Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2009 5:06 pm 
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Ok, I spent a lot of time on planes in the past month or so, so I have to admit that I've finished IJ again, for the second time. I also had very sporadic internet access during that time, so I couldn't really keep up with the infinitesummer project, and I'm pretty upset. But, that being said, I've been doing some retrospective thinking about most of what's going on (as a reader is wont to do after IJ, and I keep spiraling back to my main man, Mario Incandenza.

I can't decide if Mario is the brightest light of hope in the novel, if he is merely a plot device used for Hal and other characters to echo off of (not to mention a well of opportunity for DFW to show off his medical terminology), or if he is in fact an inherently depressing character, a deformed bastardization that shows how our perceptions force our eyes to slide past and fail to truly interface.

I really, truly, want to be inspired by Mario. The particular passages about his asking April about someone being sad, and his homodontically-grinning acceptance of the trainer's "Please, touch me" showed me a subtlety and joie de vivre, but Hal's tennis metaphor (all from Hal's perspective) about Mario being incapable of detecting lies makes him seem that much more inhuman. But my conflict is summed up perfectly in his interaction with Lamont Chu - his enthusiasm is infecting, but is it also depressing in that it evidences Mario's inability to feel true emotion? Do we ever see him sad?

Sorry for rambling. Also, I feel like Mario is superficially the hopeful, joyful character that I want him to be. I just want to know if that analysis carries deeper.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 5:55 am 
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So I've been doing this strange compare&contrast b/w Infinite Jest and The Brothers Karamazov, and it's been working very well. I can give you an answer in terms of what I've found, if you'd like.

Mario's supposed to be the Alyosha Karamazov, the only brother of the three who the narrator of BK calls the 'hero' of the story. Over and over. It's clear that Alyosha, who's character is nearly identical to Mario, is the giant hope of the novel. He's the youngest brother, the most devout, and pretty much always knows what he's doing.

Mario's identical in the devout/knows what he's doing aspect. + he's about the only person who doesn't take the G-word for granted. Same thing happens in BK. But the big difference is that Mario is crippled. He's completely incapable of participating in normal life. If this were Camus' The Plague Mario would be someone outside of Oran looking in. He's an outsider, he's different. That's not to say he's exempt from the same suffering everybody else deals with, but Wallace makes it perfectly clear that his perspective is radically different.

Spoiler warning here. Spoiler! "Near the end of the book, if you've gotten there, is the story of Barry Loach, the trainer, and his own brother. Besides this section containing the most obvious reference to BK, it also clarifies the major difference b/w Mario and Alyosha. It is, unfortunately, a matter of opinion. Technically, yes, Mario touches Loach and the other homeless and shows them that the human soul is not completely selfish, etc, etc. But on the other hand, this is Mario. He's of course going to touch their hands, he's an idiot like that. Re: Dostoevsky's 'The Idiot'. It depends on how cynical you want to be."

That's the major point here. It depends on what you want. That's the point Wallace is driving towards throughout IJ. You will believe only if you want to believe.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 6:12 am 
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If you want to know my personal opinion, Mario's not the hero here. He's too damned crippled. Now, why?

Why does Wallace make the one person who is completely naive (completely honest) a cripple? My way of looking at it is that you can't be a normal, functioning person and be completely honest, is what Wallace is saying. Things get in the way.

For examples of what gets in the way look at Jim, Jim Sr., Hal, Orin, Avril, JvD, etc, etc.

The hero of IJ, if not everyone (because in the end everybody starts to improve - the A.D.A, Hal, Mikey, Marathe, etc - well not everybody but there's a general trend of improvement (except for Orin, which is extremely sad, to me)), the hero of IJ is Hal. This is the intelligent, enlightened atheist, Ivan Karamazov.

Ivan/Hal is like a firestorm inside, especially near the end of both books. Both characters, at first sarcastic and with an answer for everything, by the end become creatures of pure doubt. They don't know which way is up.

Incidentally here, in Zen there is this thing called Satori - it's a moment of enlightenment, a moment of clarity which comes suddenly, when a person achieves this state of absolute doubt.

