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July 19, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

Orin’s Dread, Part II

One of my first entries was on Orin’s “dread”, stimulated by a dead bird falling onto my patio. I promised, there, to watch out for the resolution of this dread, or perhaps for more explanation of the causes. It is interesting to me that, with all of the suicidal characters or those deep in Substance addictions of one sort or another, Orin is the only character I see who experiences the classic existential symptoms of anxiety. In our first introduction to him (pp. 42-28), this is described primarily as entombment. Now, we’ve finally caught up via the backpedaling spoiler line to the second mention.

Story commences in the last year Before Subsidization; narration is simultaneously describing Orin’s attachment to/lust for Joelle (she of “brainlocking beauty”), and the exhiliaration of football punting as opposed to playing tennis [13].

Audience exhortations and approvals so total they ceased to be numerically distinct and melded into a sort of single coital moan, one big vowel, the sound of the womb, the roar gathering, amniotic, the voice of what may as well be God. None of tennis’s prim applause cut short by an umpire’s patrician hush. He said he was just speculating here, ad-libbing; he was meeting her eye and not drowning, his dread now transformed into whatever it had been dread of. He said the sound of all those souls as One Sound, too loud to hear, building, waiting for his foot to release it: Orin said the thing he liked was he literally could not hear himself think out there, maybe a cliche, but out there transformed, his own self transcended as he’d never escaped himself on the court, a sense of presence in the sky. […] Later he knew what the dread had been dread of. He hadn’t had to promise her anything, it turned out. It was all for free. (p. 295f.)

The analysis of this comes in two parts. The first is somewhat pedestrian existentialism: Orin’s flight is from himself (not2B confused with Himself, by the way, as the father is insignificant here). His own too-short existence points always toward death (entombment), and as existentialists like to point out, good faith/resoluteness/authenticity is only possible through integrating one’s awareness of imminent death (finitude) into all of one’s choices. One becomes responsible precisely by grasping the contingency that lies at the root of all activity, all actuality. So Orin seeks to escape himself, his contingency, and his death by fleeing from the sophisticated (because deeply personal and individuated) expectations of tennis and and submerging himself in the purely public adulation of football, with its pre-individuated stadium yowls. Whereas tennis is death, football is birth (amniotic, womblike). But one cannot relive one’s birth except in the partial and falsely mediated world of the They (as Heidegger put it), the amorphous crowd, ultimate trap for all in bad faith. To put it simply, we should not look upon Orin’s football career as a good thing.

The second part of the analysis, though, is less easily resolved. There are two lines difficult to understand. The first: “His dread now transformed into whatever it had been dread of.” This suggests that the dread is not simple or primary; it is, rather, transitive (dread “of,” dread with an object [14]). This is a dread which is less an aspect of the existential condition and more one that is a subjective feeling (I dread going to school tomorrow, I dread having to clean up this mess…). Orin seems to think that simple dread can be resolved by locating it in an object to be vanquished, or an experience to be transformed. This would help to make sense of the second line: “Later he knew what the dread had been dread of. He hadn’t had to promise her anything.” Perhaps Orin believes that simple obligation is the crux of his problem, and the downfall of all of his prior relationships.

By the time we get to Y.D.A.U., Orin and Joelle have split up, Joelle finding her calling as a thespian, and Orin embarking on a more scientific project of seduction, complete with a System of Speedy Seduction Strategies for Subjects. But as Hal points out, in footnote 110, “it is poignant somehow that you always use the word Subject when you mean the exact obverse” (p. 1008). Indeed, Orin’s relationships have been shallow and objectified – permeated with bad faith – precisely to avoid the genuine intersubjective commitments that come from subject-to-subject encounters, from mutual recognition. Whatever Orin thought he could accomplish through the transformation of the object of his dread (no obligation in love) turned out to do little to transform his existential status of pure dread.

Yet again, I close this set of Orin-related thoughts with a caveat: as of early November Y.D.A.U., Orin is still in a crisis of existential dread based in a lack of self-awareness. However, there remains a long way to go in the novel, and I have as little sense of his ultimate narrative destiny as I do of Joelle herself, last seen free-basing and vomiting into a claw-footed trough in Molly’s bathroom while mandarins consume wine and vomit their own half-baked ideas.

A possibility for a Part III of this post/thread: Orin’s awakening interest in H. Steeply and the Quebecois separatist movement – now become an anti-O.N.A.N.-ite movement, for reasons probably not well understood by anyone – holds a certain promise for bringing these different strands together and providing some means for Orin to change his approach to self. After all, Orin, Hal and Mario lie at the very center of the novel’s political nexus and the Entertainment, and the Ennet House Recovery House (sic), with its collection of interesting peripheral characters, is not far away.

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