Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
It is currently Sun Dec 17, 2017 5:10 am

All times are UTC - 8 hours [ DST ]


Forum rules


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%).



Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 60 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  Next
Author Message
 Post subject: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:05 pm 
Offline

Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2009 10:27 am
Posts: 28
*shudder*

Okay, so the rat to cat to dog progression has haunted me since I first read Infinite Jest. For 12 years, any mention of Allston made me think of Lenz and his 'There.' And I have been dying to get to this part of the book to revisit his horrific pattern and see what you all think.

And as creeped out as I still am (seriously, who wouldn't be? I hope...) by the 2216h to 2226h interval, I am, in a second read, more impressed by how intensely the "well-known Rage and Powerlessness issues that beset the drug addict in his first few months of abstinence" (538) are explored through his nightly constitutional walks. Rage and Powerlessness would seem to be brewing beneath the surface of an unhealthy percentage of the American population, and I'm wondering how you hear/feel/see this way in which Wallace addresses the idea. We've had physical violence against addicts and we've had physical violence against Wardine and Gately's mom. We've had terrific physical violence by the AFR. And now we have physical violence by Randy Lenz.

So what do you take from this section? His rage and powerlessness have a very different intention and outlet than the rage and powerlessness of the legless anti-ONAN train-then-convexity victims. What do you think about the Heftys, about the progression from suffocation to slamming into street signs to slashing, about the choice of targets; and about rage and powerlessness?


Last edited by naptimewriting on Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 7:25 am 
Offline

Joined: Fri Jul 31, 2009 7:20 am
Posts: 5
I've been waiting for the spoiler line to reach this section, too. I've been bogged down because reading about Lenz makes me almost physically ill, moreso than any other part of the book thus far. Any [urban, esp.] pet owner reading IJ probably gets a similar reaction...

Animal torture is one of those clear, nonnegotiable signs of fuckedupedness that I have to wonder, to what sick shit this is going to lead?


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lentz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:07 am 
Offline

Joined: Sat Jun 27, 2009 12:08 pm
Posts: 24
I'm not a pet owner and I was still greatly disturbed by this section. While what Lenz does is disturbing it's his mindset or his rationalizing of why he is doing what he does that is more disturbing to me then the actual acts he performs.

I did find it comical too in a dark way. How once you as the reader identify the progression from rats to cats you anticipate the move to dogs. That along with his "addicts routine" was pretty funny I thought. Just like Ken E. going on his three day weed bender. The meticulousness of addicts or their compulsion to have things just so is something that I never realized before reading IJ and is definitely something I will take away from reading the book.

I'll be honest when Lenz was being chased down the alley by the cat he set on fire I was laughing.

Anybody else find humor in this section?


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lentz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:47 am 
Offline

Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 10:48 am
Posts: 59
Location: Orlando, FL
These sections have been very disturbing to me as I read with my dogs snoozing peacefully around me. But I also do find some very dark humor - yes the flaming cat chasing him was funny and I can totally imagine a cat going after him one of these evenings.

As far as the larger themes of rage and powerlessness - I can't help but find echoes of this in our society. Are the characters becoming addicts partly because they started out self-medicating to ease the rage and powerlessness, then as they progress through AA or NA those feelings come back with a vengeance so what do they do? What will happen when the dogs are no longer enough for Lenz? Will he escalate to people? Can we read DFW's depictions of this cycle, as difficult as they may be to read, to provide some greater understanding of what drives someone to the point that they empty their guns on pure strangers?

Thanks for starting this thread - I'm looking forward to what others think!

Joan


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:48 am 
Offline

Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2009 10:27 am
Posts: 28
I think the humor is part of what disturbs me. The language is funny and the acts are horrifying and the character is the most despicable a---hole ever written as far as I'm concerned and I still smirk occasionally and that's SO wrong. i mean, seriously, "the white toupee and mustache and billowing tall-collared topcoat"? He's an albino Snidely Whiplash for heaven's sake. And the linguistic errors that mark Lenz's narration? "scam gone rye" and "bonerfied miracle" and his definition of sobriety and "tattlemount to legal suicide" and "henceforward" and "insousistent" and "repellent to the maximus" and "recurving dream." And my favorite, "Lenz claims to remember some experiences which he says happened to him in vitro."

The jarring disconnect between his physicality and pretentious yet illiterate language and the gut-wrenching struggles for life are just nauseating but still funny. And making Gately's meatloaf complicit? Hilarious or beyond immoral?


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 10:49 am 
Offline

Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:07 pm
Posts: 21
Quote:
I think the humor is part of what disturbs me.


I think that's the point - the reader is engaged in Wallace's writing. I keep reading and rereading sections of McCaffery's interview with Wallace - thank you so much to infinitedetox for turning us on to this by the way - and I couldn't help but be struck by Wallace's commentary here...

Quote:
But I think right now it's important for art-fiction to antagonize the reader's sense that what she's experiencing as she reads is meditated through a human consciousness, now with an agenda not necessarily coincident with her own. For some reason I probably couldn't even explain, I've been convinced of this for years, that one distinctive thing about truly "low" or commercial art is this apparent suppression of a mediating consciousness and agenda. The example I think of first is the novella "Little Expressionless Animals" in "Girl With Curious Hair." Readers I know sometimes remark on all the flash-cuts and the distortion of linearity in it and usually want to see it as mimicking TV's own pace and phosphenic flutter. But what it's really trying to do is just the "opposite" of TV--it's trying to prohibit the reader from forgetting that she's receiving heavily mediated data, that this process is a relationship between the writer's consciousness and her own, and that in order for it to be anything like a full human relationship, she's going to have to put in her share of the linguistic work.


