When I signed on to do this guest post for the blog about a month ago, I had no idea what I would write. When I talked to Phil about it last week, I had no idea what I would write. And when I sat down to write this, a few short hours before sending it to go up on the blog, I—well, I’m sure you can guess. In lieu of an argument, then, I’m going to provide a few observations on my reading of Infinite Jest over the past few weeks, and if a theme emerges, I promise it’ll be a surprise to me as much as anyone. Continue reading “Michael Hancock: A Few Observations”
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.
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!
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.
Ok, this is going to start off sounding like it’ll be about Lenz. It won’t. But I have to say this: At this point, I stop sympathizing with Lenz. (Face contortions.) Though, he’s high (y’all Lenz haters out there remember that he’s high and actively Bing-ing, yeah?), so I still don’t hate him entirely, but he uses Gately as a shield and gets Gately shot, so, I hate Lenz. Kind of.
Lenz really gives me problems, my god.
PRACTICING MINDFULNESS. Diverting in 1, 2, 3…
These pages of IJ have always struck me as being quite deliberate. I say “deliberate” because I feel that there is some attempt to bring together the many narrative threads in these pages. I couldn’t help but feel a kind of “genre” shift as it were, especially in the Lenz vs. Nucks scene. It felt like it was out of a movie (even though we are told by our narrator who is aware of the movie-like quality e.g. we’re told that it’s impossible to fight two guys at once, in real life, unlike in movies). I was a bit disappointed with this scene. Ok, I was really disappointed. I felt like there might’ve been some eh… pressure to bring these threads together (dare I ask if it was editorial pressure? Perhaps not from the exceptional and very understanding Michael Pietsch (based on what I’ve read, and based on listening to Pietsch on YouTube), but perhaps pressure from someone else? From DFW himself? I don’t know).
The next thing I have to spill out might make me sound as terrible as Lenz, but I’m going to say it: I disliked the Joelle/Gately romantic inklings. I was not happy with that. I was really disappointed. BUT I can be a robot sometimes and GATELY IS DYING, so it’s just fine. And footnote 292 makes me feel better, so it’s fine. I guess… Was anyone else disappointed? Or elated?! To me it felt as though all the characters were suddenly in a “role,” like in a blockbuster movie. So disappointing.
Then again, in times of crisis, I definitely feel that “roles” take precedence over complex and beautiful character quirks.
You know what bugs me to no end in these pages? Gately’s thoughts about how he’s going to be perceived after his death. This made me see Gately in a whole new light, and his groin-crushing violence (which was excessive, don’t deny it. You will note that Gately is not high and is operating under the influence of himself and the fact that responsibility rests on him in this moment). Gately remembers that he should probably get on his knees (literally or not, this probably could’ve turned the situation around somewhat) and ask his idea of god for help. He does not.
What do we have here (aside from yrs truly satanic guide who is questioning one of IJ’s sweethearts and potentially siding with the murderer)?
We have the Lenz-Gately Eclipse.
In the Lenz-Gately Eclipse, our Lenz is totally powerless, hiding behind our Gately, who is very much in the moment, feeling responsible, and arguably, feeling powerful.
The question is: Who is the sun and who is the moon? Where does the earth come into all of this? Earth = field of power!
But don’t let those few sentences about Gately slip away into the darker nets of your neural network or be understood as “heroic” …
Not going to stop bugging you all just yet:
Droogies both masc., fem., and everywhere between and around and ~, I just want to remind you of Moloko Plus and what this could tell us about “milk” in IJ!
Let’s go to Wiki!
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other uses, see Moloko (disambiguation).
The Moloko Plus, also called Knifey Moloko is a highball cocktail drink from the book A Clockwork Orange. The book does not specify ingredients, so there are many variations, all of which use a large milk base and some have drugs, such as barbiturates added.
In the book, it is stated one may have moloko plus with ‘vellocet’ (opiate), ‘synthemesc’ (synthetic mescaline), ‘drencrom’ (adrenochrome) or other hallucinogen substances. Minors may be served this drink since it contains drugs that have not been declared illegal.
The drink’s name originates from the Nadsat word for milk, translated as “milk plus”. The main characters in the book prepare for “ultraviolence” by drinking it
Troeltsch says: “You see bags, you see the word MILK. They’re counting on the packaging. Image management. Sensory management.” (630)
Milk is supposed to be pure nourishment to help humans grow! But in both IJ (according to Troeltsch) and Clockwork, it’s turned into something else, and it looks just like milk but it isn’t.
It helps the droogs prepare for very violent acts. It helps (if we think that Troeltsch is right) ETA kids deal with violence of all sorts to their bodies and minds. I’d say that being at ETA is pretty “violent.”
“Violent”; I like this definition from the OED for purposes above:
Undue constraint applied to nature, a trait, habit, etc., so as to restrict its development or use, or to alter it unnaturally. […]
Remember at the start of IJ we learn that Avril might be putting mnemonic steroids into Hal’s cereal? That the organochemical composition of Hal’s tennis racquet is similar in composition to the cartridge in J.O.I.’s head?
Ok, so the examples in the para. directly above are not directly related to milk, but they’re parallel to Troeltsch’s milk conspiracy because they’re both concerned with something deeply nourishing and unsuspect becoming deeply embedded and inseparable and sneakily engrained into the daily life and experience of human bodies and minds!
Now if we read IJ chronologically, the next thing that Hal does after this is watch some of J.O.I.’s films.
Is Hal preparing for ultraviolence?
If we follow this milky logic:
What is the relationship between violence and images, and what about drugs and being “human”?
When people do drugs they become inhuman (speaking in big generalizations),* EXAMPLE: LENZ (mm hmm). How much** “human” is there when there are organochemical things dancing around inside? Organochemical meaning “milk,” meaning mnemonic steroids, meaning tennis racquet chemicals in J.O.I.’s brain….
What is J.O.I. like as a human… with The Entertainment in his head?! What is The Entertainment like?!
Here is a movie in which a character has a camera implanted in his head: Death Watch. Interesting that the title in French is translated as La mort en direct.
A clip. Note that the mirror and glass bits might just drop you deeper into IJ, in which case let’s hold hands really tight and not let go! K!
P.S.: Harry Dean Stanton’s in it!
I am now going to eclipse into my duvet.
*There are some people who become extremely human while on drugs. I am not one of them, but this is possible.
**I realize this is a bad question that asks for a quantitative answer, which is not possible. But I’m counting on you to understand what I mean, cause I’m deluded and hopeful at this point.
AND MAAAD PROPS TO ALL NEWBS WHO ARE HERE AND STILL GOING STRONG AT PAGE 682. HOLY CRAP YOU’RE MAD!
I’m going to apologize right up front: I feel like I don’t have much to say about this week’s pages, not because I didn’t find any of the stuff interesting but because I’ve been too consumed with getting myself to feel better. I’ve been trying to get myself out of the debbie downer dumps for some two weeks now (although the struggle has been something constant since June-ish). But, of course, what this has resulted in is a lot of Analysis-Paralysis and dwelling over things too much. But as of this week, I’m feeling good to take on this billowing horror and to move on. And perhaps what I may be feeling is a feeling of being either misplaced or lost, stuck (hence wanting to move on). Continue reading “Misplaced or Lost?”