It’s ok! I Don’t Mind…

This is the end. My only friend—The End.

Finito, donezo.

Bingo bango! Cross another one off the bucket list.

And what a wild ride it has been, my friends.

We laughed, we cried, we loved it (well, some of us did, maybe) more than Cats.

Critic C.D paradoxically described it as being simultaneously “the best of times” AND “the worst of times”. Continue reading “It’s ok! I Don’t Mind…”

Infinite Records (The Soundtrack–A Listening Party)

I have nothing particularly new to add this week. At this point (with one more week to go?!), I feel like my thoughts and ideas are becoming quite recursive (and maybe that’s part of the point), which is why it’s awfully swell to read what some of the other readers have to say (guest posters, Time, rob, Steve, nowaczyk, Allan, and the other guides, everybody!). It’s also been fun to explore the thoughts I never even knew I had until I foolishly attempted to write them down.

So, in preparation for the season finale next week, I’d just like to give a sincere thanks to everyone that contributed in some form or another. Continue reading “Infinite Records (The Soundtrack–A Listening Party)”

So-called People. There’s Everyone in Total.

First of all, thanks Shazia, for the title of this post. That was surprisingly perfect and easy. You’re a genius!

WARNING: on quick reread, this thing barely makes any sense, and needs a lot more than 1500 words to elucidate, but hey, I don’t have a week to write this, and it’s a blog post, so take it for what it is

ACT I- More Ghostly Narrative Ambiguity + Surrealism to da MAX

Good afternoon, y’all!

Holy shit, I’m really unsure that this post is going to make any sense at all, but hey, here’s to trying, right? Many areas of my brain seemed to be lighting up as I waded through the half-conscious soup that is Gately’s experience, and I’m foolishly going to attempt to convey the various kinds of light that the light bulbs exuded via good old fashioned English words. Continue reading “So-called People. There’s Everyone in Total.”

A Real Incident of Thought Transference (A Ghost Story of Sorts)

This is just too weird not to share, so heregoes:

So, I was in the middle of reading through the Gately in the hospital part where the ceiling is bulging and receding, and a “tall slumped figure” is hanging about the room like some sort of Jim Incandenza wannabe, and I thought to myself, “this reminds me of that story that my sisters told me about when they were young when a tiny hole in the ceiling used to talk to them. I wonder if I can somehow use that weird bit in a post.”

FYI: my sisters are twins, and both of them reported hearing said disembodied voice in the ceiling, from the tiny hole.

Naturally, I texted my sister, Liegha, to ask her about what she remembered.

Here is our exchange: Continue reading “A Real Incident of Thought Transference (A Ghost Story of Sorts)”

Art For Art’s Sake?

So has anybody been tuning in to watch any of the U.S Open?

I have.

Watching it while reading IJ certainly does modify the way I’m watching, and what I’m thinking about. I particularly enjoyed watching Andy “The Darkness” Murray, clad in all black tennis attire, pummel his opponent into dust. Great entertainment, all around.

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Andy “The Darkness” Murray: #2 Seed, U.S Open, 2016 Continue reading “Art For Art’s Sake?”

Roles and Regulations (Mount Up)

I’ll admit that I had to resist a strong compulsion to write about Hawkeye Pierce this week. Damn, M*A*S*H, you get me every time. Tokyo, this is Radar. Colonel Potter requests an incubator stat! The unit is under heavy shelling and one of our POWs is pregnant and due to give birth any day now! TOKYO DO YOU COPY? OVER!

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Radar O’Reilly Doing His Duty

(and so on)

As tempting as my pals at the 4077 were (Maxwell Klinger, BJ Honeycutt, Father Mulcahy and Margaret Houlihan, I’m looking in your direction!), I decided that I’d like to probe a little into the idea of roles and the importance that they seem to play in IJ, because as we know,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts”–Bill S.

Enter: Mrs. Avril Incandenza, aka The Moms (plural, for a reason, probably: a woman with many different sides). She typifies the type of person described in the Shakespeare quotation inscribed above: a (wo)man playing many parts. Her wide array of roles seems to be the key to holding her together: mother, ETA headmistress, member of MGM, lover (to who knows?), overseer of the educational system at ETA, and etc. She is so completely absorbed by her various roles that she doesn’t have any time or mental energy to even think about breaking down. She goes through the motions, and thus continues humming along, fulfilling her roles and getting through, one day at a time.

Hm, this sounds familiar!

