Matt Bucher: Imposter Syndrome

If you are a fan of DFW, or a close-reader of Infinite Jest, I would wager that one of these statements contains a ring of the familiar:

  • A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.
  • Something experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.
  • Victims can develop anxiety, stress, low self-confidence, depression, shame and self-doubt.
  • Sufferers tend to reflect and dwell upon extreme failure, mistakes and negative feedback from others.

All these statements describe a common condition called impostor syndrome. Who among us doesn’t feel inadequate? Who doesn’t harbor a low-level anxiety and major degree of self-doubt? Continue reading “Matt Bucher: Imposter Syndrome”

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Alright. So. After five weeks of focusing on the characters of IJ, it’s high time I dove into the nuts and bolts of the complex and eerily prophetic world our friend David has built because I’ve barely discussed it until now and I really want to rectify that.

In truth, I’m a highly character-driven reader, viewer, and writer. I’m all about looking for a favourite character or two (or three, or four…) to take under my wing and develop a deep connection with,* so there’s a high likelihood that the majority of my posts going forward are still going to focus on the characters of Infinite Jest. Today, however, I’m going to shift gears and dive into the thick of the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.), looking particularly at the individual’s relationship to technology in this brave new world.**

So, as the Tenth Doctor would say… “Allons-y!”

doctor

“[W]hat if the viewer could become her/his own programming director; what if s/he could define the very entertainment-happiness it was her/his right to pursue?” (416, original emphasis).

Oh, DFW. My man. What a question! And a topical one at that. I mean, look at the way we’ve slowly redefined the way we watch movies and television through a persistent refusal to conform to anyone’s schedule but our own. Even before the advent of Netflix, we found ways to stream or download movies and shows, so that we could customize our entertainment and decide when we wanted to press ‘Play.’ Essentially, we’ve grown accustomed to watching what we want, when we want it and the entertainment industry is just starting to catch up with services like Netflix, Crave, Shomi, Apple TV, and so on. Even the older but ever-useful PVR function offered in nearly all television packages now is a stab at making scheduled programs more flexible to suit our individual needs.

I know that the section from which I pulled the quotation above is meant to paint a cynical and semi-parodic picture of what humanity’s obsession with (or perhaps unhealthy addiction to) entertainment will amount to, but… I just can’t feel cynical about the move toward a more viewer-friendly model. I love entertainment, I love technology, and I love that the marriage of those two things allows me to personalize what I watch and when I want to watch it. Instead of bending over backwards to fit television into my schedule, television now bends to fit mine. And I love it.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Millennial. Maybe it’s because I believe in and love studying the Digital Humanities. (Or, is it because I’m a Millennial that I believe in and love studying the Digital Humanities?)

Whichever way you slice it,  though, I’m firmly in the pro-entertainment and pro-technology camp. When the narrator informs us that “American mass-entertainment became inherently pro-active, consumer-driven,” it sounds pretty damn idyllic to me (417). Obviously, our friend David does not feel the same since he makes it pretty clear that the O.N.A.N. is a pretty messed up place to live and it’s due in large part to the population’s inability to consume anything in moderation and tendency to become so slavishly devoted to whatever brings them pleasure that it ceases to be an exercise of individualism or agency.

I get it. No, really. I do. I get how the influx of technology that DFW would have lived through in the 1990s – the true beginning of the electronic age – would have created a deep sense of malaise in him and inspired this dystopian vision of the future. And, for the most part, I think his critique of North American culture is pretty on-point what with his satirical take on politics (Mario’s The ONANtiad cartridge), international relations (Marathe and Steeply’s ongoing conversation on that hilltop), and substance abuse (everyone’s chronic fear of feeling anything remotely painful or unpleasant).

Although the mad, mad, mad, mad world our friend David has envisioned is one that seems to place very little faith in North America and humanity in general, I get where he’s coming from with those aforementioned critiques. In fact, I live for the sections where Steeply spouts off his American exceptionalism and then Marathe exposes all the flaws in his logic. (Seriously. I’m definitely going to have to cram all my feelings about the Canadian-American relations in the novel into a blog post soon because my French-Canadian coeur positively sings with pride each time Marathe speaks up and just wrecks Steeply’s phoney rhetoric. Gah.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say here, is that I get what DFW is saying about technology and entertainment with his doom-and-gloom portrayal of it in the world of the O.N.A.N., but that I respectfully disagree with his vision of the future. I think that the world we live in today boasts technology similar to that seen in Infinite Jest and also offers entertainment in similar ways, but that it hasn’t produced results as bad as what Wallace predicts. Our world hasn’t capsized because of Netflix and nor has the population become soulless, mindless automatons simply because they can watch videos on their smartphones whenever they want. I don’t buy that kind of thinking.

