Tag Archives: irony

“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)


 

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XVI – Father and Son

"Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus" by Henri-Lucien Doucet

“Reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus” by Henri-Lucien Doucet

In this episode, Odysseus and Telemachus are reunited. After Eumaeus leaves his hut to go inform Penelope that Telemachus has returned safely, Odysseus reveals himself to Telemachus and together they plot the overthrow of the suitors.

What stood out for me the most in this episode was all the irony. For example, when Odysseus reveals himself to his son, Telemachus thinks it’s a trick.

You cannot
be my father Odysseus! Meddling spirits
conceived this trick to twist the knife in me!
No man of woman born could work these wonders
by his own craft, unless a god came into it
with ease to turn him young or old at will.
I swear you were in rags and old,
and here you stand like one of the immortals!

(Fitzgerald Translation: pp. 295 – 296)

Here Odysseus is revealing his true self, without disguise, but his own son does not believe it is him. It’s almost like he has been pretending to be someone else for so long that now he cannot be himself. Shortly afterwards, Odysseus says to Telemachus that he is going to tell him the “plain truth” about how he got to Ithaca.

Only plain truth shall I tell you, child.
Great seafarers, the Phaiakians, gave me passage
as they give other wanderers. By night
over the open ocean, while I slept,
they brought me in their cutter, set me down
on Ithaka, with gifts of bronze and gold
and stores of woven things. By the gods’ will
these lie hidden in a cave. I came
to this wild place, directed by Athena,
so that we might lay plans to kill our enemies.

(ibid: pp. 296 – 297)

As far as I can tell, this is the first time that Odysseus has been completely honest in this tale. But the most ironic passage in this section occurs toward the end of the episode, when Eurymakhos lies to Penelope and tells her that there was no plot against Telemachus.

Blasphemous lies
in earnest tones he told—the one who planned
the lad’s destruction!

(ibid: p. 304)

So we have Odysseus, the trickster, who has been lying his way through the entire odyssey so far, who is deemed a hero, and yet the suitor who lies is blasphemous. Not that I am siding with the suitors; I most certainly am not. I just find the comparison to be quite ironic.

That’s all for now. Check back for my thoughts on Book XVII.

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XII – Sea Perils and Defeat

Source: Symbol Reader

Source: Symbol Reader

A lot happens in this short section of the epic. Odysseus returns to Circe’s island after consulting with the dead, and she gives Odysseus more instructions on how to deal with the next set of challenges that he must face. First, he and his crew sail past the sirens and he alone is tied to the mast with unplugged ears so he can hear their song. Then the ship navigates between the dreaded Scylla and Charybdis. Then they arrive at Helios’ island where his crew slaughters the sacred cattle of the Sun for food, the result of which is Zeus destroying his ship and killing all his crew, and he winds up on Calypso’s island.

So, in my post on Book XI, I pointed out the irony that Alkinoos stated how honest Odysseus was. It made me think that maybe this whole story is one big lie. Odysseus is, after all, a manifestation of the Trickster archetype.

I washed my hands there, and made supplication
to the gods who won Olympos, all the gods—
but they, for answer, only closed my eyes
under slow drops of sleep.

Now on the shore Eurylokhos
made his insidious plea:

‘Comrades,’ he said,
‘You’ve gone through everything; listen to what I say.
All deaths are hateful to us, mortal wretches,
but famine is the most pitiful, the worst
end that a man can come to.

Will you fight it?
Come, we’ll cut out the noblest of these cattle
for sacrifice to the gods who own the sky;
and once at home, in the old country of Ithaka,
if ever that day comes—
we’ll build a costly temple and adorn it
with every beauty for the Lord of Noon.
But if he flares up over his heifers lost,
wishing our ship destroyed, and if the gods
make cause with him, why, then I say: Better
open your lungs to a big sea once for all
than waste to skin and bones on a lonely island!’

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 221)

So, if Odysseus was asleep, then how could he know about the conversation Eurylokhos had with the crew? Obviously, he is making this all up. Essentially, he is telling a great big lie to manipulate Alkinoos and the Phaeacians. The entire “odyssey” is really nothing but a story told by the Trickster to get others to do what he wants them to do. Odysseus is one crafty dude, I give him that much.

