Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 4:08 am 
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Thought I'd start a new topic here. I could be way off, but I am often reminded of many issues that Burroughs dealt with in many of his novels and essays while reading IJ. There are the obvious links to drug addiction and detailed information about different kinds of drugs. But there is also the whole theme of addiction being bigger than simply a chemical need. Burroughs was always careful to point out that heroin addiction was only one aspect of a larger affliction that Controls all areas of our personal, political, and social lives. And the word "Control" was always an important one for him. Essentially Burroughs is asking: "Aren't we all junkies in the end, and isn't the real problem figuring out how to rid ourselves of the need; rid ourselves of the Pusher?"

I also think that many of DFW's uses of dialect and stream of consciousness might be influenced as much by a reading of Burroughs as it is by a reading of Joyce.

And lastly, these three quotes from Burroughs:

"The 'Other Half' is the word. The 'Other Half' is an organism. Word is an organism. The presence of the 'Other Half' is a separate organism attached to your nervous system on an air line of words can now be demonstrated experimentally. One of the most common 'hallucinations' of subject during sense withdrawal is the feeling of another body sprawled through the subject's body at an angle...yes quite an angle it is the 'Other Half' worked quite some years on a symbiotic basis. From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word."

"Junk yields a basic formula of 'evil' virus: *The Algebra of Need*. The face of 'evil' is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: '*Wouldn't you*?' Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do *anything* to satisfy total need. Because you would be in a state of total sickness, total possession, and not in a position to act in any other way. Dope fiends are sick people who cannot act other than they do. A rabid dog cannot choose but bite."

"Language is a virus from outer space."


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 10:52 am 
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I've been getting a sort of general Burroughs-feeling as I read IJ, but... well, I think Eggers puts it simply but pretty well in his introduction to the 10th anniversary paperback: "...Burroughs ingested every controlled substance he could buy or borrow. But Wallace is a different sort of madman, one in full control of his tools..." (though we now know of course that DFW had struggles of his own).


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 6:01 pm 
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rasnider wrote:
I've been getting a sort of general Burroughs-feeling as I read IJ, but... well, I think Eggers puts it simply but pretty well in his introduction to the 10th anniversary paperback: "...Burroughs ingested every controlled substance he could buy or borrow. But Wallace is a different sort of madman, one in full control of his tools..." (though we now know of course that DFW had struggles of his own).


Thank you for bringing that up so I can share my doubts, hope they make sense to you. I was kind of sad when I read that quote, since William S. Burroughs appears, to me, as a much more complex figure then that - one to be studied, contextualized etc. And as tomj points out, "control" was actually an important concept for him. He of all people was aware of his tools and methods, such as the language, the writing and their influence and power. And I think he was a very sharp and precise writer, actually, in his own way, producing well constructed and intriguing pages that have probably inspired many, directly or indirectly, and I have yet to understand how this lineage leads or does not lead to DFW. And yes, that does sometimes come to mind while I'm reading IJ.

I was wondering, how is W.S. Burroughs normally categorized within American literature, by writers, readers, professors, researchers, critics and such?

Can you think of possible lineages and maps that link WSB and DFW? Anything to do with Thomas Pynchon?

BTW I'm very glad to be reading IJ, and Infinite Summer is a particularly interesting experience, thank you all.
But more on that later.


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 7:01 pm 
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Unfortunately, I have nothing to add to the discussion.
What I'd like is some suggestions on good Burroughs reading, as my interest has been piqued. Thanks in advance!

_________________
"It is easy to put on a show & be cocky. . . Or I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself. . . now that, my friend, is very hard to do." --Bruce Lee


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 12:08 am 
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polymathicj wrote:
Unfortunately, I have nothing to add to the discussion.
What I'd like is some suggestions on good Burroughs reading, as my interest has been piqued. Thanks in advance!


Naked Lunch is always a good introduction to Burroughs. If you like it, you will find yourself addicted to him (he-he).

rasnider wrote:
I've been getting a sort of general Burroughs-feeling as I read IJ, but... well, I think Eggers puts it simply but pretty well in his introduction to the 10th anniversary paperback: "...Burroughs ingested every controlled substance he could buy or borrow. But Wallace is a different sort of madman, one in full control of his tools..." (though we now know of course that DFW had struggles of his own).


I hate to be sacrilegious here, but I disagree with Eggers, and agree with Olija. I feel Burroughs was equally in control of his tools as DFW. And while his (Burroughs's) style is quite different, I am finding that both guys are dealing with some of the same issues. Besides, one does not have to emulate an admired artist to be influenced by his/her ideas.

I also agree with Olija that we need to look at DFW's relationship to Pynchon as well.

As to the question of how Americans categorize Burroughs: I am an American who loves his work, but I am not sure how he is seen in his own country. I suspect that today he is dismissed as "an interesting author with nothing to contribute in the end."


