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: Marathe and Steeply as Marat/Sade
PostPosted: Sun Aug 30, 2009 11:19 am 
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It’s fruitful – and great fun – to read Marathe and Steeply as avatars of Jean-Paul Marat and the Marquis de Sade (cf. fn. 24, on JOI's film: The Film Adaptation of Peter Weiss’s ‘The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade'). For anyone similarly inclined, I recommend Peter Brook’s brilliant film adaptation of Weiss’s play. Some parallels:

Violence: Hearing the squeak – the sound of the guillotine. Marat was the French revolutionary whose moral and social idealism did not preclude his exhortations for extreme use of the guillotine against suspected counter-revolutionaries. De Sade was a proponent of a radical individualism unfettered by the limits of morality, religion or law. Not one to shrink from violence (his name became associated with the inflicting of cruelty), de Sade nevertheless abhorred what he saw as the impersonal, mechanical violence of The Terror. (My own warm fuzzies for Marathe were tempered by the description of Lucien Antitoi’s gruesome death by the AFR.)

Transgression/Masochism: De Sade believed that repression of freedom leads to violence, which only a transformation of the self at the deepest level can prevent. To achieve that transformation, one must open the cage within oneself. Some scary stuff is bound to fly out. de Sade as channeled by Weiss:

I don’t believe in idealists
who charge down blind alleys
I don’t believe in any of the sacrifices
that have been made for any cause
I believe only in myself . . .
When I lay in the Bastille
my ideas were already formed
I sweated them out
under the blows of my own whip
out of hatred for myself
and the limitations of my mind . . .
I dug the criminal out of myself
so I could understand him and so understand
the times we live in

cf. P. 420, IJ: “But Marathe knew also that something within the real M. Hugh Steeply did need the humiliations of his absurd field-personae, that the more grotesque or unconvincing he seemed likely to be as a disguised persona the more nourished and actualized his deep parts felt in the course of preparation for the humiliating attempt to portray; he (Steeply) used the mortification he felt as a huge woman or pale Negro or palsied twit of a degenerative musician as fuel for the assignments’ performance; Steeply welcomed the subsumption of his dignity and self in the very rôle that offended his dignity of self.”

The Tennis Court Oath: It’s deliciously congruous that during the French Revolution, Dr. Guillotin and others opposed to the crown met in a tennis court and signed the famous oath--never to disband until “the constitution of the realm and public regeneration are established and assured.”

Redemptive Power of Theater/Literature: DFW in the McCaffery interview: “I strongly suspect a big part of real art fiction’s job is to aggravate this sense of entrapment and loneliness and death in people, to move people to countenance it, since any possible human redemption requires us first to face what’s dreadful, what we want to deny.”

Anthony Abbott in The Vital Lie: Reality and Illusion in Modern Drama: “It is the theatrical act itself that renews us, not the story that the theatrical event portrays. This is the basic point of the theories of Antonin Artaud upon which both Weiss and . . . Peter Brook have drawn so heavily. . . . shortly before his death, Artaud wrote the following poem:

And I shall henceforth devote myself
exclusively
to the theater
as I understand it
a theater of blood
a theater which at every performance will have
achieved some gain
bodily
to him who plays as well as to him who comes to see the playing.
moreover
one doesn’t play
one acts.
The theater is in reality the genesis of creation
It will be done.”

And so but on and on, annularly: insanity/sanity, privileged/poor, caged/free, audience/actor, the play within a play, movie within a movie . . .

The Impossibility of Resolution: Peter Brook’s addendum to Weiss’s play, in Brook’s film version, as spoken by de Sade:

Our play’s chief aim has been to take debate’s great propositions and their opposites;
See how they work and let them fight it out.
To point some light on our internal doubt.

I’ve twisted and turned them every way,
And can find no ending to our play.

Marat and I both advocated force
But in debate each took a different course.
Both wanted changes.
But his views and mine
on using power never could combine.

On the one side, he who thinks our lives
Can be improved by axes and knives;
Or he who’d submerge in the imagination,
Seeking a personal annihilation.

So for me the last word never can be spoken;
I’m left with a question that is always open.


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 Post subject: Re: Marathe and Steeply as Marat/Sade
PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 9:53 am 
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Location: Los Angeles
This analysis is made of awesome. Thanks.

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The dorks are saving the nation, and this book proves it. Dorkismo: the Macho of the Dork


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 Post subject: Re: Marathe and Steeply as Marat/Sade
PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 10:25 pm 
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Posts: 47
Very interesting and good work.

CarolynM wrote:

So for me the last word never can be spoken;
I’m left with a question that is always open.


Perhaps IJ itself will be left open/there'll be a sense of lack of resolution.



I'm interested in knowing how you (or anyone) think[s] this novel "aggravate[s] this sense of loneliness and entrapment and death in people". If you think DFW's project along those lines succeeded? One angle: Is it as "simple" as trying to be (and possibly succeeding in being) expert enough to describe loneliness and despair and entrapment themselves better than anyone else has ever done before? Partly these descriptions have brought the coming to terms that DFW in the McCaffrey interview talked about for me, partly they fill me with a sense of further entrapment in that I cannot describe what my particular trap is, what my despair is, as artfully as this particular artist describes those things in people. (This is somewhat, but not overly so, related to feelings I have seen expressed in IJ by writers who said how it makes them feel to see how far they'll have to go to be able to write like DFW.) It is just Itand that's all that most of us poor slobs who get our sense of L, E & D aggravated to the extreme point by life, not just by great books, can say. If you are already one of the afflicted and not one of the comfortable it's a strange double-despair reading a book that was written, as DFW once said re: writing to afflict the comfortable. (Maybe he left the other half of this out, at least in spirit, by mistake in the McCaffrey interview?) I already know that I'm stuck (entrapped?) on this side of art and all I will ever be able to talk about in this regard is It as one simple baby-word, with no added eloquence or heft at all, so this was no surprise, at least. Just a bit more intense now, due to IJ's particular subject matter. I hope I'm making sense.