Technology has reshaped our world and reshaped the way we think about the world. It has opened up a lot of new and exciting opportunities to connect with one another, create global communities, and use things like social media as a platform to reach a wider audience. Of course, it’s not all great, but it has the potential to be used for good and topple age-old power dynamics between the likes of creator and consumer.

And, so far, being able to customize the entertainment I watch to suit my individual schedule and desires through platforms like YouTube and Netflix hasn’t resulted in anything too dire. Do I binge-watch a show from time to time? Absolutely. But I can also binge-read books and you don’t see too many people fretting about those anymore.

It’s that knee-jerk fear of the unknown that makes us demonize new pieces of technology and what they’re capable of. So, even though I know David wants to scare me away from “pro-active, consumer-driven” mass entertainment… I remain unafraid.

In fact, I say: “Bring it on.”

 

F O O T N O T E S :

And by “connection,” I mean a fiercely protective and weirdly maternal concern for a particular character’s well-being. This usually manifests itself in my referring to a beloved character through a variety of saccharine nicknames (e.g. “my sweet summer child” or “my fragile little cupcake”). I reserve epithets like “my naïve dumpster daughter” or “my unfortunate trashcan son” for my problematic faves, but that’s another story for another time.

** © Aldous Huxley.

Limits and Elegant Complexity

This turned out to be sort of another springboard off of Shazia’s previous post. You guys really get the rusty gears a-turnin’, I tell ya.

I think I’d like to start this week off with a note that I wrote to myself in my well-loved, ripped and yellowing copy of Infinite Jest on my first read-through. On page 350, during the AA meetings bit, right at the top, I wrote, “This whole bit is an interesting follow-up to the Eschaton part. Eschaton is presented as brutally complicated, but simple in execution (tennis ball lobbing game) –>AA is brutally simple but somehow insanely complicated, un-figure-outable.” Both Escahton and AA are paradoxes of sorts in that they are both riddles with no answer. In both, as soon as you begin to close in on an answer, it begins to slip away—sort of like the uncertainty principle in theoretical physics that states that if you precisely calculate the position of a particle, then you move further away from a precise calculation of its momentum/speed, and vice versa.

Might I add now, that in either Escahton or AA, if anyone dares to attempt to try to figure out (i.e- do a calculation of the “real” reality…whatever that is…) then he/she will end up completely and utterly hosed because one question leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to more number and stat crunching, and…and…beforeyouknowitow!that’sacomputermonitoronmyhead! You get the picture. Peace out. Sayonara. Later gator. Nice knowin’ ya.

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(^kinda like this)

So, let me try to explain my margin scribble a bit further:

On the surface, Escahton seems like a simple game. From a distance, it is just a bunch of groups of kids lobbing balls at various pieces of gear that represent different resources in the game. Ping-pong. Back and forth. No big deal. But behind the apparatus of the seemingly simple game, though, is a whole unexamined and invisible world that comes to bear on the outcome of the game: the math part of it, cause and effect, and etc.—equations and functions that are supposed to lead to the (capital t) Truth. Lord, who is hilariously God, is supposed to have all of the answers. He has access to the great computer in the sky: an objective way of figuring out the chaos contained in the simple.

So, on the other hand, when I suggest that Eschaton is also brutally complicated, I’m really talking about the math and variables involved in figuring out the statistics for each carefully considered chess-like move in the game: in Eschaton is contained an “elegant complexity”, like the fractal structures we find everywhere in the book. For every action, there are potentially an infinite number of variables that could be entered into the c:\Pink2\Mathpak\EndStat-path Decision-Tree—all of which can alter the outcome. But how can anyone know each and every variable to enter? The bottom line is that you simply cannot. It is impossible. In a way, the reality of the game is created by the imaginations of the Combatants. If they can think it up, it can and will affect the game. I think here, Wallace might be suggesting something about the incredible power of your thought process and the need to be or become aware at any cost.

