It’s ok! I Don’t Mind…

This is the end. My only friend—The End.

Finito, donezo.

Bingo bango! Cross another one off the bucket list.

And what a wild ride it has been, my friends.

We laughed, we cried, we loved it (well, some of us did, maybe) more than Cats.

Critic C.D paradoxically described it as being simultaneously “the best of times” AND “the worst of times”. Continue reading “It’s ok! I Don’t Mind…”

Infinite Records (The Soundtrack–A Listening Party)

I have nothing particularly new to add this week. At this point (with one more week to go?!), I feel like my thoughts and ideas are becoming quite recursive (and maybe that’s part of the point), which is why it’s awfully swell to read what some of the other readers have to say (guest posters, Time, rob, Steve, nowaczyk, Allan, and the other guides, everybody!). It’s also been fun to explore the thoughts I never even knew I had until I foolishly attempted to write them down.

So, in preparation for the season finale next week, I’d just like to give a sincere thanks to everyone that contributed in some form or another. Continue reading “Infinite Records (The Soundtrack–A Listening Party)”

So-called People. There’s Everyone in Total.

First of all, thanks Shazia, for the title of this post. That was surprisingly perfect and easy. You’re a genius!

WARNING: on quick reread, this thing barely makes any sense, and needs a lot more than 1500 words to elucidate, but hey, I don’t have a week to write this, and it’s a blog post, so take it for what it is

ACT I- More Ghostly Narrative Ambiguity + Surrealism to da MAX

Good afternoon, y’all!

Holy shit, I’m really unsure that this post is going to make any sense at all, but hey, here’s to trying, right? Many areas of my brain seemed to be lighting up as I waded through the half-conscious soup that is Gately’s experience, and I’m foolishly going to attempt to convey the various kinds of light that the light bulbs exuded via good old fashioned English words. Continue reading “So-called People. There’s Everyone in Total.”

A Real Incident of Thought Transference (A Ghost Story of Sorts)

This is just too weird not to share, so heregoes:

So, I was in the middle of reading through the Gately in the hospital part where the ceiling is bulging and receding, and a “tall slumped figure” is hanging about the room like some sort of Jim Incandenza wannabe, and I thought to myself, “this reminds me of that story that my sisters told me about when they were young when a tiny hole in the ceiling used to talk to them. I wonder if I can somehow use that weird bit in a post.”

FYI: my sisters are twins, and both of them reported hearing said disembodied voice in the ceiling, from the tiny hole.

Naturally, I texted my sister, Liegha, to ask her about what she remembered.

Here is our exchange: Continue reading “A Real Incident of Thought Transference (A Ghost Story of Sorts)”

Art For Art’s Sake?

So has anybody been tuning in to watch any of the U.S Open?

I have.

Watching it while reading IJ certainly does modify the way I’m watching, and what I’m thinking about. I particularly enjoyed watching Andy “The Darkness” Murray, clad in all black tennis attire, pummel his opponent into dust. Great entertainment, all around.

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Andy “The Darkness” Murray: #2 Seed, U.S Open, 2016 Continue reading “Art For Art’s Sake?”

Roles and Regulations (Mount Up)

I’ll admit that I had to resist a strong compulsion to write about Hawkeye Pierce this week. Damn, M*A*S*H, you get me every time. Tokyo, this is Radar. Colonel Potter requests an incubator stat! The unit is under heavy shelling and one of our POWs is pregnant and due to give birth any day now! TOKYO DO YOU COPY? OVER!

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Radar O’Reilly Doing His Duty

(and so on)

As tempting as my pals at the 4077 were (Maxwell Klinger, BJ Honeycutt, Father Mulcahy and Margaret Houlihan, I’m looking in your direction!), I decided that I’d like to probe a little into the idea of roles and the importance that they seem to play in IJ, because as we know,

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts”–Bill S.

Enter: Mrs. Avril Incandenza, aka The Moms (plural, for a reason, probably: a woman with many different sides). She typifies the type of person described in the Shakespeare quotation inscribed above: a (wo)man playing many parts. Her wide array of roles seems to be the key to holding her together: mother, ETA headmistress, member of MGM, lover (to who knows?), overseer of the educational system at ETA, and etc. She is so completely absorbed by her various roles that she doesn’t have any time or mental energy to even think about breaking down. She goes through the motions, and thus continues humming along, fulfilling her roles and getting through, one day at a time.

Hm, this sounds familiar!

So, what of the importance of these roles?

