Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Infinite Jestation: A Blogthrough (p. 562-619)

First off, let me start by saying that it was rather stupid, in retrospect, to bring Infinite Jest to Las Vegas with me, as I didn't get any reading (and very little sleeping) done. However, it somehow felt appropriate to have this, of all books, with me, as I was surrounded by what was very recognizably Too Much Fun (among other less attractive nouns). It's very easy to get addicted to Too Much; what thankfully helped me avoid the gambling was most likely the fact that I remain all too aware of How Little I actually have, in terms of money, alcoholic tolerance, and so forth. All the same, surrounded by such a change in scale and scope--well, it alters your own perceptions and what you're actually willing to do, which is why Too Much can be So Dangerous. There are positives and negatives to any such coin (or neither, if you, like Schtitt believe that there is simply a coin, period), so I will say that perception-altering total immersion is also a good thing: it's what Infinite Jest is.

So, on to some more of the reading, in which we get to "see" Don G. through snippets of his conversations with "Joe L.," Foss, Yolanda, and others. In which Idris Arslanian learns how hard it is to be blind, and ends up agreeing to provide a Concavity-explaining Pemulis with his pure urine. In which Orin gets it on with a Swiss hand-model, feigning emotion like a pro, and answers a survey from a legless putative member of the AFR. In which Mario takes a late-night walk. And in which Lenz's dog-slaughtering night out comes to an awful end, as Green catches him in the act, which leads--I think--to a trio of dog- and Item-owning Nucks trying to kill Lenz back at the halfway house . . . and to a protective, Jesus-like Gately getting shot.

Things are so accumulated by now--by which I mean each section is dense with the informed detritus of what once seemed picayune earlier in the novel--that I have nothing general to talk about, so I'll just skip to some specific observations on the whole:

  • The "lack" of God might be the central part of the so-called Sierpinksi gasket structure of the novel. What's interesting is that in that sense, that absence is still a triangle-completing presence, and this applies too to other readings of the structure, in which a triangle made up of the solid Incandenza siblings Hal, Orin, and Mario, is held together--defined, if you will--by the absent father in the center. What made me think of this? From page 566's Swiss family photo: "the tubby-faced man and Swiss-looking kids all smiling trustingly into a nothing somewhere up and to their right." Note how even emptiness is still neatly limned by the frame of any given picture. (Silence is a major effect in the theater.)

  • David Foster Wallace's book on Infinity (Everything and More) seems like necessary reading, given the title of this book. But what's on my mind right now is his explanation of Zeno's Paradox (in Everything and More), that is, that theoretically, to go from any point (A to B) we have to first get to a halfway point (C), and that given that, once we're at C, we still need to get to B, which has its own halfway point (D), and so on. And yet, we can all testify to the fact that we do in fact get from point A to B. So what made me think on this? Well, a lot of the action in this section of the book occurs in a halfway house, a house in which the residents keep complaining about how they haven't quite gotten there yet . . . and then sometimes suddenly wake up and find that they have, even if they can't explain it.

  • Schacht mentions (on page 567) that "someone in pain isn't entertainment" and yet, everyone seems to think that it is, including James O. Incandenza, whose crowning work, the Entertainment, features--to some extent--Joelle van Dyne, a woman about whom we know found great pain and sorrow in her own perfect visage (the excruciating pain of exquisite beauty). This is soon revisited, this idea that no matter what lens we look through, we need to find ways to laugh: it's what Mario calls the uncomfortability of the real: "It's like there's some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn't happy."

    Continuing on this point, and in this section, Mario remembers what he loved so much about Madame Psychosis: the truth. "He felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she'd taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real." This sounds, at last, like a perfect descriptor for the narrator of the book, who I now presume to be David Foster Wallace, acting in as veiled a manner as Joelle and the U.H.I.D.

    In this novel, Mario's the only one who actually seems happy, which implies that true happiness comes from when we give up on all pretense and stop being so embarrassed that we actually hide in plain sight.

  • OK, actually one further addition to that last powerful point: Green notices some buildings that Tiny Ewell described as "Depressed Residential" (emphasis on the double meaning of "depressed"): "unending rows of crammed-together triple-decker houses with those tiny sad architectural differences that seem to highlight the essential sameness." Does that not sound just the teensiest bit like a description of people, especially depressed people, or of the people in AA? Or of the idea of hiding in plain sight? The differences between us are architectural, they really are--this applies also to grammatical building blocks: is Roy Tony not really the same as Erdedy when it comes time to give a hug? We must learn to Identify.

  • And finally, because Wallace feels the need to resort to tension-breaking potty humor from time to time, let's end on that note, too. On page 594, Gately mentions the sameness of shits: "The daily bullshit here is hip-deep and not so much annoying as soul-sucking; a double-shift here now empties him out by dawn, just in time to clean real shit." In other words, all those small picayune unpleasantnesses really do add up (as the U.S. Clean Party found out, when it came time to start ridding themselves of it), and "over time, as it accretes, [is] unpleasant." In other words, once we Identify, we must actively work--or at least strive--to be less filthy to ourselves (addictions) and to one another.
A lot of these points can be seen to have religion behind them just as much as they don't. I'm a pretty resolute atheist, and even still, it doesn't change the fact that we can each read into any of these points as much (or as little) as we deem necessary. Keep coming back, now!

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