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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.

Let’s review the death scenes we have witnessed thus far, shall we? Feel free to scroll down past them (or just use the pictures as reminders), if having read them once was enough for you, but I think they bear a quick, repellent re-read.

  • Don Gately’s suffocation murder of flu-stricken Guillame DuPlessis:

[…] the guy, having worked so hard to partially clear one clotted nasal passage that he tore intercostal ligaments in his ribs, soon found even that pinprick of air blocked off by mucus’s implacable lava-like flow, and so has to tear more ligaments […] at the height of which agony, hearing his head’s pulse as receding thunder and watching his vision’s circle shrink as a red aperture around his sight rotates steadily in from the edges, at the height of which he could think only, despite the pain and panic, of what a truly dumb and silly way this was, after all this time, to die […]. (p. 59)

  • C is murdered by Wo’s Drano-filled bundle with a knowing Poor Tony looking on:

[…] C started with the screaming in a loud hipitch fashion instantly after he unties and boots and downhegoes flopping with his heels pouning on the metal of the blower-grate and he’s at his throat with his hands tearing at him self in the most fucked up fashions […] blood and bloody materil is coming out Cs’ mouth and cs’ nose and its’ allover the feathers its’ a sure sign of Drano, blood is and Cs’ eyes get beesly and bulge and hes’ crying blood […] and one eye it like allofa sudden pops outof his map […]. And C turned lightblue and bit through the snakes’ head and died for keeps […]. (p. 134) [28]

  • Himself’s microwaved suicide, as described by Hal to Orin:

‘As we later reconstructed the scene, he’d used a wide-bit drill and small hacksaw to make a head-sized hole in the over door, then when he’d gotten his head in he’d carefully packed the extra space around his neck with wadded-up aluminum foil […]. The B.P.D. field pathologist said the build-up of internal pressures would have been almost instantaneous and equivalent in to over two sticks of TNT […]. Hence the need to reconstruct the scene.’ (pp. 250-251)

  • Eric Clipperton, shooting himself in the head with a blunt-barreled Glock 17 9mm. semiautomatic after being ranked:

[…] which even as both Incandenzas reach for the sky Clipperton places to his right – not left – temple, as in with his good right stick-hand, closes his eyes and scrunches up his face and blows his legitimated brains out for real and all time, eradicates his map and then some; and there’s just an ungodly subsequent mess in there, and the Incandenzas respectively stagger and totter from the room all green-gilled and red-mist-stained […]. (p. 433)

  • Lucien Antitois, murdered by A.F.R. Wheelchair Assassins looking for the Entertainment Master (the following description is much attenuated):

Lucien’s first sounds are reduced from howls to natal gargle as the pale wicked tip of the broom he loves is inserted, the wood piney-tasting then white tasteless pain as the broom is shoved in and abruptly down […] the cleric-collared A.F.R. driving the broom home now to half its length, up on his stumps to get downward leverage as the fibers that protect the esophagal terminus resist and then give with a crunching pop and splat of red […] and Lucien finally dies, rather a while after he’s quit shuddering like a clubbed muskie and seemed to them to die […] (p. 488)

  • The 0005 a.m. Canadian partiers unsuccessfully seeking dog-related vengeance:

Gately, canted way over to the side, methodically beats his Nuck’s shaggy head against the windshield so hard that spidered stars are appearing in the shatterproof glass until something in the head gives with a sort of liquid crunch […]. Gately begins stomping on the supine face of the Nuck with the heel of his good foot as if he were killing cockroaches. […] the black ladies continue stomping the inert Nuck. You can hear Emil Minty and Wade McDade exhorting Yolanda W. to use the spike heel. […] ‘I think there’s two of them, like, desisted […]. There’s one of their shoes in one of them’s fucking eye.’ (pp. 614-616)

Then there’s some more incidental-type deaths: Lucien’s brother dispatched by the A.F.R.; Bruce Green’s mom, dead of a heart attack brought on my the Christmas macadamia prank; Lenz’s many feline, canine, and rodentine victims; the woman who died of the “seizure” (by Poor Tony) of her artificial heart; the family that died of successive attempts at CPR after an initial Nestle Quik poisoning; maybe Poor Tony himself dying in a seizure (it would obviously be fitting), though I did not read his seizure conclusively as a death; and perhaps we should include Orin’s suffocated roaches, which have made their incessant return in Gately’s active foot stomping.

