Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Biblical Figure: Whitey Bulger In The Gospels Of Saint David

Whitey Bulger may have inspired the author of one of our greatest Bibles of postmodernism. The latest saint of American literature, David Foster Wallace, known to his acolytes Yahweh-ishly by the acronym "DFW", spent time in the Boston demimonde in the late eighties, where he first encountered the legend of Whitey Bulger. When he began his immortal opus, Infinite Jest, he could not resist including Whitey, however transmogrified, as the bookie, Whitey Sorkin. To quote his own words, "I don't think Whitey Sorkin's supposed to be an isomorphically unique mapping of Whitey Bulger, but when I was in Boston, there were rumors that Whitey had it fixed so that his people won the lottery. I mean, at least in the parts of Boston in which I was moving, Whitey was a creature of myth." It is curious that he chose to give his Whitey the surname "Sorkin". Had he met the playwright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin during the New York lit-party days of his early career - and, perhaps, not liked him? It wounds some of us here in the shamrockier precincts of Greater Boston that DFW had not chosen to retain the Irish flavor of the original, but a great artist does what a great artist wants. At least he kept the "Whitey", although he seemed reluctant to explain satisfactorily why his "Whitey" should have that name. In fact, in the novel itself, the only attempt to explain (or, indeed, anti-explain) the moniker that DFW offers is the following: "It was never clear to Gately why Whitey Sorkin was called Whitey, because he spent a huge amount of time under ultraviolet lamps as part of an esoteric cluster-headache-treatment regimen and so was the constant shiny color of a sort of like dark soap, with almost the same color and coin-of-the-realm classic profile as the cheery young Pakistani M.D. who'd told Gately at Our Lady of Solace Hospital in Beverly how Teddibly Soddy he was that Mrs. G.'s cirrhosis and cirrhotic stroke had left her roughly at the neurologic level of a Brussels sprout and then given him public-transportation directions to the L.T.I..."

In real life, as we all know, Whitey was called that because of his light blond hair (although he could really be called that now, based on the color of what hair he has left). Nobody ever called him that to his face though. He apparently preferred "Jimmy". Very prosaic, I know, but great gangsters can prefer what they want. We know Whitey likes to read, and will probably even have the time now to read Infinite Jest in its entirety - but how he's likely to respond to even a non-"isomorphically unique mapping" of himself is anyone's guess. The best thing that we can say about Whitey's appearance in The Gospels of Saint David is that it has given him immortality among the Highbrows.

Approaching infinity (Boston Globe Interview with DFW)
"Whitey Sorkin" Search Results in Infinite Jest (Google Books)

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