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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 9

Nosferatu

Nosferatu

As a musician, I have always been intrigued at the way sounds and rhythms can be used to stimulate parts of the subconscious mind and cause hidden aspects of the psyche to surface. I believe this is why chanting and drumming are integral parts of ritual, the goal of which is to alter the consciousness of the participants.

There is a great passage in Infinite Jest where a recovering addict is sharing an experience he had where he was playing violin and the notes blended with other vibrations resulting in a sudden shift in his consciousness. This shift allowed a dark, primordial aspect of his psyche to surface, an experience that was terrifying and traumatic.

‘The direction of flow is beside the point. It was on, and its position in the window made the glass of the upraised pane vibrate somehow. It produced an odd high-pitched vibration, invariant and constant. By itself it was strange but benign. But on this afternoon, the fan’s vibration combined with some certain set of notes I was practicing on the violin, and the two vibrations set up a resonance that made something happen in my head. It is impossible really to explain it, but it was a certain quality of this resonance that produced it.’

‘A thing.’

‘As the two vibrations combined, it was as if a large dark billowing shape came billowing out of some corner in my mind. I can be no more precise than to say large, dark, shape, and billowing, what came flapping out of some backwater of my psyche I had not had the slightest inkling was there.’

‘But it was inside you, though.’

‘Katherine, Kate, it was total horror. It was all horror everywhere, distilled and given form. It rose in me, out of me, summoned somehow by the odd confluence of the fan and those notes. It rose and grew larger and became engulfing and more horrible than I shall ever have the power to convey. I dropped the violin and ran from the room.’

(p. 649)

In this scene, the addict experiences the emergence of what Jung termed the shadow.

The shadow, said celebrated Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, is the unknown “dark side” of our personality–dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

(Source: Psychology Today)

Throughout my life, I have experienced instances where music or sound caused my consciousness to shift, sometimes dramatically. But it can be particularly unsettling when the shift is unexpected. It’s one thing to experience this while meditating and actively seeking to unlock hidden realms of the psyche, but when it occurs for no apparent reason, it can have a devastating effect on a person.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 8

PotLeaf

The following passage from Infinite Jest was very interesting, especially in light of recent states making marijuana legal and the wider push to legalize it throughout the United States.

Everybody who raised their hand to share concurred on the insidious ways marijuana had ravaged their bodies, minds, and spirits; marijuana destroys slowly but thoroughly was the consensus. Ken Erdedy’s joggling foot knocked over his coffee not once but twice as the NAs took turns concurring on the hideous psychic fallout they’d all endured both in active marijuana-dependency and then in marijuana-detox: the social isolation, anxious lassitude, and the hyperself-consciousness that then reinforced the withdrawal and anxiety – the increasing emotional abstraction, poverty of affect, and then total emotional catalepsy – the obsessive analyzing, finally the paralytic stasis that results from the obsessive analysis of all possible implications of both getting up from the couch and not getting up from the couch – and then the endless symptomatic gauntlet of Withdrawal from delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol: i.e. pot-detox: the loss of appetite, the mania and insomnia, the chronic fatigue and nightmares, the impotence and cessation of menses and lactation, the circadian arrhythmia, the sudden sauna-type sweats and mental confusion and fine-motor tremors, the particularly nasty excess production of saliva – several beginners still holding institutional drool-cups just under their chins – the generalized anxiety and foreboding of dread, and the shame of feeling like neither M.D.s nor the hard-drug NAs themselves showed much empathy or compassion for the ‘addict’ brought down by what was supposed to be nature’s humblest buzz, the benignest Substance around.

(pp. 503 – 504)

I do not want to get into a deep debate about whether marijuana should be legal or not. For me, that is not the issue and not what is important about this passage in the text. For me, what is important is the insidious nature of addiction, and the focus should be on the fact that people can become addicted to anything, provided that thing effectively changes the way one feels and thinks.

Some people fail to recognize the obvious: if you do something on a regular basis and then stop doing whatever it is that you are doing, you will experience a form of withdrawal. If you exercise every day for years and one day stop, it will have a physical and mental effect on you. If you drink soda every day and suddenly stop completely, you will go through withdrawal. If you meditated every day for most of your life and then quit, it would impact you physically, mentally, and spiritually. To think that you can use a drug every day and not suffer withdrawal when you stop is naïve and foolish.

I’ve heard plenty of people argue that marijuana is not addictive. I don’t believe it. Almost everything is addictive. I’m sure we all know people who are addicted to watching certain 24-hour news stations.

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Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 5

InfiniteJest

Addiction is a devastating disease, and in our society, it is almost impossible not to be affected in some way by addiction, whether it is to substances, obsessive thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors. We all know someone who has struggled with addiction. And one thing seems to be consistent—no addict can begin the recovery process until he or she hits bottom and becomes desperate enough to seek help.

There is a great passage in this book where Wallace describes what it is like for an addict to hit bottom and become ready to take the first step in the recovery process.

—then vocational ultimatums, unemployability, financial ruin, pancreatitis, overwhelming guilt, bloody vomiting, cirrhotic neuralgia, incontinence, neuropathy, black depressions, searing pain, with the Substance affording increasingly brief periods of relief; then, finally, no relief available anywhere at all; finally it’s impossible to get high enough to freeze what you feel like, being this way; and now you hate the Substance, hate it, but still you find yourself unable to stop doing it, the Substance, you find that you finally want to stop more than anything on earth and it’s no fun doing it anymore and you can’t believe you ever liked doing it but you still can’t stop, it’s like you’re totally fucking bats, it’s like there’s two yous; and when you’d sell your own dear Mum to stop and still, you find, can’t stop, then the last layer of jolly friendly mask comes off your old friend the Substance, it’s midnight now and all masks come off, and you all of a sudden see the Substance as it really is, for the first time you see the Disease as it really is, really has been all this time, you look in the mirror at midnight and see what owns you, what’s become what you are—

(pp. 346 – 347)

Throughout my life, I have known many who have suffered from addiction; some have hit bottom and sought help, some have continued on in denial and justified their behavior, and others ended up in institutions or have died. My experience has shown me that only when someone hits an intense bottom, then and only then do they become willing to seek help. And sadly, many who reach this point are still incapable of recovery. Addiction is a powerful, insidious, and destructive disease. I hope that those who suffer manage to find help.

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