Thanks for stopping by, and hope you enjoyed the post. Cheers!

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XI – A Gathering of the Shades

Odysseus and Tiresias: Wikipedia

Odysseus and Tiresias: Wikipedia

In this book, Odysseus describes how he performed the ritual that Circe instructed him to do. He raises the spirit of Tiresias who tells Odysseus that he is being punished by Poseidon for blinding Poseidon’s son, the Cyclops Polyphemus. He then describes the other spirits he encountered, specifically the warriors that died at the battle of Troy. He also sees the punishment of Sisyphus.

The section that stood out the most for me in this book is when Alkinoos praises Odysseus for his honesty.

As to that, one word, Odysseus:
from all we see, we take you for no swindler—
though the dark earth be patient of so many,
scattered everywhere, baiting their traps with lies
of old times and of places no one knows.
You speak with art, but your intent is honest.

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 197)

We have some serious irony here. Odysseus is not really an honest person. He’s the Trickster. I’m starting to think that he is making all this up, that the odyssey is really a mental construct in Odysseus’ mind. I am going to have to start reading a little closer to see if I can uncover any more clues to support the assertion that Odysseus is really full of it and just making up a story. I’ll let you know what I discover.

Read on, friends!

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book IX – New Coasts and Poseidon’s Son

CyclopsPolyphemus

In this book, Odysseus begins telling the tale of his journey to the Phaeacians. He first tells them of his encounter with the Lotus-eaters. The lotus fruit is an intoxicant and as soon as Odysseus’ crew eats it, they lose touch with reality and only want to continue eating the fruit. After escaping from the island of the Lotus-eaters, Odysseus and his men are captured by the Cyclops Polyphemus who starts eating the men. Odysseus eventually blinds the Cyclops and escapes through trickery, causing Polyphemus to pray to his father, Poseidon, for revenge upon Odysseus.

For this post, I want to focus on the Polyphemus section. When Odysseus first encounters the Cyclops, Odysseus entreats him to show them hospitality in the name of the gods. Polyphemus’ response demonstrates a disdain for the gods, which I found interesting.

You are a ninny,
or else you come from the other end of nowhere,
telling me, mind the gods! We Kyklopes
care not a whistle for your thundering Zeus
or all the gods in bliss; we have more force by far.
I would not let you go for fear of Zeus—
you or your friends—unless I had a whim to.
Tell me, where was it, now, you left your ship—
around the point, or down the shore, I wonder?

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 153)

I consider the Cyclops to be a symbol of a myopic person, someone who can only see one side of something, usually their own. So here the Cyclops has a singular, self-centered view. He is blind to his connection with the Divine and does not see or care about how others are also connected with the Divine. He cares only about himself and satisfying his basic urges and desires. What I found ironic, though, is that after Polyphemus is blinded, then he calls upon Poseidon, his father. I find two interpretations of this. From a cynical perspective, we have the self-centered person who disregards his spiritual connection with god praying and suddenly becoming “religious” when things go awry. We have all known people like this, who claim to not care about the Divine but immediately begin to pray when faced with adversity. But I also see a more spiritual interpretation. Once Polyphemus is blinded, he no longer sees the physical world. Instead, his vision is turned within and he recognizes his connection to the world of the Divine.

I mentioned before that one of the archetypes that Odysseus represents is the Trickster. In this part of the tale, he establishes himself as the Trickster. He begins his ruse by telling Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody.”

Kyklops,
you ask my honorable name? Remember
the gift you promised me, and I shall tell you.
My name is Nohbdy: mother, father, and friends,
everyone calls me Nohbdy.

(ibid: pp. 155 – 156)

After Odysseus and his men drive the stake into the Cyclops’ eye, Polyphemus calls out to the other Cyclopes for help.

‘What ails you,
Polyphemos? Why do you cry so sore
in the starry night? You will not let us sleep.
Sure no man’s driving off your flock? No man
has tricked you, ruined you?’

