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: Wed Aug 19, 2009 10:04 am 
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troybob wrote:
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)


Agreed, and what solidified him on my list, with Gately, of friends I want with me in times good and bad:

"...the guy's hat flies off and his head snaps back and hits Green's face, and there's the pop of Green's nose breaking but he doesn't let go..." (614).

Hey, since I've been obsessing over Lenz and the hell he unleashes on the animal kingdom and Ennet House, I've been wondering: does any part of his behavior become too easily excused by his continued cocaine use? Is there an argument implicit here that if he was genuinely sober that his rage and powerlessness acting out would be different? Or are we experiencing a character so despicable and outside society's general code of acceptable human behavior that the Bing doesn't matter?


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2009 10:45 am 
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i don't think lenz's acting out would be different if he wasn't still using.

if i could pick any two words to categorize lenz it would be "snivelling coward." he seems to be excusing himself from full sobriety because he is afraid of going without cocaine. and he seems to be excusing himself from being a decent human being because he is afraid of actually dealing with his rage and powerlessness. so instead, he kills shit. and that is cowardly.

i don't think he would be any better off sans the Bing.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2009 2:56 pm 
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Quote:
Hey, since I've been obsessing over Lenz and the hell he unleashes on the animal kingdom and Ennet House, I've been wondering: does any part of his behavior become too easily excused by his continued cocaine use? Is there an argument implicit here that if he was genuinely sober that his rage and powerlessness acting out would be different? Or are we experiencing a character so despicable and outside society's general code of acceptable human behavior that the Bing doesn't matter?


I didn't get the impression that Lenz had done this to animals before. It seemed to maybe emerge as a kind of coping mechanism, an attempt to gain some sense of power or control, particularly given whatever internal conflict is emerging with his going through the motions of recovery (the meetings and the house), surrounded by people in recovery, but not actually recovering (since he was still using intermittently); and he's stuck in the recovery situation more out of fear for his personal safety. Of course, he is responsible for how he reacts to his situation, but he is reacting nonetheless. I think that's highlighted by the contrast with Green, whose flashbacks to innocent childhood remind us that everyone (including Lenz) starts out from that point of innocence, and whose subsequent childhood tragedies remind us that the tendency toward addition is not so much an uncontrolled giving over to pleasure as it is an escape from or result of some more or less horrific stuff in one's life.

Not that mindset and intention doesn't play a role in this, but I think we're more willing to excuse a lot of what Gately has done in the past, to humans rather than animals. Gately is no less culpable for his own actions, but we try to give him more benefit of the doubt as we read about his killing people during rage-blackouts and such. I know much of that is because we know that Gately is making a sincere effort and has some other good qualities. But I see him and Lenz as being at different points on the same path.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2009 10:16 am 
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Just a thought that struck me: alongside Lenz's inability to empathise, and the notion of the Entertainment, there's a very interesting bit about entitlement complexes earlier on: "It's like a kind of idolatry of uniqueness" (p. 604) which I thought added another slant to Lenz's feline/canine assults.

It's almost like DFW was saying that Lenz feels entitled to get his "there" moment however he sees fit, and however monstrously. Just like he feels entitled to use bing while at a halfway house. To me, if there's a character in the book that embodies that kind of "me, me, me!" thinking that's become all too prevalent in recent years, it'd have to be Lenz.

Just my 2c (now I've finally caught up).


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2009 10:12 am 
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For me, the sections on Lenz served as a means to distinguish Lenz, defined by these scenes as a true sociopath, from some of the other residents of Ennet house, who may be unlikeable or unpleasant in their own, non-pathological ways. Some of those residents may have perpetrated reprehensible actions but none have the purposefully twisted rationale and calculation shown by Lenz. In a bizarre way, it serves to humanize some of the other characters.

As a result, it's more of a conundrum for me to compare Lenz's animal-torture scenes with the rumble outside Ennet house, which I found disturbingly violent. I was really disappointed in a lot of the characters in this scene.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2009 1:45 pm 
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I think it's interesting that you were disapointed in how the characters reacted in the fight. While I was dismayed to see that Randy Lenz's actions created consequences for people who were trying to do the right thing Gately, Green, and others. I did admire Gately's perception that Lenz was his responsibility, these were his people, and he was fighting for something. Maybe not Lenz but all the time that he has invested in AA. So who were you disapointed in specifically?


