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Infinite Summer • View topic - Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!

Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 12:16 pm 
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This might be too obvious to even mention. But I just finished IJ, and have, well, no perspective on, uh, anything... Obviously, the title "Infinite Jest" has layers upon layers of meaning. When I got to the "end" (frustrated, feeling betrayed, and ultimately, confused) all I wanted to do was hunt around in the beginning (The Year of Glad) to figure out what happened (in YDAU). And then I realized. The structure of the novel is nonlinear, buutttt if the beginning of IJ were chopped off and affixed to the end, yes, the book would've been jumpy, the way memories are, but DFW would have been taking us from The Beginning of the Story to The End of the Story. I forgave DFW when I realized that the end is at the beginning, that the structure of the book strongly suggests that the reader go back and reread, starting from page 1. Where, then, to stop? There's no clear endpoint where it would dawn on the reader that, ah, now everything makes sense. And so you keep reading, ad infinitum. And that's damn clever on DFW's part. (Spelling out the obvious in my attempt to process it all, the parallel here is to both the result of viewing and the actual content of The Entertainment, i.e. the woman who murders you is your next life's mother--you are reincarnated eternally, each manifestation of your existence contains a sort of tragic irony in your callow loyalty to the person who killed you, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.)

DFW also wins deep points for choosing The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment as the penultimate chapter of the story. The Depend Adult Undergarment (thematically) hearkens the cyclicality of human existence, from diapers to diapers (to diapers to diapers). This is not to say that DFW actually believes in reincarnation, but he seems to be suggesting that we are replaced by human beings just like us, that each generation is recursively similar to the previous in terms of its needs and desires, that even though each individual is trapped in his/her own subjective experience, we are all connected by a common lifeblood and destiny. (Woohoo, death!)

All that being said, dammit, I still don't know what happened to Hal. And I'm beginning to think that it's intentionally hidden from the reader.... Perhaps this (too) has something to do with the draw of The Entertainment (because, as we know from the rise and fall of videophones, human beings are obsessed with appearances). The veiled actress with the perfect (naked) body fatally intrigues the viewer precisely because he/she can't see the PGOAT's face. Even though you've experienced the cartridge once and know that the veil won't be lifted, you feel as though there has to be something beneath it that goes beyond ordinary, commercial beauty. You therefore are irrationally compelled to view the cartridge again and again to discover what's so damn compelling about a face you cannot see. SO. It could be that DFW was intentionally hiding the answer to the question posed by the first few pages of IJ (What's the reason for Hal's catatonic stupor? Why is he stuck inside himself, unable to communicate with his fellow human beings?) in order to make the novel infinitely compelling. AND. In order to make some point about how the tragic flaw of human nature is the juvenile way in which we become addicted to things just because they are hidden, the way we believe that there's some sort of non-mythological perfect happiness available beneath banal and sometimes ugly surface reality. Thus we ingest dangerous-sounding chemical compounds whose effects are unknown.

The irony, of course, is that drugs, along with other addictive activities like commercial consumption, competition (in sports, grammar, politics, whatever), reading really long books with lots of footnotes, and so on, all serve to make us regress further and further into ourselves and therefore further and further away from other human beings. What's brilliant about AA, which Gately realizes, is that the program offers canned phrases through which genuine communication and identification can eventually occur. These platitudes offer a reason to get up in the morning--"Keep coming back!"--the promise of a shared experience, rather than an infinitely isolating one, and moreover, a shared experience that itself confronts the issue of human separatedness by explicitly teaching grown adults how to identify with one another. The 12-step program and its simple language, along with Ennet House's curfews and common meals--both are necessarily paternalistic. Identifying with others is something we should've learned from our parents, but alas, I think DFW makes his point clear that even the privileged have a shitty and alienating childhoods, that our parents are not fit to be our teachers because they are driven by a (juvenile) pursuit of an impossible happiness that renders them, um, juvenile, and incapable of educating their offspring. The kids grow up, and fall into the their parents' patterns. (Infinitely!) To bring this back to Hal. JOI's father couldn't communicate with his son; his sole attempt to do so is rambling and evasive. More extremely, JOI can only communicate in images, and even then, only ambiguously (think: Hal's interpretation of Accomplice! v. that offered by the filmography footnote). Though we readers are (necessarily) not apprised of how he got there, we know that Hal is doomed to a permutation of his father's (and his father's father's) fate.


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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 12:28 pm 
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P.S. Do y'all think that DFW wants to suggest that there's a potential for genuine happiness found in relationships/conversations/connections between human beings? Or do you think (more cynically) he's trying to say that the closest we'll ever come to breaking through our subjective bubbles is the type of identifying-through-platitudes taught in AA? Or something else entirely?


