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: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:12 am 
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Posts: 91
I am glad the SteelSak scenes were not blue-pencilled down more or eliminated. If DFW had just included a line or two about Lenz' activities as a quick character-defining brushstroke and moved on, that would have been, to my mind, to kinda just use it for quick grotesque humor in a somewhat triviallizing way. The extended descriptions, including the more over the top/flirting with very dark humor bits, are, instead, a way to be strangely mindful and non-dismissive of how horrible the acts are and how horrible a mindset Lenz has fallen into, not to mention all the ways his acts and situation contrast with other characters and insights around the recovery house. This mindfulness through horror is very much on par with the sort of effect reached in sections like the Poor Tony seizure episode or the Antitois' deaths, situations where the mass of detail bordering on absurdity seems to ultimately allow rather than defuse our ability to connect with these characters and situations.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:34 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 10:48 am
Posts: 59
Location: Orlando, FL
I thought about trying to quote some of the earlier posts in this thread, but I've realized that there are a number of them I want to address so I'm just going to wade right in!

Yes, the scenes of Randy's attacks on animals are horrific but I have to agree with others that there are some equally horrific scenes of violence against humans - the "demapping" of Lucien, among others. This all echoes to me the controversy around Michael Vick and whether it was worse that he had abused/killed animals because they are helpless. As a devoted animal lover with rescued greyhounds who push their snouts into my copy of IJ, I remember feeling great anger at the time toward those who argued that it was not as bad because they were "only dogs." I can't/won't draw distinctions or weigh the violence against people over the violence against animals or vice versa. But I believe very strongly that the episodes fit in the context of the larger work. I do not think DFW was rubbing our noses in it. To me, it makes sense in terms of the characters. I also think that the very jarring effect on the reader of the juxtaposition of these scenes with passages of outright hilarity or just absolutely beautiful prose (I'm thinking here of the final line in the section on the death of Lucien p. 488-489 as he finds his voice in death) was completely intentional.

All of that said, however, I can understand how these very visceral scenes affect each of us differently. Years ago when I read "Paris Trout" there was a scene of violence/abuse toward a female character that still to this day gives me the howling fantods and as a result I've never read anything by Pete Dexter again! Yet on the other hand, I absolutely love everything by Cormac McCarthy so go figure!

Joan


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:38 am 
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I think the Randy Lenz scenes are absolutely crucial to the book's core messages. We have seen how "Too Much Fun" turns people into hollow shelves of themselves via the annular cycle of addiction (problems lead to Substances / Fun, which leads to more problems, so then you need more Substances / Fun, repeat ad infinitum till you die or get into recovery.)

But these scenes are showing how addiction and "Entertainment," broadly construed - spectating without sympathy or empathy - can lead some people from passive solipsism to active cruelty. For Lenz, these animals are just objects for his entertainment, and his use of violence is turning into its own addiction. Just like the cycle of addiction leads you to take greater and greater risks for the "high", Lenz is looking for bigger and bigger hits of his drug of violence and suffering. So I think it's pretty clear that Lenz is slowly working his way up to being a serial killer of humans, although I don't know if he will get caught before he makes it to human murder in the novel (I'm only at the spoiler line.) This kind of spiral of violence behavior sounds pretty similar to the stories of real serial killers. I think DFW is really trying to show the most extreme example of what indulging the desire for "Entertainment" can lead to. It's gripping and important.

For the record, DFW was someone who is pretty concerned about animal rights - see "Consider the Lobster."


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 12:06 pm 
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Posts: 89
Location: Brooklyn
mjdemo wrote:
But these scenes are showing how addiction and "Entertainment," broadly construed - spectating without sympathy or empathy - can lead some people from passive solipsism to active cruelty. For Lenz, these animals are just objects for his entertainment, and his use of violence is turning into its own addiction.


I think that point is really important, about how addiction can bring about an inability to empathize, which is a totally essential part of life and community and humanity. So then in AA, you're brought together as a community and practice identifying with and really hearing one another until it becomes a natural part of your life. The farther you are from beating the addiction, whatever the addiction may be, the more you treat other people like objects - Orin and his "subjects," Lenz and the dogs, etc.

I'm really enjoying this discussion, by the way. Everyone's posts have been great.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 1:51 pm 
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Quote:
So then in AA, you're brought together as a community and practice identifying with and really hearing one another until it becomes a natural part of your life.