The detail that DFW uses to capture the gruesomeness of these deaths is simply unbelievable, and I can hardly believe we’ve all been able to read them and still laugh or be impressed. Obviously, there is what many refer to simply as “dark humor” and comedic effect, here, but all the same, dark humor does not require the crunchings and splatterings and sprayings in all their Tarantinoesque glory. And there is definitely horror mixed in, a horror I try to recapitulate by repeating parts of these passages at some length.

Clearly it is not the fact of death that is doing the work here, or even the manner of death specifically. An accidental suffocation, a bad bundle, a couple suicides, a beating death – these are not such unusual occurrences (only Lucien’s death is clearly placed in the seriously unusual category). And for all the pages of the book, these are not such a huge amount of recounted deaths.

Then what is the work being done by these scenes? I’m a bit baffled. One thing that seems to shine through is a sort of scorn or contempt that DFW has for death. Part of scorn is an ability to deride, to empty of meaning or consideration. That is, to describe these deaths in such a manner, sometimes bordering on the cartoonish but for the most part described with a hyper-intense realism, is to eliminate (“elemonade”) its significance, to drive death from an all-consuming metaphysical concern to a disgusting biological fact that should be rejected if only because it is humiliating. And death, we are reminded throughout, is not the worst possible thing that can happen, at least according to some of the Ennet House Residents, e.g. Kate Gompert, and later also Geoffrey Day, whose “large dark billowing shape” is “the most horrible feeling I have ever imagined, much less felt. There is no possible way death can feel as bad” (pp. 649-650).

I’m not sure I can believe this, though. If it were just a matter of scorning death, would we really be forced to immure ourselves in the skin-crawling details? And, some of the deaths are doubtless chock full of conceptual significance. JOI’s head in the microwave reminds us of Otis P. Lord’s who-knows-how-permanently-attached monitor as well as the skull-less child in a box described by Lenz; Lucien’s aphonic condition (and achievement of a meta-language once released from his mortal coil) recalls Hal’s Year of Glad difficulties; etc. Ideas here, people – please.

And now, some further reflections on a comparably death-imbued text which might help us understand IJ; I’ll treat it as a foil, for the sole purpose of being able to give you a “foiler alert.”

Thinking about death has reminded me of Annie Dillard’s first novel, entitled The Living (1992). The book covers a couple generations of folks circa 1855-1895 in the Pacific Northwest, specifically the Puget Sound region. The tile is ironic, since pretty much everyone dies in one or another horrible accident or sickness, or the occasional violent act, and this happens with a kind of clockwork regularity.

The overwhelming sense one gets from the book is just how hard life was in that very rugged geography; for instance, one of the recurring struggles/failures in the book is to find a railway route that can get through the mountains, and thus make possible a viable port (and where the port is built will determine who lives and who dies in that fragile economy). There are no “heroes” in the novel, with the possible exception of the region itself, which looms and evokes and threatens and denies and gives plenty, according to its fortunous will. Here’s what Dillard herself remarked in one interview:

So you read about these people so vivid to themselves who are right on the cutting edge of the present looking at the clouds changing overhead, and we read this now in 1992 instead of 1882 when most of the action takes place, knowing that all these people are dead. And knowing therefore that we will be just as dead.

Yikes, Ms. Dillard! Tell it like it is, why don’t you? For her, the incessant feeling of being “on the cusp” of something new co-exists with the human renewal of generations, the biological recapitulation of our dreams and desires, all of which add up to very little, in the end. Because we will be “just as dead.”

There’s no comparison between The Living and IJ in terms of death – The Living wins hands down as a book that is about death. But the deaths are handled so differently – and not because Dillard underthematizes or romanticizes them, au contraire. In IJ, the deaths are handled, I don’t know, a bit callously, a bit over-the-top gruesomely, always for the sake of a joke or a point. But never just, well, dying. And dying is what people do, right?