This week, the question I asked about Avril and the flagpole way back in the early going  seemed to be answered in footnote 269, as M. Bain replies in his letter to Steeply (or Starkley, or Steeples, or Starksaddle, or WHATEVER) that in Orin’s presence, Avril would act “more cheerful and loquacious and witty and intimate and benign” so that he might not feel “bad or guilty” for woozily running over her poor old Samuel Johnson (canine) and reducing him to nothing more than a leash and nubbin.

So, as was suggested by many of you guys, after Himself’s felo de se, she likely compensated way in the direction of feeling fine and dandy so that she could perfectly perform/embody (in her mind) the role of mother (and now, in JOI’s absence, father, maybe?…double the pressure, double the fun?), which I assume means to protect her children from all unpleasantness/discomfort. Essentially, Avril desires a bubble (i.e.- E.T.A) in which she can raise her kids, but unfortunately, that bubble proves not to be impervious to the fucked-upedness of life. No type of environment ever is, is it? She exerts such energy to ensuring that by all appearances everything is fine, even though it’s pretty clear that everything is not alright, in so many different ways.

Then M. Bain goes on to probe into the nature of Avril’s loquaciousness and motherly love. On page 1051, he writes,

“Is it mind bogglingly considerate and loving and supportive, or is there something…creepy about it? Maybe a more perspicuous question: Was the almost pathological generosity with which Mrs. Inc responded to her son taking her car in an intoxicated condition and dragging her beloved dog to its grotesque death and then trying to lie his way out of it, was this generosity for Orin’s sake, or for Avril’s own? Was it Orin’s “self-esteem” she was safeguarding, or her own vision of herself as a more stellar Moms than any human son could ever hope to feel he merits?”

Is this a parenting fail, or are we supposed to admire Avril for her heroic effort to protect her children from harm? I’ve always thought that Avril deserved more credit than she is shown in the text: there doesn’t seem to be much sympathy shown for her. Hal is annoyed by her, as is Orin (who has gone many steps further by actively disowning her). Does she deserve this type of treatment for wanting to protect her kids from sorrow? Is her willingness to look the other way really a selfish act, or is she merely the victim (victim of abuse, as M. Bain suggests…) of a blind spot in her awareness that she perhaps developed as a defense mechanism in the face of childhood abuse?

So this leads me to my next question(s):

Can a person ever act with pure unabashed altruism, or is there always going to be some level of self-interest at play? Does the self-interest nullify the altruistic act simply because there is something in it for the person attempting to act selflessly?

It does seem like there is a selfish element to Avril’s behaviour toward her sons, but does that really qualify her actions as abusive?

I doubt it. To me, this line of thinking seems juvenile and entitled (perhaps fitting for a son of the founders of a prestigious tennis academy). It reminds me of a thought one of my old friends once uttered (while intoxicated) as an adolescent. Basically, he expressed that he was entitled to mooch off of his parents because he didn’t ask to be born. So, in essence, he absolved himself of any responsibility for his actions because the decision to come into this world was beyond his control.

Hrmpf. Thank God we (well, at least some of us) grow up (at some point).

Returning to my point about roles, it seems like the roles a person plays in IJ are of great importance to many of the characters’ ability to “keep it together.” By keeping “it” together, I guess I mean holding themselves (mentally) together—to keep from melting into a steaming puddle of primordial goop.

Avril does it by assuming her roles. Gately does it by assuming a role of a supervisor in AA. They freely accept responsibilities, and in a way, they become their roles. They pledge themselves to fulfilling a duty. A duty to fulfilling the mandates of the role and by extension they help others by following through. While this devotion to a role is not exactly selfless (as Shazia demonstrated this week), it seems absolutely necessary to staying alive (Bee Gees track here, with movie of person performing CPR on dummy).

But, by focusing totally and completely on the roles, one can run the risk of omitting stuff that’s in the blind spots of our perception (think of Avril and Hal’s inability to connect on painful things, no matter how trivial, like his discomfort/annoyance at quoting bits of the O.E.D for her on command).

Though, on the other hand, by embracing and fulfilling roles, often a person becomes part of a community. The roles become a mechanism that give purpose and keep a person moving forward. A role has the potential to foster a sense of responsibility between people, which (I think, at least) is a good thing.

(I know all of this is nowhere near fully developed, and I’m sorry, but wrapping up because I have to go fulfill my duty to others in T-minus 5 minutes, 7:55am, EST)

But of course, with roles, Marathe would probably caution us to choose wisely, n’est-ce pas?

