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: Thoughts on Choice
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 4:49 am 
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Wallace's thoughts about the nature of Freedom and Choice are presented in the form of a midnight conversation in the middle of the desert between a man dressed as a woman and a legless member of terroist cell. The powerful and bizzare imagery of this scene aside, I think that Wallace is raising a very tricky question here: Namely, is there such a thing as real choice?

The American vision of freedom is one where each individual is free, and encouraged, to choose his/her path from an endless array of limitless alternatives, all open to anyone smart enough or motivated enough to "just do it" or who believes "impossible is nothing". But in reality, aren't our actual choices defined and limited by, as many have been pointing out, the languages available to us?

This is the essential problem of The Entertainment (and Substance use). If my culture is constatnly telling me, in a thousand different ways, that absolute freedom is the desired ideal, and that I should excersize my right to do whatever will give me pleasure, how free am I, in fact, to choose [i]not[/i] to do it?

Probably less free than I would like to think.


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Choice
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 6:08 am 
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Joined: Tue Jul 21, 2009 8:48 am
Posts: 61
Complete, unfettered freedom to choose a course of action based on its potential to provide individual happiness embodies Ayn Rand's philosophical system of Objectivism that has been discussed (and dismissed). Essentially, Rand advocates that pursuit of individual happiness and self-interest should be the central moral purpose of an individuals life.

Is there really free choice? Probably not in the purest sense since even self-interest and pleasure are defined, at least in part, by the experiences and influences that have shaped us as individuals. Perhaps this is why so many of the characters in IJ don't begin to exercise control over their one lives until they've hit bottom with a resounding thud ala Don Gately. Clearly the reality that informs the "choices" made by Gately at Ennet House is different than the one informing the choices made by Hal Incandenza living just up the hill from him at ETA.

I'd suggest that Mario, who I never fully appreciated during my first read, enjoys the greatest ability to choose freely. The passage at pp. 589-593 indicate that he's the one person who appears to have the ability to move between the different worlds Wallace creates within the novel.


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Choice
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 9:41 am 
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Joined: Sun Jun 28, 2009 10:06 pm
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Quote:
Perhaps this is why so many of the characters in IJ don't begin to exercise control over their one lives until they've hit bottom with a resounding thud ala Don Gately. Clearly the reality that informs the "choices" made by Gately at Ennet House is different than the one informing the choices made by Hal Incandenza living just up the hill from him at ETA.


I also think that Gately has the best grasp on choice of our "protagonists." Hal and Marathe were practically born into nonfreedom—one put into a tennis academy by his family and spending his life doing physical drills, the other made by a cult to jump in front of trains—whereas Gately exercised choice, screwed up badly, and then discovered the limits that need to be placed on choice (i.e., through Ennet House and AA). There is something to be said here about Learning from One's Mistakes rather than having freedom taken away from you from the start.

A bit of speculation here, but I feel like the reason why Hal freaks out about his freedom in our opening section in the Year of Glad is because up to then he had had no freedom. All his life he was protected by E.T.A. and a dominating mother, and suddenly, now that he's an adult, the ability to make choices has made itself apparent to him, and he can't handle it. The disconnect between the outer world and his inner self—the inner self having all his life been contained by the urging of Schtitt et al.—is now literal. And furthermore, Hal has essentially avoided doing his whole life what AA members have found most essential to their philosophy: Sharing and Identifying. I think this reveals that there is something distinctly flawed about E.T.A.'s philosophy. Although Gately may have screwed up badly, he's much better off in the end than any of the E.T.A. students who find themselves drained and physically wrecked by the end of their adolescence.


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Choice
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 12:14 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:25 am
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Location: Brooklyn
joel wrote:
I also think that Gately has the best grasp on choice of our "protagonists." Hal and Marathe were practically born into nonfreedom—one put into a tennis academy by his family and spending his life doing physical drills, the other made by a cult to jump in front of trains—whereas Gately exercised choice, screwed up badly, and then discovered the limits that need to be placed on choice (i.e., through Ennet House and AA). There is something to be said here about Learning from One's Mistakes rather than having freedom taken away from you from the start.

A bit of speculation here, but I feel like the reason why Hal freaks out about his freedom in our opening section in the Year of Glad is because up to then he had had no freedom. All his life he was protected by E.T.A. and a dominating mother, and suddenly, now that he's an adult, the ability to make choices has made itself apparent to him, and he can't handle it. The disconnect between the outer world and his inner self—the inner self having all his life been contained by the urging of Schtitt et al.—is now literal. And furthermore, Hal has essentially avoided doing his whole life what AA members have found most essential to their philosophy: Sharing and Identifying. I think this reveals that there is something distinctly flawed about E.T.A.'s philosophy. Although Gately may have screwed up badly, he's much better off in the end than any of the E.T.A. students who find themselves drained and physically wrecked by the end of their adolescence.


+1


Last edited by stephaniejane on Thu Aug 13, 2009 2:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Choice
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 12:36 pm 
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And but, this is one of the ironies/circularities of IJ: To be free, you have to give up your choices and give up your will.


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on Choice
PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2009 9:56 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 10:48 am
Posts: 59
Location: Orlando, FL
joel wrote:
A bit of speculation here, but I feel like the reason why Hal freaks out about his freedom in our opening section in the Year of Glad is because up to then he had had no freedom. All his life he was protected by E.T.A. and a dominating mother, and suddenly, now that he's an adult, the ability to make choices has made itself apparent to him, and he can't handle it.

This reminds me of something I was discussing with a colleague this morning - the so-called millenial generation entering the workforce and needing everything completely scheduled and, even worse, their parents taking active roles in their career development by actually calling the supervisors/hr offices to discuss their children. If their childhoods are so completely scheduled and planned and all needs catered to, how can we possibly expect them to suddenly make decisions on their own behalf?

Great thread here!

Joan


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