So, what of the importance of these roles?

This week, the question I asked about Avril and the flagpole way back in the early going  seemed to be answered in footnote 269, as M. Bain replies in his letter to Steeply (or Starkley, or Steeples, or Starksaddle, or WHATEVER) that in Orin’s presence, Avril would act “more cheerful and loquacious and witty and intimate and benign” so that he might not feel “bad or guilty” for woozily running over her poor old Samuel Johnson (canine) and reducing him to nothing more than a leash and nubbin.

So, as was suggested by many of you guys, after Himself’s felo de se, she likely compensated way in the direction of feeling fine and dandy so that she could perfectly perform/embody (in her mind) the role of mother (and now, in JOI’s absence, father, maybe?…double the pressure, double the fun?), which I assume means to protect her children from all unpleasantness/discomfort. Essentially, Avril desires a bubble (i.e.- E.T.A) in which she can raise her kids, but unfortunately, that bubble proves not to be impervious to the fucked-upedness of life. No type of environment ever is, is it? She exerts such energy to ensuring that by all appearances everything is fine, even though it’s pretty clear that everything is not alright, in so many different ways.

Then M. Bain goes on to probe into the nature of Avril’s loquaciousness and motherly love. On page 1051, he writes,

“Is it mind bogglingly considerate and loving and supportive, or is there something…creepy about it? Maybe a more perspicuous question: Was the almost pathological generosity with which Mrs. Inc responded to her son taking her car in an intoxicated condition and dragging her beloved dog to its grotesque death and then trying to lie his way out of it, was this generosity for Orin’s sake, or for Avril’s own? Was it Orin’s “self-esteem” she was safeguarding, or her own vision of herself as a more stellar Moms than any human son could ever hope to feel he merits?”

Is this a parenting fail, or are we supposed to admire Avril for her heroic effort to protect her children from harm? I’ve always thought that Avril deserved more credit than she is shown in the text: there doesn’t seem to be much sympathy shown for her. Hal is annoyed by her, as is Orin (who has gone many steps further by actively disowning her). Does she deserve this type of treatment for wanting to protect her kids from sorrow? Is her willingness to look the other way really a selfish act, or is she merely the victim (victim of abuse, as M. Bain suggests…) of a blind spot in her awareness that she perhaps developed as a defense mechanism in the face of childhood abuse?

So this leads me to my next question(s):

Can a person ever act with pure unabashed altruism, or is there always going to be some level of self-interest at play? Does the self-interest nullify the altruistic act simply because there is something in it for the person attempting to act selflessly?

It does seem like there is a selfish element to Avril’s behaviour toward her sons, but does that really qualify her actions as abusive?

I doubt it. To me, this line of thinking seems juvenile and entitled (perhaps fitting for a son of the founders of a prestigious tennis academy). It reminds me of a thought one of my old friends once uttered (while intoxicated) as an adolescent. Basically, he expressed that he was entitled to mooch off of his parents because he didn’t ask to be born. So, in essence, he absolved himself of any responsibility for his actions because the decision to come into this world was beyond his control.

Hrmpf. Thank God we (well, at least some of us) grow up (at some point).

Returning to my point about roles, it seems like the roles a person plays in IJ are of great importance to many of the characters’ ability to “keep it together.” By keeping “it” together, I guess I mean holding themselves (mentally) together—to keep from melting into a steaming puddle of primordial goop.

Avril does it by assuming her roles. Gately does it by assuming a role of a supervisor in AA. They freely accept responsibilities, and in a way, they become their roles. They pledge themselves to fulfilling a duty. A duty to fulfilling the mandates of the role and by extension they help others by following through. While this devotion to a role is not exactly selfless (as Shazia demonstrated this week), it seems absolutely necessary to staying alive (Bee Gees track here, with movie of person performing CPR on dummy).

But, by focusing totally and completely on the roles, one can run the risk of omitting stuff that’s in the blind spots of our perception (think of Avril and Hal’s inability to connect on painful things, no matter how trivial, like his discomfort/annoyance at quoting bits of the O.E.D for her on command).

Though, on the other hand, by embracing and fulfilling roles, often a person becomes part of a community. The roles become a mechanism that give purpose and keep a person moving forward. A role has the potential to foster a sense of responsibility between people, which (I think, at least) is a good thing.

(I know all of this is nowhere near fully developed, and I’m sorry, but wrapping up because I have to go fulfill my duty to others in T-minus 5 minutes, 7:55am, EST)

But of course, with roles, Marathe would probably caution us to choose wisely, n’est-ce pas?

