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: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2009 8:36 am 
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I'll apologize in advance for the length of this post and for my totally unsophisticated, half-baked beginner's understanding of Lacan's theories. I stumbled upon all this when I was brushing up on the uncanny, which is all over this book and deserves another post all to itself, which you can expect from me after I type all this out. Reading about the uncanny led me to read about Julia Kristeva's ideas about the abject, which for obvious reasons became totally excitingly relevant when I read this example in wikipedia:

Quote:
For example, upon being faced with a corpse, a person would be most likely repulsed because he or she is forced to face an object which is violently cast out of the cultural world, having once been a subject. We encounter other beings daily, and more often than not they are alive. To confront a corpse of one that we recognize as human, something that should be alive but isn't, is to confront the reality that we are capable of existing in the same state, our own mortality. This repulsion from death, excrement and rot constitutes the subject as a living being in the symbolic order.


Then I started reading about Lacan and the symbolic order. I cobbled this together from wikipedia and the illustrated "Introducing Lacan" by Darian Leader and Judy Groves, mostly in an effort to wrap my head around it. I've still got half of Introducing Lacan and 450 or so pages of IJ to go, so I don't know how this will all pan out but I thought it could prompt some really interesting discussions here. And I'd love to hear from someone who has actually studied Lacan and knows what they're talking about. :)


The mirror stage as Lacan describes it is when the infant recognizes himself in the mirror, or identifies with the image of another child, before he has control of his bodily movements. The contrast between the visual appearance of the image as a whole and the emotional reality - the perceived fragmented body - produces a profound alienation. The ego is based on the initial lack of completeness in the body and primarily functions to conceal an otherwise disturbing lack of unity - to maintain the appearance of coherence.

Lacan divided the psyche into three major orders - the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic. The real is sort of the state-of-nature world as it only really exists for us as babies, before we enter into language. The imaginary corresponds with the mirror stage and the symbolic with entrance into language, which enables us to accept the rules of society and function with others, but at the price of being forever removed from the real and basically having all your experiences mediated through the abstraction of language.

For Lacan the relationship between signifier and signified wasn't totally straightforward - "cow" doesn't necessarily automatically or only signify that mooing animal people use for milk and beef. Words lead to other words in a linguistic chain and there is a priority of the signifier in psychic life. Lacan also believed that the unconscious was structured like a language - a fluctuating network of referents as opposed to a fixed true self. This all points to a kind of fundamental alienation that results from the discord between the "real" stuff of life and the complex mediated ways that we experience/understand/interpret it, which of course are the only ways that we possibly could experience or understand or interpret any of it.

It seems to me like there is so much in IJ that speaks to the relationship between signifier and signified, not just in terms of language but also in terms of identity. The map/territory stuff, "map" as face/life, and all the spiders and squeaks to pick just a few recurring images/instances of language. Even the form of the novel itself - when I read the description of the mirror stage a little lightbulb went off in my head... the expectations we have of a novel (coherence, linearity, a neat a->b->c sense of causality, etc) because it is a "novel" vs the actual experience of this novel, fragmented and (to some) kind of confusing and scary.

Lacan had about a hundred other very interesting ideas that you can find illustrated in IJ. Apparently when film critics in the 70s started using the term scopophilia the ideas were derived from his work on the Gaze and other things. Also really interesting is his work on jouissance, which is usually translated as enjoyment but in Lacan's work generally refers to anything that is too much for the organism to bear- too much excitement, stimulation, or much too little of the same. Jouissance is experienced by the conscious mind as unbearable suffering, but is experienced by unconscious drives as satisfaction. He also had a lot to say about desire and the objet petit-a, the unattainable object of desire - or more accurately the cause of desire, which itself is a relation to a lack rather than a relation to an object.


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2009 8:37 am 
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Also apologies if people are talking about this in the general discussion forum - Im a first-time reader so I've been avoiding it.


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2009 10:53 am 
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I have no problem replying to myself:

Bluestocking posted "The Planet Trillaphon" in the Kate Gompert discussion, and I just finished reading it... had to take a break halfway through because it was really disturbing. But then I got to the end, and DFW closed with such an interesting, powerful technique - like the reader's equivalent of Lacan's variable length sessions. Neat.


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 3:54 pm 
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The closest that we get to a description of the actual Entertainment is really, really interesting from a Lacanian standpoint. (I've mentioned this on the thread about The Entertainment on the general board.)


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 8:33 pm 
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i can't read the general board because i am terrified of spoilers. is this something you can explain now or will it all be revealed in time? i am on pg. 627. do i have to wait longer? this is killing me.


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 9:30 pm 
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dioramaorama wrote:
He also had a lot to say about desire and the objet petit-a, the unattainable object of desire - or more accurately the cause of desire, which itself is a relation to a lack rather than a relation to an object.


This strikes me as profound. That said, thanks for your excellent summation of Mirror Theory. It makes sense to me.