So to return to the end of my reply to Paul (and his wife, though why she would care what I think is an entirely different question), I think one should never avoid a book because people die, even if they die horribly. Most of us do, after all. But I think I can understand an inability to appreciate or even withstand the scorn with which DFW treats death.



Leave a Comment
  1. Daryl Houston / Aug 20 2009 7:41 am

    Perhaps it’s useful to think of death in IJ with Renaissance revenge tragedy (of which Hamlet was one, after all) as a backdrop. These plays often end with just a huge pile of bodies, sometimes killed in lurid, improbable or unexpected ways. These tragedies also sometimes play the sorts of framing games that Wallace plays, if to a less obsessive degree.

  2. Dan Summers / Aug 20 2009 8:08 am

    Hmmmmm. I will leave aside the metaphorical valences that the various deaths may signify, if for no other reason than I don’t know that I’ve thought about that aspect of things enough to have a cogent opinion. (I do, however, particularly enjoy the wry appreciation DuPlessis evinces for the absurdity of his own death. I hope never to compare Infinite Jest to the execrable film Independence Day again in my life, but the one moment I enjoyed in the latter was the bit where Harvey Fierstein’s about to get demapped by a flying car, and his response is “Well, crap.” I kind of hope I can accept my own eventual demise with the same weary, bemused resignation.)

    I’m not sure I understand your take on DFW’s handling of death. After all, you’ve already written quite compellingly about his relationship to the grotesque. Here is a novel populated by grotesque characters living fantastic lives. Death, for many of them, is the inevitable result of their manner of living, and I don’t understand why Wallace would treat their deaths with anything other than the obsessively-detailed and darkly (very, very darkly) humor that characterizes his handling of every other aspect of their lives. In fact, considering what Wallace (IMHO) is trying to say about what it means to be alive, and to strive (so often futilely) for happiness, it would be dishonest for him to treat death without the same grim fascination.

  3. infinitedetox / Aug 20 2009 11:13 am

    Nice post, I.T. The gruesome technicolor deaths in IJ have always been kind of troublesome to me, and Lucien’s death in particular was deeply, deeply disturbing. What really fried my noodle w/r/t Lucien was that it was clear he was still conscious as he was going through the relatively slow and painful self-obliterating process of his death.

    If I were to put aside my “ick” response for a moment and start intellectualizing, I’d likely say that Lucien’s death is almost an inversion of what the book’s addicts do to themselves with drugs. That is, Lucien is conscious, fully aware and fully present, “in here,” for his death, while the addicts of IJ use Substances to obliterate or negate or kill their own consciousnesses with Substances, to help them forget that they’re “in here.”

    Or here we go, even simpler: Lucien is conscious of his death, but drugs are the death of consciousness.

  4. Repat / Aug 20 2009 12:40 pm

    I appreciate this post as this has been on my mind, too. I don’t really agree that it is scorn, that it is empty of meaning, even in the cartoonish/hyper-real descriptions. We have Bruce Green’s memory of his own mother’s death (cartoonish, grotesque) coming right before he experiences a “wrenching sense of loss” and wishes he could get high again. Isn’t death, the knowledge of it, what everyone wants to escape?

    But I agree that it is hard to bear, one after another. The Randy Lenz was the worst, as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Daryl Houston / Aug 20 2009 3:10 pm

    Bolano’s 2666 suddenly comes to mind.

    • infinitedetox / Aug 20 2009 7:15 pm

      Hey what’d you think of that book? I read it and it didn’t speak to me too much. The fragmentation seemed so complete that it didn’t leave me with enough sense of a cohesive center. It came off as a series of novellas that were kind of meh. Then again I didn’t put an awful lot into it to begin with…

      • infinitetasks / Aug 20 2009 9:35 pm

        I haven’t read it yet, though I want to. IJ’s the first “big book” I’ve read for a while – Cryptonomicon was a few years ago for me, I did re-read Robinson’s Mars trilogy last year. Does Beauvoir’s The Mandarins count? Cuz that was long, but it isn’t really structured like a “big book.”

