Thursday, August 13, 2009

Infinite Jestation: A Blogthrough (p. 450-562)

You want to know how much I'm loving Infinite Jest? So much that I find it hard to even think that I can contribute anything to the brilliance that Wallace has already set down, and yet so much more that even now--with over a hundred pages sifting through my head, and a plane that I've got to catch in about six hours--I find myself unable to sleep without "jestating."

So, let's start with an interesting observation on Conditioning (p. 450-461), which is on the one hand the literal physical training that the E.T.A. students are undergoing here under Schtitt's cruel supervision, but underneath the surface, a reminder that the mind is being trained, too: in this case, to exist separately from the body (which is, remember, how Hal begins the book), to ignore the map, if you will (on which, because it's snowing, may be too co-wold), and focus on the actually territory, a world that is limned only by our consciousness, or more specifically, our will. Schtitt's emphasizing that unless we acknowledge something to exist, it doesn't: after all, our minds only process a certain amount of what our eyes take in, and let's not forget that eyes are lenses...and that James's specialty was in changing what those lenses saw. Also:

  • "It's all the sort of thing [tennis drills] that's uninteresting unless you're the one responsible, in which case it's cholesterol-raisingly stressful and complex." Filter our reading of Infinite Jest through the above context and with this quote, and you've got a subtle reminder that the reader has to be responsible: we can either make it interesting by building something from it, or we can simply turn to a bucket and hate this Puker.

  • "Hal hops up and down in his capacious jacket and plum turtleneck and looks at his breath and tries a la Lyle to focus very intently on the pain of his tooth without judging it as bad or good." Q (again in context of the above): what would it be like to process something totally without judgement? Would it still have an effect on it, i.e., cause pain?
Next up, Part of Don Gately's Live-In Staff Job (p. 461-469, 475-480) serves to fill us in on a lot more of D.G.'s background, emphasizing that Gately's accidental murder of DuPleiss has been taken over by Steeply's "Non-Specific Services Bureau," so that so long as Gately obeys the law, he's probably OK. (In the Marathe/Steeply section that interrupts this bit, it's made a little clearer that DuPleiss had the Master of the Entertainment--i.e., the copyable version presumably buried with J.O.I.--and that Gately must've accidentally burgled it. (More on this at this wonderful blog.) For some reason, it winds up in the Antitoi's shop--and in a very cinematic segue, as Gately zips through a "tornado of waste" in the Harvard Square streets (just how filthy is this place?), we watch as The A.F.R. Squeaks--ahem, Strikes (p. 480-488), which is to say, the Antitoi's are killed, the Entertainment presumably retrieved. Oh, and on a side-note, the Antitoi's purposefully gave Pemulis the D.M.Z., in the hopes that he'd use this Too Much, and corrupt his peers.

A bit more of the comical exposition about the handling of the samizdat courtesy of Steeply/Marathe, and then we're in another flashback, this time to B.S. 1963. James will later make the film Valuable Coupon Has Been Removed, but what we're getting here is an excerpt from a chapter of a ferociously expensive anthology of memoirs about the advent of annular fusion. Back in the present, at an AA meeting, Ken Erdedy meets Roy Tony ("You gone risk vulnerability and discomfort and hug my ass or do I gone fucking rip your head off and shit down your neck?), and then we get to:

Things That Are Blue (p. 508-527). The idea of telling a story via facts and disseminating those facts via a list is a tactic that Wallace uses elsewhere in this book (i.e., Things We Know About AA, and the upcoming bit of reportage in which Lenz Tells Green some things). I don't have much to talk about here, as Hal and Pemulis away the repercussions for the Eschaton debacle, and Hal's mother reveals herself to be the sort of person who plays Emotional Roulette (perhaps as a means of apologizing for her extracurricular "affairs"). However, it's worth noting some of the other ways in which Wallace layers things into the story, giving us a world of information that is real enough to not just pull details from, but to create memories and touchstones in such a way that the book itself becomes sort of like tapping into a brain. (What I like about this theory is that in this case, you, the reader, are actually the narrator.)

Mind you that the following observations extend from p. 527-562, in which Joelle starts to fall for Gately (when she finds out that he's a football player), even though Gately doesn't believe her statement that her deformity is that she's Too Perfect to look at (which "reflects" the Odalisque discussion that Marathe and Steeply have just had, viz. James's film about Medusas). Also in which we start to follow Randy Lenz around as attempts to assert power by suffocating cats, then killing them more directly, then slitting dogs' throats, and then only just managing to back down from killing a hobo, even though a whole major step of the AA he's in is to admit a certain degree of powerlessness.
  1. First off, whenever something major happens, Wallace either foreshadows it or echoes it in the following sections, regardless of when they take place (time-wise). When the Antitois are assassinated, they hear squeaks: for the next several sections, squeaks are all over the place, innocuous perhaps, but enough to give Hal the "howling fantods." Mind you, the entire mattress scene from B.S. 1963 revolves around a squeak. This implies that everything is always happening, not just in the smooth blend from Gately's car to the Antitoi's shop, but in an annular loop. From now on, people who don't enjoy Infinite Jest must explain that it's because they derive no pleasure from performing somersaults with one hand nailed to the floor.

  2. Second, Wallace plays a lot with the similarity of opposites. This isn't just an extension of what Schtitt's talking about: it's also a willful negation--or at least blurring--of facts. The reader must do the work when presented with a description of Pat Montesian, who is "both pretty and not" and has "serious regard and questionable judgement." The upcoming sections have a lot more of this: Rusk says that bed-moving Stice is underestimating objects . . . but also overestimating them; Tavis, as he works out on the StairBlaster, is either saying "Total worry" or "No don't worry"; Lenz uses cocaine "in the very interests of sobriety and growth itself"; and best of all, because annularization causes such overbearing detoxification that they have to retoxify the Eastern Concavity, you get "oasises of desert" [sic] in the middle of forests.

  3. Finally, the undercurrent of unresolved issues and deformity, which is to say that we all are both. This is one way to resolve point #2's "similarity of opposites": after all, if we are all "deformed" then isn't deformity just normality? Isn't deformity, in fact, just the very sort of mindset that Schtitt is telling us to avoid--we are neither too pretty nor too ugly? (I find it interesting that so far, Orin's the only one who managed to do this--and this apparently ultimately scared the shit out of him.) This brings me back to my observation about AA itself, when G. A. Day mentions that, well okay then, like doesn't everybody belong in AA, to which I agree. We are all addicts on one level or another, and our support group is all of humanity itself, which is the cause of and solution to all of our problems. (Like beer, according to Homer Simpson, and on that note, I'm out!)

1 comment:

Paris said...

The examples you give for the "similarity of opposites" are really powerful. I glazed over some of those (missed the one about Pat Montesian), and failed to think hard to interpret the others. Put them together, and it strikes me you've really nailed something.

And so, we definitely have the willful negation of reality (for instance, Lenz doping in the "name of sobriety"). But perhaps there is something here about the internal contradictions produced by a fractal or annular cosmos. Does annularization require logical consistency? It isn't clear to me that it does, though probably someone who's thought about this more would have a good response.

Thanks for the thoughts, and of course for the shout-out, as always.