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2009 6:59 pm 
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1.0 wrote:
I think it's interesting that you were disapointed in how the characters reacted in the fight. While I was dismayed to see that Randy Lenz's actions created consequences for people who were trying to do the right thing Gately, Green, and others. I did admire Gately's perception that Lenz was his responsibility, these were his people, and he was fighting for something. Maybe not Lenz but all the time that he has invested in AA. So who were you disapointed in specifically?


I, too, am curious about the disappointment. I felt the fight scene was a test of character---Lenz brought the whole House to the mouth of Hades and each character's mettle was tested. I personally would have helped the aggrieved visitors take Lenz away to do with as they would, but Gately held fast to the sort of duty Schtitt eulogized earlier in the novel, as did Green. Held fast and then some, maybe gratuitously. But adhered to a code that went well beyond just his job at Ennet House or familial ties of AA. Big time concepts like loyalty and duty. Some characters (Minty and Gunther? debatable) used the distraction as an excuse for bad behavior, while others entirely lose their sh*t (Thrale is particularly hilarious in chorus with the Help lady.)

So what disappointed you? Lenz's reliance on others to pay consequences for his sociopathologies? The violence with which Gately killed the men? The fact that he didn't just incapacitate but terminated them? Erdedy just standing there with his hands up the whole time? Something else?


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2009 10:26 am 
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At first, I was really pleased to see Gately stepping up and defending Lenz; his protection of his flock, so to speak. This I admire. But defense is one thing, and offense another.

To me, the uncontrolled rage and violence that Gately had displayed in the past was a part of his addiction, and not a part of his character. The actions he took that hurt others were an inherent part of those which hurt himself. In this scene, he lets that part of him that can't control his aggression take over (e.g. bashing the one Canadian's head over and over into the car window until he surely must be dead.) It is as if he has let his past self take control once again. To me, it's almost as if he started using again. If he can't control his deadly rage, how do we know he can control his Disease?


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2009 11:25 pm 
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I understand what your saying notLinda and there is part of me that sees it your way. However, the idea that the agression was uncontrolled or it was some kinda relapse into a violent past is were I would disagree. Gately acted very clinically, cool, and controlled during the fight up until being shot. The way Gately brokedown the scene reminded me of the way some of the tennis matches were described. There was a whole cerebral aspect to Gately's acts of violence that in my mind greatly distnguished it form the instinctual violence committed by Lenz.

I think Gately assesed the situation realized he was dealing with professionals and meted out an apropriate amount of lethal force to deal with the situation.


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 Post subject: Re: Randy Lenz and the SteelSaks
PostPosted: Mon Aug 24, 2009 5:46 pm 
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dave10 wrote:
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).



I concur now mostly, and I see the lightmostly, though I did have to take some time off to process this. I don't think that in my reaction one can read the similar reaction of PETA-types to the rabbit being cut up in Roger and Me vs. the human being getting hurt, as was mentioned earlier. I was upset about that human being getting hurt. I was upset about the people losing their jobs. I probably tend to get upset too much at too much, in fact.

I mostly feel like I just had a spat with a good friend who I love, but now I'm at page 720 and have stars in my eyes again:

The way Wallace handles Matty Permulis' rape by his father. He is spot-on about the way these types justify what they do to their kids. (With all the pedophilia in the book, would you say now that Wallace is positing this as an addiction?) Permulis' dad is another psychopath it was incredibly hard to read about, but it's more clear what Wallace is doing here and is comparable to what (I didn't see) he was doing with Lenz. I agree with what mynameisnotlinda said. Lenz' actions and psychology tend to demarcate the other characters from those who are truly evil; they're the kind of people that the rest of us read about in the newspaper to get our sleep disrupted by. This rounds out the world of the crowded novel and makes it more real/concerned with the evil that's really out there in some people, whether they are addicts or not, and points to the fact that those who try to blame their addiction for such actions are not different from those who are not addicts, just plain sick or criminal. DFW's dealing with human pain from the inside in many cases, in the animals' case he wasn't dealing with it from the inside. Of course, he might not be capable of that as most writers wouldn't. But I think that's what threw me. And the trying to be funny about the cat. It was a little smart-alecky. I think he could have left that out, I'm certain. Although I did get into another small internal beef with DFW over the picture of a fat woman's ass smeared with shit mooning people through a bus bathroom's window. But that's another thread....maybe "What's Eating Bruce Green?"

Thanks very much for all the discussion on this.


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