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: Acronyms and, more broadly, political history
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:24 am 

Joined: Thu Jul 16, 2009 9:58 am
Posts: 7
The political subtext in IJ is (through the spoiler line, and also through what I've read, which is to around 450) kind of absurd, and I'm not sure how I feel about that yet, but something that does grate on me are some of the acronyms Wallace comes up with, which serve (I think) to turn something absurd but which you're basically willing to believe happened in order to keep the story moving to something absurd you're unwilling to believe is real. (One or both of these examples may come after the spoiler line, but don't reveal a thing about the plot.)

I'm at work and don't have my copy of the book to cite chapter and verse, but at one point an advocacy group is identified as some not-quote-nonsensical name with the nonsensical acronym WHINERS. Later we discover an environmentally-related department of the Canadian government with a not-so-nonsensical name whose acronym is MERDE.

My question/observation is less about these particular acronyms than about how seriously it's possible to take the geopolitical (or contental-political, as the case may be) "history" of the last dozen or so years before Y.D.A.U., when even if you're willing to believe a Famous Crooner won a historic third-party election for President and territory was redemised to Canada and French Canadian insurgents in wheelchairs seem poised to attack the U.S., if you can't possibly take some things seriously, in the case I'm talking about the acronyms above, but also other pretty unbelievable or at least disturbingly unrealistic things. Is that a feature, not a bug? Is the whole thing intended to be nonsensical enough to be hard to believe? Is Wallace just not taking it seriously because ultimately it won't be important?

 Post subject: Re: Acronyms and, more broadly, political history
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:49 am 

Joined: Sun Jun 28, 2009 10:06 pm
Posts: 32
I think DFW is able to get away with this so long as we are willing to suspend our disbelief to a reasonable extent. For one, much of what seems unbelievable is also often comedic, which is almost a hint on DFW's part that the believability of the events isn't really important. I don't think that DFW's point has ever been to convince us that anything similar to what he's describing really could happen. DFW is often being deliberately absurd, and exaggeration is perhaps one of his most commonly employed techniques. He gets away with absurdity for the same reason that Swift gets away with Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians: it's more about the idea than the realistic presentation. DFW can perhaps make an even better point about our own reality by blowing it up to hyperbolic absurdity rather than by describing it as it is.

 Post subject: Re: Acronyms and, more broadly, political history
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:59 am 

Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:08 am
Posts: 48
Then again, there's something to be said about the sort of Entertainment-driven culture that he's sending up. I mean, our political organizations get more and more ridiculous in their crusades and silly in their names: Harper's just ran an annotation on a politician who named his PAC after himself, FRED, I think. Will things get as ridiculous as Wallace has painted them, with waste-slinging catapults? Or as slovenly and crass as predicted by Mike Judge's Idiocracy? Gosh, we certainly hope not.

But will things get as RIDICULOUS as waste-slinging catapults? Some of the proposed solutions ALREADY ARE.

In any case, just read it broadly: politics is silly. For a novel that's all about showing the layers of truth (and the Derridan levels of "interpretation" to these actually infinite-sided coins), you can't reduce anything to one organization and another . . . but if you have to, for narrative purposes, then why NOT ham it up? Why NOT make Hugh into (putatively) Helen? Why NOT make films that are, by nature, unfilmable? If a parabolic function approaches infinity from two sides (and let's look at mathematical limits and the like), then what does a hyperbolic function represent? Is it such a far cry from annular fusion?

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