Infinite Jest, Week 2 (85-169)

By page 169 we're still in very solid wtf is going on territory, but there's at least been some groundwork laid for all the subplots in IJ, and while we still have to get to know a lot more characters (especially the people at Ennet House), we've already read about a bunch of important ones. So far we've:

  • met all of the Incandenzas (C.T, Himself, Moms, Orin, Mario, and of course Hal)
  • been introduced to a couple drug addicts (Steve Erdedy, Kate Gompert, Poor Tony, etc.) at Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House and some Enfield Tennis Academy students (Pemulis, John Wayne, Ortho Stice, etc.)
  • learned more about the eponymous Entertainment and some intra ONAN politics, specifically US Canada relations via triple agent Remy Marathe and cross dressing Office of Unspecified Services agent Hugh Steeply

I know that's a daunting amount of information to remember, but I promise eventually it'll all come together and you'll know more about tennis, optics, drugs, and fake politics than you probably want. 

This week's post builds on an idea introduced last week: if the only difference between life and death is the choice of what you erase and destroy yourself for, what should that choice be? What are you willing to "die twice for?"

This is laid out most obviously in Marathe's argument about attachments in his and Steeply's conversation on the hill in Tucson Arizona, prompted by Steeply calling Marathe a "fanatically patriotic Wheelchair Assassin."

Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. only pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen. Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change, leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you. 

You U.S.A.’s do not seem to believe you may each choose what to die for. Love of a woman, the sexual, it bends back in on the self, makes you narrow, maybe crazy. Choose with care. Love of your nation, your country and people, it enlarges the heart. Something bigger than the self. 

This, is it not the choice of the most supreme importance? Who teaches your U.S.A. children how to choose their temple? What to love enough not to think two times? For this choice determines all else. No? All other of our you say free choices follow from this: what is our temple. What is the temple, thus, for U.S.A.’s?

But what if there is no choice, and you just do without thinking?

Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self’s sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself. In a case such as this you become the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage. Not tragic. No songs. You believe you would die twice for another but in truth would die only for your alone self, its sentiment.

Some other things I found interesting or liked:

  • John Wayne and Lamont Chu's speech on the progression towards mastery, and how the only way to climb to the next plateau is "a whole lot of frustrating mindless repetitive practice and hanging in there"
  • The essay on videophony and why the technology became obsolete. I still think about it every time I'm on the phone or I'm facetiming someone.
  • Hal's essay on the evolution of the North American hero, from active -> reactive -> non active
  • "Urine trouble? Urine luck!"
  • The visceral pain of Himself's dad's story about getting injured in a tennis game.
    "It's a pivotal, it's a seminal, religious day when you get to both hear and feel your destiny at the same moment, Jim."