C’est vrai.

The Grandson of Kwai Chang Caine Walks Out of the Past…(and other Miscellany)

It’s kind of fascinating to think about what it takes to really get to know other people.

In many ways, Infinite Jest is a book about human relationships in all their various forms: romances, friendships, mentorships, marriages, brotherhoods, sisterhoods and gangs. The structure of the book sort of mimics the arduous process of really getting to know people. I mean, if I think of my own life, I can name a handful of people who I think I’ve gotten to know fairly well, but for the majority of those I know, there are many gaps in my understanding.

So, you’re probably thinking: “Well, alright then, Mr. Miyagi/Chuck Norris/Kwai Chang Caine, then what are the ingredients to getting to know someone, then?”

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The Man: The Legend (of Kung-Fu)

Well, I think if you look at Infinite Jest, a few possibilities emerge.

In IJ, knowing someone seems to require a number of things (to my mind), which include (but again, are certainly not limited to):

  • Time
  • Effort
  • Attention
  • Sincerity

And as it is with people, reading Infinite Jest requires all of these things in spades.

It seems like Wallace deliberately draws his characters enigmatically in order to perhaps mirror the process of what it’s actually like to get to know someone in the so-called ‘real’ world.

To bring this thing home for you, I’ll give y’all a real world example.

It’s kind of like when I met Phil back in ’97 (date may be incorrect).

An excerpt from our early conversations:

Deli manager: (not realizing that Joe was actually shy and moderately anxious about meeting new people [at the time] because he showed no signs of this, but still felt this way, secretly, on the inside) “Joe, I hired this new guy, Phil. He said he likes to read, but he seems pretty shy. I thought that because you like to read, you might be able to talk to him a bit.”

Joe: “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.”

*First Shift*

Joe: “So, I heard you’re into books and stuff?”

Phil: *sheepishly “….yeah! I’m going to Brock for English next year.”

Joe: “Cool…”

*Joe and Phil awkwardly look around and sniff*

Joe: “So, you want to see how to clean the slicer?”

An excerpt from a later conversation, one year later, circa ’98 (again, date may be inaccurate):

Joe presses button labeled PAGE on phone: “Phil, call the Deli for customer service. Phil, call the Deli for customer service.” Before hanging up Joe hits the mouthpiece of the phone off of the wall and receiver to make annoying donking and scratching sounds over the store’s P.A system

*Ring-ring! Ring-ring!

Phil: “What’s up?”

Joe: “Can you read this Angus roast beef announcement that Deb Farr (store manager) told me to write over the PA? It’s a real doozy. She’s constantly on me to write these fucking things, and I’m getting real sick of it. We don’t get paid enough to do this stuff.”[i]

Phil: “Sure, buddy, bring it up to the desk.”

*Phil hits page

Phil: “Attention customers: this week on our Easter special, we have Angus Roast beef for $2.99/100g—just like great old grand pappy used to make! What better way to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ than with a pound of our extra –rare Angus Roast Beef, cut fresh, from our friendly staff in the delicatessen. Happy Easter from all of us at Sobey’s and have a great holiday.”

So, in the end, it took us some time, but our friendship got there. One little bit at a time.

The same is true in IJ:

Wallace cleverly reveals his characters slowly by revealing bits and pieces to the reader, so that an appreciation of their lives and circumstances deepens as you move through the text. For me, this masterful way of characterizing his characters is a big part of what kept me moving along through the text (especially on the first read through). As someone that tends to care about people (so much so that I’ve chosen a career in health care with people that have experienced heavy losses…brain injuries with all kinds of disastrous effects), it’s no wonder that I’m drawn to this thread in Wallace’s intricate tapestry.

So, to get back to the text, I have found that really mind-blowing bits and pieces of characters get revealed at the most random moments (though they’re not really random, they are triggered in the imaginations of Wallace’s characters by unconscious recollections of parts of traumatic memories that even the characters are not aware of…how interesting, as a stylistic device!). All about paying attention, here.

The part that got me thinking about all of this stuff about unconscious compulsion and getting to really know people is the part (that starts on page 578) about Bruce Green’s experience as a five year old child where (maybe, but who can really say for sure if he caused it, right?…slippery slope, slippery slope…) he scares his mother to death with a novelty can of exploding snake “Mauna Loa- brand macadamia nuts” that his father had made him deliver to her as she lay sick in bed.