So apply the same thing here. Wallace has us leave Hal when he is in utter disharmony, and not the worst of it either - that comes around the time of the SATs, I'm guessing. But what he doesn't show us is the aftermath - Hal recovered, Hal enlightened. Or rather he does - the first chapter - but of course this is where a whole other thing called solipsism comes in.

Anyway, Wallace knows what Camus knows - that you cannot offer any kind of answer unless you have experienced, and learned from, suffering. Mario is incapable of learning what Hal might. It's up to Hal to overcome his personal doubt and become, well, something like Gately.

That's what I think. Sorry if this is inarticulate, I'm in a hurry and typing too fast to check. I might rewrite this, if you need me to. Anyway what makes IJ such a profoundly sad book is that even after all this inner turmoil stuff -might- be resolved, there is still that inability to communicate. We remain divided.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 7:46 am 
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I don't believe there's a hero in IJ, per se, though the 2 main protagonists are Gately and Hal. I think it's pretty clear that DFW wanted, in this book, to not only outline the conditions of what makes our culture and society sick (so to speak), but also to offer up glimmers of hope and possible paths to finding a cure. In this particular mission, I think Mario is the most telling example (Gately being second) and a vastly important character. Mario rejects pessimism and irony, which are two hand in hand diseases that DFW seems to feel pervade the culture, and instead yearns to embrace true feeling, empathy, emotion. Refer to his thoughts on why he likes madame P's radio show so much, the part in the book where he recalls Pemulis' "Athiest Prayer hotline" joke, or the part where he's the only one who will shake the disguised athletic trainers' hand. It seems to me Mario's grave physical deformities serve 2 purposes: One is to mirror the sickened state of society, and two is to illustrate that people can overcome anything and learn to reach out, break through, feel, be more human/humane. It's quite an irony, because looking from the long lens, anyone would say of the 3 brothers, Orin and Hal (until his collapse) are the ones who are doing best by society's standards, but they are both generally either miserable or unfeeling, obsessed with pursuing things that take them further from being an in touch human. So what does that say about society? Mario is definitely a big, big key to the perscriptive aspect of IJ in my mind, and my favorite character.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 10:42 am 
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Mario makes me think of this: for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

I don't think he's a hero, I think he's a helper. I don't know if hero works for anyone in the book, except maybe Don Gately. But Mario also only does his ignoring what you're saying thing when he doesn't have an answer for you.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Sat Aug 15, 2009 2:48 am 
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I am almost finished and i am starting to feel Don Gately is the true hero of this book...


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Thu Aug 20, 2009 11:53 am 
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I'm a huge Dostoevsky fan, so the Brothers Karamazov parallels in IJ are like, too obvious for me not to pipe up here.

For those of you unaware, the Brothers K. focuses on three siblings and their detached, unloving father. The oldest brother, Dmitri, is described often as a 'sensualist' and is governed by his desires, often indulging in nights filled with women, drinking, and debauchery in general. He also resents his father for pursuing the same woman as he.

Ivan, the middle brother, is an intellectual and an atheist. He's a bit too smart for his own good, and by the end of the novel he's gone from a sharp-tongued smartass to a complete emotional/mental mess, carted away from a courtroom babbling incoherently.

Alyosha, the youngest, is described as the 'hero' by the narrator. He's unconditionally loving of all human beings and is easily accessible and approached by all. And though he's described as the hero, much more of the book focuses on Ivan and Dmitri than it does on Alyosha.

Now, does any of this sound familiar?

I'd argue that Mario's the hero of this book. Yes--he's pretty much a human being by the loosest definition of the term, but I think that's exactly the point. In order to be a truly great person, you need to be somewhat detached from the rest of humanity...this is a very Dostoevsykian theme, albeit more relevant to The Idiot than the Brothers K.

I'd say Don Gately's a heroic character also, but the spiritual hero of Infinite Jest has to be Mario Incandenza. Gately's an example of how someone can rise up from the absolute worst place a human being can be and redeem themselves. Mario's an example of greatness and purity that does not need to seek redemption.

thelastbulgarian wrote:
Spoiler warning here. Spoiler! "Near the end of the book, if you've gotten there, is the story of Barry Loach, the trainer, and his own brother. Besides this section containing the most obvious reference to BK, it also clarifies the major difference b/w Mario and Alyosha. It is, unfortunately, a matter of opinion. Technically, yes, Mario touches Loach and the other homeless and shows them that the human soul is not completely selfish, etc, etc. But on the other hand, this is Mario. He's of course going to touch their hands, he's an idiot like that. Re: Dostoevsky's 'The Idiot'. It depends on how cynical you want to be."