      • Daryl Houston / Aug 21 2009 2:40 am

        I found some of it kind of hard to get through, but I thought it ultimately paid off, if not in the absolutely hugest of ways. I kind of loved the last part. I agree re cohesion, but then, this book was assembled sort of unfinished (a sixth part was recently found, I think) as Bolano saw his own death approaching (I believe), so expediency may have overruled art. In fact, he wanted, for the sake of expediency (and maximizing profit for his family), to release each book separately, but the publishers thought that a disservice to the art. I’ll say this about it: I finished it without too much difficulty, whereas I put The Savage Detectives aside (for a bit — I’ll get back to it) with 200 pages yet to go.

  6. infinitetasks / Aug 20 2009 9:30 pm

    First off, everybody should head over to Daryl’s site (see the “ping” above) and read his awesome post. A Dance of Death indeed!

    Your comments are all deeply appreciated and have stimulated me to further thoughts. I am generally, let it be told, a bit cold about death. That is pretty much true in both literature and life. I don’t miss folks much when they die. I don’t worry much about folks when they worry about bad news – unless said news turns out to be truly bad, in which case I feel appropriately sad for their suffering, and for all the other folks who feel bad, too.

    In literature, when someone dies, especially in some creative and fitting manner, I am generally thrilled. Broom down the throat, oh goodness that’s brilliant! Drano in the vein-o, ick. But that eyeball, bleh, and oh, how about the whole “downhegoes floppin”! Anna K. on the tracks, saw that comin’. Snape kills Dumbledore, woo hoo, Harry’s in a pickle now!

    So, in a book like IJ, I start to wonder. Should I be more affected by these deaths, and find them less, well, cool? But even to frame the question properly, I think I have to go through a process. And so, as I reviewed the death scenes, I did start to feel generally and genuinely appalled. (This started shortly after the doggie business, and then I got squeamish when the high heels went in the eye – I can’t even watch my wife put in contacts without cringing.) But something of the starkness and the cynicism remained. Ah, ha, he reasons, it is in fact DFW who is cold (scornful) of death.

    But it turns out that is not (quite) it either. Because, as you are all helpfully pointing out, each scene has its profundity at the same time that it has its banality. A Renaissance tragedy? Yup. A cartoon replica of the danse macabre? Yup. Wrenching sense of loss? Yup. Addiction inversion? Yup. JOI driven to suicide by his own Entertainment creation? (I don’t know, I’m not there yet.) A useless and criminal Drano switcheroo, the very emptiest, grimmest, and saddest end to a sad life? Yup. A well-crafted “Well, crap” moment? Yup.

    Again, I love what you’ve all had to say here. I’ll be musing on this some more, and checking my feelings carefully as we head towards the last few hundred pp.

    • Daryl Houston / Aug 21 2009 2:43 am

      Sorry to keep chiming in with little like hit and run replies, but your comment here made me also think of The Godfather (and its sequels), another work of art in which we see many kind of zany deaths (come on: stabbing the guy in the eye with his own glasses?). Copolla has said in interviews that he’s got kind of a thing for wacky deaths. Nothing terribly substantive here — just wanted to chime in with one more little association.

  7. itzadrag / Aug 22 2009 11:43 am

    The horrendous murder and conscious death experience of the mute, monkish Lucien Antitois was perhaps the most difficult passage in the entire novel for me, so I read it in a rather uncommitted way, averting my mindful eye. Oh, great! I thought, just when I had learned to overcome my prissiness about cursing and juvenile toilet humor, after surviving armageddon & the howling fantods of a cast of thousands– now this. A character as innocent as Mario tortured to a miserable and “inutile”end.

    Yet I’ve found myself recalling the transcendence L.A. experienced. Not a simple inverted medieval pike, this murderous tool, not one of the guilty heaped bodies at Hamlet’s close. More the cherub’s arrow piercing the very bowels of the disarmed and disrobed (“pants woppsed around his red woolen ankle”) saint. A veritable variation on the Ecstasy of St Teresa.

