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: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 5:45 pm 
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It's obvious that Mario's deformities make him unique. But it seems like the deformities are cover for what really makes him unique, his desire to listen and observe others. Mario being so other-focused seems to really shine a light on the self-centeredness of the other characters.

I may be wrong, but it's interesting that that DFW uses Madame Psychosis' radio program to point out how much of a listener Mario is. Here, with Madame Psychosis, there is only listening because she is on the radio and Mario couldn't be more intense about his listening. Mario is "listening faithfully", "he'd way rather listen than watch", "he's a fanatical listener/observer", "staring into that special pocket...reserved for the serious listener".


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 9:24 pm 
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I also noticed that Mario seems different from most of the other characters. It's apparent that he's going to be the least successful of his family, and he's weak in a lot of ways, and he comes off as pretty weird, but I feel like DFW forgives all of these qualities, almost indicates that they're not even all that important. Mario avoids the major flaws shared by most other characters—an obsession with some personal entertainment or with some notion that one must prove his "greatness"—and seems to actually care about others, though I suppose this might be a result of his naïveté and innocence. I guess I'm just speculating with little evidence right now, but I think Mario is going to be described as a hero or some kind of an ideal later in the story.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Wed Jul 08, 2009 11:03 pm 
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Location: Fresyes, CA
I'm trying to figure out why I sort of dislike Mario, especially when other people seem to identify him as a likable underdog character. I think I find him generally creepy in his social ineptness. I also dislike his passivity. I find a similarity between him and his father, James Incandenza, that was illustrated during the scene between JOI and his father—I wrote about this before, how even though James' father steals the scene, asshole-wise, JOI really bugs me for allowing himself to be the victim. To me, he displays a cross between bewildered submission and happy-go-lucky naive passivity, and both kind of sicken me. Mario's weirdo quality falls into this same vein (ex.: his encounter with USS Millicent, although, of course, any boy is likely to come off as creepy or nutty the first time he's alone with a girl, and Millicent is a wee bit intimidating).

It's strange that Mario is most "active" during "passive" activities—he really engages with something, I don't know what, when he's filming or listening to radio.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 1:09 am 
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ontoursecretly wrote:
I'm trying to figure out why I sort of dislike Mario, especially when other people seem to identify him as a likable underdog character...


I think I felt pretty similarly, but I've raced on ahead and at some point I can't put my finger on I started to warm to him, until he became one of my favorite characters. I don't know if that would be true for anyone else, but I think it's interesting that I really did feel the same way for nearly the first half of the novel.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:07 am 
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ontoursecretly wrote:
I'm trying to figure out why I sort of dislike Mario


Now that you point this out and the more I read about Mario (or go back and read about him) I think this feeling may be intentional. "Certain people find people like Mario Incandenza irritating or even think they're outright bats, dead inside in some essential way things unfolded" [p. 156].

It seems as though DFW is overtly putting Mario up as a challenge to the other characters way of being. I mean Mario kind of floats in and out and is so passive and considerate he listens to the radio at the lowest possible level not because Avril "asks him to keep it down; he does it out of unspoken consideration for her thing about sound". This is almost ridiculous, but DFW seems to be taking these few pages to focus on these little Marioism's (the listening, being considerate towards others, pleasure and passion for Madame P's radio show, lack of cynicism).

None of the other characters are nearly this considerate, caring or cynical-free. It seems like DFW says early on that some think he's dead inside, but then goes on to tell all the things that make him more alive than the others. It's up to us to reconcile the two.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 7:25 am 
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Right towards the end, there’s a scene in which Mario really shines – it brings a tear to my eye every time I read it.

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...the world's pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower. - Cormac McCarthy


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 8:29 am 
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Someone in another forum topic compared Mario to Owen Meany, and I think that's pretty apt. I also think the image of a smaller or disabled person portrayed as having inner depth and wisdom-beyond-their-years has been (over?) done to a point where I almost find it condescending (Owen Meany, The Station Agent - both of which I loved, btw, as I am loving IJ.) But then again maybe it's some time-honored cultural tradition, like the blind seer or the wise father who has a special bond with the teenage daughter in 80s movies.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 9:57 am 
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joel wrote:
I also noticed that Mario seems different from most of the other characters. It's apparent that he's going to be the least successful of his family, and he's weak in a lot of ways, and he comes off as pretty weird, but I feel like DFW forgives all of these qualities, almost indicates that they're not even all that important. Mario avoids the major flaws shared by most other characters—an obsession with some personal entertainment or with some notion that one must prove his "greatness"—and seems to actually care about others, though I suppose this might be a result of his naïveté and innocence. I guess I'm just speculating with little evidence right now, but I think Mario is going to be described as a hero or some kind of an ideal later in the story.


There's a Hemmingway quote that occurs to me: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."
I have to wonder if DFW thought along similar lines. The more intelligent you are, the higher likelihood you have of possessing powerful analytical skills. Said skills can be used for writing, scientific study, etc., but they can also be used to ruminate over and overanalyze one's life. So I have to wonder, with Mario (who seems more content than any other character in the book) surrounded by all these disfunctional, highly intelligent people, if he is not DFW's way of saying "You know what? Sometimes ignorance is bliss." Intelligence can be as much a burden as a gift, and I think DFW's implying that while intelligence is great, it's certainly not a prerequisite for happiness, and can often lead you in the opposite direction. In other words, being smart ain't all it's cracked up to be.
Also, I was reading something containing a little Heidegger (Batman & Philosophy, to be exact lol), and Mario also reminds me of Heidegger's idea of the authentic self vs. the they-self. Say what you will about Mario, but he is authentically and 100% Mario and unconcerned with the expectations of others, whereas the other characters and their actions seem preoccupied with said expectations (there's a great example of this involving Orin, but I'm pretty sure it's past the spoiler line). It can't be a mistake that the most genuine of the characters also seems to be the happiest.

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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


Last edited by polymathicj on Thu Jul 09, 2009 1:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Thu Jul 09, 2009 12:49 pm 
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testforecho, I distinctly remember looking at the quote as well, and has been turning in my mind for awhile. With all the other characters being "alive" seems to be defined by suffering. Kate Gompert describes her desire for suicide as a way to end suffering. Mario is the only character we have really spent a lot of time with who seems blissfully content.


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 Post subject: Re: Mario listens - p 189
PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2009 4:36 am 
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mynameisnotlinda wrote:
Someone in another forum topic compared Mario to Owen Meany, and I think that's pretty apt. I also think the image of a smaller or disabled person portrayed as having inner depth and wisdom-beyond-their-years has been (over?) done to a point where I almost find it condescending (Owen Meany, The Station Agent - both of which I loved, btw, as I am loving IJ.) But then again maybe it's some time-honored cultural tradition, like the blind seer or the wise father who has a special bond with the teenage daughter in 80s movies.


I agree that this type of character is overdone, annoying and condescending. I don't know that Mario is one of these characters. Many find him irritating or dead inside. He doesn't say cute, yet brilliant one-liners. He's not funny or overly likable. You don't feel sorry for him and he never does anything to overcome the (overdone) Obstacles to The Handicapped. His encounter with a girl isn't romantic or cutesy. It's awkward and uncomfortable.

He listens [p.80], observes and films. He also sits motionless for periods [p. 80]. He's content. He's the family's only prodigy [page #?] but he doesn't have any sports or academic skills. He forges connections only he can truly feel [p. 80]. He's not cynical.

It seems like he is more of an anti-character than a character. By that I mean, he doesn't really have qualities that make him attractive to the reader. Rather, his qualities reflect or highlight what is unattractive in the other characters.


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