This whole bit just sort of pops up out of the aether. There’s no real lead up to it. The reader just sort of happens upon it. Immediately preceding this part is a bunch of Lenz’ self-indulgent (possibly made up, bing-induced blather) and some description about the urban surroundings. Nothing particularly emotionally resonant (except for maybe Green’s thought that, “All he feels is a moment of deep wrenching loss, of wishing getting high was still pleasurable for him so he could get high. This feeling comes and goes all day every day, still.”) But here, we switch to Green. So, maybe this signals that the floodgates are about to open.

And, then, like a torrent released from behind a dam you didn’t even know was there, all of the details surrounding the “searing facts of the case of Bruce Green’s natural parents’ deaths when he was a toddler [that are] so deeply repressed inside Green that whole strata and substrata of silence and mute dumb animal suffering will have to be strip-mined up and dealt with One Day at a Time in sobriety for Green even to remember.” Here, I think that Wallace is suggesting that by sticking with the program and doing the painstaking work of “strip-mining” the painful memories, Green might have a chance to remember and deal with his issues. Maybe move forward and gain an understanding of things that give him the howling fantods. Maybe gain a stoic understanding of himself and learn to live with pain. As they say, “The truth will set you free, but not until it’s finished with you.”

So, on our end of things, by sticking with the book, by Hanging in There, we are granted access to a whole new subconscious intimate world of pain and suffering that has played a role in shaping Green’s experience. This is true of other characters as well: Hal, Avril, Gately, Mario, Joelle, and maybe even Orin. By putting in the time and effort, and making a sincere attempt to pay attention to things, the reader can begin to understand certain characters at deeper and deeper levels. Isn’t this sort of how your run-of-the-mill, every-day human relationships work too?

It’s like the book has many consciousnesses, and is inviting you to get to know them more and more intimately as the book goes on. It requires you to keep track of seemingly insignificant details about many different characters and remember what they could mean when characters act or think a certain way. There are few books that I have read that accomplish this as readily as Infinite Jest (the only other one I can think of is Joyce’s Ulysses—which also left a lasting impact on my perception of what an author could do to represent human consciousnesses—not characters, but consciousnesses themselves).

I feel like Wallace is almost saying to us, “ok, guys—they are in here, but it might take a while to find them.”

ANYWAY,

Getting back to Green: from this passage in the book, we are told that he now has an inexplicable aversion to “any product with ‘N in its name […] any has this silent, substratified fascination/horror gestalt about anything remotely Polynesian.” So things that seem unconnected, and perhaps quirky, are actually just the tip of an iceberg full of razor blades just below the surface once you get down to the business of strip-mining what they are actually all about.

And as if the stuff about the Polynesian-induced-I-am-guilty-because-I-think-I-caused-my-parents’-deaths, wasn’t enough, Green is sent back in his mind to an embarrassing scene (that involved incontinence at a college party he attended with M.Bonk) when he hears the “Don Ho” music coming from the grisly scene of the dog’s death at Nucks party. Sadly, Green doesn’t have any awareness as what to what it was exactly about the whole snafu that causes him to sink into “a paralyzing depression of unknown etiology.” The truth is there, but it’s “been compressed to the igneous point[…]” What an interesting way of thinking about pain: like grains of sand (or sedimentary rock) that have been compressed so that they no longer originally resemble what they were originally: pain transformed. The owner (in this case Green) feels a heaviness, but doesn’t quite know why.

Alright, alright, this post seems like it’s turned out to be a bit of a rambley bust, so I’d just like to leave off with a question I had about Mario on page 92 regarding this passage:

        “It was a joke and a good one, and Mario got it; what was unpleasant was that Mario was the only one at the big table whose laugh was a happy laugh; everybody else sort of looked down like they were laughing at somebody with a disability. […] And Hal was for once no help, because Hal seemed even more uncomfortable and embarrassed than the fellows at lunch […].”

So what is going on in this part? Does Mario actually get the joke? Where is the misunderstanding? Did he get Pemulis’ joke about the ineffectual dial-a-prayer service for atheists, for real, or did he misunderstand? To me, the problem seems to be that he laughed genuinely and not ironically, but the narrator still states that he “got it.” So what gives?

Also, my apologies if I seem to be talking in circles. Seems I’m always coming back to similar things. What’s that old adage about the subject of writing being the writing subject? I gotta have one or two more original thoughts in here…for now, I’ll have to content myself with the Green-ian one full developed thought per minute.