C’est vrai.

The Grandson of Kwai Chang Caine Walks Out of the Past…(and other Miscellany)

It’s kind of fascinating to think about what it takes to really get to know other people.

In many ways, Infinite Jest is a book about human relationships in all their various forms: romances, friendships, mentorships, marriages, brotherhoods, sisterhoods and gangs. The structure of the book sort of mimics the arduous process of really getting to know people. I mean, if I think of my own life, I can name a handful of people who I think I’ve gotten to know fairly well, but for the majority of those I know, there are many gaps in my understanding.

So, you’re probably thinking: “Well, alright then, Mr. Miyagi/Chuck Norris/Kwai Chang Caine, then what are the ingredients to getting to know someone, then?”

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The Man: The Legend (of Kung-Fu)

Well, I think if you look at Infinite Jest, a few possibilities emerge.

In IJ, knowing someone seems to require a number of things (to my mind), which include (but again, are certainly not limited to):

  • Time
  • Effort
  • Attention
  • Sincerity

And as it is with people, reading Infinite Jest requires all of these things in spades.

It seems like Wallace deliberately draws his characters enigmatically in order to perhaps mirror the process of what it’s actually like to get to know someone in the so-called ‘real’ world.

To bring this thing home for you, I’ll give y’all a real world example.

It’s kind of like when I met Phil back in ’97 (date may be incorrect).

An excerpt from our early conversations:

Deli manager: (not realizing that Joe was actually shy and moderately anxious about meeting new people [at the time] because he showed no signs of this, but still felt this way, secretly, on the inside) “Joe, I hired this new guy, Phil. He said he likes to read, but he seems pretty shy. I thought that because you like to read, you might be able to talk to him a bit.”

Joe: “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.”

*First Shift*

Joe: “So, I heard you’re into books and stuff?”

Phil: *sheepishly “….yeah! I’m going to Brock for English next year.”

Joe: “Cool…”

*Joe and Phil awkwardly look around and sniff*

Joe: “So, you want to see how to clean the slicer?”

An excerpt from a later conversation, one year later, circa ’98 (again, date may be inaccurate):

Joe presses button labeled PAGE on phone: “Phil, call the Deli for customer service. Phil, call the Deli for customer service.” Before hanging up Joe hits the mouthpiece of the phone off of the wall and receiver to make annoying donking and scratching sounds over the store’s P.A system

*Ring-ring! Ring-ring!

Phil: “What’s up?”

Joe: “Can you read this Angus roast beef announcement that Deb Farr (store manager) told me to write over the PA? It’s a real doozy. She’s constantly on me to write these fucking things, and I’m getting real sick of it. We don’t get paid enough to do this stuff.”[i]

Phil: “Sure, buddy, bring it up to the desk.”

*Phil hits page

Phil: “Attention customers: this week on our Easter special, we have Angus Roast beef for $2.99/100g—just like great old grand pappy used to make! What better way to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ than with a pound of our extra –rare Angus Roast Beef, cut fresh, from our friendly staff in the delicatessen. Happy Easter from all of us at Sobey’s and have a great holiday.”

So, in the end, it took us some time, but our friendship got there. One little bit at a time.

The same is true in IJ:

Wallace cleverly reveals his characters slowly by revealing bits and pieces to the reader, so that an appreciation of their lives and circumstances deepens as you move through the text. For me, this masterful way of characterizing his characters is a big part of what kept me moving along through the text (especially on the first read through). As someone that tends to care about people (so much so that I’ve chosen a career in health care with people that have experienced heavy losses…brain injuries with all kinds of disastrous effects), it’s no wonder that I’m drawn to this thread in Wallace’s intricate tapestry.

So, to get back to the text, I have found that really mind-blowing bits and pieces of characters get revealed at the most random moments (though they’re not really random, they are triggered in the imaginations of Wallace’s characters by unconscious recollections of parts of traumatic memories that even the characters are not aware of…how interesting, as a stylistic device!). All about paying attention, here.

The part that got me thinking about all of this stuff about unconscious compulsion and getting to really know people is the part (that starts on page 578) about Bruce Green’s experience as a five year old child where (maybe, but who can really say for sure if he caused it, right?…slippery slope, slippery slope…) he scares his mother to death with a novelty can of exploding snake “Mauna Loa- brand macadamia nuts” that his father had made him deliver to her as she lay sick in bed.