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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2009 2:44 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 2:53 am 
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I've been giving the matter some thought. (as if I weren't going stark-raving mad!) I don't think anyone can know what happened to Hal in the gap between the end of the novel and the Year of Glad. Any number of possibilities are entertainable, but there seems to me no way to substantiate any one of them through some kind of textual evidence.

My biggest concern (obsession) is prying Jim Incandenza away from the terrorist use of the Entertainment. I think he started working on this project, and perhaps others (maybe even all the others) as a way of helping his son Hal ought of his self-centered idiocy. I'm using idiocy like Avital Ronnell would, or a certain Deleuze. Being stupid, being an idiot, as a way out of the cage of the self. Like the guy with the broom at Antitoi. I think this was Jim's diagnosis concerning his son Hal. You have to be half-cracked, or amazingly prescient (he was both) to see through all his beauty and brilliance, to work on through to the other-side, with the emotional key of sadness leading the reader along with him.

I'm not able to generalize on this reading, this take on an unlikely paternal heroism. For the moment, it's all I can do to simply put down on paper where this "giving the matter some thought" leads. It leads to ghosts entering into people's minds to guide them, to instruct them, to let them on to where they would not go if they weren't being pushed. I think Jim is a haunting presence throughout the second part of the novel. Once you admit the hypothesis of a talking ghost, then you have to start reading all over again. So much of who we are is predicated on not believing such shit. But it's the only way I've found to explain Hall's slippage then breakdown as fomented and provoked by inner voices and taking objects seriously. I think Jim drove the Darkness stork-raving mad as a way of getting through to his son.
The deadly entertainment started out as a bombshell to wake his son up. Perhaps Jim had second thoughts on this -- perhaps the intense and thorough protection of Hall by his mother was too much for a living man drowned in Wild Turkey. Perhaps he was astounded at the success of his final film project, but worried, in a kind of reverse Abraham/Isaac scene, that his son would not wake up. So he decides to commit suicide by blowing his brains out through his eye-sockets to provide a final resting place for the potent, too potent film. He didn't know that copies had been made, and that ordinary flabby Americans and foreigners would begin dropping like flies.

I can't help but read Gately's dream with Joelle. (page 850-851) It looks like, feels like, reads like what the film was originally meant to be: a wake-up call and an introduction to "la vraie vie."

But this is just for the chat's sake!


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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 10:53 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 7:59 am 
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I finished the book earlier in the summer before I was aware of this project, so maybe it's not as fresh in my mind, but my initial thoughts on Gately and Hal were that Gately did make it out of the hospital, and that Hal had somehow consumed the DMZ. I guess my reason for thinking Gately made it is because while the book is profoundly sad, I think DFW also wanted to offer a way out of the sadness, so killing off Gately, who has worked harder than anyone to turn his life around and embrace steps out of the destruction of modern life wouldn't make any sense. That Hal injested the DMZ was the feeling I got for most of the book, but reading this thread brings another theory to mind. I totally forgot the scene with him, Gately, & Wayne digging up himself's skull (nice Yorick reference, that). If I remember correctly, wasn't himself's body buried in what was now the pretty much toxic waste land/cocavity/convexity? If that's the case, could Hal have been exposed to something while in there digging up the body that accelerated his downfall?


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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 2:23 pm 
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Reading IJ for me is bit like being on a game show where they dump dollar bills from the sky and you try to snatch a few out of the air. I can't get a grasp on anything complete or all-encompassing.

So...here are few bits that I tried to grab on their way by about which I have nothing especially profound to say:

W/r/t the circular or annular structure of the book, which seems to allow or encourage the reader to go from the last page back to the first to begin again, I am reminded of another monster novel, sometimes called the ultimate post-modern novel, the very intentionally circular "Finnegans Wake."

And speaking of references to other novels, anyone have any thoughts about the significance of the references to "A Clockwork Orange" in the final pages. There are some common themes: drugs, crime, mind control or behavior modification, etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:31 am 
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I just finished the book late last night. . .and I started reading it again!

What happened to. . .I had a lot of unanswered questions, and, by reading these posts, I see I'm not the only one.

I will continue to read the forums here.

Hey, maybe this is the "Infinite Jest." You must keep going over the book!


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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 11:06 am 
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For those of you who like to think of flipping back and forth between endnotes as simulating the volleys of a tennis match, perhaps the missing time between the last page of the book and the first page of the book is supposed to "simulate" a blackout for the reader.

After reading the YOG stuff at the beginning it seems clear that a lot of the plot is simply excised, like DFW wrote it down and then simply deleted it so as to make a lot of what caused Hal's breakdown in Arizona ambiguous. I don't think any of the various separate theories are contradictory, just that the evidence that would allow us to distinguish one theory from another is simply missing, as you might expect from a blackout type scenario.


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 Post subject: Re: Have you finished yet? Because I have and I need to chat!
PostPosted: Fri Aug 14, 2009 7:18 am 
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