Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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The Inficratic Oath: first, post no spoilers. Limit your I.J. discussion to only those events that take place on or before the page 981 (100%).



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 Post subject: Infested! Bugs and Kafka
PostPosted: Fri Jun 26, 2009 2:23 pm 
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Location: Fresyes, CA
There's Orin's cockroaches. There's Erdedy's bug. And there's ETA's giant's "lung," which "looks like a kind of spider hanging upside-down."

Now I would like to quote ludditerobot's thoughts from the topic "Erdedy and the Bug", because I think I might be going somewhere with this, just maybe:

ludditerobot wrote:
(1) Any insistent references to bugs, generally speaking, in modern literature remind me of Kafka. This seems relevant to what has come before in IJ, b/c the theme of "inside v. outside," the "true self v. the constructed self," the "felt v. perceived self" etc. that frames all of The Metamorphosis is echoed in Hal's previous narrative. This stuff runs rampant in Erdedy's narrative, following fast on Hal's heels. There seems to be an intentional attempt to portray where someone is at as opposed to how they're perceived, and this bug plays a role in making this literal (a la Kafka). Except in IJ, the character in question considers the bug constantly, wonders at it, consciously realizes he may have something in common with it, decides against thinking too hard about what it is they have in common, etc. And as readers we are explicitly told that this is the case: in a bunch of ways, we are both asked to acknowledge how important the bug is to this particular narrative yet encouraged to shrug it off as the torrent of paranoiac prose sweeps us away (pretty effectively). Until the end of the pretty virtuoso passage, where the bug and various, unnamed "dessicated impulses" are revealed to be the focus.

(2) A friend sees the bug and its behavior as a "direct representation of addiction. It goes in, goes out, with no real purpose, but [Erdedy] doesn't want to kill it." It dominates Erdedy's sensory perception; every time he turns back to the sensory world, the bug's what he focuses on. In some sense, then, it's a representation of the "outside world," even as it mirrors back to him his "internal world."

(3) On p. 18, we find: "He sat and thought and waited in a huge uneven X of light through two different windows." This is sort of interesting as an echo of the "fingers mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X" (with "to me" so awesomely set off by commas) on the first page. Maybe something, maybe nothing. But given the weird similarity of internal/external, artifice/authenticity, and so forth between Hal and Erdedy's brief (self-told, kinda) narratives, it seems worth mentioning.

(4) The "dessicated impulses" bit is worth mentioning. Wiki has some interesting notes, particularly as they relate to insects. "Dessication," generally speaking, is a state of dryness. And things are clearly "dry" throughout this passage: it's a drug pun (i.e. nothing to be found in the area, it's "dry"), a weed pun ("dry" vs. "dank:" see the "genetically enhanced hydroponic marijuana" Erdedy scored from the previous contact ... who incidentally sprayed wet perfume all over his bed and his back, just saying), and a literal fact (the word "dryly" appears at least three times in the final bit btw pg. 23-24, along with "dessicated," but far more before then: while Erdedy's parting kiss of the previous woman had been "moist," he remembers sex after smoking weed with disgust ... the "dry mouths bumping at each other," his "self-conscious thoughts twisting on themselves like a snake on a stick while he bucked and snorted dryly above her," her mouth on his pillow "working dryly."). There's all kinds of dry stuff going on, and the bug seems to play a part: Representing these "dessicated impulses," then, on some other level? The "dryness" of addiction and otherness and being locked inside? Or of not being understood? Or of the sublimation of sexual (and other?) desire beneath the routines of self-satisfaction?

I dunno. Anyone have other thoughts?


Hal's addiction to "getting secretly high"* parallels other parts of the story so far. Like Erdedy, Hal's seems to be addicted to the ritual more than the drug. Hal has to climb into something to perform his ritual, possibly a metaphor for secrecy, rebirth, or alienation (all that good Kafka stuff).

Now there's another bit I wanted to mention that doesn't have to do with bugs, but does tie in with hiding in things, or climbing into things, from a disturbing scene that no one has mentioned yet (that I've noticed)—part where Orin's Subject is watching the cartridge about the paranoid schizophrenic whose worst fear comes true and he is encased in the imaging tube. Being "encased" for some people can be either a very comforting or a very traumatic experience, and there seems to be some encasing going on, especially if one reads as much Kafka into IJ as Hamlet. All the bugs so far described are "dry" bugs, with thick hard exoskeletons—thick sheaths to protect them from the outside world. This can be seen as hiding, finding safety, finding peace, running from paranoid delusions, or shutting oneself off from others, either purposely or involuntarily. These dry, hard desert bugs are asocial, and sometimes ruthless and cruel. People who fear bugs fear how they sneak up on you when you think you're alone, how they hide in the darkest corners of rooms, and haunt dark corners of minds. We don't like how they don't follow the rules of physics or society that we follow, that they paralyze their prey, they walk on ceilings, they survive in extreme heat. Hey, that did turn out to be about bugs!

*I love that phrase. I love everything about it. I love the split infinitive, if that's what it is, I love how he never, ever just gets high, but always gets secretly high. He never even slips up and secretly gets high. Genius.

Feel free to shoot down or elaborate on my probably shoddy rhetoric. I'm used to analyzing art and music, not literature.


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 Post subject: Re: Infested! Bugs and Kafka
PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:24 am 
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Going along with the encasing theme, there is the bound and gagged Quebec man who later suffocates.

As to dryness, I want to add Hal's dry saliva sounds in the professional conversationalist section as another exhibit.

I think humans have a view of bugs as being something that's other, or depersonalized. When we (or I) see a bug, a wall shunts down between it and us. Humans can relate to certain animals, sometimes reptiles, and even plants. In terms of bugs maybe butterflies and lady bugs are the exceptions, but have you ever looked closely at them and thought better of your previous attraction? Maybe because bugs cannot create visual expressions, or sounds, that seem common or relate-able to human expressions.

Maybe DFW is using our natural feelings about bugs to convey a strong, visceral sense of depersonalization between people, though Kafka was probably the earlier one to do it. He isn't just saying that people in this book have lost something of their ability to communicate, but making us feel it through his analogy. I don't like to boil it all down to being just a conscious literary device of some kind, because there is something sort of deep down about most people's feelings toward bugs (yeah, entomologists being the exception).

Interestingly enough, I think the bug analogy also conveys a sense of powerlessness, especially when you are viewing the world from the perspective of the bug itself. All sorts of examples here I think: Erdedy bound within his addiction, the gagged and suffocating Quebec man, the poor student subject in the schizophrenic cartridge. In these cases we feel terrified sympathy (I do at least) towards those in a bug-like situation.

Even the first scene in which Hal tries to compose his outward appearance to match his inward intent seems to have something to do with being like a bug. He might be soft and squishy on the inside, but no one can tell until they've turned you into a squashed mess.


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 Post subject: Re: Infested! Bugs and Kafka
PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:38 am 
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Location: Fresyes, CA
Right—there are a lot of torture scenes in the book, and one of the first if not the first is the idea of leaving those cockroaches to slowly suffocate in their gas chambers. What makes those scenes so icky, of course, is the powerlessness of the victim. And as I was writing this, I just squashed a bug. And I'm a vegetarian.


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 Post subject: Re: Infested! Bugs and Kafka
PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 7:24 am 
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If you're here and you're interested in Kafka and the Metamorphosis and torture, you'd probably enjoy Wallace's brief discussion on Kafka, which can be found here among other places: http://www.badgerinternet.com/~bobkat/kafka.html


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