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the O.N.A.N acronym
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Author:  thinkicanhearyou [ Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:17 am ]
Post subject:  the O.N.A.N acronym

has anyone mentioned that "onanism" is another term for masturbation? i haven't come up with a brilliant interpretation of that yet, but every time I read Wallace's new name for what used to be, in part, the USA, I can't help but smile. it's kind of perfect, actually, given the "country first," patriot act kinds of (self)obsessions that have been shored up in the decade+ since the novel was written...of course strident American exceptionalism is nothing new...

the OED, after all, says that in the wake of the European discovery of the New World, "America" came to mean "the place one longs to be." i can't help but read Wallace's re-naming gesture as a way of signaling that, these days (or in what was the near-dystopic future) we're just longing to arrive at ourselves...in a kind of claustrophobic, pathological way...

i.e. we're a bunch of self-involved narcissists.

Author:  joel [ Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

I puzzled over the meaning of O.N.A.N. for awhile and researched the figure Onan from the Bible. The implication of masturbation and "self-involved narcissism" is definitely there, but it also occurred to me that it's no coincidence that O.N.A.N. appears very wasteful in IJ and that Onan "wastes" his "seed" by pulling out in the Biblical story. O.N.A.N. has a very consumer-driven culture (not unlike our own) that creates a lot of waste, but it seems that most of it is catapulted beyond the Great Concavity (?), essentially shifting the weight of that responsibility off of O.N.A.N.'s back. It's the ultimate in self-involvement: masturbation without even having to clean up for yourself.

Author:  thinkicanhearyou [ Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

I really like that interpretation, Joel--that in the ONAN reference a connotation of waste and excess is combined with the self-involvement angle. But it's also about gratuitous pleasure, and I'm trying to figure out how that fits in with the critiques of waste, excess, and narcissism that Wallace seems to be making...

In light of the Bible reference, it seems significant that "onanism" is actually condemned. The moral to be gleaned from that story as I understand it is that sex should only be had for procreational purposes, and that obviously also means no masturbation. It's a guard against gratuitous sensual pleasure that corrupts the soul.

I'm wondering why Wallace would use a sexual metaphor that's iconic of anti-sex, anti-masturbation--and by extension, anti-pleasure--to characterize a state apparatus that iconizes consumer culture? Isn't consumer culture supposed to be about valorizing excess and mindless pleasure, not condemning it? I mean, if Wallace is anti-consumer culture, he's not anti-masturbation, anti-gratuitous sexual pleasure?

Maybe that's linked to the addiction culture explored in the book--maybe Wallace is ambivalent about the power that bodily pleasures can have...

Author:  joel [ Tue Jul 07, 2009 12:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

I don't think that DFW is anti-pleasure—I think he's just afraid of the consequences of growing obsessed with pleasure, especially pleasure of just one type (whether it be masturbation, drugs, film, whatever). I think he means to say that there's a thin line between acceptable pleasure and pleasure taken to excess, and in a consumer culture he seems to see the latter occurring more often than not; throughout IJ I believe we see excesses in individual pleasure that interfere with the individual's ability to carry on a normal life and to interact and communicate with others. I doubt that DFW really believes that sexual pleasures should only be engaged in in order to procreate, and the reference to Onan then is probably more a metaphor than DFW's literal agreement with the supposed morals of that story. But he might think that, say, masturbating all day would be a problem, you know?

Author:  thinkicanhearyou [ Tue Jul 07, 2009 1:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

joel wrote:
But he might think that, say, masturbating all day would be a problem, you know?


[laughing] yes i think you might be on to something.

however, I'm not saying that Wallace agrees with the morals of that biblical story exactly--I'm just trying to understand the analogy that might be buried there, between O.N.A.N. and the advent of mass entertainment cartridges that incapacitate.

Free love was supposed to be an antidote to consumer culture in the sixties...Wallace doesn't seem to be as optimistic that that's the case.

Author:  storm [ Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

I think the ONAN acronym is being used here to draw attention to O.N.A.N.'s attempts at avoiding consequence while seeking maximum pleasure. This is a world where children are housed in "schools" designed to produce the future professionals for "The Show." People bought videophones and their psyches nearly shattered at the stress of trying to "keep up with the Jones'." O.N.A.N., like the toblerone-gobbling Prince, wants to have it all, eat the cake too, and have friends with benefits status with Betty Crocker. O.N.A.N. does NOT want to accept any consequences that might come from this hedonism. So like Onan, O.N.A.N. discards the by-products of pleasure on the ground (metaphorically speaking). There's a line somewhere in the locker room scene regarding tennis training being an act of sending from youself that which you hope will not return. I consider this an onanistic (new word?!) perspective. More will come later in the book that seems to support this line of thinking...then again, I'm one of those stubborn folks who would make a miserable scientist because I'm always looking for confirmations more closely than I am for refutations.

Author:  joel [ Wed Jul 08, 2009 10:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

Quote:
Free love was supposed to be an antidote to consumer culture in the sixties...Wallace doesn't seem to be as optimistic that that's the case.


What comes to mind for me concerning this, actually, is Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Specifically the Minton couple, and Mona. The Mintons were so in love with each other that they basically talked to no one else, and Mona was so in love with everyone that she was unable to have an intimate relationship with a single individual.

I feel like DFW fears both of these extremes. Finding just one person and caring about no one else might not be totally selfish, but I can see how it might not be considered a healthy thing for that couple or for the people around them; and caring so selflessly about everyone just doesn't do any justice to yourself or any truly personal relationships that you could otherwise have. I feel like DFW would prefer some kind of middle ground between these extremes.

Author:  jur777 [ Sat Jul 11, 2009 2:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

An example of "onanistic" behavior: James Incandenza's filmmaking career. With all of the off beat, quirky, and seldom seen productions, many would call it cinematic masturbation, where he was the only one getting any pleasure out of it.

Don't know if this is purposefully symbolic or coincidental.

BTW, just read through James' father's monologue (pp 157-169) about tennis/life/body and absolutely fell in love with this book. Before I was only mildly amused. I'm all in now.

Author:  roz [ Tue Jul 14, 2009 3:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: the O.N.A.N acronym

joel wrote:
I don't think that DFW is anti-pleasure—I think he's just afraid of the consequences of growing obsessed with pleasure, especially pleasure of just one type (whether it be masturbation, drugs, film, whatever). I think he means to say that there's a thin line between acceptable pleasure and pleasure taken to excess, and in a consumer culture he seems to see the latter occurring more often than not; throughout IJ I believe we see excesses in individual pleasure that interfere with the individual's ability to carry on a normal life and to interact and communicate with others. I doubt that DFW really believes that sexual pleasures should only be engaged in in order to procreate, and the reference to Onan then is probably more a metaphor than DFW's literal agreement with the supposed morals of that story. But he might think that, say, masturbating all day would be a problem, you know?


agree with this.

I also read an interview with him somewhere around the time IJ was first published, where he said he was concerned with the idea that America, as a culture or as a people, was entertaining itself to death, and that the various ways we were entertaining ourselves, whether it's TV or films or alcohol or drugs, are all essentially lonely experiences no matter how many people we're doing it with. Of course what other experience is both as pleasurable yet as lonely as masturbation?

ONAN is a spoonerism of Anon btw. Onan Anon = Masturbators' Anonymous?

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