Double Feature Guest Post Part 2: Steve Rigby: The Abnegation of Personal Will in Infinite Jest

Dictionary.com defines abnegation as ‘the act of relinquishing or giving up a right, possession, etc.’ and even though I really cannot understand how any decent definition includes ’etc.,’ I’ve come to believe that virtually ALL the major characters in DFW’s magnum opus have abnegated their sense of personal will.

They are confronted with realities surrounding them to which they can, at the very best, only react.  They have lost the sense of self-worth which is necessary to inspire any significant action to change that world around them, even when it is apparently affecting them in significantly negative ways. Continue reading “Double Feature Guest Post Part 2: Steve Rigby: The Abnegation of Personal Will in Infinite Jest”

Double Feature Guest Post Part 1: Alana Rigby: Infinite Jest: Mind-Altering Comedy?

*my page numbers are probably useless for everyone else because I’ve been reading on a combination of an e-reader and my phone and Google Play indicates that my copy of IJ is 1819 pages long…

I have never read Infinite Jest before. And like Orin and spiders, I eschew spoilers like the plague, so much so that even reading the blurb on the back of a book puts me at risk for frustration. I like knowing absolutely nothing about a book before I start it because you can only ever have the completely unspoiled experience of a narrative once.

Thus, I began Infinite Jest blind. And when I went to enter the book onto my Goodreads ‘Currently Reading’ shelf, I was surprised to see it billed as a “mind-altering comedy”. Continue reading “Double Feature Guest Post Part 1: Alana Rigby: Infinite Jest: Mind-Altering Comedy?”

An Apologetic Sonnet*

Good morning, dear readers, can you believe
that we’ve already reached the halfway mark?
Page five hundred – what a goal to achieve!
Granted, IJ is no walk in the park,
but the journey has been well worth the work.
Take, for example, the reading this week:
there was Himself and his dad (read: the jerk),
and who could forget the A.F.R.? Eeeek!
There’s so much more I could say, but alas –
I’m coming to the end of this sonnet.
I hope this week you will give me a pass.
My next blog post will be longer. Honest!
I was in New York and ran out of time…
(Does it count for something I made this rhyme?)

 

I decided to pull a Lin-Manuel Miranda at this year’s Tony Awards and write a sonnet because… Well… Everyone loves a good sonnet, right?

lin

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit

Friends, Romans,  Countrymen/women, jesters, lend me your ears for a brief moment in time! (Sorry, Allie–no Shakespeare [kind of?] in this post–but please feel free to inject some if you can find a way!)

It was a photo finish in keeping with the schedule this week, but I’m happy to announce that I’m fully up to date and ready to go another brief round here on the webs (no spiders in sight though, so not to worry) with all you wonderful cats.

So, this week, although there certainly is more than enough interesting material to work with from the actual text, as we delve deeper into the complex psyche of one, M. Don Gately and his tragic alter-ego Sir Osis of Thuliver (how sad is this?!), Mario’s take on Himself’s own “Onantiad”, and the mountainside interfacing between Marathe and Steeply, I’d like to talk a little bit about the genre in Infinite Jest, because, well, now is a good a time as any to discuss this idea, and I can’t see any other time that will be any more opportune.

So, I think part of the difficulty of recommending this book to others comes out of the difficulty of classifying and describing the book in terms of what is so commonplace to most readers. It’s kind of like when you come across a band or a song that you think is totally awesome and utterly unique and you try to find words/comparisons that will do it/them justice, but somehow, they just don’t suffice.

Excerpts from my (fake, but highly plausible) 2003 diary:

“They’re kind of like, you know, a mixture of Radiohead, with a dash of dark-ish shoegaze and that classic 90s alt-grunge thing, but without the dirty, long hair. Nightcore. I’d call them Nightcore–ya, that’s the best way of putting it.”

Or, or! Like when you try to describe the guitar tone you want out of a stompbox to the clerk at the music store:

“You know, I’m sorta looking for something that does the fuzz thing, but that can still deliver that SEARING lead sound that can cut through the mix sort of like the heat of a dash of sriracha in the multi-vege stir fry that I make on Friday nights.”

…so, yeah.

With regard to the book:

Some of the perfectly reasonable and practical questions that would be readers of IJ have asked me in the past (but are not limited to–and I’m not suggesting they’re asking me because I’m some kind of expert–it’s simply because I have some experience with reading it) include:

1) What’s it about?

2) To which genre does this thing belong?  Mystery, Romance, Satire, Tragedy, Ghost Story, Science Fiction? – or, in other words, how am I to approach this beautiful monstrosity?