Out of the cave
the mammoth Polyphemos roared in answer:

‘Nohbdy, Nohbdy’s tricked me, Nohbdy’s ruined me!’

To this rough shout they made a sage reply:

‘Ah well, if nobody has played you foul
there in your lonely bed, we are no use in pain
given by great Zeus. Let it be your father,
Poseidon Lord, to whom you pray.’

(ibid: p. 157)

Odysseus responds to the events as the Trickster would, showing delight in his craft and deception.

So saying
they trailed away. And I was filled with laughter
to see how like a charm the name deceived them.

(ibid: p. 157)

As Odysseus and his men escape from Polyphemus, Odysseus begins to take on characteristics of the hero archetype. A hero has a flaw, which ultimately leads to the hero’s fall. Frequently, hubris is the flaw which heroes exhibit, and this is the case with Odysseus. He acts out of hubris and this ultimately allows Polyphemus to summon Poseidon’s wrath upon Odysseus.

I would not heed them in my glorying spirit,
but let my anger flare and yelled:

‘Kyklops,
if ever mortal man inquire
how you were put to shame and blinded, tell him
Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye:
Laertes’ son, whose home’s on Ithaka!’

(ibid: p. 160)

This is a great book in the epic and truly demonstrates the complexity of Odysseus as a character. I hope you found my thoughts interesting and be sure to check back for my thoughts on Book X soon.

Cheers!

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“The Sandman: Overture – 4” by Neil Gaiman

SandmanOverture_04a

After months of patient waiting, issue #4 has finally arrived. It was definitely worth the wait.

The issue is a little bit confusing because it seems to be occurring at two dimensions in time and space simultaneously. In one dimension, Morpheus, the Dream Lord, is entering the City of the Stars with Hope and Cat (Cat being a manifestation of himself). Yet on a seemingly parallel plane, Dream is also meeting with his father, the masculine aspect of the Divine Dyad.

The Dream Lord entreats his father to help him prevent the undoing of all existence. His father is disinclined to assist him. In the end, though, the father concedes that he may be willing to help. The illustrations which accompany the sections relating to Dream’s encounter with his father are psychedelic and vividly colored. In fact, they reminded me a lot of Peter Max’s work.

SandmanOverture_04b

By contrast, the scenes that take place in the City of the Stars, while still surreal, are much more fluid and the colors border on the pastel.

SandmanOverture_04c

When Dream and Hope meet the insane star, the star destroys Hope. I found this to be symbolic of society’s loss of hope in the world. And the irony is that clinging to what little hope is left in the world will actually change nothing.

Hope: I… am Hope.

Star: Unfortunate last words, given the context. Three words that mean nothing. As if saying that might ever change something.

The issue concludes with Dream being imprisoned within a dark star. The colors turn ominous as deeper shades of purple, black, and grey swirl together into a dark vortex.

Star: So we will not kill you, Dream King. We will simply render you unavailable. Inside the event horizon of a dark star, nothing ever gets out. No light. No information. And definitely no dreams. Goodnight.

This was such an intense issue, I feel like I need to read it at least a couple more times to fully grok it. In fact, I will probably re-read the entire series so far. I’m sure I will catch things that I missed on my first reading.

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Symbols in “Hansel & Gretel” by Neil Gaiman: The Forest, Hunger, and the Trickster

GaimanHanselGretel

I first heard about this book in an article published by Brain Pickings and knew I would have to read it soon. I am a big fan of Gaiman’s work and I was very interested in discovering how he would rewrite the classic fairy tale. My expectations were high, but I was certainly not disappointed. I was hooked at the opening paragraph.

This all happened a long time ago, in your grandmother’s time, or in her grandfather’s. A long time ago. Back then, we all lived on the edge of the great forest.

(p. 8)

The forest or wilderness is a symbol that has always fascinated me, probably because as a kid I spent a lot of time in the woods near my house. It was a place of mystery, adventure, and danger. As I got older, I began to understand the forest as a symbol for the darker, uncivilized regions of the human consciousness.

