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July 29, 2009 / Infinite Tasks

On O.N.A.N.-ite Politics

Mario’s Interdependence Day adaptation of J.O.I.’s The Onantiad (pp. 380-386; 391-394; 398-407; and…?), with its melange of puppets, made-up headlines, and real headlines helps fill in a lot of the late-B.S. history, and explains the process through which the New England Concavity (formerly, the Vermont Concavity, but it appears that it indeed stretches across New York, Maine, and New Hampshire as well) was “experialized” by the U.S. And at the same time, this is exactly the history we need to fill out the politics of Quebecois separatism and thus to come to terms with the still ongoing 30 April/1 March conversation between H. Steeply and Marathe, and the various corrupt influences that have led to the straits of O.N.A.N. in Y.D.A.U.

While I would like to explore some of the political mesh so far as we understand it (and no, I’m still not reading ahead past the spoiler line), I’m also interested in a larger question which I raised back in an earlier post. There, I questioned whether and how IJ was to count as science fiction or speculative fiction. I left off with the conclusion that IJ doesn’t reasonably fit any of the criteria for science fiction, but the category of speculative fiction, as I think about it, is a good bit more expansive. However, I think I want to propose here that the considerations of O.N.A.N.-ite politics are more absurdist or, to coin a term, bizarrist than they are speculative.

I should note here that what I say here is little more than Chris Forster’s excellent post of a few weeks ago, in which he presciently identified two “jarring” elements of DFW’s alternative future scenario, one of which is the political configuration of a post-Jihadist international setting, the other being DFW’s technological imaginary. Chris finds the political nexus to be tied to the early 1990s “end of history” flourishes then so common, but coveying little that is genuinely compelling – unless we look at the message DFW has hidden in his political humor. Chris writes:

What’s worth noticing, though, is less how different our present is from Infinite Jest’s, than the way such an imagined condition (even if we now find it quaintly fictional), leads to a loss of meaning; the absence of “any external Menance” deprives the world of a sense of purposefulness.

From a variety of earlier sections of IJ, but especially the lengthy footnote #110 (see pp. 1008-1022) in which Orin queries Hal as to how to answer “Helen” Steeply’s questions re: separatism, we learn that the Quebecois separatists have been forced by the experialization of the Great Concavity to become an “all-Canada,” anti-O.N.A.N.-ite, anti-reconfiguration movement, at least putatively. But their real aims of separatism have not changed; they are actually engaging in the business of “meta-extortion” (p. 1020) against Canada (with its power seat in Ottawa), in which by “playing” (there’s that word again) as if all Canada is anti-O.N.A.N., they are able to rouse both U.S. and Mexican ire at Canada. Finally, if it works, Ottawa will be more than happy to dissassociate with Quebec, leaving them to their independence and their contiguity with the Great Convexity (as it appears from the Canadian vantage), so long as the U.S. is willing to reapportion the Concavity within its own boundaries, and thus take responsibility for its own waste and historical toxicity.

To this point, neither Hal nor Orin can see any prospect of success for the separatists, since their “terrorist” actions seem limited to “the odd pie- and guano-bombardment, stretching mirrors across lonely roads, even demapping officials and botulizing the occasional peanut jar” (p. 1021). As the footnote closes, though, Orin mentions the samizdat (clandestinely distributed underground literature), which in this case is clearly the Entertainment. Here, then, we have a weapon of sufficient terror (even if it is destruction through desire) to accomplish all the necessary aims, though of course neither Hal nor Orin understand this yet.

This story seems quite reasonable as a multi-layered plot that helps us to understand the crucial role to be played by the Entertainment. But we also have to read the plot in terms of the personalities, and this means returning (via a waylay) to the first of the Steeply/Marathe conversations, and with a further musing on the April Fool’s Day “professional conversation” between Hal and Himself.