To which I usually reply, “Fair enough, John…Well…um…uuuuuh…” (and this continues for many more seconds, which turn into minutes…)

At this point, you are probably having a hearty chuckle (or heart attack, depending on your constitution), being almost half of the way through this behemoth, with likely no clear answer. There really isn’t a neat answer that you can give to a potential reader of Wallace’s masterpiece: it contains elements of many different genres/sub-genres and has (essentially, but I’m probably being reductive here) three separate plot structures that snake in and through one another (probably similar to the ways in which the genres snake in and out of one another).

So far (and please, add to this list—or feel free to disagree with my suggestions), we’ve seen tragedy (e.g- AA parts), comedy (e.g- also AA parts—so would it be better stated as tragicomedy?), mystery (plot about the entertainment), realism (but perhaps with a sprinkle of magic, a la Harry Potter—hmmm, Shazia?), ghost story (Himself looms large), science fiction-y/dystopian tropes (interdependence, O.N.A.N), political satire (e.g- Escahton, Mario’s play), play (e.g- puppet show), radio broadcasting (e.g-60 minutes =/-), film (J.O.I’s films in the footnotes), dream diary (Hal’s recollections a la face in the floor, crumbling teeth), advertising (e.g- Y.P.W, etc.), stream of consciousness-ish writing (e.g- flashback to Himself’s father, Erdedy going coo-coo- for Cocoa-Puffs), journalism (e.g- description of ETA drills, tournament play), and etc. and etc. and etc.

So, with all of this, I think it’s fair to say that Infinite Jest is a multimedia book (and I’m certainly not the first to say this—just repeating the wisdom of others). And with that being said, it requires an adaptive reading approach: one in which the reader modifies and adapts his/her expectations and uses his/her pre-existing knowledge of various genres (and perhaps engages others?) in order to construct meaning from the text.

Maybe this fits into our thinking about a large part of Wallace’s overall message being about learning how to really listen and pay attention to the world/culture around us and the difficulty inherent in such an undertaking. Something along the lines of our discussion about the map vs. the environment, and etc.

With all of these disparate forms of media surrounding us, how do we begin to make sense of the world? Where is the life-preserver to keep us afloat in the wash of an endless stream of media at our fingertips? Could it be that other human beings are the key? Maybe. As usual, too many questions, not enough answers. Thanks a LOT, God/Higher Power.

When you start to break down the sheer number of different modes of writing that Wallace ventures into, you can’t help but wonder: What can’t/couldn’t Wallace do? Look at all of these different ways of representing the world: (a) staggering, (work of) heartbreaking, genius (for real). I can’t imagine how stressful and how much work it must have been (even for a genius like Wallace) to inject all of these elements into a single book and make it actually cohere (more or less). The prospect is simply mind and soul rending. Unreal.

Well, that’s all I really wanted to say this afternoon—a little light on the critical analysis. More of a light snack food for thought wise.

We here at Nestle corp sincerely hope you enjoyed your break and encourage you to have nice light snack like this, daily. In other words, it’s time for a break. It’s time to have a KitKat.

Wingardium Leviosa! Do Not Underestimate Objects! Battle of the Gaze!

 

Welcome welcome to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — we are at the point where Infinite Jest and Harry Potter cross paths.

JK!*

But seriously, things are flying around, it’s getting ghosty.

What is up with our slim and wiry Ortho “The Darkness” Stice of custom black towels, who had almost beat Hal during the afternoon match?

I think that a more important question than “how is Ortho’s bed moving up against the wall in the middle of the night?” is “why is Ortho’s bed moving up against the wall in the middle of the night.” I really love how much this creeped me out when I was newb, and how much it still does!

Also, what in the hell kind of advice does Lyle give to Ortho?! He tells him “Do not underestimate objects, […] Do not leave objects out of account. The world, after all, which is radically old, is made up mostly of objects.” And then he tells him a story about a man doing some Wingardium Leviosa, “a man who is standing 100% on top of a chair he has grabbed the back of and raised several m. off the ground.” (395)

(In this post, I will ignore the fact that Lyle feeds off of sweat, literally. But wanted to mention it because things are getting really really weird in IJ… Get ready to turn into mystics y’all! (Jk, only a little bit.))

Following that story about the levitating chair-man is the passage about Hal, who, “like most young people genetically hard-wired for a secret drug problem […] also has severe compulsion issues around nicotine and sugar.”

This objects thing has excited me for an infinitely long time, and I continue to be extremely confused and excited by it. So here’s your daily confusion fix from your IJ guide!**

Ok, so, remember that fascination you had as a kid (am projecting here, but it’ll make things simpler) about making things move simply by applying all your mental energies and concentration on it!? Yeah! I think this is very similar to the kind of concentration that accompanies compulsion-issues that Hal has, and that most of us as IJ readers most definitely have as well (joke’s on all of us!).

I still think that if I think hard enough about something, I can change it! And this is not entirely as silly sounding because it has a lot to do with awareness, choice, and will. Our Marathe can tell you all about it!