When Hansel and Gretel’s parents decide to abandon them because they can no longer feed them, it is very symbolic that the children are abandoned in the forest. They are thrust deep into the woods and left alone. Essentially, this signifies a sort of rite of passage to adulthood, where they are forced to face the shadowy aspects of themselves and human nature, which can be dark and terrifying.

Gretel woke Hansel the next morning. “It is going to be a good day,” she said. “Our father is going to take us into the forest with him, and he will teach us to cut wood.” Their father would not ordinarily take them with him deep into the forest. He said it was too dangerous for children.

(pp. 16 – 17)

After they are abandoned in the woods, they succumb to the darkness which lies hidden in the subconscious. This is represented by shadows which grow and overwhelm the senses.

The day waned and twilight fell, and the shadows crept out from beneath each tree and puddle and pooled until the world was one huge shadow.

(p. 20)

Another symbol that figures prominently in the tale is hunger. Hunger is the most basic of instincts and drives the actions of all living things, even more so than sexual desire. Hansel and Gretel’s parents forsake their children because of hunger. It is a primordial need that can overpower all sense of reason and humanity. When the children discover that the breadcrumb trail is gone because the animals of the forest have eaten the crumbs, Gretel comments that “The creatures of the forest are hungry too.” (p. 28) And of course, it is hunger that drives the children to the old woman’s house in the woods.

They walked towards the smell: honey cake, and ginger and spices, a glorious sweetness that stole over them. Now the children ran toward the source of the smell, impelled by hunger, going in a direction they had never been before, unitl, in a clearing, they saw a tiny house, even smaller than their own.

(p. 29)

They are then captured and are faced with the terrible realization that humans, like animals, are meat and can be eaten. Cannibalism is the ultimate symbol of the dark, primordial state. It represents the animal instinct taking complete control of one’s psyche, where hunger overpowers all human reason.

The old woman was stronger than she looked—a sinewy, gristly strength: she picked Hansel up, and carried the sleeping boy into the empty stable at the rear of the little house, where there was a large metal cage with rusty bars. She dropped him onto the straw, for there was only straw on the floor, along with a few ancient and well-chewed bones, and she locked the cage, and she felt her way along the wall, back to her house.

“Meat,” she said, happily.

(p. 36)

The last symbol I would like to look at in this tale is the trickster. Hansel and Gretel embody the archetype of the trickster as symbolized by Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men are trapped by the Cyclops Polyphemus, who also plans on eating all of them. Odysseus uses trickery to outwit the Cyclops and escape. Likewise, Hansel and Gretel do the same. First, Hansel uses a bone to trick the old woman into thinking he has not gotten fat enough to cook yet.

In truth, Hansel grew fat, but the old woman was too blind to see it. Each day, she reached for his finger, but instead he would hold out a bone he had found in the straw. She felt the bone and, thinking it was the boy’s finger, left him for another day.

(p. 40)

Finally, Gretel also uses trickery to overcome the old woman. She pretends to be stupid and not to understand the woman’s instructions. This leads the old woman to open the oven door and lean inside in an attempt to show Gretel how it is done, providing the opportunity for Gretel to shove her captor inside.

“See if it is hot enough to roast your brother yet,” said the old woman. “Climb inside and tell me.”

“I don’t know how,” said Gretel, and she stood where she was, making no move to open the oven door.

“It is easy. Simply open the door, and lean in, and feel if it is hot enough yet to roast flesh.”

“I don’t know how,” said Gretel again.

“You are a slattern and a dolt!” exclaimed the old woman. “Idiot child. I will show you.” The old woman hobbled over to the oven, leaning on her stick. “Learn from me.” The old woman opened the oven door.

(p. 41)

There is a bit of irony here. Gretel learned the art of trickery from the old woman, who tricked Hansel and Gretel into entering her house.

I’d like to close with a little bit about the artwork in this book. All the illustrations are done by Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti and seem like they have been carved out of the darkest reaches of the mind. The black and white prints are so dark and shadowy, just looking at them gives you anxiety. It is the perfect visual representation of exploring the darker regions of the subconscious, of getting lost in the forest of shadows that symbolizes our hidden animalistic urges.

GaimanHanselGretel2

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