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: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 9:05 am 
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Lucien's broom reminded me of DFWs book Broom of the System (Not just because of the word 'broom.') BOS digs deep into Wittgenstein's grapples with words and meaning. In BOS, characters are asked whether the handle or the sweeping end is the most essential element of the broom; where is the "broomness" of a broom stored. For most of us, the answer tends to be the sweeping end. According to BOS, this is something Wittgenstein wrestled with; our intentions shape the meaning of words.

Wittgenstein thinks of language as an element of daily life that looses all meaning when it's pulled out of the "rough ground" of the world and is placed on the "frictionless ice" of philosophy. Philosophical problems arise when language is forced from its proper home and into a metaphysical environment, where all the familiar and necessary landmarks and contextual clues are absent. In other words any solutions to philosophical problems aren't really solutions at all because without the friction, language can't do its work. So Wittgenstein thinks philosophers must "bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use." They do not stand independent of us. So while "broom" is a sweeping thing for most of us, some might see the handle as the truly crucial element or find the whole word game of which end of the broom is the broom part as nonsensical the way Lucien seems to; he has a sharpened stick that he bound broom-corn to making it a weapon, a cleaning tool, a point at entertainment (entertainent) cartridges device, and perhaps also a sort of security blanket. I find it curious that, despite the presence of the AFR, Lucien will not let go of his broom and get his pants up.


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 5:39 pm 
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This is a really GREAT explanation of Wittgenstein and the problem with philosophical language. And I LOVE the way that you've tied it back to Lucien's broom, which is indeed a curious instrument in that very unglorious scene (ouch).

Infinite Detox also just wrote a post on Wittgenstein that I highly recommend for anyone thinking about language in Infinite Jest (which presumably everyone is - Detox reminds us to go back to p. 1 to think about the individual "trapped" in language if we haven't been). He makes the crucial distinction between a world "constructed" of language (bad way to think about it) and a world "immersed" in language (good), with a little help from Bob Death's fish joke: "what the fuck is water"?

See http://infinitedetox.wordpress.com/2009 ... d-writing/

A philosopher myself, I can attest to the slipperiness of that icy world - though a post-Tractatus Wittgenstein might also agree that skating on the ice is not only an absence but also a practical activity, a use of language that can serve to enhance our grasp of parts of the world, or the intersection of self and world.

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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 8:20 pm 
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Ooh if language is the water then it makes perfect sense that Lucien makes 'the strangled impeded sounds of absolute aphonia, the landed-fish gasps that accompany speechlessness in dreams' (488)


So if Lucien is basically mute and doesn't use language, he can't be trapped in it. His 'broom' functions in more ways than my broom would, because I see/read broom and think pretty much only about sweeping the floor.

So what does it say about language when he dies and sounds a 'call-to-arms in all the world's well-known tongues'? And that before he dies he attempts to forms 'words that are not and can never be words'?


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 5:57 am 
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Awesome thread -- I've never been able to get past the disturbing violence of the Lucien scene but thinking about it in terms of language is helping to make some sense of it.

You guys are absolutely right, it's really fruitful to think of Lucien as not 'trapped' in language the same way the rest of us are, in that he's free to conceive of his 'broom' as he sees fit. On the other hand, his freedom-from-language (I feel like there should be a polysyllabic German word for this) is entrapping as well, because he can't communicate with the outside world. It's a similar kind of cage to the one Hal finds himself in at the beginning of the book. You're either trapped in language or you're trapped without it -- one of those double-binds again, I guess.

Re: the Wittgensteinian freedom of Lucien's relationship to his 'broom' ("a weapon, a cleaning tool, a point at entertainment (entertainent) cartridges device, and perhaps also a sort of security blanket," as storm pointed out), the interesting twist on this is that of all the ways Lucien thought of the broom, I suspect he never imagined it as the instrument of his own death. So there's yet another way in which freedom is a double-edged sword (almost literally, in this case). I would cf. this to Steeply and Marathe's conversations on freedom, too.

One last thing -- for a great distillation of Wallace's thoughts on Wittgenstein, check out this 1993 interview with the Review of Contemporary fiction (the page takes forever to load -- just be patient:) The whole thing is well-worth a read but the Wittgenstein stuff is about 3/4ths the way down.


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 3:11 pm 
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infinitedetox wrote:
You guys are absolutely right, it's really fruitful to think of Lucien as not 'trapped' in language the same way the rest of us are, in that he's free to conceive of his 'broom' as he sees fit. On the other hand, his freedom-from-language (I feel like there should be a polysyllabic German word for this) is entrapping as well, because he can't communicate with the outside world. It's a similar kind of cage to the one Hal finds himself in at the beginning of the book. You're either trapped in language or you're trapped without it -- one of those double-binds again, I guess...

I would cf. this to Steeply and Marathe's conversations on freedom, too.


It makes me think of the whole freedom from / freedom to discussion.


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 5:49 pm 
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I love where this thread is going, but a quick tangent:
Now that we've gotten past this scene, how much did that broom-as-police-lock image remind people of Mario? Either Carlisle or Burns writes about it as a blatant linking of Lucien to Mario's innocence. To my knowledge, it is the only mention of a police lock outside of those concerning Mario. Just wanted to make sure the issue was out there.


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 7:40 pm 
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Not to mention the death=freedom imagery.

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"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you." DFW


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2009 11:58 am 
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Great discussion. I just wanted to mention that the title "The Broom of the System" was apparently from DFW's maternal grandmother's saying, "You should eat apples. They're the Broom of the System." Meaning, I guess, they help clean out your digestive system. In the case of Lucien's death, the Broom was an actual broom. Ugh.


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2009 2:54 pm 
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I am reading that interview with the review of contemporary american fiction - which is all amazing, thank you! - but I thought it'd be interesting to pull this bit out in particular. He's talking about Broom of the System.

Quote:
DFW: Yeah, Norman's gag is that he literalizes the option. He's going to forget the diet and keep eating until he grows to "infinite size" and eliminates loneliness that way. This was Wittgenstein's double bind: you can either treat language as an infinitely small dense dot, or you let it become the world--the exterior and everything in it. The former banishes you from the Garden. The latter seems more promising. If the world is itself a linguistic construct, there's nothing "outside" language for language to have to picture or refer to. This lets you avoid solipsism, but it leads right to the postmodern, post-structural dilemma of having to deny yourself an existence independent of language. Heidegger's the guy most people think got us into this bind, but when I was working on "Broom of the System" I saw Wittgenstein as the real architect of the postmodern trap. He died right on the edge of explicitly treating reality as linguistic instead of ontological. This eliminated solipsism, but not the horror. Because we're still stuck. The "Investigation" 's line is that the fundamental problem of language is, quote, "I don't know my way about." If I were separate from language, if I could somehow detach from it and climb up and look down on it, get the lay of the land so to speak, I could study it "objectively," take it apart, deconstruct it, know its operations and boundaries and deficiencies. But that's not how things are. I'm "in" it. We're "in" language. Wittgenstein's not Heidegger, it's not that language "is" us, but we're still "in" it, inescapably, the same way we're in like Kant's space-time. Wittgenstein's conclusions seem completely sound to me, always have. And if there's one thing that consistently bugs me writing-wise, it's that I don't feel I really "do" know my way around inside language--I never seem to get the kind of clarity and concision I want.


"I am in here."


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 Post subject: Re: Lucien Antitoi's broom; trouble for Wittgenstein
PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2009 4:56 pm 
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I know, that RCF interview is an absolute treasure-trove. I've got more on Wittgenstein's "small dense dot" and its resonances in <i>IJ</i> here. I think there are some really interesting connections to be made with this stuff..


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