Footnotes:

[i] We did get paid enough. Way, way, more than enough.

Narrator? What Narrator? Who? Why? Come Again? Am I Confused? What Was This About Again?

As the weirdness factor in the book continues to go sky high, I wanted to put a few things out there about the narrative style of IJ and get to thinking about what it might mean to suggest.

And boy, oh boy, the narration style takes the weirdness up a level in the reading for this week. I think it’s so fun to see how DFW is able to have 2 or 3 narrators (or should I say, thought patterns or brain waves) buzzing along in even just one particular section or sentence. Sometimes you will get a word that sticks out (think of Gately’s use of ethnic slurs, or Lenz’s poor spelling—phonetically spelled words) alongside a narrative style that appears to be more learned (again, accent on that ‘e’).

When thinking about how this works, I find myself returning to that famous line from James Joyce’s “The Dead”: “Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet.”  In fairness, Lily was not literally run off of her feet. If that were the case, she’d be laying on the floor. Actually, she was figuratively run off of her feet. It’s generally accepted that an author with such a high level of command of the English language (as we find in James Joyce) would not have made this kind of error with meanings of words. Hence, this line is a hybrid of narrative styles: a mix of the character’s brain-voice and the omniscient narrator telling the story. In Joyce’s story, I think the technical term for it is something like free-indirect discourse…but I’m not certain about that. Doesn’t really matter anyway.

So, this sort of infusion of a brain-voice of another character into a separate narrator’s commentary/style happens a lot in IJ, and is sometimes so seamless that it can be difficult to spot (at least I find it difficult, at times).

So ANYWAY,

To return to the text:

Directly following the part where Lucien Antitoi (translated: against you?…haha) I kept noticing the word “squeak” popping up all over the place: I counted quite a few times where the word showed up immediately following that brutal AFR encounter. Suddenly, things seemed to be going squeak, squeak, all the live long day. It’s like the narrator(s) ordered a squeaky number combo with a side of cheesy squeaks and an extra-large squeaker shake with extra ice to wash it all down.

Squeaks from the wheelchairs, squeaks from James Sr’s bed (that part which could perhaps be alternately titled, “Himself Hears a Squeak”), and then Hal getting “the howling fantods” at the “kind of rapid rodential squeaking” issuing from Pemulis’ bobbing chair as the older boys wait for possible disciplinary action being brought against them by ETA’s authorities for the Eschaton kertwang.

But why all this squeaking? Does anybody else think it’s weird how particular details continue to, shall we say, bubble up (eh, Shazia?) here, there and everywhere as we continue to worm our way through the text?

I find it strange, weirdly compelling and fascinating how certain events, turns of phrase, colours (As Phil noted: think of the blues—of the Charles River, of Himself’s father’s bedroom, of the ETA offices) and sounds seem to echo through the narration of this book. It’s as if when something happens in a distant seemingly unconnected part of the text, we find it (for me, perplexingly) popping up in another part of the text. Are these echoes supposed to communicate something to the reader? Maybe…I think?

And what about the particular turns of phrase used to describe events? Take for instance, the description of Lucien as he sits impaled by his prized broom: “[…] bursting then through the wool and puncturing tile and floor at a police-lock’s canted angle to hold him upright on his knees […].” Here, why police-lock? Why (and how?) is the narrator using these words that are so directly linked to Mario (conjuring up his image in the mind’s eye of the reader)?

Here, DFW could have used any description, but for some reason the narrator gives us an image of Mario. So what, is this Hal’s consciousness (or perhaps another Incandenza family member) coming through and speaking to us in this section? If it is, then why? It’s not as if Hal (or Avril, Mario, Orin, or anyone else that knows Mario) is privy to this particularly gruesome and horrifying event: how would he (or the others) even know about it? The characters are not omniscient (at least those that are LIVING aren’t…[Transylvanian accent] muahahahaha [/Transylvanian accent]).  Could it be because the AFR have been watching Mario (and family) and this image is fresh in the narrator’s mind? (if what we’re actually getting here is the narration is being filtered through an AFR member). So, in this case, are these narrative details meant to be clues to a larger mystery/secret plots? Maybe? I don’t know!

There are other instances of this type of thing occurring elsewhere in the book as well, though I don’t have the discipline or rigor to go hunting for more than a couple of examples.

