Hello, Goodbye

Hello, dear readers, and happy Thursday from me to you!

my-babes

Why that particular Beatles gif, you ask?

Well, first off, I personally think it’s exquisite; everything from their outfits to their awkward faux-strip-tease dancing brings me immense joy every time I see it. Second of all (and slightly more on-topic), this rare footage is from one of the three promotional clips they filmed for their 1967 “Hello, Goodbye” music video – hence tying this gif in nicely with the title of this week’s blog post.

Which brings me to this: my last contribution to Infinite Summer. Continue reading “Hello, Goodbye”

Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

Two years ago, in my last year of undergrad, I took an eighteenth-century novel course. Although it was taught by my favourite prof and I learned a lot over those three months, this class introduced me to books that I did not enjoy in the slightest like, for example, Robinson Crusoe (blech) and Gulliver’s Travels (double blech).

It was for this course, however, that I discovered my absolute least favourite novel of all time: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (or just Tristram Shandy for short). Continue reading “Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend”

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

Alas, my poor Yoricks! I must begin this post with a disclaimer: I’m afraid that I left my copy of Infinite Jest at the office today by accident and must write without the text on hand to consult and/or quote. I apologize in advance for the lack of page numbers and specificity, as I will be writing about this section from memory and may fudge a few details by accident… Mea culpa!

With that said, I’m raring and ready to talk about all that paranormal activity in IJ this week and what it means for the narrative.

So, without further ado: shall we begin?

jill-holtz Continue reading “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts”

anecdotes, quotes, and footnotes

Hello and happy September 1st, everyone! Here’s hoping this week has treated you well and that you all have a wonderful long weekend ahead of you. Is anyone up to anything particularly fun and exciting? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Seriously, I’m always open to hearing about your lives outside of IJ!

Speaking of a life outside Infinite Jest, I’m afraid this is going to be a bit of a shorter (and a tad more informal) post from me this week. I’d really like to spend some quality time with my little sister tonight since she is going back to university this weekend, so, in order to have enough time to watch a movie with her, I’m going to be as succinct as I can right now. Continue reading “anecdotes, quotes, and footnotes”

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Before we get down to today’s order of business, I have to thank everyone first for their kind words on my post last week. It wasn’t easy to admit to not liking Infinite Jest and talk openly about my frustrations with the novel, but you were all very supportive and provided lots of comfort and encouragement – exactly what I needed to buoy my sinking spirits.

So, from me to you – yes, you! – thank you.

leslie knope

Thank you for listening and thank you for continuing to make my experience as one of your guides a fun and rewarding one. I really needed to get those feelings off my chest in order to move forward and, thanks to you, I was able to do so and return to you refreshed and ready to go for week ten of Infinite Summer!

(Side note: Does anyone else find it a bit crazy that there are only four weeks left until we read that final page? I can barely remember a time now when I wasn’t carrying around my Sticky-Noted copy of Infinite Jest everywhere…  My God. What will it be like to read a book that weighs less than three pounds?)

Now, I don’t know if it’s because I finally decided to share my struggle with IJ last week or if this is a total coincidence, but I found this week’s assigned pages to be some of the most readable I’ve encountered thus far within the novel. We skipped between characters and story lines at a faster pace in chunks of text that were digestible and didn’t focus too much on peripheral details, or meander in a way that can become tedious. I feel like if this section were a chess move, it would be the queen coming out to play – a show of control on DFW’s part and a decisive push toward the end. I liked seeing all of the different narrative threads starting to come together to form something a bit more cohesive and I particularly liked seeing certain characters break out of what had become their routine in the last seven hundred pages (for instance,  Marathe and Steeply FINALLY GETTING OFF THAT GODDAMN MOUNTAIN AND STARTING TO DO THEIR RESPECTIVE JOBS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE).

That being said, what I believe I enjoyed the most about this week’s reading is that it made me feel like perhaps Wallace and I are on more of the same page than I originally thought.