This whole bit just sort of pops up out of the aether. There’s no real lead up to it. The reader just sort of happens upon it. Immediately preceding this part is a bunch of Lenz’ self-indulgent (possibly made up, bing-induced blather) and some description about the urban surroundings. Nothing particularly emotionally resonant (except for maybe Green’s thought that, “All he feels is a moment of deep wrenching loss, of wishing getting high was still pleasurable for him so he could get high. This feeling comes and goes all day every day, still.”) But here, we switch to Green. So, maybe this signals that the floodgates are about to open.

And, then, like a torrent released from behind a dam you didn’t even know was there, all of the details surrounding the “searing facts of the case of Bruce Green’s natural parents’ deaths when he was a toddler [that are] so deeply repressed inside Green that whole strata and substrata of silence and mute dumb animal suffering will have to be strip-mined up and dealt with One Day at a Time in sobriety for Green even to remember.” Here, I think that Wallace is suggesting that by sticking with the program and doing the painstaking work of “strip-mining” the painful memories, Green might have a chance to remember and deal with his issues. Maybe move forward and gain an understanding of things that give him the howling fantods. Maybe gain a stoic understanding of himself and learn to live with pain. As they say, “The truth will set you free, but not until it’s finished with you.”

So, on our end of things, by sticking with the book, by Hanging in There, we are granted access to a whole new subconscious intimate world of pain and suffering that has played a role in shaping Green’s experience. This is true of other characters as well: Hal, Avril, Gately, Mario, Joelle, and maybe even Orin. By putting in the time and effort, and making a sincere attempt to pay attention to things, the reader can begin to understand certain characters at deeper and deeper levels. Isn’t this sort of how your run-of-the-mill, every-day human relationships work too?

It’s like the book has many consciousnesses, and is inviting you to get to know them more and more intimately as the book goes on. It requires you to keep track of seemingly insignificant details about many different characters and remember what they could mean when characters act or think a certain way. There are few books that I have read that accomplish this as readily as Infinite Jest (the only other one I can think of is Joyce’s Ulysses—which also left a lasting impact on my perception of what an author could do to represent human consciousnesses—not characters, but consciousnesses themselves).

I feel like Wallace is almost saying to us, “ok, guys—they are in here, but it might take a while to find them.”

ANYWAY,

Getting back to Green: from this passage in the book, we are told that he now has an inexplicable aversion to “any product with ‘N in its name […] any has this silent, substratified fascination/horror gestalt about anything remotely Polynesian.” So things that seem unconnected, and perhaps quirky, are actually just the tip of an iceberg full of razor blades just below the surface once you get down to the business of strip-mining what they are actually all about.

And as if the stuff about the Polynesian-induced-I-am-guilty-because-I-think-I-caused-my-parents’-deaths, wasn’t enough, Green is sent back in his mind to an embarrassing scene (that involved incontinence at a college party he attended with M.Bonk) when he hears the “Don Ho” music coming from the grisly scene of the dog’s death at Nucks party. Sadly, Green doesn’t have any awareness as what to what it was exactly about the whole snafu that causes him to sink into “a paralyzing depression of unknown etiology.” The truth is there, but it’s “been compressed to the igneous point[…]” What an interesting way of thinking about pain: like grains of sand (or sedimentary rock) that have been compressed so that they no longer originally resemble what they were originally: pain transformed. The owner (in this case Green) feels a heaviness, but doesn’t quite know why.

Alright, alright, this post seems like it’s turned out to be a bit of a rambley bust, so I’d just like to leave off with a question I had about Mario on page 92 regarding this passage:

        “It was a joke and a good one, and Mario got it; what was unpleasant was that Mario was the only one at the big table whose laugh was a happy laugh; everybody else sort of looked down like they were laughing at somebody with a disability. […] And Hal was for once no help, because Hal seemed even more uncomfortable and embarrassed than the fellows at lunch […].”

So what is going on in this part? Does Mario actually get the joke? Where is the misunderstanding? Did he get Pemulis’ joke about the ineffectual dial-a-prayer service for atheists, for real, or did he misunderstand? To me, the problem seems to be that he laughed genuinely and not ironically, but the narrator still states that he “got it.” So what gives?

Also, my apologies if I seem to be talking in circles. Seems I’m always coming back to similar things. What’s that old adage about the subject of writing being the writing subject? I gotta have one or two more original thoughts in here…for now, I’ll have to content myself with the Green-ian one full developed thought per minute.

Footnotes:

[i] We did get paid enough. Way, way, more than enough.