Tag Archives: infinite jest

“Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 12: Final Thoughts

InfiniteJest

LIFE IS LIKE TENNIS
THOSE WHO SERVE
BEST USUALLY WIN

(p. 952)

So what can I say about a massive 1000-page book that uses tennis and drug addiction to explain life in the millennial age? This book is probably not for everyone, but if you have the fortitude to read it, I’m sure you will gain insights from doing so. Personally, I’m glad I read it. While there were some slow parts, particularly those that gave more detail on the technical aspects of tennis than were possibly needed (similar to Melville’s lengthy descriptions of the workings of whaling ships), as a whole, the book kept my interest and there were certainly parts that I would consider brilliant.

I figured I would say a little about the writing style. Wallace is able to change voices throughout the text, and the language of the various characters is very natural and believable. For me, this is the sign of a skilled wordsmith. I particularly enjoyed the way he played with the words, altering spelling in order to capture the nuances of regional accents.

So I will close out this series on Infinite Jest with an existential question and a quote. Is our life nothing more than an ironic joke? (Note similarities between “ironic joke” (IJ) and “Infinite Jest” (IJ).) I suspect Camus would love to weigh in on this one. With that, I’ll leave you with one last quote from the book:

‘I don’t know that he ever even got a finished Master. That’s your story. There wasn’t anything unendurable or enslaving in either of my scenes. Nothing like these actual-perfection rumors. These are academic rumors. He talked about making something quote too perfect. But it was a joke. He had a thing about entertainment, being criticized about entertainment v. nonentertainment and stasis. He used to refer to the Work itself as “entertainments.” He always meant it ironically. Even in jokes he never talked about an anti-version or antidote for God’s sake. He’d never carry it that far. A joke.’

‘…’

‘When he talked about this thing as a quote perfect entertainment, terminally compelling – it was always ironic – he was having a sly little jab at me. I used to go around saying the veil was to disguise lethal perfection, that I was too lethally beautiful for people to stand. It was a kind of joke I’d gotten from one of his entertainments, the Medusa-Odalisk thing. That even in U.H.I.D. I hid by hiddenness, in denial about the deformity itself. So Jim took a failed piece and told me it was too perfect to release – it’d paralyze people. It was entirely clear that it was an ironic joke. To me.’

(p. 940)


 

Links to Previous Posts on Infinite Jest:

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 11: On Pornography

BehindGreenDoor

I woke early this morning, made some coffee, and sat down to read more of Infinite Jest. One of the protagonists in the story, Hal, was reminiscing about when his older brother Orin got caught by their father as Orin was getting ready to watch “Behind the Green Door.” Their father does not forbid his son from watching the film; instead, the father explains why it would be better if he waited until he had more experience before watching the movie.

But Himself said that if Orin wanted his personal, fatherly as opposed to headmasterly, take on it, then he, Orin’s father – though he wouldn’t forbid it – would rather Orin didn’t watch a hard-porn film yet. He said this with a reticent earnestness there was no way Orin couldn’t ask him how come. Himself felt his jaw and pushed his glasses up several times and shrugged and finally said he supposed he was afraid of the film giving Orin the wrong idea about having sex. He said he’d personally prefer that Orin wait until he’d found someone he loved enough to want to have sex with and had had sex with this person, that he’d wait until he’d experienced for himself what a profound and really quite moving thing sex could be, before he watched a film where sex was presented as nothing more than organs going in and out of other organs, emotionless, terribly lonely. He said he supposed he was afraid that something like The Green Door would give Orin an impoverished, lonely idea of sexuality.

(pp. 955 – 956)

There is no doubt that many young people learn about sex through pornography, especially in the age of the internet, when access to porn is a click away. And while I personally have nothing against pornography, Wallace is correct that it establishes a lonely idea of sex. Pornography removes intimacy from sex and transforms it into a solitary, isolated experience for too many people.

I cannot help but wonder if the proliferation of online porn is having a negative impact on our society. It seems that there is a growing sense of alienation and isolation as people become more engrossed in virtual experiences, experiencing life vicariously instead of actually engaging in the experiences that life has to offer. I can’t say for sure, but these are my musings this morning.