For awhile, it seemed as if my worldview just wasn’t aligning with his, which was making it difficult for me to connect with Infinite Jest. In the latest sections focused on Hal, however, I saw my theories about him confirmed and expanded upon in a way that made me feel for at least a brief instant like David and I were soul sisters.*

How, you ask? Well, for one, Wallace makes it clear once and for all in this week’s reading that he is, in fact, denouncing the kind of emotional detachment the majority of his characters strive to achieve and that contemporary society deems somehow hip. I honestly think my heart started doing the conga when I read this passage:

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip – and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and Unalone. (694)

If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s affected apathy. I’m a firm believer in loving something to the fullest and being unapologetically enthusiastic about it. While I know that some of my tastes and habits make me a part of hipster culture (i.e. wearing big glasses, frequenting coffee shops, owning a record player, etc.), I cannot fully ascribe to the hipster ethos because it’s one that prizes irony above all else. For example, the popular concept of “liking something ironically” is one that baffles me because it encourages people to distance themselves from things they actually enjoy. What’s the point of life if you don’t allow yourself to feel the joy something brings you – even if that something is the Twilight series or a One Direction album? If you love something, then go ahead and love it. Life’s too short to have “guilty” pleasures, or to like things “ironically.”

What Wallace speaks to in the above quotation – and, I guess, throughout the entirety of IJ – is how dangerous it is to buy into the kind of art that makes apathy look cool. After all, the kind of art we consume shapes who we are and our perception of the world. As a lovely follow-up to the passage I just highlighted, DFW writes:

The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assumer the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïvety. Sentiment equals naïvety on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration). (694)

It was when I read this that I finally felt that important click with our friend David. It has always made me sad that sentiment is so often belittled and this passage made me feel like DFW feels the same. To be emotional and vulnerable is to be irrational and weak, or, in Wallace’s word, “naïve.” And, while this sentiment is present in our world, it is exaggeratedly so within the world of Infinite Jest with nearly all the characters spiralling into a self-destructive abyss in order to avoid feeling too much of anything.

We saw that this week with Hal who struggles to “look just as perfectly dead” on the tennis court as John Wayne, but who is “more vulnerable” and hence “susceptible to fluctuations. Discouragement. Set-long lapses in concentration” (682). Similarly, the narrator reveals that Hal loves the “unhip earnestness” of his father’s Wave Bye-Bye to the Bureaucrat, but outwardly “maintains it’s basically goo” to Mario (689). While Hal tries with all his might to attain the supposedly enviable state of apathy, he struggles with his emotions – particularly that of loneliness (694).

In fact, Hal indirectly confirms what I’ve theorized all along – that he admires Mario for how open he is with his feelings and how unafraid he is to feel. In a brilliant glimpse into Hal’s head, we learn that he believes “to be really human … is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic” and that, deep down, “he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pulses and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia” (695). Essentially, he’s making himself miserable in this limbo between annihilating all emotion and totally succumbing to it.

In short, this breakthrough moment was huge for me because I not only felt closer to Hal, but also to our friend David for giving me this moment of connection I was craving. If the novel is really all about encouraging its readers to live an open and engaged life full of the things that truly make us human (read: emotions), then maybe this is heading in a promising direction… In any case, I remain optimistic.

Until next week, dear readers. Cheers!

gatsby

F O O T N O T E S :

Further confirmation of our bond? David’s sly reference to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell with Himself’s film The Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell (687). I know it was mentioned in that filmography footnote from way back when, but seeing the film referenced directly in the text made me smile. Blake is my fave cuckoo-clocks-crazy Romantic poet and I have to give David kudos for that little nod to one of Blake’s lesser known and tragically overlooked works.

The Wind Beneath My Wings

Alright, unpopular opinion time…

I’m starting to get a bit frustrated with Infinite Jest.

*winces*

I’m sorry. I really am. I know how much this book means to a lot of you out there and, believe me, I’m trying every week to remain open to all of the characters and the footnotes and the dialogue and the plot, but… I’m struggling. Not with content (I understand who’s who and what’s what), but with connection. I find it very difficult to enjoy a novel when I’m not connecting with at least one part of it and, even now at page 650, I still don’t feel as if I’ve established that crucial connection with anyone or anything.