    The drapery stirs, “shafts of mirror-light gleam”, spikes of of light glint off the wheeled cherubim which surround him. The assassin in a Jesuitical collar caresses Lucien’s trembling, full lips; lips that quiver, in awe, to speak. After the dreadful, unspeakable pain of penetration, Lucien’s lids flutter, he has visions of his natal land, pure and bright. Shuddering through his transition, Lucien finally is free: transcends the constraints of physical existence and is “catapulted home… sounding a bell-clear” alar(u)m in the universal language. Gaudeamus Igitur, another sacred martyr constellation.

    If you haven’t yet, go read infinitedetox on: A Field Guide to Occurrences of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Infinite Jest.

    • infinitetasks / Aug 22 2009 12:31 pm

      Nicely written, itza! Let me know if you want to guest post here, seeing as you are blog-less. You make beautiful connections in a holistic and artful fashion. I am also appreciative of the posts at Detox and Zombies, that give me more insight into my own.

  8. itzadrag / Aug 22 2009 2:03 pm

    Thanks for your quote of confidence (uggh), and for broadening my view from the visual/psychological to the philosophic0-historical. And for your efforts to keep directing our attention to other essays: Danse Macabre was right on.

    Two more points about the ecstatic. It frightens me somewhat that our first viewer of the Entertainment was discovered in a rictus of ecstasy; is everyone to be so stricken? And, infinitedetox makes notable mention in his essay of immediate vs. mediated experiences of ecstasy in IJ– the “Russian doll” layers of reportage, art & abstraction through which the reader experiences a variety of Teresa’s famed rapture. Lucent Lucien’s transport is the nearest we have come (3rd level: rapture; writer; reader) to the occurrence itself. What can it mean that he is staked though to the floor at an angle like Mario’s police lock support? I fear to find out. (OK, that’s 3 things).

    As to guest posting, you are too kind. IS and gang constitute my first blog post/commentary outing ever, and I lack lit bona fides. Better I should learn more from all of you awhile, yes? Not dishing for praise, here; rather, I’m genuinely impressed with what I read. And touched. Thanks again.

  9. Paul / Aug 23 2009 2:31 pm

    It’s funny that I was an impetus for this post, as Lucien’s death in particular didn’t really bother me. Sure it was gruesome and yet it seemed so over the top that it didn’t “get” me. It reminded me of a lot of cinematic violence (and, in my post on that section of the book, I noted that I feel the transition of Gately to Antitoi is rather cinematic).

    The deaths that bothered (although that isn’t the right word so much, they didn’t bother me so much as “affected” me) were the more family-oriented ones. The ones that were almost purely comical. The spiked Quik in which the whole family died. The Heart attack Macadamias. And these affected me almost exclusively because I am now a parent. And when I read passages like this I can help picturing them in my own house (the Quik kitchen is not described at all, there fore it is in my kitchen). And then suddenly…uh oh.

    Oh, but also M DuPlessis’ death horrified me as I have since I was a child always been afraid of being gagged when my allergies were acting up…how THAT fear came about I simply can’t imagine, and yet evidently DFW knew all about it!

    As for my wife, she is a more delicate soul than I am, so she just doesn’t care for death in art. She read The Road (for a book club) and absolutely hated it. I haven’t read it so I have no comment. But she hated it because of all the senseless death. So, I get where she’s coming from. I think it’s more of just a “better things” to read attitude rather than any kind of real prissiness about it.

    Back to your post though, thanks for the microwave Otis Lord connection…awesome.

    And onto why I feel something a bit more about these deaths. This is easily the most time I have spent with a book. I’m not a fast reader, but I don’t ration myself like this either. So these characters are with me for a long time. I am a part of their universe now. When Dumbeldore died I was shocked and probably even cried. And yet, none of these deaths made me cry, but I don’t think they’re meant to. There’s not a sentimental moment in the scenes. They’re all almost matter of fact.

    So how do i reconcile the “part of the world” with the straight-up reporting style. When I hear about people dying on the news, I think, “oh that’s a shame” and then I move on.

    Mayhaps I’m a cold-hearted bastard after all.