I think that's why the point is made how much the others at Ennet House dislike Lenz; I think they get the overall sense that he is not as committed to it and possibly is a risk to them as a result.

One of the things I love most about the Lenz sections, but which I think can be too easily overlooked due to their graphic nature, is what Bruce Green is going through as he follows Lenz, and how his background is fleshed out, reminding us (and forcing us to keep it in mind w/r/t Lenz) how triggers from the past--particularly in terms of addiction--can be so relevant in the present.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 4:36 pm 
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Posts: 5
dave10 wrote:
Unless there turns out to be some overwhelmingly valid reason for these scenes, I'll probably end up pissed at DFW for including them, or at Pietsch for failing to carve through the manuscript pages with his blue pencil.


Having written this last night, I didn't foresee such a lively conversation. Let me add that I had just finished reading the section where Lenz slits the dog's throat and I was feeling riled and sickened.

I think you-all have done me a favor in showing that there is "some overwhelmingly valid reason for these scenes...." They still turn my stomach -- this is a visceral reaction, not an abstract or conceptual one. I am a tremendous lover of dogs, and ... wait a minute, so was DFW! Now that I think back over the bios that I've read, I remember reading that he was especially drawn to dogs that were in danger of being euthanized, or that had been abused.

All of which is to say that I appreciate the way you folks have helped me see the context for the Lenz atrocities in a way that makes very good sense indeed. The fact that you've done so without pounding me into the pavement says a whole lot about the character and graciousness of this Infinite Summer group. I am grateful (even though I'll probably still hurry through any further animal killings, if there are more to come).

On with the show!


Last edited by dave10 on Tue Aug 18, 2009 7:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 6:30 pm 
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Quote:
They still turn my stomach --


I think that is exactly the point. In DFW's anti-irony crusade, he needed to make things so horrific that your stomach would be turned, that there would be no chance for a laugh, a wink, or a giggle, and no conspiratorial eyeball rolling. He'd made the point previously in interviews that sincerity—real honest emotion (even if revulsion)—was impossible to write about because everything was defaulting to irony. The extreme parts of the book, I think, are designed to reclaim honest emotional response.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 8:58 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:50 pm
Posts: 71
I had meant to mention a line that I found emotional-map-eliminating and which made me love Green:

"Brucie excitedly bobbing in his chair, spilling cocoa and Gummi Bears, a loving toddler, more excited about his gift's receipt than what he's going to get himself." (p. 579)


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:27 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:25 am
Posts: 89
Location: Brooklyn
dave10 wrote:
I think you-all have done me a favor in showing that there is "some overwhelmingly valid reason for these scenes...." They still turn my stomach -- this is a visceral reaction, not an abstract or conceptual one. I am a tremendous lover of dogs, and ... wait a minute, so was DFW! Now that I think back over the bios that I've read, I remember reading that he was especially drawn to dogs that were in danger of being euthanized, or that had been abused.

All of which is to say that I appreciate the way you folks have helped me see the context for the Lenz atrocities in a way that makes very good sense indeed. The fact that you've done so without pounding me into the pavement says a whole lot about the character and graciousness of this Infinite Summer group. I am grateful (even though I'll probably still hurry through any further animal killings, if there are more to come).


This made me feel really good. Can I thank you for saying thanks?

And troybob - after reading that scene, Bruce Green jumped into my mental list of favorite characters.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2009 4:35 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 10:48 am
Posts: 59
Location: Orlando, FL
dave10 wrote:
All of which is to say that I appreciate the way you folks have helped me see the context for the Lenz atrocities in a way that makes very good sense indeed. The fact that you've done so without pounding me into the pavement says a whole lot about the character and graciousness of this Infinite Summer group.

This is exactly what's so fantastic about this project - reading this as a community is hopefully giving us all a much deeper understanding and appreciation of this novel.

troybob wrote:
I think that's why the point is made how much the others at Ennet House dislike Lenz; I think they get the overall sense that he is not as committed to it and possibly is a risk to them as a result.

And now that we've seen Lenz actually bring his mess to the doorstep and involve them in it I'm wondering if they will turn on him as a community. I'm worried about what the end result of the fight will be for the residents and for Gately who is still my favorite character.


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