell, which features “an alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman obsessed with Bernini’s ‘The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.’” Moving on to Joelle’s attempted overdose: “She always sees, after inhaling, right at the apex, at the graph’s spike’s tip, Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa,’” (235). And then in the disturbing passage containing the story of the Boston AA stripper’s childhood, she describes her foster-sister’s expression after the foster-father’s nightly visits as being “the exact same expression as the facial expression on the stone-robed lady’s face in this one untitled photo of some Catholic statue that hung (the photo) in the dysfunctional household’s parlor” (373).
So, here’s a picture of the sculpture, which I am sure a lot of people have seen before, but this one is a little different than most of the pictures you’ll see because it actually gets the full scope of the sculpture:
This is largely considered to be the sculptural masterpiece of the Baroque period since it epitomizes the term bel composto, which means something like integrated art mediums or sublime wholeness, but basically the big thing about this is that it unifies architecture, sculpture, and painting in one amazing work. Something else to notice is that Bernini didn’t just stop at the sculpture depicting St. Teresa’s vision of religious ecstasy. He also included sculptures of the patron’s family to act as audience members, which you’ll see on the sides. He essentially made the sculpture into a live performance that will go on forever.
So how is this statue working in IJ? Could it be that Wallace wanted IJ to be his bel composto? Does the inclusion of an audience in this sculpture mirror the interactive nature Wallace wanted to achieve with his reader? Consider the three times it has come up so far: in a film as the object of “obsession,” during an attempted overdose as an image, and then after a rape (which is what’s really throwing me here). The idea that the sculpture represents some sort of transcendence attainable from obsessions, drugs, or sex (even unwilling??? and morally repugnant in every way???) has crossed my mind, but I’m still trying to figure out what Wallace is doing with it.