  10. Sarah / Aug 25 2009 2:04 pm

    Fascinating post. I was perplexed by the deaths, which often seem to feature a sort of unflattering (wrt DFW) crudity. “Kill Bill” was the film which came to mind during the incident of Lenz and the Canadians. But I actually rather enjoy Kill Bill…

    As with so many things in Infinite Jest my thought processes are becoming circular. I have become so caught up in the addiction thing that I forget about the technological details of the sci-fi element of IJ. But, thinking from an InterLace type point of view; these cartoonish, caricaturised deaths are entertainment. And because they are featured as entertainment, in a book where they seem out of place, they constitute a savage reminder of what is considered entertainment. If nothing else it opens a debate on what we should, and should not, be watching.

  11. infinitetasks / Aug 25 2009 4:09 pm

    Thanks more, Itza, Paul, and Sarah! I like that these deaths are now coming together as terribly multi-faceted. They serve as Entertainment, as stylized cartoons, internally and externally referential sequences (Teresa, Mario, etc.), and as mechanisms to test and play with reader reactions, too. Paul and I both learn a bit of the bastard about ourselves, had we not known that already (I guess we did). But we also learn any special sensitivities we may have (family, allergies). For my part, having lived much of my first 12 years with one or both nsal passages clogged, I also live with a primal fear of gagging, and had to avert my eyes from the book a time or two when reading DuPlessis’s death the first time. I was going to mention that in the original post, but it fell to the cutting room floor.

  12. naptimewriting / Aug 26 2009 12:03 am

    You know there is also a bit more infanticide in IJ than I remember. Two addicted moms who have stillbirths, Mario’s birth which sounds like he was hanging on in there without amniotic or placental nutrients. There were concavity infants who were left behind in the mass migration. Because people leave their babies all the time when they’re fleeing for their lives, right? We’re seeing a lot of maternal neglect here and think this kind of death is at once convenient as a drug-addict casualty but also as an indictment of mothers.
    I have to go ponder on this but wonder what your astute readers think.

  13. itzadrag / Aug 26 2009 12:13 pm

    Hello, naptimewriting, and thanks for your blog. I’m blown away to have so many wonderful minds generously made accessible to little ol’ hermitish, cabinfevery me in the comfort of my A/C, while hiding out from the infinite 103 degree summer.

    The neonate and infant deaths, the skull-less deformed (lacking protective encagement, they are much less than free) may be easier to overlook, in a first reading. Certain dramatic highlights very much present in the other deaths are missing: the immediacy of a violent murder; a twist of plot; hyperreal gore; character intent/agency/insight. On occasion, even the act– the actual death or murder, the abandonment– itself is non-explicit, ambiguous, “unintentional,” or follows from a lack of choice as to outcome. Particularly with the deformed and stillborn, the sense of agency is weaker b/c “no one” consciously is responsible. Context itself is the culprit: the environment. The babes are evidence of unintended consequences, equivalent to civilian casualties of war. A byproduct of following our program; shit happens.

    But, of course, we ARE responsible for the choices which inexorably culminate in an uninhabitable world, a toxic fetal environment, a hostile political environment, explosive rearrangements of homelands and mass-migrations of the dazed and confused.

    ONANITE Pres Gentle looks for someone else– anybody else– to blame. Catapulting consumer waste (and redefining the territory with an act of denial- not mine! Not Me!) is to outsource the consequences of action. This serves to obscure (down a hole re-mapped as concavity) the responsibility for results arising from an IJ meta-act: a body-brain cycle of: arousal-desire-seeking-procuring-consuming-excitation-satiation-depression; rinse & repeat. But what begins the consumption obsession? What is it in us that becomes addicted? What do we need? What is our empy spot about?

    In IJ and the Kenyon address, DFW would appear to be saying that it is a cycle of intentional nurturance– both giving and receiving. Lacking this, the result may be Death. Mindfulness–attention to this care cycle– may save our lives.

    We know about the role of mothers in this nurturance or lack thereof; examples abound, and when all else fails, Blame it on Mom. But looking to Avril as Mother (neglecting? demanding? boundary-disturbed Black Hole eating her children alive? good-enough-mothering?) to solve the entire equation is a bit simple. Adding JOI as Father (abstracting? perspective-shifting? technological savant saviour? utter & Master headcase?) will not balance. The Child at the center of all needs more than nurture to live– it needs to be needed, needs to “attend”; needs to give those small, everyday, unsexy intentional sacrifices to others in order to remain mindful, to value self, to give away that which will come back, to survive.