I have a lot to say about how this relates to IJ -- because like you I'm also just learning about Lacan and Derrida, Mirror Stage and Deconstruction, signifier v. signified, presence versus lack, and I'm just now seeing that DFW not only knew about it but had synthesized it in manifold interesting ways -- but unlike you, I've read IJ before. So I'm just chockablock with spoilers. I don't trust myself not to inadvertently spoil, even with all the best intentions.

But I want to talk about how this stuff applies to IJ.

So, maybe we can talk about this instead. I'm reading an essay by Marina Grishakova, entitled, "Acts of Presence Negotiated: Towards the Semiotics of the Observer," that seems to encapsulate and take interesting elsewhere the ideas of Lacan, Derrida, etc. Perhaps by the time you've read, digested, and given thoughts on Grishakova's essay, you also have finished IJ. Then we can talk without fear. :^)


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 9:31 pm 
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Like you, I have no problem replying to myself. Here's a link to that article: http://lepo.it.da.ut.ee/~marina2/personal/MGpaper.htm


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 11:40 am 
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dioramaorama wrote:
i can't read the general board because i am terrified of spoilers. is this something you can explain now or will it all be revealed in time? i am on pg. 627. do i have to wait longer? this is killing me.


Wait...your desire for something out of your reach is "killing you"? But of course...as Lacan would doubtlessly say. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) I don't think I can explain it now and be fair to the "no spoilers" rule, but I would contend that it's not a spoiler in an over-arching way, and that if you were to go to the general board and read that specific thread you wouldn't gain any "illegitimate" knowledge that would chage your overall experience of the rest of the text.

I hope that helped.


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 1:59 pm 
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dioramaorama wrote:
Also really interesting is his work on jouissance, which is usually translated as enjoyment but in Lacan's work generally refers to anything that is too much for the organism to bear- too much excitement, stimulation, or much too little of the same. Jouissance is experienced by the conscious mind as unbearable suffering, but is experienced by unconscious drives as satisfaction. He also had a lot to say about desire and the objet petit-a, the unattainable object of desire - or more accurately the cause of desire, which itself is a relation to a lack rather than a relation to an object.


This is definitely the most interesting/relevant part of what you've told me about Lacan and what I've read on my own since then, particularly the idea that jouissance is "beyond" the pleasure principle, because it brings to mind the whole circular, cyclical, beginning-is-the-end-is-the-beginning theme going on in IJ. All of the contradictions, opposites, both occurring at the same time, seem to connect to this - like how the surplus enjoyment ("plus-de jouir" "can mean both more and no more; hence the ambiguity, both more jouir and no more jouir."

I think of Slavoj Zizek. "Let us take the case of Fascism - the Fascist ideology is based upon a purely formal imperative: Obey, because you must! In other words, renounce enjoyment, sacrifice yourself and do not ask the meaning of it - the value of the sacrifice lies in its very meaninglessness; true sacrifice is for its own end; you must find positive fulfilment in the sacrifice itself, not in its instrumental value: it is this renunciation, this giving up of enjoyment itself, which produces a certain surplus enjoyment [aka plus-de-jouir]." Hello, Schtitt! Hello, Marathe! (Zizek finds this obscene, I might add.)

Zizek continues on in "The Sublime Object of Ideology" about the circular logic of Fascist imperatives (kind of like someone - was it Day - who complained about how you can't question AA because the answer to every question is, "Don't question it!") He also writes a lot about freedom and choice.

All of this stuff on jouissance is sexually charged, too, though I'm not quite sure what I make of that. And JOI and Joelle's names also seem to hint at the word.


Re: horror: According to the nosubject.com, "Jouissance is considered in its function of evil, that which is ascribed to a neighbour, but which dwells in the most intimate part of the subject, intimate and alienated at the same time, as it is that from which the subject flees, experiencing aggression at the very approach of an encounter with his/her own jouissance."

This is SO the face in the floor! Finding out it's been in you all along.


http://www.lacan.com/symptom/?p=38

And lastly... I haven't read it yet but just stumbled upon this essay about Lacan and television, and it just so happens to mention that "you only die twice" - which obviously brings to mind Steeply and Marathe talking about what they would die twice for. I can't figure out how much of IJ is deliberate, how much is coincidence, and how much is synchronicity...


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 Post subject: Re: Lacan in IJ
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 2:02 pm 
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stephaniejane wrote:
http://www.lacan.com/symptom/?p=38

And lastly... I haven't read it yet but just stumbled upon this essay about Lacan and television, and it just so happens to mention that "you only die twice" - which obviously brings to mind Steeply and Marathe talking about what they would die twice for. I can't figure out how much of IJ is deliberate, how much is coincidence, and how much is synchronicity...


I just noticed that Zizek wrote this essay. Awesome! I totally blanked on that when I found it - kinda like how Orin and Hal recited Beatles lyrics and it went right over my head.


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