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September 15, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Figurant / Revenant (The Walk-On of James O. Incandenza, Part II)

Part I of this two-part post was, in my view, a sort of failure due to the intrusion of Poetry.  In a typical IJ-type-coincidence, Daryl near-simultaneously put up a very interesting reflection on Poetry that talks about his ambivalent experiences with the genre, along with this choice bit from DFW:

In the short story “Little Expressionless Animals,” Wallace has a character say of poetry that “It beats around bushes. Even when I like it, it’s nothing more than a really oblique way of saying the obvious.” The person that character is talking to replies, “But consider how very, very few of us have the equipment to deal with the obvious.”

I typically have a different way of managing the obvious – to complexify it beyond imagination, so that the original obviousness is obscured.  With that in mind, I return to the wraith’s appearance, truly one of the most revealing and long-awaited passages in the novel. And what I have to say here will, I hope, all be perfectly obvious.

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September 13, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Living in the Moment

Moving his left arm north along his chest and throat to get the left hand up to feel at his mouth made the whole right side sing with pain. A skin-warmed plastic tube led in from the right side and was taped to his right cheek and went into his mouth and went down his throat past where his fingers could feel at the back of his mouth.  He hadn’t been able to feel it in his mouth or going down the back of his throat to he didn’t want to know where, or even the tape on his cheek.  He’d had like this like tube in his throat the whole time and hadn’t even known it.  (p. 858)

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September 8, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

The Triumph of Life (The Walk-On of James O. Incandenza, Part I)

Our long-awaited ghost has finally shown up – Himself is a visiting wraith in the dreamy, partially conscious imagination of Don Gately (pp. 829-840). The scene is wonderfully drawn, as Gately first experiences a series of “visitations” – from Tiny Eldred Ewell, who tells us about his forgotten shame; from Calvin Thrust, who gives us an excellent update of goings-on about Ennet House in the aftermath of the Lenz-inspired night of violence; even from Geoffrey Day.  We also get a nice bit on the Entertainment, or possibly so, since Clenette H. had “promoted” (i.e. stolen) a bag full of cartridges from E.T.A. that were to be disposed of, though these cartridges have yet to be viewed (p. 825; we should also suspect that these are cartridges found in the underground meanderings of the Tunnel Club, three bags-worth about half-full, p. 670; for a thorough accounting of this line of reasoning, see Jeff Anderson’s Journeyman post).  Gately is finally left alone long enough for the wraith to begin talking to him.

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September 4, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

The Peemster and the Littlest Hoax

Along with many other ISers, I’m a little thrown off by Michael Pemulis’s apparent expulsion from E.T.A. (n.#332, pp. 1073-76), especially since our increased sympathy for him (on the basis of his Dad’s abuse of brother Matty) makes the idea of his return to the rough side of Boston a bit disconcerting. The “Peemster” has been responsible, too, for some of the funniest incidents (and – wow! – none of them resulted in horrible deaths) throughout the book. Some readers have thought him the source of the single best one-liner: “I probably won’t even waste everybody’s time asking if I’m interrupting” (p. 553). But alas, he has occasionally become careless, and his final prank is poorly timed with the accidental Tenuation of John Wayne.

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August 31, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Learning from the Technical Interviews

What we learn from the technical interviews (and the surrounding materials) is quite impressive, and helps to both affirm and disconfirm some of my prior speculations as described in The Mystery of the Entertainment Master. But, some new questions also arise. Trying to figure out the sense of this plot is like putting together a used puzzle that comes in a bag instead of the original box with the picture on it (and here I’d like to shout-out my co-de-conspirator Paul who is also pursuing these questions in his Week 10 Post). You’re never sure if all the pieces are actually there. Here are some of the pieces:

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August 27, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Post-Ironic Sentiment

[Update: The Endnotes page links have been corrected. Thanks, Matthew, for tipping me off to the break!]

Comfortably familiar terms: cynicism, pessimism, nihilism, stoicism. These are terms that respond the way the world confronts me. It is unknowable, evasive, and discouraging, but also crummy, vicious, amoral, and often impossible. Annoying terms: sentiment, earnestness, sincerity. These are terms that are cloying, romantically nostagic, psychoanalytically ridiculous, and either intentionally hypocritical or merely stupid. Confusing terms: ironist, post-ironic. The problem: pre- versus post-ironic earnestness.

