Friday, July 01, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 96-137

November 3, YDAU - Banter among the exhausted male players in the ETA locker room. Great stuff re the Big Buddy program. Again many things mentioned here are echoed elsewhere in the book: the way top players shut the whole neural net down during play (96, see Erdedy), players who have "hung in and stuck it out" at ETA (98, see AA), Hal "getting to be kind in a way that costs him nothing" (99, see This is Water), "mute quiescent suffering" (103). There is the idea that words are inadequate to describe things (100-01).

The discussion of the ETA guys and how tired they are is explored in Toon Theuwis's thesis:
2.4 Language and Meaning

... Only occasionally does Wallace seem to be explicitly concerned with language philosophy in his second novel, Infinite Jest. When the E.T.A. students take a shower after dawn-drills they are all in search for the word that comes closest to their feeling of exhaustion.
'So tired it's out of tired's word-range,' Pemulis says. 'Tired just doesn't do it.'

'Exhausted, shot, depleted,' says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand. 'Cashed. Totalled . . . Beat. Worn the heck out.'

'Worn the fuck-all out is more like.'

'Wrung dry. Whacked. Tuckered out. More dead than alive.'

'None even come close, the words . . . . We need an inflation-generative grammar . . . a whole new syntax for fatigue on days like this.' (100-101)
In this post-shower community feeling, the students then turn to E.T.A.'s best mind on the problem, someone who has analysed and digested whole thesauruses: Hal Incandenza. But even this is beyond the linguistic prodigy's capabilities and as an answer to this linguistic problem he holds up his fist and starts "cranking at it with the other hand so the finger [he's] giving...goes up like a drawbridge . . . . Everybody agrees it speaks volumes" (101).

Looking for meaning is not on the deconstructionists' agenda. Also Hal does not seem to even WANT to look for the appropriate word, since even he, who knows the English language inside out, believes that this is impossible. ...

When we read a sentence, a word that appears later in the text can still influence that particular sentence. This "process in time" never comes to a stop. That is why, on a larger scale, at the end of Infinite Jest the reader is going to have to read the novel again. Not because the reader wants to, but because the structure of the novel leaves him, so to speak, no other choice.

The reader is sent from pillar to post in his own "quest for meaning" in Infinite Jest. It is as if someone were to try to "really understand" the definition of one single word and then ends up reading the whole dictionary, because each explanation of a word consists of again other words that one will have to look up in the attempt to understand their "meaning". Reading a dictionary becomes an infinite jest because of the "endless play of signifiers". Reading Infinite Jest or a dictionary becomes thus an infinite pursuit of meaning.

"Meaning is context-bound," says Culler "but context is boundless". Indeed, every word that we read in a text has appeared before in other contexts and will be encountered later in yet other contexts. We only know words from their previous use in unique contexts. Therefore, the meaning of the word will always be (slightly) different each time we encounter it. "[M]eaning is determined by context and for that very reason is open to alterations when further possibilities are mobilized".
In Hal's Big Buddy meeting, 10-year-old Kent Blott says that he feels dread when he thinks of the rest of his life playing tennis: endless days and months and years of tiredness and stress and suffering. And for what? Making the Show - playing on the professional circuit - will likely only mean more of those feelings.

The themes of repetition are repeated throughout the section. Hal is playing a tape loop of Stan Smith "performing the same motions over and over ... a loop, it's hypnotizing". This is also echoed in John (N.R.) Wayne's group, where LaMont Chu actually does the talking. Chu describes three types of players who cannot hang in there and endure the slow, frustrating, humbling process of mastering tennis. Success is perhaps more a question of temperament than talent. How to proceed to the next level: "with a whole lot of frustratingly mindless repetitive practice and patience and hanging in there". This is identical to how we will be told success in AA is possible ("One Day At A Time").

Hal: "We're each deeply alone here." I like that he does not say "We're all alone" - that would imply togetherness - he keeps it singular with "each (one of us)". (Ingersoll: "E Unibus Pluram", which is also the title of an important essay by DFW in ASFT.)

In a deeply individual sport, the boys come together to bitch and moan about the coaches. It is suggested that this is by design, that the coaches give the boys time together, knowing they will complain and bond. "The suffering unites us ... This is their gift to us. Their medicine."

Midway through a paragraph on page 101, we suddenly get some physical description and history of Hal (and Orin and Mario). This kind of thing happens many times in the book. The topic of the paragraph changes completely with no warning and also the subject we are now reading about isn’t revealed until deep into the sentence. It's one of the ways (possibly) important information gets transmitted to the reader, in these (often) brief asides that have very little to do with the discussion they are placed in the middle of, and which you can't possibly remember by the time you need to remember them. It encourages re-reading.

Back on the outcropping with Marathe and Steeply. A discussion on choice, freedom, faith, and what we choose to focus our lives on.

Your U.S.A. word for fanatic, "fanatic," do they teach you it comes from the Latin for "temple"? It is meaning, literally, "worshipper at the temple."

Our attachments are our temple, what we worship, no? What we give ourselves to, what we invest with faith. ... Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. only pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. ...

Who teaches your U.S.A. children how to choose their temple? ... For this choice determines all else. No? All other of our you say free choices follow from this: what is our temple.
But you assume it's always choice, conscious, decision. This isn't just a little naïve, Rémy? You sit down with your little accountant's ledger and soberly decide what to love? Always? What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?
Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self's sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself. ... In a case such as this you become the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage.
Marathe and Steeply also discuss the possible existence of an antidote to the Entertainment, also produced by James Incandenza. Right now, Marathe and Steeply are a bit outside the main narrative, acting more as a Greek chorus - offering additional thoughts on the book's themes - than integral characters.

Mario has his "first and only even remotely romantic experience, thus far" with Millicent Kent, one of the female students/players at ETA.

Lyle, the 40-something, sweat-licking guru who lives in the ETA weight room dispenses wisdom to the young ETA students. Lyle "went way back" with Himself - though this is not explained. At the end of the section, the narrator says, suddenly in first person (who?), "I want to be like [Lyle]. Able to just sit quiet and pull life toward me ..."

December 24, YDPAH - yrstruly, C and Poor Tony go on a crime spree ("crewed on" various people) and buy heroin (unknown to them, it's laced with Drano) from Dr. Wo. The section narrated by yrstruly (128-35) works far better than the Wardine section, at least for me. It sets a scene much better and there is depth to the character telling the story. More standard sentences, even though I have to read some lines twice to figure out where the periods should go. (Plus yrstruly gets in an "and but so but" at the bottom of 130!)

There are a slew of misused/misspelled words: elemonade, trancemission, super statiously ... and one-word phrases like "downhegoes" and "heronout". We hear about Roy Tony (from the Wardine section) selling drugs in the Brighton Projects and Stokely Darkstar, who co-starred in one of Himself's films ("Accomplice!"), playing a "strangely tattooed street hustler" alongside Cosgrove Watt, who is "an aging pederast who mutilates himself". He is billed in JOI's filmography as Stokely 'Dark Star' McNair.

Phrases in the yrstruly story make it sound like it's being told to an audience: "It might sound fucking low but ..." (135) At one point I felt this section could be read as an testimonial, as from the podium at an AA meeting. The way the section begins, in the past tense, as though someone is relating a story: "It was yrstruly and C and Poor Tony that crewed that day and everything like that." Falling back on speech tics due to public-speaking nervousness. And it ends with the storyteller starting to "... thearize on what to try and do after I could standup straight and walk upright again once more." Which might mean he's seeking help.

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