But now, if we follow what I’m saying then it would imply something along the lines of “Don’t underestimate the power of the brain and the will y’all,” but what Lyle tells us is “Do not underestimate objects.”

So the implication is that perhaps our “control” of objects is illusory in some way, and that objects have more control and agency over humans. But, of course, it’s not that simple, even though Eric Clipperton’s tennis match with a Glock at his temple could be a great case-in-point for the latter.

I was saying that the more important question is why does Stice’s bed move, and not how. It’s easy to get swayed by the “how,” and if we do that, then we fall into what just happened with me, where I reasoned: “Don’t underestimate the power of the brain and will” when in fact Lyle tells us it’s objects that aren’t to be underestimated.

I want to think of “objects” both as physical things / of matter, and also non-physical things made of non-matter. I think that the definition of “objects” expands in one of J.O.I.’s “audience-obsessed” films, The Medusa v. The Odalisque. Here we have a battle of the gaze played out by two holograms.

Totally “not-matter.” Though “L’Odalisque de Ste. Thérèse, a character out of old Quebecois mythology who was so inhumanly gorgeous that anyone who looked at her turned instantly into a human-sized precious gem.”

I find it very interesting that the immateriality of these myths in J.O.I’s film have a mythology w/a very material gem of a result.

We could say that this is like “objectification” literalized.

LaMont Chu’s session with Lyle when he confesses his desire for fame, and to see himself in pictures like his tennis heroes, can also be seen as another form of the above.

Why I’m trying to expand the meaning of “object” to try to show all the many ways that it can mean in IJ … is because I think that these matter/non-matter boundaries are very important for understanding something about why Ortho’s bed moves.

Basically, I think that if the object’s boundaries and fields of relation and agency are blurred, or lost, or malleable, then (considering that there’s a whole history of subject-object relations) the subject also changes definition as well.

BUT JUST IGNORE THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH if it was too pretentious and there were too many big words! There is more fun below (hopefully)! (À la J.O.I, I am audience-obsessedly aware that this post is getting too long.)

I constantly think about space-time warps when I read this passage, but I’m not even going to attempt go down that wormhole… And I also think of it in relation to something I remember reading and haven’t been able to place: a technology is anything that bends space around it. (Could’ve sworn it was in the context of Deleuze, but I can’t place it now.)

If we give my pseudo-scientific thoughts some attention, then what exactly is a technology if it allows 1) chair-man to bend space the way he does 2) Lyle to say Do not underestimate objects 3) the relationship between compulsion-attention and chair-man and Hal’s compulsion.

Is technology a relationship? A system of flows? A different way of communicating? A kind of telekinetic thing? Now I’m just going to throw all of us in the wormhole: What kind of properties must a person or a thing have in order to move Ortho’s bed? I certainly think this person/thing has to have crossed a boundary between person/thing, and that is how Ortho’s bed can move, and if we have come close to knowing how Ortho’s bed can move, then who has broken person/thing boundaries in IJ? This will bring us closer to the why.

I have succeeded in creeping myself out yet again.

Off to Hogwarts for some Defence Against the Dark Arts!

BEFORE I GO: “The seductive ghost of a bliss long absconded.” (374)

That’s so beautiful… is all. Harbouring hope that one day Harry Ransom Centre will say DFW wrote some goddamn poems in his adult life!

BEFORE I GO X2:

After I saw it, I’ve been unable to think about J.O.I’s The Joke*** without thinking about Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. There’s a scene/s in the beginning in which audience-actor-director boundaries are crossed to the extent of the extent maaaaang. GOOSEBUMP LEVELS Y’ALL! Pls watch for Infinite Jest purposes?

If you don’t believe how goosebump-level it is, pardon me, but I must share the weird and total beauty that is Holy Motors:

 

*HP fans, The Cursed Child was out yesterday!

**I do feel guilty in the wee morning hours for throwing some readers of our posts into deep confusion, especially being a guide and all. But who’s to say confusion isn’t a guide! Think of it as Infinite Jest immersion y’all!

***In my marginalia, I have “Andy Warhol did this” beside The Joke. Cannot recall what I was thinking or talking about, or what Andy Warhol did. Closest thing to “found drama” is his screen tests. Does anyone know?!

Wallace in Normal

Greetings from Chicago!

I’m taking a little vacation, and so I am totally behind schedule. But I think I’ll totally catch up by next week.

I wasn’t just vacationing though – Chicago has been a bit of a side trip (and today is sadly my last day in this wonderful city). From Wednesday until Saturday morning I was attending the DFW conference in Normal, IL at ISU. Besides having the howling fantods, I believe my paper went well and I enjoyed the presentations that I attended. Continue reading “Wallace in Normal”