There’s a strange humour to the Eschaton game section because these kids simply keep coming up with additional variables that should (in all fairness, for Chissakes!) have an effect on the points racked up (or not) by various Combatants (wind directions, weather patterns, interpersonal relationships between world leaders, whether or not the leader of Iran had a bowel movement in the morning, you name it). In some ways, it also reminds me of the butterfly effect: where a seemingly insignificant change in a system can have a large effect elsewhere.

The scene is also funny because reminds me of how kids play certain games when they are young—rules are invented as you go, some are in accord, others disagree, and hilarity and yelling ensues. Also, perhaps a political commentary on how world politics are conducted, hm?

The funny thing is, is that there is simply no possible way for any of these kids (let alone adults!) to know all of the variables that could have an effect on the game. As I said before, it’s impossible.

I think the Escahton game is meant to simulate reality (maybe even be a perfect representation of it, ideally—or at least be as close to reality as math will allow—math being [supposedly] the most objective measure of facts around), but by the end, the simulation breaks down (because, as Shazia mentions, Ingersoll sees a crack in the façade), and, well, boom goes the dynamite, as they say.

On the flipside of things, as per my scribbling comment from a few years back, “AA is presented as brutally simple, but somehow insanely complicated and un-figure-outable.” It’s almost like the flipside to the Eschaton coin. Like Wallace is taking us by the hand, saying “guys, I’m sorry, this is what I really meant by the Escahton thing.” The narrator goes so far as to tell us that “nobody’s ever been able to figure AA out.” Similar to Eschaton, AA also possesses an “elegant complexity below the surface in that its truths are deep yet elusive (uncertainty principle, again).

On the surface, like Eschaton, AA looks positively crude, but this is just because it is made up of unhip sounding clichés—people talking their way out of various messes. I’m sure that you might be able to plug most of the things that happened in the AA devotees’ lives into some sort of decision tree algorithm (again, if they could all be recalled!). As the narrator states on page 374, “The Why of the disease is a labyrnth” and “it is strongly suggested all AAs boycott [the Why].” Like Escahton, there seems to be an elegantly complex invisible reality to the logic of AA (I would like to think of it almost like magic) that can never really be fully understood (sort of like how a complete picture of stats and variables cannot really be crunched in Escahton). In either Eschaton or AA, if things go too far in trying to analyze Why then the whole thing falls apart and chaos ensues.

No matter how infantile or unsophisticated AA seems to the outside observer, it cannot be denied that the thing works. The machinery behind it is really not all that important. It is about accepting the way things are in one particular moment and not asking silly questions like Why that often lead to silly excuses for poor behaviour: a justification for abusing a substance—like the speaker with the daughter diddling daddy in the AA section. Attempting to pin some particular effect to a root cause is a fool’s game and probably prevents the AA devotee from having more awareness and insight into his/her self.

*Additional stylistic thing I found very clever and fun in this week’s readings:

Did anybody else find the part where John L, “the greencard Irishman” tells his story about taking a solid shit so great? Wallace did such a great job of capturing the Irish sound of his voice by phonetically spelling everything out. Interestingly, you need to pay attention and really listen in order to really hear his message. Like, seriously, I needed to intently concentrate and speak this part out loud with my voice so that I could actually hear what is being said using my ears (just not my brain voice)! How cool that Wallace forces you to really experience what it’s like to hear (by AA standards) with this stylistic shift.

*PS- this post is in no way an endorsement of the 2004 Ashton Kutcher blockbuster “The Butterfly Effect”

The Gear That Maps What’s Real

Well well well, welcome to the nuclear theatre of what is one of the most exciting, irritating, mind-wrenching, and what-the-hell passages of IJ.

Before I try to interface with you about Eschaton,* check out this exceptional Eschaton map from Chris Ayers.

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http://pooryorickentertainment.tumblr.com/image/7792492668

ALRIGHT, Y’ALL READY TO SPASEX? HERE WE GO.

So, I really hope nobody tried to figure out just what the “map” is and what the “territory” is, and just what the “map” was and what the “territory” was!