"That the well-meaning halfway-house Staff does not understand Its overriding terror will only make the depressed resident feel more alone." (p. 697)

If Kate Gompert could have spoken or shown them the foregoing--from about p. 695--and they were actually her words, not the narrator's, then unless Staff was really dense, she wouldn't have felt that way.

All mental health clinicians who work with addicts/depressed people should be required to read the relevant sections in this book, because It is not conducive to "raid[s] on the inarticulate".


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 Post subject: Re: Marathe and Steeply as Marat/Sade
PostPosted: Tue Sep 01, 2009 7:17 am 
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Well, I think DFW in IJ succeeds in both comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable (keeping in mind that individual readers may Come In to IJ simultaneously disturbed and comfortable), by writing "about what it is to be a fucking human being." (McCaffery interview again). DFW grabs us by the throat, makes us witness graphically violent scenes of heartbreaking cruelty, whether to oneself (Joelle having Too Much Fun) or others (Lucien Antitoi, Lenz's cats and dogs, the Hawaiin-shirted French Canadians). And he "locates and applies CPR to those elements of what's human and magical that still live and glow despite the times' darkness" (ibid.) -- Don Gately's possible path to redemption, Mario's sweet innocence, the mundane, earnest struggles of E.T.A. students and Ennet House residents and satellite characters to get by in and make sense of the world. The daily struggle to communicate, to touch others. What makes DFW succeed -- for me -- at revealing beauty in the darkness of life is that in the first gorgeously written, sensitive first 100 pages he convinced me to trust him to lead me to the precipice of loneliness and entrapment and death, and over the next 600 + pages he has not betrayed that trust. What's human and magical and still alive is his stunning writing and complexly human characters and this big, heavy book that we carry on the subway (like the E.T.A. students, I'm sure the arm that suspends IJ while I read is now larger than the one that holds the pole) or read in bed, and the rippling waves of communication as we virtually share it.


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 Post subject: Re: Marathe and Steeply as Marat/Sade - Structural integration!
PostPosted: Tue Sep 01, 2009 9:55 am 
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Another big shout out to CarolynM for brining the Marat / de Sade angle into the light. Someone else on the forums mentioned how Marat / Steeply can be seen as Rosencrantz and Guilderstern analogues, and I think this works when IJ is analyzed against Hamlet's structure (a 5 act tragedy with similar characters and plot). We also have the fractal (Sierpinski triangle) structure, with images repeating at different scales, such as the annulus, deformation, addiction, inability to communicate, and incestuous abuse, among others. There is also the Greek tragedy angle, with Medusa (Joelle / the Entertainment) as the monster, Orin as Oedipus Rex, Don Gately as Hercules, and possibly others - (see my thread "The Labors of Don Gately").

But the Marat / de Sade angle represents yet another face of the cube: the moral-political discussion of the power of the culture and/or state versus the freedom of the individual. Marathe and Steeply each present their versions of the proper balance of individual freedom vs. control, reflecting the same discussions that have been going on since the founding of the U.S. and the French Revolution. We know that individuals make bad choices sometimes - is it better to coerce them into making better choices, or for the individual to be subsumed into a larger cause, as Marathe has been? And yet we see a corrupt government abusing it's power in the name of safety and defense - The Gentle / Tine administration is a marvelously prescient satire, written before Bush the younger ever became a national figure. The solution of AA is presented as an interesting balance between these tensions, but as we see in the case of Randy Lenz, it's as imperfect as any other.

The amazing thing is how succesful the book is when it actually has at least 4 independent structures. Many fiction authors can barely pull off one.


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 Post subject: Re: Marathe and Steeply as Marat/Sade
PostPosted: Tue Sep 01, 2009 7:53 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2009 7:31 pm
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CarolynM: Thank you. This is wonderful.

OneBigParty writes:
Quote:
Partly these descriptions have brought the coming to terms that DFW in the McCaffrey interview talked about for me, partly they fill me with a sense of further entrapment in that I cannot describe what my particular trap is, what my despair is, as artfully as this particular artist describes those things in people. (This is somewhat, but not overly so, related to feelings I have seen expressed in IJ by writers who said how it makes them feel to see how far they'll have to go to be able to write like DFW.) It is just Itand that's all that most of us poor slobs who get our sense of L, E & D aggravated to the extreme point by life, not just by great books, can say. If you are already one of the afflicted and not one of the comfortable it's a strange double-despair reading a book that was written, as DFW once said re: writing to afflict the comfortable. (Maybe he left the other half of this out, at least in spirit, by mistake in the McCaffrey interview?) I already know that I'm stuck (entrapped?) on this side of art and all I will ever be able to talk about in this regard is It as one simple baby-word, with no added eloquence or heft at all, so this was no surprise, at least. Just a bit more intense now, due to IJ's particular subject matter. I hope I'm making sense.


You do make sense. I understand the tension--the way the book/the descriptions can be comforting and yet can also fuel that sense of entrapment. I think this is part of the tension of reading a book like this.

But I think the thing about It, as Kate Gompert would put it, is that you can't win, not really. Afflicted with It, one can neither speak nor keep silent. You can try to speak artfully, as you say, but that isn't really a way out of the cage.

I do think you have "added eloquence" though--I was very moved by what you wrote here. So thank you for that.

(Also, I think a lot of us are "poor slobs who get our sense of L, E & D aggravated to the extreme point by life, not just by great books." The books just make it feel a little better, sort of, sometimes.)


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