Up until now, I’ve focused on the aspects and characters that I genuinely like, but there are few things about the story as a whole that I love. I come back to IJ after every blog post ready to feel differently and change my mind, but I hit a wall time and again and I’m frustrated – there’s no other word for it. I want to love this book so badly, but I don’t and I feel bad that I don’t. In all honesty, I don’t feel much towards it, which is even worse. I just can’t seem to find it in myself to care about 90% of the characters, what is happening to them, or even the history of O.N.A.N. because I don’t feel like I’ve been given a reason to care yet.

If anything, I feel like our buddy DFW keeps reminding me that I should dislike the characters and feel contempt for the choices they make as well as the world they live in. Every section is like a PowerPoint presentation that lays out the reasons why it might just be better to give up on the lot of them and, while we’re at it, humanity as a whole… And maybe I’m missing the humour in Wallace’s prose that prompts several reviewers to call this a “dark comedy,” but I just haven’t found anything funny thus far. Disturbing? Yes. Maddening? Double yes. Sad? Triple yes.

Perhaps my love for Infinite Jest will be one that blossoms later – a love that hits me on the penultimate page – or one that grows in the years after I have finished reading and makes me look back on the book with the kind of sentimental fondness only time can foster. Believe me, I sincerely hope that this is the case. I keep hoping that I’ll turn a corner and finally click with IJ the way I want to because I’m trying.

I’m really trying.

Now, it wasn’t an easy decision to share my frustration with you all this week. Like I said earlier in this post, I know how near and dear IJ is to your respective hearts and the last thing I would ever want to do is hurt anyone’s feelings, but I feel like it’s my responsibility as one of your guides to be honest in my opinions and this is how I’m feeling at this point. I don’t like it, but it’s the truth.

That being said, I drew comfort this week from an unlikely source: Infinite Jest. Granted, it was a short section in the latest reading, but it was enough to make me feel like I’ve finally found a kindred spirit in the novel and his name is Mario Incandenza.

I mean, I knew before now that Mario is a beautiful cinnamon roll of a character,* but there was something about the glimpse we got into his inner life this week that touched me and made me feel like there’s at least one person in the world of IJ who I can really identify with. Those few pages dedicated to Mario’s nighttime stroll and his musings on Hal, Madame Psychosis, and the E.T.A. boys were like a ray of sunshine piercing through the fog of lies and cruelty perpetuated by almost all the other characters (I’m looking at you, Randy Lenz, you murderous piece of trash).

This was literally me reading through Mario’s section:

Because, really, I think that Mario is the hero of the book. He’s stronger than all of the characters who run in fear of their emotions and braver than those who would rather hide behind a mask of affected indifference for fear of opening up to others. In fact, I think that Hal is so in awe of Mario because he is what everyone secretly wants to be: genuinely vulnerable. Mario lives and breathes emotion – he’s actually drawn to it as demonstrated by the passage that talks about how he likes visiting the Drug and Alcohol Recovery House next-door “because it’s very real; people are crying and making noise and getting less unhappy” (591).

Throughout this brief section, Mario talks about looking for the things in life that feel “real” and how those things are often expressions of genuine emotion – take, for example, his explanation of why he fell in love with Madame Psychosis’ radio program: “[B]ecause 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 is was real” (592, emphasis added). Mario connected with Madame Psychosis because she tapped into her listeners’ softer side and spoke honestly about those intensely human fears that bind us together – pain, loss, death.

And it was while reading through Mario’s reflection on how “[i]t is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way” that I realized he was putting into words my exact struggle with Infinite Jest (592). I search for the real stuff when I read – the humanizing glimpses of vulnerability that allow me to feel empathy for the characters I’m reading about – and, so far, Mario is the only part of the narrative that feels genuine, or real. Like, Velveteen Rabbit capital ‘R’ Real. The kind of real that makes you care so much it hurts.