So, here are two more examples:

  • Page 510: “Tavis’s office’s outer door is real oak and has his name and degree and title in (nonblue) letters so big that the total I.D crowds the margins.”

 

^For me, the words ” total I.D” sends my mind back to the AA process of learning to Identify, or I.D totally. Again, why? Who knows, I really don’t have a good handle on this.

 

  • On page 486-487, as Lucien tries to communicate something in a language he doesn’t know how to speak with “chin caved” and “lips quivering”, he attempts to form words, but nothing comes out: “Words that are not and can never be words are sought by Lucien here through what he guesses to be the maxillofacial movements of speech, and there is a childlike pathos to the movements […].”

 

^Then, on page 516, the narrator relates that Hal experiencing a similar type of physical sensation when faced with talking about Avril and Orin at tournaments: “[…] there will be this odd tense moment where Hal’s mind will go utterly blank  and his mouth slack and flabby, working soundlessly, as if the names were words on the tip of his tongue.”

 

…And then a sentence about how the part of Hal’s brain that holds information about his closest family members (excluding Mario) is “almost like some ponderous creaky machine.” Squeak, squeak, creaaaaak…more bubbles to the surface. But again, from where?

In echoing certain phrases in seemingly unconnected sections/events is the narrator trying to demonstrate how the things are similar or how they diverge (both?).

With the various narrator(s) are we again merely dealing with, as Shazia mentioned in her post, the suggestion or appearance of segmentation or true bonafide segmentation?

I guess the takeaway point here is that the narration is certainly bizarre, and it’s only fixin’ to get even more twisted from this point forward.

I suggest you buckle-up for a bumpy ride through that wormhole up ahead, as the weirdness factor continues to go sky high, I wanted to put a few things out there about the narrative style of IJ and get to thinking about what it might mean to suggest. Mean to suggest. Mean to suggest. Mean to suggest.

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit

Friends, Romans,  Countrymen/women, jesters, lend me your ears for a brief moment in time! (Sorry, Allie–no Shakespeare [kind of?] in this post–but please feel free to inject some if you can find a way!)

It was a photo finish in keeping with the schedule this week, but I’m happy to announce that I’m fully up to date and ready to go another brief round here on the webs (no spiders in sight though, so not to worry) with all you wonderful cats.

So, this week, although there certainly is more than enough interesting material to work with from the actual text, as we delve deeper into the complex psyche of one, M. Don Gately and his tragic alter-ego Sir Osis of Thuliver (how sad is this?!), Mario’s take on Himself’s own “Onantiad”, and the mountainside interfacing between Marathe and Steeply, I’d like to talk a little bit about the genre in Infinite Jest, because, well, now is a good a time as any to discuss this idea, and I can’t see any other time that will be any more opportune.

So, I think part of the difficulty of recommending this book to others comes out of the difficulty of classifying and describing the book in terms of what is so commonplace to most readers. It’s kind of like when you come across a band or a song that you think is totally awesome and utterly unique and you try to find words/comparisons that will do it/them justice, but somehow, they just don’t suffice.

Excerpts from my (fake, but highly plausible) 2003 diary:

“They’re kind of like, you know, a mixture of Radiohead, with a dash of dark-ish shoegaze and that classic 90s alt-grunge thing, but without the dirty, long hair. Nightcore. I’d call them Nightcore–ya, that’s the best way of putting it.”

Or, or! Like when you try to describe the guitar tone you want out of a stompbox to the clerk at the music store:

“You know, I’m sorta looking for something that does the fuzz thing, but that can still deliver that SEARING lead sound that can cut through the mix sort of like the heat of a dash of sriracha in the multi-vege stir fry that I make on Friday nights.”

…so, yeah.

With regard to the book:

Some of the perfectly reasonable and practical questions that would be readers of IJ have asked me in the past (but are not limited to–and I’m not suggesting they’re asking me because I’m some kind of expert–it’s simply because I have some experience with reading it) include:

1) What’s it about?

2) To which genre does this thing belong?  Mystery, Romance, Satire, Tragedy, Ghost Story, Science Fiction? – or, in other words, how am I to approach this beautiful monstrosity?

To which I usually reply, “Fair enough, John…Well…um…uuuuuh…” (and this continues for many more seconds, which turn into minutes…)

At this point, you are probably having a hearty chuckle (or heart attack, depending on your constitution), being almost half of the way through this behemoth, with likely no clear answer. There really isn’t a neat answer that you can give to a potential reader of Wallace’s masterpiece: it contains elements of many different genres/sub-genres and has (essentially, but I’m probably being reductive here) three separate plot structures that snake in and through one another (probably similar to the ways in which the genres snake in and out of one another).