Don’t worry. Baudrillard, our Officer of Map-Territory Relations has figured out the situation for us:

“But it is no longer a question of either maps or territory. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them that was the abstractions charm. For it is the difference which forms the poetry of the map and the charm of the territory, the magic of the concept and the charm of the real. This representational imaginary, which both culminates in and is engulfed by the cartographer’s mad project of an ideal coextensivity between the map and the territory, disappears with simulation whose operation is nuclear and genetic, and no longer specular and discursive. With it goes all of metaphysics. No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept.”

Everyone’s favourite, Ingersoll (sort of) knows what it’s about. He knows about the “game” they’re playing: the game itself being a whole lot of rules, codes, norms, criteria kept in place for the sole purpose of winning and losing etc. (even though the purpose of the World Situation might seem noble i.e. avoiding SACPOP and INDDIR). When Ingersoll whacks Kittenplan, he’s basically pointing to the fact that map/territory boundaries no longer exist, that the game is a game, and that there are certain things that might actually be real.

Let’s do a SPASEX: scoot to the psych ward and recall Gompert talking about life as a game that she no longer wants to play (something along those lines). She is catatonic and depressive, and disregards social conventions that make up the game of daily life.

Now, take a lob: Think about the fact that these kids are playing a game that’s based on what they do every single day. They rarely have any holidays! It never ceases to amaze me how much ETA kids work, and how there is no boundary whatsoever between work and play. This isn’t nerd-dom,** it is brainwash that has become so thoroughly internalized that the work/play boundaries no longer apply. It’s the logic of competition and precariousness. Map-Territory relations “at play”!

But what does it all mean?! JK!

Baudrillard talks about the failure of representation that happens when map/territory boundaries become obsolete, which is exactly what happens in Eschaton.

I want to compute enough to say that we’re not going to be able to map map-territory relations in IJ, or even the fact that the kids playing a game on a day off is an internalization of the logic of competition and precarity and that in itself is a kind of map-territory relation on a different level … I want to compute enough to say that the map itself is at stake. And nooow I’ll tell you what I am trying to talk about:

What is the map? I ask you combatants! “Map” in Infinite Jest has changed signification and taken on different meanings, depending on the context. For example, for some of our Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House friends, “map” means face.

If we switch ends of the court and apply this meaning of “map” in Eschaton where map/territory boundaries have gone to the snow, we might come closer to understanding what the vestige of the real Situation is.

“There’s a tiny whirring sound as Ingersoll’s mental gears grind,” (335), and, “you do not get pints for hitting anybody real. Only the gear that maps what’s real.” (338).

On the other side of the court, I am taking maps to be both a verb and noun,*** the “gear” being associated with what shows up / expressions on the face – without thinking of this simply in terms of appearance/reality.

Now that we might be in deep confusion, we might as well go further! My decision-algorithm tells me this is the time to share one of my all-time fave movies with y’all: Synecdoche, New York written and directed by Charlie Kaufman.

Further decision-algorithm recommendations:

Lars von Trier’s Dogville
The Thirteenth Floor, based on the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel Galouye.
Fassbinder’s World on a Wire, also based on novel above.
eXistenZ by our citizen of The Great Convexity, David Cronenberg.

Don’t SPASEX too much y’all. I definitely did. Must retrieve clean shirt from gear bag for post-post sweats!

*For bonus Evan Ingersoll troll points, the next time you’re talking about IJ irl, pronounce “Eschaton” like “Ey, shat on!” You might not alienate your friends — might not

**Nerd-dom/brainwash distinctions do not apply to IJ readers w/r/t IJ.

***When trying to understand how I’m taking “maps” to be both a verb and a noun, remember that we are not to refer on a 1:1 scale! So, maps does not = face, but is more like maps ~ face. Ya?

 

Jump cutting endnotes

I’m just curious: has anyone gone and worn hats with a bunch of friends when 11/8 rolls around every year? I kinda want to start doing that, and like have a collection of hats ready just in case no one dons a chapeau.

Bonjour mes amies, I’m going to be slightly disoriented today. This Wednesday, I’ll be crossing the Great Convexity in order to attend (and present a paper at) the DFW conference at ISU happening Thursday-Saturday (I present on Thursday). I’m pretty excited and nervous, and may have the case of the howling fantods. But I’m really looking forward to it! Continue reading “Jump cutting endnotes”