Yes, but even in the cynical approach to the Loach story, you call Mario an 'idiot like that. Re: Dostovsky's "The Idiot". ' You have to remember that the 'Idiot' in the novel is Prince Myshkin, who Dostoevsky referred to later as 'a character with an absolutely beautiful nature.' The man who's called an idiot is actually a perfect human being, but the cynical and hateful world refuses to see that. Yeah, it depends on your perspective, but I really think Wallace puts the Loach story in at the emotionally climactic point of the novel for a reason. It's supposed to touch us, not make us dismissive of Mario. Knowing what I know about DFW, I think he'd highly discourage a cynical perspective.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2009 10:39 am 
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hey poor yorick, I was really glad to find this response to my earlier post! I wasn't sure there was anyone else on here interested in wallace/dostoevsky analyses.

I have to confess, I hadn't read The Idiot when I wrote that last post, and so what I said was, I think now, fairly ignorant. But I've since then read The Idiot (just finished it the other day), and have a better idea of where the novel fits in in this argument.

However I still disagree with you; I still believe Wallace made Mario as weak and fragile as he is to prove a point - no person can be subjected to the inevitable horrors of our modern USA and remain Mario (or Alyosha, Myshkin, etc). Mario has been removed from the 'Plague'-like equation, and so cannot be a hero.

You said:
poor yorick wrote:
You have to remember that the 'Idiot' in the novel is Prince Myshkin, who Dostoevsky referred to later as 'a character with an absolutely beautiful nature.'
This is absolutely true, but remember that Myshkin doesn't succeed. He fails, he loses his identity, he in fact only ever gets the chance to voice his opinions at the engagement party - and is entirely misunderstood. Myshkin is Mario if Mario were subjected to the outside world, and not kept sheltered at ETA with Schtitt and Avril keeping an eye on him.

Mario may be Wallace's version of 'a character with an absolutely beautiful nature,' but he is, like Myshkin, incapable of heroism - he is too removed.

Wallace's hero, if not heroes, is the person who suffers like any other person and yet is capable of handling and even helping others through the accumulation of this suffering (=experience). This is Gately, possibly Marathe, the A.D.A., maybe Hal, Mikey of the last AA scene, etc.

But the most important point is this: you said that Wallace put the Loach episode at the most climactic moment of the novel for a reason, and I agree with you. Just because Mario is not a hero does not mean he's not capable of accidental heroism. In fact I believe Wallace uses this episode precisely to illustrate the fragility of all belief - he's keeping us tuned in to the inevitability that the reality of what we worship is much bleaker than we might like to accept. Loach misunderstands Mario in this scene - here again is the tragedy of miscommunication - and puts his faith in something which is much less concrete than he can imagine. This isn't a regular member of 'Plague'-like society, this is Mario, an outsider.

I agree with you also that Wallace would frown at a cynical interpretation - but maybe this isn't about cynicism. Maybe this is why Wallace calls Infinite Jest a 'sad' book; in fact no Dostoevsky-type scenario can exist (when Vonnegut said in Slaughterhouse-Five that The Brothers Karamazov 'is not enough anymore'). The real world is too damn tainted, and to be grown-up means to accept this corruption and learn some sort of happiness in spite of it. That happiness is often misguided, but maybe we can't help it.

I don't know; what do you think?


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 Post subject: Re: Mario Incandenza.
PostPosted: Sat Aug 29, 2009 1:12 pm 
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I don't think it's sad that Mario is physically demolished from birth, and thus cannot be a hero, I think it's sad that Mario is the bona fide hero of the book, its heart and soul, AND he has to fundamentally live a life so separated from nearly every form of human life (sex, walking, manual dexterity, etc). The Loach story, both times I've read the book, leaves me completely in tears. Not in a "Oh Poor Mario" kind of way, but just that such unfettered, pure humane decency even exists.

Such a staggeringly beautiful moment.


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