The waylay: In Mario’s puppet show, Rod (“the God”) Tine (suspected as the real brains and motivation behind the Gentle administration and its push for reconfiguration) explains that

“we are going to make an unprecedented intercontinental gift of certain newly expendable northeast American territories [the toxic Concavity], in return for the faute-de-mieux [tr. for lack of anything more desirable] continuation of U.S. waste displacement access to those territories. Allow me to illustrate what Lur– just what the president means.” (403)

The mention of “Lur–” reminds us of the personal and traitorous love affairs which are driving politics – or perhaps being driven by them. Mario’s film implies that the Rodney Tine “disastrous-love-interest” with the “inafamous and enigmatic Quebecois fatale known publicly only as Luria P–” (p. 411) is nevertheless at the heart of the plan.

Who is Luria P–? She is, according to Himself, “the malevolent but allegedly irresistable amanuensis-cum-operative” (p. 30) and lover of M. DuPlessis, who is presumably one Guillame DuPlessis, gagged and thus murdered by Don Gately in his metro Boston home . DuPlessis is described there as “the right-hand man to probably the most infamous anti-O.N.A.N. organizer north of the Great Concavity,” since he is doing terrorism-coordination among the fragmented ultra-radicals (p. 58f). [16]

And who else is Luria P–? Luria Perec, stenographer for Rodney Tine, whose loyalties to the U.S. are thereby questionable, since he is surely allowing Luria to feed information back to the Canadian anti-O.N.A.N.-ites, but perhaps is feeding “bad” information to secure both his U.S. fealty and his unquenchable thirst for Luria herself (see. p.92).

Steeply: Your DuPlessis always suspected [Tine] tried to hold back on the information he passed sexually to Luria.

Marathe: If M. Tine’s betrayal were incomplete, we of Quebec would be aware…. Luria would be aware. (p. 94f)

So at this point there is every reason to believe that Rodney Tine himself is actually an architect of Quebecois separatism! For why else would he engineer the reconfiguration, which gives the Quebecois separatists their first real chance at independence!

At this point, then, we have to consider things closer to home: Avril (purported lover of numerous Canadian medical attaches), C.T. (who spent time in Canada before landing permanently at ETA, specifically as an administraotor at Throppinghamshire Provincial College, New Brunswick (p. 285)), and of course J.O.I. Himself, creator of the Entertainment, a key ingredient of a hoped-for future partition. Steeply, who strikes me as far from stupid, does not seem to be simply chasing down the Entertainment, but to be tracing out the subtle dynamics of the plot entire, and thus the soft-profiling cover of Orin — and impending visit to ETA (ooh, I can’t wait!) — seem much more significant than just trying to find and stop the Entertainment.

Marathe, no dummy himself, admits that he has not figured out Steeply’s end-game: “Marathe remained unsure in this time of what exactly it was that Hugh Steeply of U.S.O.U.S. wished to learn from him, or verify, through Marathe’s betrayal” (p. 375).

I like all this. I think it creates a reasonable triangulation between (1) multi-layered betrayals generated through sexual and political (and even health care) interests, (2) a critique of media and entertainment, and (3) the personal lives of the Incandenza family. As a narrative structure, it works quite well and easily.

What I don’t like so much, is the ridiculousness of Gentle’s rise to power. Allowing for some portion of levity in Mario’s film, some facts seem pretty clearly established:

  1. Johnny Gentle, Famous Crooner, lounge singer turned teenybopper throb turned B-movie mainstay, with OCDx10, becomes the standard bearer for “C.U.S.P.,” a conglomerate (DFW calls it an “agnation” = blood affinity which is pretty darn funny) of ultra-rightists and ultra-hippie fringes which sweeps to victory when the U.S. “sort of turned on itself and its own philosophical fatigue and hideous redolent wastes with a spasm of panicked rage” (382), notably in the absemce of any reasonable external or internal Menace to unite the major parties.
  2. Gentle proceeds to appoint the Mexican President and the Canadian Prime Minister to his Cabinet (p. 384).
  3. As the U.S. pressures Canada for deeper intracontinental ties, a NATO collapse is engineered. But at the same time, the national waste problem continues to expand, perhaps furthered by the new annular fusion processes (see p. 393).
  4. The O.N.A.N. pact is signed, and (coincidentally?) Gentle’s first state of the O.N.A.N. address is on the last day pre-Subsidized Time (p. 394, but there’s reason to believe this is a artifact of Mario’s imagination).
  5. Toxic horrors begin to emerge, including the incidence of “soft-skulled and extra-eyed newborns” in New Hampshire and Maine, and then a declaration of a federal disaster area and the convening of a “Concavity Cabinet” (p. 400), to determine the fate of the toxic area, presumably by experialization & reconfiguration. The only question is how to twist the Canadian arms in order to accept the deal.