It seems as if every aspect of our mental life can be "mediated" (that is, if we are not aware of this) - yikes! To me, Wallace's writing transcends all of this noise and makes (at least this reader) see...


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 9:57 pm 
Offline

Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:08 pm
Posts: 47
I think that I was asked in this section to go against what research shows: when people torture animals--and it's usually young people, not adults like Lenz--they are at high risk of going on to torture and kill human beings. They are, even after one torture and killing, pretty hopeless cases unless they get massive therapy along with the threat of, or actual, jail time. And after dozens of animals, acting-out all sorts of ghoulishly-imagined methods? The more animals, the more likely it is that they are a lost cause. And if they are still doing it, or just starting, like Lenz, by the time they are adults, this is probably even worse. This section is sort of manipulative to me, first, because it describes that Lenz goes through these dozens of grisly killings of animals, but goes into his exact thought process as he's drawing the line at killing people, as if he suddenly said to himself "I shudder to think". Our continuing in the text along with scenes that involve Lenz later, our being keen to see what he does in his life in other areas, his being a continuing viable character in the plot depend it seems to me, on us believing in this shudder-to-think moment, that he is "only" an animal torturer/killer, that he has the ability to hold himself back. And it implies that he feels remorse about doing the same thing to human beings.

Okay, so I may not be right about this part--maybe Wallace considered this section an illustration of the monster that drugs can make you and we're supposed to think that Lenz is not in control of his mind anymore (some psychotic people torture animals but it is most often sane people who do), but about the other manipulative part, the part that several posters found funny:

There is, of course, an acceptance of violence and cruelty in postmodernity; it has become so banal to us that the instances of it in art have to be made more and more shocking to get their point across. Many a (mostly) male character in pomo texts find release from his intolerable feelings of looking inward, and from the stress of life, through extreme violence. And a vital thing about the frustration-release is the character can't do something that's already been done, because then he'd just be a copycat--and he wouldn't feel any relief. Often in a text (or movie), the degree of violence he acts out has to be a quantum leap ahead of the violence that is already in the culture. This needs to be the case also to get people to read/view a work of fiction/film/theater as well. Their desires are sort of intertwined The character needs something shockingly new and different, and the reader needs something shockingly new and different. So worse and worse scenarios are created, not gentler and gentler ones.* And furthermore, we often aren't supposed to care about what they do in a moral sense any more than the characters themselves who do the evil deeds. This you can tell when the irony comes in. And sometimes we're supposed to be seduced by the supposed humor. It's just supposed to kind of vibrate in the reptilian primitive part of our brain and draw us in the way it draws the characters in, but without much judgement of the artist, because we're too busy laughing. I don't think that the section with the cat on fire chasing Lenz was funny at all, in fact I suddenly felt like I had an x-ray into the brain of an author trying very hard to make violence funny because he knew how well his outsized facility with words had cooked up something maybe more devastating than anyone before him. The cartoonish quality he was trying to make of that cat on fire scene. It's something that you would see in a (bad, pomo) cartoon only, not in reality, a cat being burned alive would not be able to do that kind of chasing, and that's the first thing I thought of when Wallace began describing this particular one of RL's animal victims, that nakedness and how he (Wallace) was suddenly exposed.

Fiction exists so we can learn to experience life as we never would otherwise, through the eyes of another person. Do I really want to experience what Lenz sees and hears and feels as he tortures and kills, down to every last detail?


*I had rather horrific, unbidden thoughts of the scenes under discussion when I tried to sleep last night, it's going to take me a while to go back to reading about Lenz.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 12, 2009 10:27 pm 
Offline

Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:08 pm
Posts: 47
Oh, and I felt the same X-ray specs feeling when there were a couple of supposedly funny endnotes that interrupted the horror and grisliness to note the specifics of the trash bag company.


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 7:02 am 
Offline

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 1:11 pm
Posts: 91
Just in case anyone is feeling the need for an antidote to the Lenz vs. animals section, I offer the following song, Drive By, by Glen Phillips (who I was oblivious to when he was in a band in the 90's but who I chanced to see performing this song live a few years ago and was pretty instantly sold):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtTdg55mtyA


Top
 Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Thu Aug 13, 2009 7:47 am 
Offline

Joined: Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:25 am
Posts: 89
Location: Brooklyn
OneBigParty wrote:
Oh, and I felt the same X-ray specs feeling when there were a couple of supposedly funny endnotes that interrupted the horror and grisliness to note the specifics of the trash bag company.


I think that was intended to bring us back to the idea of waste, and trying to purge oneself of negativity by casting it out from yourself, but it only produces more negativity - like the cycle of annular fusion.

OneBigParty wrote:
...we often aren't supposed to care about what they do in a moral sense any more than the characters themselves who do the evil deeds. This you can tell when the irony comes in. And sometimes we're supposed to be seduced by the supposed humor. It's just supposed to kind of vibrate in the reptilian primitive part of our brain and draw us in the way it draws the characters in, but without much judgement of the artist, because we're too busy laughing.


I'm not sure whose perspective you're writing from - are you saying, in your opinion? Because I disagree with this assessment. I think we ARE supposed to care about what they do in a moral sense - a lot, actually.


Top
 Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 60 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  Next

All times are UTC - 8 hours [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
cron
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group
Translated by Maël Soucaze © 2009 phpBB.fr