Friday, July 22, 2016

Poor Yoricks' Summer - Infinite Jest, Pages 317-367

On an outcropping overlooking Tucson, Arizona, Remy Marathe and Hugh/Helen Steeply continue their discussion/meeting. Marathe outlines the AFR's position re unleashing the Entertainment on unsuspecting Americans:
Us, we will force nothing on U.S.A. persons in their warm homes. We will make only available. Entertainment. There will be then some choosing, to partake or choose not to. ... How will U.S.A.s choose? Who has taught them to choose with care? ...

This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose — this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death. What you call the death, the collapsing: this will be the formality only. ... The exact time of death and way of death, this no longer matters. Not for your peoples. You wish to protect them? But you can only delay. Not save. The Entertainment exists. ... The choice for death of the head by pleasure now exists, and your authorities know, or you would not be now trying to stop the pleasure.
Steeply replies:
There are no choices without personal freedom, Buckeroo. It's not us who are dead inside. These things you find so weak and contemptible in us — these are just the hazards of being free. ... Now you will say how free are we if you dangle fatal fruit before us and we cannot help ourselves from temptation. And we say "human" to you. We say that one cannot be human without freedom.
Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country, always to shout "Freedom! Freedom!" as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it is not so simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do. It is this meaning only, this freedom from constraint and forced duress. ... But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child's greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?
During my 2009-10 Infinite Winter Group Read, one commenter offered:
Marathe characterizes the US as the extreme liberalist state of Aristotle - a country of individuals, "in their warm homes, alone", with no unifying values, no temple they all chose, since nobody taught them how or what to choose, or even that they should choose. The lack of authority, the lack of a common good, destroyed the US as a nation, and left only an empty shell full of individuals who are are left in the dark looking for some kind of shelter. The US citizens are not qualified to rule, not even rule themselves and their families, since they don't know how to choose, but since they're educated on the freedom-from, they don't know how to obey, either. So they're left bare from both sides, and end up sick and weak, and open to such an attack as the Entertainment.
Many readers of Infinite Jest have cited Eschaton as their favourite section of the book. It's okay, but I do not understand its mass appeal among Jesters. (At the end, Hal Incandenza, watching the action with Pemulis and a few other older students, is "just about paralyzed with absorption ... [and] feel[s] a certain sort of intense anxiety". Without really thinking about it, Hal smokes marijuana in public.)

Note the JOI film (991):
Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators. Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited. Documentary or uncredited cast w/ narrator P. A. Heaven; 16 mm.; 45 minutes; black and white; sound. Children and adolescents play a nearly incomprehensible nuclear strategy game with tennis equipment against the real or holographic(?) backdrop of sabotaged ATHSCME 1900 atmospheric displacement towers exploding and toppling during the New New England Chemical Emergency of Y.W. CELLULOID (UNRELEASED)
(The narrator of this section does not know how Eschaton was introduced at Enfield, but page 284 states the most plausible account is that "a Croatian-refugee transfer had brought up from the Palmer Academy in Tampa".) The game devolves into chaotic violence between the kids and ends with Otis P. Lord crashing head-first through the computer monitor used to program the details of Eschaton amid "the no-sound falling snow".

The next section - which may be my most-loved part of the novel - deals with the speaking and travelling arrangements of Boston AA Groups, a person's typical descent towards his/her Bottom and then how AA, despite newcomers' expectations, seems actually to somehow work. I'm hoping to write something lengthier about Don Gately and this part of the book for the Poor Yoricks' Summer blog next month so I'll be brief here: Gately cannot figure out how AA works, but he is so single-mindedly committed to staying straight that he will freely give himself over to AA's cliches and sappy sayings even though he doesn't believe in God (as a Higher Power) and has no idea how these things could possibly work. The entire section has an engaging warmth and vulnerability and Wallace shows the confusion and sometimes blind acceptance of what Gately - and every other member of AA - has to do. AA may have some actual direct suggestions, but the long-time members say those suggestions are completely optional, of course: do it or die. Your choice.

Gately also realizes that still - even after four years sober - he could still relapse. When brand-new resident Joelle van Dyne mentions the utter meaninglessness of the sentiment "I'm here But for the Grace of God", Gately's mind goes completely blank and he is terrified: "he has absolutely nothing in his huge square head ... and for an instant the Provident cafeteria seems pin-drop silent, and his own heart grips him like an infant rattling the bars of its playpen, and he feels a greasy wave of an old and almost unfamiliar panic, and for a second it seems inevitable that at some point in his life he's going to get high again and be back in the cage all over again". And so a few minutes later, when the second half of the meeting begins, Gately is sitting in his usual spot in the very front row, "asking silently for help to be determined to try to really hear or die trying".

There is a very interesting passage in Endnote 134, which appears on page 345. Joelle van Dyne "entered the House just today, 11/8, Interdependence Day, after the E.R. physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital who last night had pumped her full of Inderal and nitro had looked upon her unveiled face and been deeply affected, and had taken a special interest" and placed a call to the Executive Director of Ennet House.

"Deeply affected"? That's it? Joelle is supposed to be either so beautiful or so deformed that she is sort of the living equivalent of the Entertainment. (That's why she wears the veil.) Later in the book, she tells Gately: "I'm so beautiful I drive anybody with a nervous system out of their fucking mind. Once they've seen me they can't think of anything else and don't want to look at anything else and stop carrying out normal responsibilities..." Yet JvD's unveiled face does not seem to have any serious effect on this E.R. physician, outside of him/her making a call and starting the process to let her jump the waiting-list queue to get into Ennet House. Perhaps the beautiful/deformed idea is solely in Joelle's head?

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