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Monday, July 13, 2009

Rather short Infinite Summer post from me this time around as I put together all the things that need to be put together for my late-summer stint as an instructor at the Duke University Institute for Gifted Youngsters. Like last year, posting will be somewhat slow the next three weeks; I'll mostly be posting only in the very early morning, at night, and on weekends, with occasional daytime posts here and there whenever I'm able to commit a little time theft.

With IGY on my mind, I was really struck by footnote 76, which provides as good a summary as you'll find of the inner life of anyone stamped "gifted" when they are young, not just Hal Incandenza but also my IGY students and me and most of the people who have become my close friends over the years and maybe you as well:

Hal Incandenza had been thought for a while as a toddler to have some sort of Attention Deficit Disorder—partly because he read so fast and spent so little time on each level of various pre-CD-ROM video games, partly because just about any upscale kid even slightly to port or starboard of the bell curve's acme was thought at that time to have A.D.D.—and for a while there'd been a certain amount of specialist-shuttling, and many of the specialists were veterans of Mario and were preconditioned to see Hal as also damaged, but thanks to the diagnostic savvy of Brandeis's Child Development Center the damage assessments were not only retracted but reversed way out to the other side of the Damaged-to-Gifted spectrum, and for much of the glabrous part of his childhood Hal'd been classified as somewhere between "Borderline Gifted" and "Gifted"—though part of this high cerebral rank was because B.C.D.C.'s diagnostic tests weren't quite so keen when it came to distinguishing between raw neural gifts and the young Hal's monomaniacally obsessive interest and effort, as if Hal were trying as if his very life were in the balance to please some person or persons, even though no one had ever even hinted that his life depended on seeming gifted or precocious or even exceptionally pleasing—and when he'd committed to memory entire dictionaries and vocab-check software and syntax manuals and then had gotten some chance to recite some small part of what he'd pounded into his RAM for a proudly nonchalant mother or even a by-this-time-as-far-as-he-was-concerned-pretty-much-out-there father, at these times of public performance and pleasure—the Weston M.A. school district in the early B.S. 1990s had had interschool range-of-reading-and-recall spelling-beeish competitions called "Battle of the Books," which these were for Hal pretty much of a public turkey-shoot and approval-fest—when he'd extracted what was desired from memory and faultlessly pronounced it before certain persons, he'd felt almost that same pale sweet aura that an LSD afterglow conferred, some milky corona, like almost a halo of approved grace, made all the milkier by the faultless nonchalance of a Moms who made it clear that his value was not contingent on winning first or even second prize, ever.
The incredibly slippery slope from this sort of childhood precociousness to adult dysfunction is something we've talked about here once or twice before in connection with the films of Wes Anderson, whose thematically similar The Royal Tenenbaums pops up around the fringes of IJ discussion quite a bit. And we can see now what a hard-luck case I really am: thirty years old and I'm still a student, still chasing the same damn high.

Most of the rest of what I'd have to say about today's spoiler line was already covered in my post last week on DFW, addiction, and suicide, for which Joelle is something of an exemplary case. This weekend's pages were pretty much all Joelle, all the time, not that I'm complaining. She's an interesting character and somehow able to bring us closer to the mind of Himself than anyone else we've met thus far.