“In other words you hide your hiding… U.H.I.D. allows members to be open about their essential need for concealment. In other words we don the veil. We don the veil and wear the veil proudly and stand very straight and walk briskly wherever we wish, veiled and hidden, but now completely up-front and unashamed about the fact that how we appear to others affects us deeply, about the fact that we want to be shielded from all sight. U.H.I.D. supports us in our decision to hide openly.” (535)
These words, spoken of course by the veiled Joelle van Dyne, occur within a conversation between her and Don Gately at Ennet House early in the morning on November 11th Y.D.A.U. This speech follows Gately’s request, “maybe tell me about this veil of yours, then, Joelle, if we’re talking about defied sense” (533). While I was reading this section, I found myself torn on determining the portrayal of communication. I half felt like we were getting a more positive take here, one that is at least markedly different from Hal’s interview or Randy Lenz’s coke-fueled tirade to Bruce Green. Indeed, some statements seem to indicate that this is an instance of two people truly absorbed in one another’s speech, like Joelle picking up on Gately’s intellectual insecurities and Gately expending a whole lot of his brain power to really try to understand Joelle’s explanation of the U.H.I.D. But upon closer inspection, I must conclude that Wallace is yet again questioning the effectiveness of communication. And I am particularly interested in the role of metafiction, paradox, and irony in Joelle’s description of the U.H.I.D. doctrine, and how these factors affect the experience of communication for U.H.I.D. members.
Because to “hide your hiding” sounds an awful lot like writing about writing – the crux of metafiction. Of course, we know that Wallace had some serious concerns about this form of writing, viewing it as inescapably solipsistic and incapable of producing any sort of human transaction. Metafiction coils back on itself so much that it ultimately has nothing to really say, or communicate to its reader. In hiding their hiding, the U.H.I.D. members actually get sucked into the same recursive loop of self-consciousness that writers of metafiction also find themselves trapped within.
And “to hide openly” is undoubtedly a contradiction, an outright paradox. Joelle insists that by donning the veil and concealing their deformities, U.H.I.D. members are being “completely up-front and unashamed,” allowing them a “connection to society” (534) their deformity would otherwise deny them. Do we buy this? Does Joelle even buy this? The mission of the U.H.I.D. seems inherently dissonant. Masking your own face undoubtedly hinders honest, 1:1 communication – consider the earlier videophony debacle with the masks (which Gately acutely brings up in this conversation). Joelle’s repetition of “in other words” indicates that we’re traveling down a rabbit-hole here where logic is going out the window as Joelle continuously attempts to justify the paradoxical nature of her group. U.H.I.D. is kind of the opposite of AA, but just as slippery to conceptualize. While AA explains itself through the terse clichés, the U.H.I.D. has to engage in these lengthy, circular explanations (Gately even entreats her to “use less words” (535)) in order to defend itself. And Wallace seems to be critiquing both these groups, on the opposite ends of the same spectrum, for their language games.
Mario, arguably the most sincere character of this novel, goes to no lengths to conceal his abnormalities (rather, he seems to accentuate them), and I would venture to guess that he functions as a foil for the U.H.I.D. members. If Mario embodies sincerity, this group represents pure irony. In being “veiled and hidden,” the deformed ironically draw further attention to their affliction. All that Gately, and anyone else interacting with them for that matter, wants to know is, what’s under the veil? Joelle dances the question, delving into this description of the U.H.I.D. instead. And when she finally does offer up an answer – “I am so beautiful I am deformed” (538) – is it at all sincere? Recall Joelle’s description of Orin as “dodger of flung acid extraordinaire” (223), a strange statement which would seem to imply that her real problem is a face marred by acid burns, not captivating beauty.