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share your thoughts.

3 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 10: Art and Being Hip

InfiniteJest

I live in Asheville, which is considered a “hipster” city. As a result, I see people who work very hard and spend a lot of money perfecting their non-conformist images. I like to say that these people “conform to the established idea of non-conformity.” Not that I am passing judgment. Everyone has a right to express themselves in a way that feels right, but I suspect that some impressionable individuals buy into the idea of non-conformity that is promoted through the arts and social media, especially young people.

With this in mind, I’d like to point out an interesting passage in Infinite Jest.

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip – and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, to be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion.

(p. 694)

This rang true for me on several levels. Certainly, the hipster “conforming to non-conformity” I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but also the need to belong, especially in one’s adolescent years. I was like that, and I’m sure we all were to an extent. I dressed the part of the crowd that I was hanging out with, listened to the same music, went to the same places, all to be a part of a group and to avoid having to be alone. Because what happened when you are alone? You have to face yourself, and that was hard for me as a teenager and I suspect it is difficult for others too.

Anyway, as I have gotten older, I am more comfortable with myself and no longer feel the need to be a part of a particular group. I do what makes me happy, and whether I do that in a group or alone, doesn’t make that much difference to me. But Wallace taps into something that is almost universal for people growing up. We all want friends and we want to be a part of a group, and we look to art to teach us what is cool and how we should be if we want to fit in with the hip crowd. It makes me wonder if we have some tribalism hidden away in our collective consciousness.

Thanks for stopping by, and have an amazing day!

5 Comments

Filed under Literature

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.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature

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.

9 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 7

InfiniteJest

V&V’s NoCoat campaign was a case-study in the eschatology of emotional appeals. It towered, a kind of Überad, casting a shaggy shadow back across a whole century of broadcast persuasion. It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase. It just did it way more well than wisely, given the vulnerable psyche of an increasingly hygiene-conscious U.S.A. in those times.

(p. 414)

Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, claimed that American advertising was an inspiration for his propaganda. The goal of propaganda is to create a sense of fear and lure people into accepting an ideology. The more subtle, the more effective.

I had never given too much thought to advertising creating fear and using that fear to sell products. But it makes sense. Advertisements for home security systems are all about the fear of someone breaking into your home. Even just showing a picture of a baby in a high chair waiting to be fed will subconsciously create a fear for parents about the health and well-being of their child.

Media is bombarding us with information all designed to heighten our fear, whether it’s the news, advertising, or memes on social media. The irony is that all this fear-mongering is making me fearful about where our civilization is heading. There is just no way to escape it.

5 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 6

InfiniteJest

Let the call go forth, to pretty much any nation we might feel like calling, that the past has been torched by a new and millennial generation of Americans…

(p. 381)

I’ve thought about this quote a lot since I read it. And while I agree with the essence of this statement, I am not sure whether this torching of the past is a good thing or a bad thing.

On one hand, I agree that we need to break from the social mores of the past if we are to evolve as a global society and face the challenges ahead. As such, I am all for torching the antiquated ideologies to which we cling that no longer serve the better interests of our world. If we live in the past, we will never be able to successfully move into the future. We must, of necessity, break free from the chains of our past in order to move forward.

But here’s the rub…

I have observed a tendency among some millennials to use this as a justification for apathy. Since all candidates are part of the political machine and you are basically voting for the lesser of two evils, then why bother voting at all. It is better to completely reject the corrupt and antiquated system. But is it? And what I find most unsettling is the backlash against the social change that millenials represent. Personally, I feel that much of the right-wing radicalism and fundamentalist fervor is a response to the threat that the “old guard” feels when confronted by a generation that clearly rejects their way of thinking and their set of values. When I see angry people demanding that we “take back our country,” I must ask from whom do they wish to take it back. It seems logical that they want to take it back from the “new and millennial generation.”

I sense that we are on the cusp of a major shift in humanity, but I have no clue what direction that shift will take. I see humanity collectively standing on a tightrope, teetering, and it is not clear whether we will fall to the left or the right. But inevitably, we will fall, one way or the other.

These are interesting times, that much is certain.

3 Comments

Filed under Literature