Mario’s own imaginary plot line includes Gentle’s threat to explode nuclear missiles (turned upside down for immediate impact) and place ATHSCME fans to blow the toxicity Canada-wards. But of course, we immediately learn this is just a metaphor for the “Clipperton” Strategy, in which an unseeded 16-year-old named Eric Clipperton threatened to kill himself if he loses a match (and brought a gun), resulting in the development of a so-called Clipperton Brigade made up of every boy who is scheduled to play Eric and lets him win. (Correctly, the U.S.T.A. did not count Clipperton losses against the players ranking.)

So, we don’t actually know for sure what the pressure against Canada was that ultimately succeeded. Yet… I expect that the film narration continues past the spoiler line. An perhaps it isn’t so important after all, since we nevertheless are waiting for a more important revelation: the specific link to be uncovered by Steeply (I’m guessing) that will tie Avril and Himself to the Quebecois separatists, thus binding Orin, Hal, and Mario to the fate of the Entertainment as well.

And therefore, I am also left to agree with Chris Forster’s conclusion: that the weakness of the political narrative of C.U.S.P. should be taken to mean that DFW is not playing on conventions of science fiction or speculative fiction at all, but trying to convey that “politics is a joke,” just one more site where collective meaning and purpose is denied to us. (But see also the reflections on irony and satire being discussed this week by fantastic commentators Daryl Houston and Gerry Canavan, respectively, reflections that are too interesting to discuss in this post, which has already gone on far too long.) Speculative fiction expands beyond genre limitations of science fiction (though whether sci-fi really was or remains tied to those conventions is perfectly debatable [17]), but ultimately for the same fundamental purposes. These purposes, I concur, are not DFW’s.

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3 Comments

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  1. Aaron / Jul 30 2009 7:17 am

    Don’t forget, though, that Gentle (and his “gentlemen”), had his campaign run by the Viney and Veals agency. Politics may be ridiculous, but I’m willing to invest totally in the idea that advertising is way more powerful than we give it credit for. As Lyle mentions, do NOT underestimate the power of objects. Speaking of which, it’s suggested more than once (and not just by Mario) that Gentle is just a figurehead (an object, himself): is it that hard to believe that a genial, somewhat mentally-defective guy could wind up elected to the office so that ultra-right-wing (and ultra-left-wing) parties could get what they wanted?

    I’m also a huge fan of the fact that Schtitt admires the tennis comparison here, in that the U.S.A.’s goal (via O.N.A.N. experialism) is to send away that which you hope will not be returned.

    • infinitetasks / Jul 30 2009 7:46 am

      Thanks for the comments, Aaron! While the ultra-r & ultra-l affinity (agnation) strikes me as wrong, the advertising of V&V gives more strength to your thoughts, here – especially with the whole “collapse-of-the-big-Four-rise-of-cable-revenge-of-the-big-Four-via-InterLace” thing that means ALL of the ad-resources can go to politics. (I wrote this post at spoiler line p. 410 – the V&V/Interlace discussion at 413f. deserved to be a part of it as well, as you point out.) Still, Gentle is no Reagan, Scwarzenegger, or Bono.

      For what it’s worth, I also loved Schtitt’s line, thanks for mentioning it.

  2. G C / Jul 30 2009 9:04 pm

    Really enjoyed this post and the previous one on the same topic. I put up a post bouncing Infinite Jest off a few definitions of SF I use in the classroom here

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