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: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:39 am 
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I think the crocodiles are glad she is there and are ultimately trying to help her. Maybe she is looking for sympathy but they are giving her empathy. It's possible for them to empathize with and understand her but at the same time make rational judgements (based on their own experiences of crying 'victim') about how the way she is handling her experiences will effect her in the long run. It's better than nothing and better than going out and getting high, but she still has a ways to go.


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 8:05 am 
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I thought the narrator made it very explict in contrasting the stripper's story with that of the base-head and her baby (p.376). In describing Gately's reaction to the latter story:
Quote:
Here is no Cause or Excuse. It is simply what happened.

I didn't sense any value judgements w/r/t the adopted stripper's tale; simply dismay that she "had presented herself as the object of an outside Cause".


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:56 am 
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There is another angle here, which is the IJ theme of passive vs. active (Hal's Hamlet-ian struggle.) The person above who wrote this:

Quote:
It's one thing to tell your story, it's another thing to be your story.



was saying something quite profound. I haven't read "The Broom of The System" but I read DFW's description that it involves a character who is trying to decide whether she is really only a character in someone else's novel. The first part of the quote above puts the speaker in the role of author or narrator. The second part makes you a character in someone else's story - you are not empowered to change the arc of the story or the ending. And in AA, the point is that unless you take total, utter, responsibility for not falling back into your addiction, you will fail, because every p-terminal nerve in your brain wants you to go back. This means telling your story, but the story's not over, and you need to write your own ending.

This is also why many rape / abuse counselors have switched to using the word "survivor" rather than "victim, as in "I am a rape survivor." If you are only a victim, you are still just a character in someone else's novel, allowing what happens to you to define who you are, rather than the choices you make.


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 12:05 pm 
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In effect, the book is giving us a story about how not to tell one's story, or one's isolation will only increase. Interesting, that. And to try to think of how, with all those same formative elements in place--or not--she could have done it. In any case, I think her story is the saddest one in the book so far, even sadder (and shocking) than the section on Poor Tony in withdrawal.


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 4:28 pm 
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I agree with stephaniejane that "I agree with MattG and Dioramaorama but just wanted to add this:"

The question of how the character deals with her substance problem (and its relationship to her other past experiences) at an AA meeting is not necessarily an identical question of how the character might deal with her substance problem (and its relationship to her other past experiences) in another setting, such as, perhaps, a setting that was more primarily concerned with helping her deal with her memories of her Father's night time visits to her sister. DFW's concern in the chapter was with walking through a variety of ways that the veteran AA crowd responded to the newbie's takes/approaches on their substance history and what the veterans think about how these takes/approaches are likely to effect their (the newbies) sobriety. This is an entirely separate thing from how we might imagine what we (or DFW) might think is appropriate/helpful/theraputic/etc. as far as storytelling or causal attribution, etc. in another context.

I am also in the camp that does not feel that DFW has somehow lapsed in his authorial compassion or empathy in this tale simply because of the "W.H.I.N.E.R.S." acronym or the vexed question of who amongst the crocodiles might have a more vexed childhood history; I think the awe-inspiring thing about that whole chapter is the ability to keep us vibrating between at least two perspectives on each horrifying tale told at the meeting: our/the authorial voice's response to the content of the tales and the separate response of the AA group to the style/contextualization of the stories by the addicts. Tales like that of the addict with her stillborn child seem to pull off three perspectives by vibrating between empathy with the situation, the response of the AA'ers, and the over-the-top growing absurdity of the tale that comes more and more to resemble that of the bricklayer story earlier in the book. The acronym, of course, carries on what is, by the time of this episode, a consistant trope of giving childish and/or funny and/or ironic acronyms to otherwise serious groups and situations. Going even one step further, it would be interesting to consider what we might make of the stripper's relationship with and reaction to her disabled sister (who seems to horrify the stripper more in her unexpected response to being abused than she does as a vulnerable victim) as a doubling of several other important relationships in the book (Hal and his disabled but strangely content brother Mario, Pemulis and his incestuously abused sibling, etc.)


