Between pages 128 to 135 alone, yrstruly uses the word “map” eleven times to refer to someone’s face, during that section with C and Poor Tony. With a little bit of context, it was an easy substitution to figure out, and I found that I wrote it off fairly easily as just a colloquialism I was unfamiliar with. As Wallace’s characters have continued to use it throughout the novel, however, I found myself questioning whether or not it was that simple. It wasn’t until the last all-caps headline on 407 that I realized its larger significance:
GENTLE HAS COMPLETELY LOST MIND, CLAIMS CONFIDANT, O.U.S. CHIEF TINE AT PRESS CONFERENCE: THREATENS TO DETONATE UPSIDE-DOWN MISSILES IN U.S. SILOS, IRRADIATE CANADA W/ AID OF ATHSCME HELL-FANS — Header; ‘WILLING TO ELIMINATE OWN MAP OUT OF SHEER PIQUE’ IF CANADA NIXES RECONFIGURATIVE TRANSFER OF ‘AESTHETICALLY UNACCEPTABLE’ TERRAIN –Pretty Obviously Homemade Subheader
Although this “quote” is part of Mario’s satirical puppet-show-turned-film-cartridge, the precise accuracy of this headline within this fictional history isn’t necessarily important. In a political landscape like ONAN’s, where the Great Concavity/Convexity has obviously caused a great deal of disagreement and upset many people, whether or not Tine ever described President Gentle’s intentions just so- or if the President ever even threatened such an attack in the first place- is irrelevant. The entire disagreement and source of conflict stems from an issue of lines on a map, with Canada resisting the ownership of this irradiated and toxic landscape as the United States tries to disown a large portion of its own territory. The U.S. citizens understandably feel betrayed by their own government’s abandonment, while the residents of Quebec are particularly incensed by the spillover of waste that is damaging their home.
Shifting gears for a moment, our face is vital to our concept of personal identity. Hitting someone in the face is seen as a tremendously personal attack, despite the fact that the throat or groin are likely much better targets if the intent is to cause harm. Eye contact is vital to verbal exchanges in our culture, and our facial expressions can give away how we’re feeling at a given moment.
What’s this got to do with Clipperton’s Glock 17, or C’s propensity to use violence in pursuit of drug money? Wallace is using this simple colloquialism, this substitution of “map” for “face”, to demonstrate to his readers just how much the Reconfiguration has upset the larger population of his fictional future. The citizens of both the United States and Canada feel as though they have been attacked through the adjustment of the maps, like a cartographic punch straight to their personal identities. To replace “face” with “map” could be seen as a political statement against Reconfiguration in Wallace’s Subsidized Time.
Strangely, though, we see the switch performed more by Gately and yrstruly than by someone like Marathe, who has a clear political leaning. The drug addicts and criminals, whether reformed or not, seem completely uninvolved and uninterested in the politics of their time. Saying “map” when they mean “face” isn’t an intentional, political statement by these individuals; it’s simply the slang that has caught on, and they likely haven’t given it a second thought. They are far too engrossed in their respective addictions to notice or care why they use a three-letter word instead of four, and yet Wallace has clearly gone out of his way to include this seemingly minor detail.
Whether or not President Gentle ever really intended to launch nukes upside-down and spread radiation across Canada with giant fans is up for debate, but Mario’s headline clearly holds some manner of truth for it to clearly identify with such a unique colloquialism in the text.