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: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 5:53 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jul 01, 2009 10:52 am
Posts: 12
Location: Phoenix, AZ
I have been perplexed by references to the use of Lemon Pledge as a sunscreen each of the several times I have started (but never finished) reading IJ. The first reference appears near the bottom of p. 99: “It turns out Lemon Pledge, when it’s applied in pre-play stasis and allowed to dry to a thin crust, is a phenomenal sunscreen, UV rating like 40+, and the only stuff anywhere than can survive a three-set sweat.” Its use for this purpose is subsequently mentioned at various points in the ETA/Hal narrative.

As a resident of Phoenix, whose climate is aptly described by Orin early in the book, and a runner, I was intrigued by DFW’s possible discovery of a kick-ass sunscreen.

I did a little casual research on Google, and found that the issue has intrigued other readers. The consensus seems to be that not only is Lemon Pledge not useful as a sunscreen, but that contact with the skin can be harmful. (Interestingly, the search for “Lemon Pledge sunscreen” yielded a gem that is sufficiently bizarre to have been conceived by DFW himself. In a forum for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (whose climates resemble Arizona’s) called “The Sandbox,” (http://gocomics.typepad.com/the_sandbox ... y-sup.html), a GI posted a lengthy discussion of the many utterly useless provisions that were shipped to his unit, which included the following statement: “Some of the things we get we just have to scratch our heads, because we don't know why anyone would ask for it -- i.e. 25 cases of Lemon Pledge. We can't give most of it back. No one else wants it either.” Among the replies was a suggestion that the Lemon Pledge may have been intended as sunscreen, because “it really works.”)

In any event, I have tentatively concluded that DFW was bullshitting us with the Lemon Pledge. It continues to intrigue, however, because it seems that little, if anything, in IJ was included by chance. Why, then, Lemon Pledge? Why not Nutella or motor oil or any of an infinite variety of other substances that could have been allegedly used at ETA for sunscreen? I have wracked my brain for any significance to the choice of Lemon Pledge.

Another possibility just perverse enough to fit the tone of IJ is that Lemon Pledge is what Hitchcock called a “Macguffin,” a false hint dropped by DFW to mock the reader who seeks significance in every object and reference, just as we did our high school English teachers who found what we mockingly called “hidden inner meaning” in the required reading, i.e., the symbolism of the Dr. Eckleburg billboard in “The Great Gatsby.”

I wondered if anyone had any ideas.

Ron Kershaw


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 6:54 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:30 am
Posts: 30
Let me start by saying this: "OMG, someone else was forced to dismantle Gatsby at the microscopic level in high school and find meaning that surely wasn't there?!" This brings me a small amount of joy.
Now to the task at hand: I've got no idea (helpful, aren't I?). If, as you say, Lemon Pledge is truly worthless as a sunscreen, then I'm leaning towards the Macguffin explanation.
But, going Gatsby on it, perhaps he picked it as a commentary on our culture's ridiculous commodification of everything, on the corporate tendency to try anything to get you to buy their product. I can just see a guy, smiling much too wide and showing teeth that are so white they dazzle the eye, yelling into the camera all of Pledge's many household uses, including being useful as a sunscreen!
Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that Pledge also means "promise." If I was still in high school and disinterested in deeper meaning where I believe there is none, then I might be tempted to say that it's a joke, that the kids are making a citrus-scented promise to elevate their game to the next level. But that makes about as much sense as Fitzgerald purposely picking green as a car's interior color to symbolize money. Maybe he just liked green.

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"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: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 7:13 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2009 7:21 pm
Posts: 63
Location: Fresyes, CA
The Dr Eckleburg billboard represent the judgmental omnipresent gaze of God. It was significantly placed outside of the residence of the only character to in the book to act based on his morals, although his actions were evil. Also, Daisy was Zelda.

I think the Lemon Pledge is partly supposed to be funny, and partly supposed to be more about the bug/cage theme. Like during one of the locker room scenes (was there more than one? I forget) when the little kids are peeling body-part shaped "husks" of Lemon Pledge off of themselves. Maybe DFW wanted that image of some substance sort of glazed over and crusting and becoming like an SPF exoskeleton, and the physical properties of Lemon Pledge fit the bill.

Incidentally, Lemon Pledge doesn't crust, it absorbs; at least on leather. I haven't tried it on actual live human skin and I'm not going to.


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 7:14 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2009 7:36 pm
Posts: 42
Location: Korea
Man, whenever they mention applying Lemon Pledge, I can't help but think of the smell...AHHH refreshing!


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2009 7:41 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jun 21, 2009 11:35 am
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Wow, you did so much research on the Lemon Pledge thing. The soldiers receiving a load of pledge is a great story.

Lemon Pledge just seemed ridiculous enough to make an impression I guess, because you almost believe it and don't believe it at the same time. Other examples might be too plausible or acceptable that they fade into the background... maybe.

But you know there's no real hard evidence that sunscreen works, right? Look it up.


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:46 pm 
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Location: Seattle, WA, USA
Of course maybe in the weird "post-Reconfiguration" near-future of IJ L.P. has a different chemical make-up that works as a UV-blocking sunscreen. ;)


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 4:31 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2009 5:58 pm
Posts: 14
Well, if we want to muse on the significance of Lemon Pledge vs. other products within Infinite Jest, Lemon Pledge is a product meant for cleaning (wood, specifically, although I don't see wood as particularly significant here), and one theme in Infinite Jest is compulsiveness, specifically O.C.D.-like compulsiveness, O.C.D. most commonly manifesting itself in compulsions of cleanliness.


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:06 pm 
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Joined: Sat Jun 06, 2009 10:01 pm
Posts: 82
Location: Mansfield, MA
Any hardcore tennis players here should know if the LP thing is real or not. Unfortunately all I learned about tennis, I learned from DFW... :roll:

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"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you." DFW


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 8:39 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2009 7:21 pm
Posts: 63
Location: Fresyes, CA
rasnider wrote:
Of course maybe in the weird "post-Reconfiguration" near-future of IJ L.P. has a different chemical make-up that works as a UV-blocking sunscreen. ;)

Maybe in the post-Reconfiguration near future, the Sun has a different chemical make-up.

My high school tennis coach never told us about Lemon Pledge. Perhaps she was just unenlightened. Maybe things are different now and today tennis-playing teenagers of the San Joaquin Valley need not be burned to a crisp in 110º sunshine. I wonder if it has to be the aerosol kind or just the spritz kind?


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 Post subject: Re: Lemon Pledge
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 8:17 am 
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Joined: Wed Jul 08, 2009 4:17 am
Posts: 14
Location: Central Vermont
As a high school English teacher who has taken on Infinite Jest as my summer reading this year, I've been enjoying tremendously the astute observations that new and veteran IJers have offered. If I might offer my two-cents' worth regarding Fitzgerald, what the Eckleburg billboard represents in Gatsby is the absence of judgment, or of any kind of accountability, in the lives of the characters. The fact that the only suggestions of judgment come from an old, peeling billboard and the drunk "owl-eyed" man at Gatsby's party serves only to emphasize the lack of such real judgment. The only one to see the sign as God is the moral Mr. Wilson who, sadly, inhabits a 20th century modern world that's lost its morality. He even has the late dream to go west, the land from which the other characters have come due to the dreams of their ancestors having been expended once they reached the west coast. (Steinbeck's "Leader of the People" sheds even more light on this.) I love that Gatsby has been invoked here; the parallels to IJ are really striking when one considers DFW's comments, in his Kenyon address and the novel, on all that people in the US have come to worship and what's become of our culture.


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