So far (and please, add to this list—or feel free to disagree with my suggestions), we’ve seen tragedy (e.g- AA parts), comedy (e.g- also AA parts—so would it be better stated as tragicomedy?), mystery (plot about the entertainment), realism (but perhaps with a sprinkle of magic, a la Harry Potter—hmmm, Shazia?), ghost story (Himself looms large), science fiction-y/dystopian tropes (interdependence, O.N.A.N), political satire (e.g- Escahton, Mario’s play), play (e.g- puppet show), radio broadcasting (e.g-60 minutes =/-), film (J.O.I’s films in the footnotes), dream diary (Hal’s recollections a la face in the floor, crumbling teeth), advertising (e.g- Y.P.W, etc.), stream of consciousness-ish writing (e.g- flashback to Himself’s father, Erdedy going coo-coo- for Cocoa-Puffs), journalism (e.g- description of ETA drills, tournament play), and etc. and etc. and etc.

So, with all of this, I think it’s fair to say that Infinite Jest is a multimedia book (and I’m certainly not the first to say this—just repeating the wisdom of others). And with that being said, it requires an adaptive reading approach: one in which the reader modifies and adapts his/her expectations and uses his/her pre-existing knowledge of various genres (and perhaps engages others?) in order to construct meaning from the text.

Maybe this fits into our thinking about a large part of Wallace’s overall message being about learning how to really listen and pay attention to the world/culture around us and the difficulty inherent in such an undertaking. Something along the lines of our discussion about the map vs. the environment, and etc.

With all of these disparate forms of media surrounding us, how do we begin to make sense of the world? Where is the life-preserver to keep us afloat in the wash of an endless stream of media at our fingertips? Could it be that other human beings are the key? Maybe. As usual, too many questions, not enough answers. Thanks a LOT, God/Higher Power.

When you start to break down the sheer number of different modes of writing that Wallace ventures into, you can’t help but wonder: What can’t/couldn’t Wallace do? Look at all of these different ways of representing the world: (a) staggering, (work of) heartbreaking, genius (for real). I can’t imagine how stressful and how much work it must have been (even for a genius like Wallace) to inject all of these elements into a single book and make it actually cohere (more or less). The prospect is simply mind and soul rending. Unreal.

Well, that’s all I really wanted to say this afternoon—a little light on the critical analysis. More of a light snack food for thought wise.

We here at Nestle corp sincerely hope you enjoyed your break and encourage you to have nice light snack like this, daily. In other words, it’s time for a break. It’s time to have a KitKat.

Limits and Elegant Complexity

This turned out to be sort of another springboard off of Shazia’s previous post. You guys really get the rusty gears a-turnin’, I tell ya.

I think I’d like to start this week off with a note that I wrote to myself in my well-loved, ripped and yellowing copy of Infinite Jest on my first read-through. On page 350, during the AA meetings bit, right at the top, I wrote, “This whole bit is an interesting follow-up to the Eschaton part. Eschaton is presented as brutally complicated, but simple in execution (tennis ball lobbing game) –>AA is brutally simple but somehow insanely complicated, un-figure-outable.” Both Escahton and AA are paradoxes of sorts in that they are both riddles with no answer. In both, as soon as you begin to close in on an answer, it begins to slip away—sort of like the uncertainty principle in theoretical physics that states that if you precisely calculate the position of a particle, then you move further away from a precise calculation of its momentum/speed, and vice versa.

Might I add now, that in either Escahton or AA, if anyone dares to attempt to try to figure out (i.e- do a calculation of the “real” reality…whatever that is…) then he/she will end up completely and utterly hosed because one question leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to more number and stat crunching, and…and…beforeyouknowitow!that’sacomputermonitoronmyhead! You get the picture. Peace out. Sayonara. Later gator. Nice knowin’ ya.

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(^kinda like this)

So, let me try to explain my margin scribble a bit further:

On the surface, Escahton seems like a simple game. From a distance, it is just a bunch of groups of kids lobbing balls at various pieces of gear that represent different resources in the game. Ping-pong. Back and forth. No big deal. But behind the apparatus of the seemingly simple game, though, is a whole unexamined and invisible world that comes to bear on the outcome of the game: the math part of it, cause and effect, and etc.—equations and functions that are supposed to lead to the (capital t) Truth. Lord, who is hilariously God, is supposed to have all of the answers. He has access to the great computer in the sky: an objective way of figuring out the chaos contained in the simple.