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 1:22 am 
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I should probably note that at least a little bit of my hesitation to "go along" with the Burroughs stuff is totally pyscho-biographical bias, having gone on huge Burroughs-and-other-dark-junkie-books period in high school and getting totally burnt-out on the whole worldview, and beatnik malaise, etc. etc.
That said, I think it's a fair point that "influence" and "agreement" are entirely different beasts (see, just as one instance, Bloom's Anxiety of Influence).
At any rate I do wonder how much was direct influence and how much was sort of Wallace-reading-Pynchon/Gaddis/et al.-reading-Burroughs. A chart would be really quite helpful, and stunning.


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 2:21 pm 
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Quote:
I also agree with Olija that we need to look at DFW's relationship to Pynchon as well.


I would love a discussion of Wallace & Pynchon, since they're arguably my two favorite American authors and there's no shortage of material, or stylistic or philosophical or technical points, to compare. I kind of feel like this might warrant its own thread rather than taking over this one, but, in the interest of getting that conversation going anyway, here are some pretty fascinating (more or less spoiler-free, I hope) comments from DFW on the matter (from a 1997 interview published in the Minnesota Daily, a student paper right up the road from where I'm sitting):

Quote:
Q: So now we see Pynchon scrambling to keep up with the techniques that television stole from him.

A: Pynchon's another one whom I regard as really kind of old-fashioned. I like early Pynchon. I like The Crying of Lot 49. I like Gravity's Rainbow. But the Pynchon of Slow Learner and Vineland, which I didn't like very much, seems to be making the same tired jokes -- 'look how shallow and superficial the culture is.' All right -- I've been told -- TV itself now tells that to me. It just seems like more of the same. I'm not as big a Pynchon fan as some other people are.

Q: The word Pynchon is on every one of you're book covers as a comparison. Does this drive you crazy?

A: Pynchon was important to me when I was in college. The first book that I wrote, Broom of the System, some reviewer for the New York Times said it was a rip-off of The Crying of Lot 49, like that I hadn't read yet. So I got all pissed, and then I went and read The Crying of Lot 49, and it was absolutely, incredibly good. I think a certain amount of this is marketing, and, you know, the fastest way to tell what something is like is to compare it to something else. And having read Gaddis and having read Pynchon and DeLillo and Coover and McElroy and Sorrentino, I can see that the kind of stuff that I do or like that Bill Vollmann does or that Richard Powers does is certainly more like that than it's like, you know, Irwin Shaw or John Updike. Writers are bad to ask about this though, because we're all egomaniacs, and we all want to be utterly unique and, you know, not like anybody else, and so there's a certain amount of bristling about it, but after a while there's just no way to help it. Gravity's Rainbow is a great book, but for the most part Pynchon kind of annoys me, and I think his approach to a certain amount of stuff is kind of shallow, to be honest with you. So I get uncomfortable about that, and when people ask it over and over again I get the sense that they're saying they think I'm ripping him off or just rehashing stuff he's done, in which case I get pissed, but if that's how they're seeing it, it means I've failed. I mean if my stuff's coming off derivative of somebody else, it means there's something that I'm doing that isn't right. But I find myself doing it all the time. I'll see a movie, and I'll really like it, and I'll recommend it to friends, and I'll say, well, it's sort of like this combined with this. I mean it's such a convenient shorthand. And nobody likes to have it done to them. You don't want to have a friend say to you, 'You're just exactly like this other guy we know.' You say, 'No, I'm not. I'm me.' But we do it to each other all the time.

Q: Are the names Mondragon and Bodine (from Infinite Jest) allusions to Pynchon's Kurt Mondaugen and Pig Bodine?

A: Well, Jethro Bodine is from The Beverly Hillbillies. That's not a Pig Bodine thing. But there were a few -- That thing in Infinite Jest where two representatives (Steeply and Marathe) of two countries are on a cliff-side and are making enormous shadows and playing with it -- and there's even the use of the word Brockengespenst, which comes out of Slothrop and Geli Tripping (from Gravity's Rainbow) fucking on the Brockengespenst -- that's an outright allusion. And I think there are a couple -- that's not supposed to be any kind of inter-textual allusion. I just thought it was really cool. And I've been to Tucson, and you actually can do that with the shadows, and I thought it was neat. But I'm not trying to lace the book with allusions to other texts. There's nothing wrong with it. I'm not just particularly interested in it.


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2009 11:49 am 
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I thought I might have been going crazy. Also look at the James and his father section and compare it to "The Discipline of DE." Then "The Junky's Christmas" and the yrstruly section, especially how Chinese dealers appear regularly throughout Burrough's work.


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2009 12:02 pm 
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tomj wrote:
polymathicj wrote:
Unfortunately, I have nothing to add to the discussion.
What I'd like is some suggestions on good Burroughs reading, as my interest has been piqued. Thanks in advance!


Naked Lunch is always a good introduction to Burroughs. If you like it, you will find yourself addicted to him (he-he).


Many thanks!

_________________
"It is easy to put on a show & be cocky. . . Or I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself. . . now that, my friend, is very hard to do." --Bruce Lee


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 Post subject: Re: William S. Burroughs and IJ
PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2009 12:35 pm 
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polymathicj, I would also suggest The Wild Boys or Cities of the Red Night as very good places to start. They follow more of a traditional plot, in my opinion, and Cities starts the trilogy that ends in my very favorite WSB book, The Western Lands.


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