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 5:35 pm 
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Where I'm thrown off by the "consistent trope of giving childish and/or funny and/or ironic acronyms to otherwise serious groups and situations" , doubtful geste, is that I thought Wallace hated irony, and that he was sort of on a campaign against it. And I still struggle to imagine what else the stripper could have said in AA except merely a simple "I drink because...I'm an alcoholic" (to paraphrase MattG, above-in this thread), "my master, the bottle, is kicking my ass" or some such thing. She had such limited agency, a lot less than the woman with the dead baby. The events of the woman with the dead baby happened when she was an (ir)responsible adult, the events of the stripper when she was a totally helpless and impressionable child. (I think that AA is probably not right for her psychologically at all--or alone--until she tells her story-as many times as she has to-in a different context, the proverbial "talk it out, rather than act-out" by drugging.) Perhaps there are these two different kinds of addicts all down the line in AA, or of course, a combination of the two. Erdedy and Kate, for instance, are not in the stripper's category from what we know so far: their addictions don't seem to stem from an extreme psychopathological family, or I think we would have heard about it by now. I am looking forward to them going on a Commitment to speak, and hope that's written into the plot.


But mainly, brilliant commentary on your part--it helped frame what's going on most helpfully.


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 5:51 pm 
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quick reply re: irony:

Yes, my most central belief regarding DFW's project is to not get stuck at Irony, which, if seen as an end in itself or a final stance toward modern life, is, I believe DFW would say, sterile, de-personalizing, and isolating. Same goes double for Irony's bratty younger self, Sarcasm.

But this is not the same as having no place for various kinds of irony (literary, dramatic, and, yes, even a little sarcasm) at all. The revealing parallel is, I think, DFW's attitude towards things like complex linguistic theory or postmodern theory (see, for example, other threads on is thoughts on Wittgenstein) -- DFW doesn't seem to want to rotely deny or ignore all of this theory or the sort of implications it might have for how we understand the self or culture or (fill in the blank). Heck, he is extremely well-versed in it. But he doesn't want to get stranded by all this theory -- he yearns pretty desperately to acknowledge and reach for things like human connection and expression and experience of the sort that the most radical (and uninteresting) versions of these theories would try to claim to have transcended or disproved.

The classic DFW move, as far as I'm concerned, ever since stories like "My Appearance" (The David Letterman story) is to set up what seem like the most pomo/mediated/ironic of situations and then reach through them to find astonishing moments of human connection and empathy that still exist despite our mediated pomo lives.

(ok, not quite so quick)


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:45 pm 
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OneBigParty wrote:
And I still struggle to imagine what else the stripper could have said in AA except merely a simple "I drink because...I'm an alcoholic" (to paraphrase MattG, above-in this thread), "my master, the bottle, is kicking my ass" or some such thing.


It may be obvious, but it seems like the other speakers use the opportunity to speak to give some anecdote about the period of their addiction itself, how desperate their conditions had become, what it was like when they "hit bottom," etc. Surely the stripper has stories like this as well, so perhaps it was these stories the White Flaggers were hoping to hear.

But as others have said, the problem may not be that she has chosen to talk about her "backstory," so much as she uses this to attribute a cause (back to the title of the thread). The AA'ers believe their best thinking got them here. They cannot trust their conclusions about why they became addicts.


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 5:23 pm 
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I agree with Doubtful Geste re: irony, but would like to add: DFW definitely saw irony as a good tool when it was used to expose hidden truths, but he saw it as destructive when it was "an end in itself... Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what's wrong." I think that his writing certainly addresses how to empathize and form a community and truly hear and help each other, which would then allow for the use of irony with a purpose.


Edit: Upon a second read, I didn't really add to what Doubtful Geste said, just repeated it. But I'm leaving it up because of the DFW quote, which comes from this amazing interview here: http://web.archive.org/web/200710170426 ... llace.html
It was passed on by Dioramaorama, who got it from one of the forum posts, I believe, but if you haven't come across it yet, it's totally worth a read.


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 Post subject: Re: Causal attribution/the "abuse excuse"?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 5:57 pm 
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Seriously, I can't say this enough, everyone should read that interview. I underlined and starred like every other paragraph, which kind of defeats the purpose. But it's really useful to wrap your head around what may have informed DFW's work and how all these wonderful ideas we've been talking about for two months now may have evolved. Especially his ideas about irony and how it's sort of become the water we USA fish swim in. And I think for the sake of full disclosure I'm just going to add that stephanie and i are friends (like face-to-face friends) and she had to listen to me read out loud from this interview for like half an hour. hi stephanie. from now on you should call me dioramaorama in real life.


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