To cap it all off, Mario also reveals that he is living a similar struggle to me in that he feels alienated from the people around him who resist genuine emotion and can only mention real stuff “if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn’t happy” (592). So, even though I feel like I’m currently drowning in a sea of unlikeable characters who don’t seem real to me because I can’t connect with them, Mario feels the same.

And honestly? That’s fine by me. If I’m in the same boat as Mario, I’m in good company.

F O O T N O T E S :

* Actual picture of Mario:

cinnamon roll

A Little More Than Kin

queen

It’s me.

I’ve been wondering if after all these years you’d –

*Record scratches to a stop*

Sorry. I couldn’t resist a dramatic opening despite the fact that it’s only really been two weeks since I’ve written a proper blog post. (And by ‘proper’ I mean one that is longer than fourteen lines written in passable-at-best iambic pentameter.*)

That said, before I launch into today’s Hamlet-heavy post, I just wanted to apologize once more for my super short post last week. As I mentioned in my sonnet, I was on holiday in New York City with my family and didn’t have enough time to sit down and write out something a bit longer and more in-depth. I hope that you’ve all had enough time to find it in your hearts to forgive me! Because guess who’s back? (Back, back, back… Back again?)

Allie’s back and it’s time for Hamlet-Palooza: Part II!

For those of you who already guessed by the title of today’s blog post that I would be harping on about my tragic Danish Prince again today… Well, you’re right. While I may have shown my hand way back in week four with my first Hamlet-themed post, I’ll just come out and say it here just to be clear: Hamlet is my favourite Shakespeare play. As clichéd a favourite as it is, I can’t help it – I love it and I don’t care how mainstream that makes my taste in Shakespearean tragedy. Hamlet is my dumpster fire son and Ophelia is my precious cinnamon roll daughter. I love them both so much and – You know what? I’ll stop right there before I get carried away. Suffice it to say that I love the whole play. (Just those two in particular.)

Now, there are lots of other things I could have talked about this week,** but the scene that grabbed me the most was the first real interaction between Hal and Avril outside her office. It opens with an explosion of the colour blue and Hal remarking on how much he hates the overabundance of it in Charles and Avril’s respective offices as well as their joint waiting area. He especially dislikes the “sky-and-cloud wallpaper” in Charles Tavis’ office “because it makes him feel high-altitude and disoriented and sometimes plummeting” (509).

Hal’s distaste for this sky-and-cloud wallpaper reminded me of the first interaction between stepfather and stepson in Hamlet when Claudius asks his nephew, “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?”and a surly Hamlet replies “Not so, my lord; I am too much i’ the sun” (Act I: Scene II: 66-7). Both Hal and Hamlet thus resist their stepfathers by rejecting the ways in which they employ clouds – as wallpaper in C.T.’s case and as a metaphor for Hamlet’s grief in Claudius’ case.

A bit of a stretch? Maybe. But since we’ve already established Hamlet as an important intertext running through Infinite Jest, any overlap – even a tiny one like this – jumps out at me.

Hal’s aversion to the colour blue also indirectly aligns him once more with Hamlet who refuses to “cast [his] nighted colour off” and proclaims his love for “solemn black” (Act I: Scene II: 68, 78). It can be inferred that Hal’s dislike for the cheery sky-and-cloud blue that pervades the office must mean that he, like Hamlet, identifies more with something a bit darker. All the talk of colour in this IJ section brought to mind this particular scene in Hamlet and once more highlighted parallels between Hal and Hamlet.

It is in this same scene that Hamlet speaks his famous “A little more than kin, and less than kind”aside in response to Claudius calling him “my cousin Hamlet, and my son” (Act I: Scene II: 64-5). And while I love the off-the-charts level of teenage snark in this little aside, what Hamlet succinctly speaks to here is the extent to which the dynamics within the Danish royal family are totally whacked. That “more than kin” is so creepy and that “less than kind” even more so no matter which way you slice it – whether you take ‘kind’ at face value to mean ‘nice’, or ‘kind’ to mean ‘natural’ like it did back in Shakespeare’s day. So, basically….

kristen wiig

The narrator in IJ seems to suggest a similar unease in Hal about his own bizarre family dynamics when describing Hal’s stepfather as his “maternal half-uncle” (516) and his “mother’s adoptive brother” (519). This blurring of filial roles to describe C.T. invokes the same twisted image that Hamlet’s “more than kin, and less than kind” line does, pointing to the almost identical situations in which Hal and Hamlet find themselves with their respective mothers and stepfathers.