So, on the other hand, when I suggest that Eschaton is also brutally complicated, I’m really talking about the math and variables involved in figuring out the statistics for each carefully considered chess-like move in the game: in Eschaton is contained an “elegant complexity”, like the fractal structures we find everywhere in the book. For every action, there are potentially an infinite number of variables that could be entered into the c:\Pink2\Mathpak\EndStat-path Decision-Tree—all of which can alter the outcome. But how can anyone know each and every variable to enter? The bottom line is that you simply cannot. It is impossible. In a way, the reality of the game is created by the imaginations of the Combatants. If they can think it up, it can and will affect the game. I think here, Wallace might be suggesting something about the incredible power of your thought process and the need to be or become aware at any cost.

There’s a strange humour to the Eschaton game section because these kids simply keep coming up with additional variables that should (in all fairness, for Chissakes!) have an effect on the points racked up (or not) by various Combatants (wind directions, weather patterns, interpersonal relationships between world leaders, whether or not the leader of Iran had a bowel movement in the morning, you name it). In some ways, it also reminds me of the butterfly effect: where a seemingly insignificant change in a system can have a large effect elsewhere.

The scene is also funny because reminds me of how kids play certain games when they are young—rules are invented as you go, some are in accord, others disagree, and hilarity and yelling ensues. Also, perhaps a political commentary on how world politics are conducted, hm?

The funny thing is, is that there is simply no possible way for any of these kids (let alone adults!) to know all of the variables that could have an effect on the game. As I said before, it’s impossible.

I think the Escahton game is meant to simulate reality (maybe even be a perfect representation of it, ideally—or at least be as close to reality as math will allow—math being [supposedly] the most objective measure of facts around), but by the end, the simulation breaks down (because, as Shazia mentions, Ingersoll sees a crack in the façade), and, well, boom goes the dynamite, as they say.

On the flipside of things, as per my scribbling comment from a few years back, “AA is presented as brutally simple, but somehow insanely complicated and un-figure-outable.” It’s almost like the flipside to the Eschaton coin. Like Wallace is taking us by the hand, saying “guys, I’m sorry, this is what I really meant by the Escahton thing.” The narrator goes so far as to tell us that “nobody’s ever been able to figure AA out.” Similar to Eschaton, AA also possesses an “elegant complexity below the surface in that its truths are deep yet elusive (uncertainty principle, again).

On the surface, like Eschaton, AA looks positively crude, but this is just because it is made up of unhip sounding clichés—people talking their way out of various messes. I’m sure that you might be able to plug most of the things that happened in the AA devotees’ lives into some sort of decision tree algorithm (again, if they could all be recalled!). As the narrator states on page 374, “The Why of the disease is a labyrnth” and “it is strongly suggested all AAs boycott [the Why].” Like Escahton, there seems to be an elegantly complex invisible reality to the logic of AA (I would like to think of it almost like magic) that can never really be fully understood (sort of like how a complete picture of stats and variables cannot really be crunched in Escahton). In either Eschaton or AA, if things go too far in trying to analyze Why then the whole thing falls apart and chaos ensues.

No matter how infantile or unsophisticated AA seems to the outside observer, it cannot be denied that the thing works. The machinery behind it is really not all that important. It is about accepting the way things are in one particular moment and not asking silly questions like Why that often lead to silly excuses for poor behaviour: a justification for abusing a substance—like the speaker with the daughter diddling daddy in the AA section. Attempting to pin some particular effect to a root cause is a fool’s game and probably prevents the AA devotee from having more awareness and insight into his/her self.

*Additional stylistic thing I found very clever and fun in this week’s readings:

Did anybody else find the part where John L, “the greencard Irishman” tells his story about taking a solid shit so great? Wallace did such a great job of capturing the Irish sound of his voice by phonetically spelling everything out. Interestingly, you need to pay attention and really listen in order to really hear his message. Like, seriously, I needed to intently concentrate and speak this part out loud with my voice so that I could actually hear what is being said using my ears (just not my brain voice)! How cool that Wallace forces you to really experience what it’s like to hear (by AA standards) with this stylistic shift.

*PS- this post is in no way an endorsement of the 2004 Ashton Kutcher blockbuster “The Butterfly Effect”