Kevin Guilfoile has a terrific post up at Infinite Summer on irony. First off, he amusingly regales us with some misuses of the term ‘irony’ in which it means “entirely congruous,” which is sort of circularly ironic, since it means the exact opposite. But since DFW denounced irony – both inside and outside IJ – we are left wondering why he makes use of so many of tools of so-called post-modern, ironic literature. As Kevin points out,

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August 25, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Nothing Left Inside Hal

When I was 16, I would put on a Sony Walkman® and take an anhedonic night-time walk through my empty suburban neighborhood. Very un-Randy Lenz-like walks, I might add. Among my favorites of the time was Black Flag’s Damaged:

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August 20, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Scorn of Death

Have we thought enough about the role of death in IJ? I haven’t, but it was brought home to me a few days ago in an exchange with Paul at I just Read About That. Paul had described the “funny and yet not” death scenes to his wife, who subsequently indicated she wouldn’t want to read the book. On Infinite Summer there are any number of people – the acute Naptime Writer among them – who are pretty disturbed by the Lenz c. 2216 interval adventures, and the unpleasant scene that unfolds back at Ennet House, too. There is something quite vicious about the creative demises that have been met, and there is a way in which DFW revels in the telling of them that alternately provokes, disgusts, horrifies, as well as amuses, amazes and fascinates.

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August 17, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Orin’s Endless Fall

[This post is a follow-up to my earlier posts on Orin's Dread and Orin's Dread II. It is an attempt to track the dilemmas of becoming an authentic self in the one character - Orin Incandenza - who is portrayed as plagued by classic existential symptoms of anguish and dread. Resolving Orin's existential crisis is an important feature of IJ, since it is one indication of whether there is a latent humanism in IJ, a hope that human will and choice can be directed for the sake of responsibility and ethical self-understanding. Most characters in the novel, to the contrary, are performing ordained roles in relation to Pleasure and Power, and face only pre-existential choices, for instance: whether to live or die as the Slave of a Spider; whether to join the Show or sink into Nothingness.]

As IJ progresses past its mid-point, Orin has emerged as a primary target for uncovering the mystery of the Entertainment – or at least, so thinks on the one hand the A.F.R. Wheelchair Assassins, who are following him everywhere, and on the other O.U.S. agent “Helen” Steeply, who pumps Orin for Incandenza-type information (without, well, pumping him, if you know what I mean). Caught between these two tidal geo-political forces, Orin remains oblivious, blinded by his passionate need for Helen. And now, when his loneliness and woe is greatest, a Swiss hand-model carrying a Schmeisser GBF miniature machine pistol in her handbag shows up to take him to bed (pp. 565-567 & 596-601).

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August 13, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Schtitt on Two Worlds (vs. Buddhism)

Although this is primarily my promised discussion about Schtitt and the Two Worlds, I need to detour a bit to get there, specifically, through AA and the intimations of Buddhism in IJ. Here goes -

How can we best survive in a world in which pleasure and horror are often indistinguishable? One of the great contributions of Infinite Jest is to both formulate this question and to provide an insightful array of possible answers, foremost among them what we might call the Gately/AA solution. AA’ers have found that pleasure is a commitment with depressingly diminishing returns (see pp. 345-47), and though Showing Up at Meetings night after night does not rekindle this capacity for pleasure, it provides a routine through which the self can be externalized. No longer is there a screaming Id wracking the body and chaining the soul; instead, the body learns via a controlled program of conditioning to alter its desires, to evacuate them, and to live in an awareness of finitude.

This evacuation of the self and its desires is sometimes seen by readers as a uniquely Buddhist vibe or Zen moment, since the post-AA self is now better imagined as a contrivance of external performances and not the interior, transcendental (if also confused and solipsistic) self. While I like the idea of a post-Cartesian subject being produced by AA, I’m never very comfortable with these readerly evocations of a Buddhist moment; still, it is not bothersome enough to do any more than let it pass without comment. After all, an idea of Buddhism plays a strong cultural role in the U.S.A. self-thinking. Buddhism is conceived as a sort of antidote to the overwhelming stimulation of our hyped-up drive to experience, and a goal of self-repose. Even the most egomaniacal among us have the occasional impulse to negate the I/ego situated as the archimedean center of our western conceptual universe. And through the good workings of Beat poets and Zen centers, Buddhism is now a familiar companion to anti-accumulation tendencies worth encouraging.

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