Speaking of mothers, let’s get to Avril. I loved finally getting to see her and Hal have a proper chat and I was doubly thrilled to be given more insight into their relationship – in particular, Hal’s feelings toward her. I was surprised to see how naturally their banter seemed to flow and how Hal managed to make Avril laugh with his jibe about C.T. bumbling on about a skull (hello, Yorick!). For all of the complicated feelings harboured by Hal in regards to his mother that have been hinted at throughout the novel, it was nice to see the easy rapport between the two.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting was the tender kind of adoration Hal has for Avril. The narrator reveals that her tendency to want to be the centre of attention in every room she enters is “dear to Hal” and that he falls into a planet-like kind of orbit around her when they greet each other (521). This scene also showed just how young Hal still is and how much he still needs his mother when the narrator informs us of how much Hal relishes Avril’s concern for him when she learns that he hasn’t eaten yet (522).

Since I had Hamlet on the brain while reading through this section, I couldn’t help but compare Hal and the Moms’ relationship to the infamously ambiguous one between Hamlet and Gertrude. While Hal and Hamlet are eerily similar in so many ways and Avril and Gertrude are so alike that they’re practically the same character, Hal and Avril’s interaction here differentiates them from Hamlet and Gertrude in the kindness they show one another. As opposed to Hamlet who spends more than half the play raging about or directly at his mother, Hal speaks to her civilly here and even seems – dare I say it – happy to see her.

And while it is possible to read Hal and Avril’s dynamic as somewhat sexual (the offering of the apple and the way it “stimulated a torrent of saliva” (523) in Hal’s mouth, for example), the Oedipal undertones are not nearly as pronounced as they are between Hamlet and Gertrude.

Hal and Avril are therefore echoes of Hamlet and Gertrude – a mother and her son in a practically identical situation – but they are not carbon copies of one another. I can’t help but wonder, though, will that change as we move forward? Will Hal’s repressed bitterness and anger at his mother boil over in a Hamlet-esque moment? Will it be Avril’s relationship with John Wayne that precipitates it? Or something else entirely?

I guess I’ll just have to stay tuned to monitor the development of the mother-son dynamic in IJ… In the meantime, I’m having a blast comparing Hal’s narrative to Hamlet because, well, I’m a nerd. But you know who else I think was a Shakespeare nerd? Our friend David.

In fact, I’m beginning to think that this gif summarizes DFW pretty well:

hiddles gif

Tennis and Shakespeare… Not a bad tagline for Infinite Jest, to be honest.  

F O O T N O T E S :

* Actually, please do me a favour and kindly refrain from scanning my sonnet from last week. Every line has ten syllables, but probably has no meter to speak of, so… Shakespeare would most likely read it and weep (and not in a good way).

** List of Other Things I Could Have Talked About This Week:

  1. How much I enjoyed the brilliant mash-up of Greek and Québecois mythology discussed by Marathe and Steeply on page 529;
  2. How much I loved the conversation between Joelle and Gately on pages 531-8 where they start to bond and Joelle continues to be my favourite character with great lines like “I am deformed by beauty” (538);
  3. How much I hated meeting and spending time with that despicable piece of human trash named Randy Lenz; and
  4. How much I wanted to throw my book off a cliff while reading about Orin “The Worst” Incandenza’s one-night stand and his blatant misogyny (“[B]ecause he needs her he fears her and so hates her a little, hates all of them, a hatred that comes out disguised as a contempt he disguises in the tender attention with which he does the thing with her buttons” (567, emphasis added). LIKE, SERIOUSLY? UGH.)