    This is schmaltzy, maybe, even cliche– but is it also True? Either that, or we’re f**ckd: pass me the Glock and a happyface mask; you watch the Show. has written twice in August about Avril, rejection, nurture, good-enough-mothering: “More Maternal Fantods; Or the Dangers of Reading-While-Female”, and “Why I Love Endnote 269 & Gobsmacked, All Over Again.” If you haven”t already, night want to skip over there and check it out.

    Maybe not the astute reader you hoped, but thanks for the opportunity to contribute my cents.

  14. Aaron / Aug 31 2009 7:19 pm

    When Hal is watching “Blood Sister,” he remarks on how utterly predictable all of its violence is. Perhaps that’s why Wallace’s novel is filled with such novel descriptions of death? That is, to prevent us from so callously dismissing the sort of thing that really *should* be disturbing, but that Entertainment tends to make us want more of (preferably with a tub of hot, buttery popcorn).

    Scorn, yes, but not of death–instead, of our generic depictions of death. This is the sort of thing Michael Haneke was trying to do with “Funny Games.” The reason why Infinite Jest does better than the “Final Destination” series (which is nothing *but* scorn for death) is because of how seriously Wallace takes everything, so as to avoid the sort of anhedonic shock in which the world becomes a map of the world.

    Also, I find myself thinking very often of the way Orin accidentally killed his mother’s dog (see: Marlon Bain’s footnote 269). Whoops.

  15. naptimewriting / Sep 16 2009 11:45 am

    Hey, itzadrag: wow.
    I hadn’t checked back here in a while. thanks, Tasks, for reminding me via the infsum guide comment.
    I’m still formulating a response to itsadrag, but it seems that the lack of nurturing, in the men’s group collective inner infant saadness about being ignored, the frequent reference to toxic cages and bars and cribs all made me start a list of maternal detachment and neglect. and for the record, there’s a lot more paternal abuse than maternal. there’s something there, I think, if not just “blame the mother? check out the father!” I will go check out repat, but found a published article that judges JOI and Avril quite harshly for being self-absorbed failures and terrible parents. Way too simplistic, for someone who has read IJ where nothing is simple and everybody’s choices are interlinked (see also N. Katherine Hayles article on autonomy). Damage, physical and psychological seems to be annular here. JOI’s father is a beast, but get a load of his dad. Avril is an interesting maternal specimen, and her own mother, potential role model died when the Moms was 8. Gately goes into a violent zone when threatened, but get a gander at the MP. And on and on. Even Lenz who is abyssmal as characters go, clearly has issues related to a time-piece obsessed paternal figure.
    The cycle of neglect and lack of nurturing, then filling the hole via Substances and Entertainment and Consumption all point critic Marshall Boswell to the thought that Wallace is critiquing Lacan, who argues that when an infant sees a mirror and figures out Mom can’t solve every problem that there is an irreparable hole created that we try to fill with substitutes throughout our lives. Boswell argues that Wallace is frustrated with the lack of agency in this theory, pointing out the despair that results from such a view: the reflex of stuffing psychological holes without any engagement in the Why might be a central theme of the novel.
    I’m not sure yet. But you’ve crammed my notebook full of ideas. Thanks!

  16. itzadrag / Sep 16 2009 6:24 pm


    1) “Damage, physical and psychological seems to be annular here.”

    So agree.

    2) “Boswell argues that Wallace is frustrated with the lack of agency in this theory”

    Haven’t yet read any guides or critical views of IJ/DFW (exception: started one thesis on consciousness). Not any in library, but will pursue this. I would agree, on the face of it, that our author seems frustrated with lack of agency in any such view, simply b/c of the AA themes, and lack of White Flag pity for victim-speak.

    3) Hayles, N. Katherine.
    The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest

    Found abstract/description online. Looks like order form. Do you know of a free source?

    Thanks so much for coming back.


  1. Danse Macabre « Infinite Zombies
  2. David Foster Wallace–[Week 10] Infinite Jest (1996) « I Just Read About That…

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