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Infinite Summer • View topic - retrograde amines

Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
It is currently Sat Jul 04, 2020 1:42 pm

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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: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 12:31 am 
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Hal's "subjective intuition and rhetorical flourish" that ends Hal's seventh-grade essay has me fascinated (p 142):

"We await, I predict, the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines."

At first I try to relate this back to Hal's condition at the beginning of the novel, though his thought process there does not seem accurately described as "divorced from all stimulus."

Then I try to relate it to Hamlet, in terms of "hero of non-action"...

But then I also can't get an idea of what could possibly be meant by "retrograde amines." It could be meaningless and completely rhetorical, as charged; but the fact that the section title points to this paragraph for us like a signpost, along with the multilayer familiar nature of what he Hal is saying, makes me think this paragraph is pretty important.

Any ideas?


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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 3:40 am 
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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:15 am 
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I think Hal's saying that modern (or postmodern or postpostmodern or whatever: how about just "contemporary"?) life is so overwhelming and complex (far beyond the bureaucratic complexity faced by the 80s hero Hal describes) and so filled with stimuli that some people find it easier to simply leave it, mentally. While it's not really possible to divorce yourself from "all" stimuli (except by, well, probably death), you do see many characters in the novel grasping one stimulus and obsessing over it, almost in order to avoid having to deal with all others. Whether it be drugs or TP cartridges or tennis, these characters are picking one thing out and deriving entertainment from it alone, so that they don't really have to act or progress with any other part of their lives.


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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 2:18 pm 
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Also worth noting that, from what we've seen with the medical attache so far, we can reasonably assume that The Entertainment renders its viewers similarly catatonic and divorced of all stimulus.


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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 8:38 am 
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the reference to Hamlet as a hero of "non-action" is really interesting, especially since "Hamlet" as a play is often read as the dawn of a new kind of consciousness associated with modernity...Hamlet can't act because he is holding out for proof of his uncle's crime. he doesn't trust the ghost--it could be that his senses have been tricked by the devil or some other kind of malevolent force. it's a problem of how to know the truth of someone else's feelings and thoughts, how to "catch their conscience" when all of court life is a kind of public performance.

hamlet, though, was considered unmanly for his inability to act, to avenge his father by killing Claudius...some people read that as a mark of his humanity, though--that he delayed and delayed because no matter what kind of "honor" was at stake, he couldn't convince himself that he was justified in taking another human life. That's why he spends so much time thinking about life and what makes it worth living...

one other thing--in traditional drama, "action" is what defines the forward movement through the story--I guess that's what the Hawaii 5-0 model of heroism is also supposed to index. but forward movement through the story, at least in a straightforward sense, is NOT what we're getting in Wallace's novel. it makes me wonder if Wallace is critiquing the naivete of a straightforward story with clear beginning, middle and end, or if he's kind of nostalgic for it. the catatonic hero does seem like a PRODUCT of postpostmodern culture, not the figure who will redeem us from it.


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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 10:25 am 
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I've just started again and noticed one of the essays Hal'd submitted to the University of Arizona was "The Emergence of Heroic Stasis in Broadcast Entertainment" (pg7) - the same one (even though it only got a B and isn't that recent)?


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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 1:08 pm 
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isn't the Big Lebowski what Hal is predicting?


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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 3:55 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:54 pm 
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The connections people have drawn to The Entertainment and Hamlet are great. In fact it seems an almost direct reference to The Entertainment's effects, and I can't believe that that didn't occur to me earlier.

As to Hamlet, I think we're seeing the theme of inaction being taken to an extreme here. But just as in Hamlet, it's not really all the fault of our protagonists: part of it is the cause of society and of the previous generations. Hal's essay itself deals with the progress from one decade to the next, showing that heroes didn't suddenly become less active and forward, but rather became so as society gradually came to expect them to be. The effect of one generation on the next is especially apparent in the B.S. 1960 section with J.O.I.'s father. Here we see the parents of one generation causing the next to act how it will, just as Hamlet—who really only wanted to return to school in Wittenberg and live his own life—fell into conflict and tragedy because his uncle killed his father and his father's ghost told him to seek revenge. The pressures were too much and he fell to inaction. Admirable, but it didn't solve any problems. In IJ, we see characters finding the pressures being put on them by previous generations (e.g., to be great at tennis) to be too much, so they, too, fall to inaction (e.g., by doing drugs). Not as admirable, and certainly not solving any problems.


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 Post subject: Re: retrograde amines
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 9:22 am 
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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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