Infinite Jest, Week 6 (380-461)

We are deep in it now!! Everything is great and every chapter is so interesting. In this week's reading we finally get some background on ONAN and President Gentle, and learn where those weird "whump" sounds DFW has referenced sparsely in the past 400 ish pages come from.

We get this info through Mario's film O.N.A.N.tiad played every year at the E.T.A. Interdependence Day celebrations. describing the events that led to the Reconfiguration. The film is a reinterpretation of Himself's film of the same name, neither of which is super historically accurate, and the characters in Mario's film are sock puppets made by middle school students. At this point DFW's style of sharing important info through several layers of indirection should be pretty familiar (here, a chapter about students watching a film reinterpreted from another film about real events).

The politics are very detailed and weirdly engrossing, but what I found really interesting about the O.N.A.N.tiad is that along with the Marathe and Steeply conversation, it reveals that the real dystopia of IJ is not the Reconfiguration, the crazy US president, the trash being launched by gigantic catapults across states, or the hopelessly irradiated territories. The real dystopia is all internal- it is the need to find someone to blame, Gentle's America First policies, and the inability and/or unwilling to choose wisely that makes IJ a dystopia.

Also this week we read another one of my favorite passages from IJ (there seems to be at least one every week, which is nice): Lyle and LaMont Chu's conversation about fame. I am going to quote big chunks of it here, because it is so good (bolded by me):

‘You feel these men with their photographs in magazines care deeply about having their photographs in magazines. Derive immense meaning.’ ‘I do. They must. I would. Else why would I burn like this to feel as they feel?’ ‘The meaning they feel, you mean. From the fame.’ ‘Lyle, don’t they?’

‘LaMont, perhaps they did at first. The first photograph, the first magazine, the gratified surge, the seeing themselves as others see them, the hagiography of image, perhaps. Perhaps the first time: enjoyment. After that, do you trust me, trust me: they do not feel what you burn for. After the first surge, they care only that their photographs seem awkward or unflattering, or untrue, or that their privacy, this thing you burn to escape, what they call their privacy is being violated. Something changes. After the first photograph has been in a magazine, the famous men do not enjoy their photographs in magazines so much as they fear that their photographs will cease to appear in magazines. They are trapped, just as you are.’

‘LaMont, are you willing to listen to a Remark about what is true?’ ‘Okeydokey.’ ‘The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.’ ‘Maybe I ought to be getting back.’ ‘LaMont, the world is very old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded. But this is good news. You have been snared by the delusion that envy has a reciprocal. You assume that there is a flip-side to your painful envy of Michael Chang: namely Michael Chang’s enjoyable feeling of being-envied-by-LaMont-Chu. No such animal.’ ‘Animal?’ ‘You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.’ ‘This is good news?’ ‘It is the truth. To be envied, admired, is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are any more enjoyable than the feelings associated with envy of fame.’ ‘The burning doesn’t go away?’ ‘What fire dies when you feed it? It is not fame itself they wish to deny you here. Trust them. There is much fear in fame. Terrible and heavy fear to be pulled and held, carried. Perhaps they want only to keep it off you until you weigh enough to pull it toward yourself.’ ‘Would I sound ungrateful if I said this doesn’t make me feel very much better at all?’ ‘La-Mont, the truth is that the world is incredibly, incredibly, unbelievably old. You suffer with the stunted desire caused by one of its oldest lies. Do not believe the photographs. Fame is not the exit from any cage.’ ‘So I’m stuck in the cage from either side. Fame or tortured envy of fame. There’s no way out.’ ‘You might consider how escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage.

This is some of the most astute writing I've ever read about fame. I find it particularly interesting because in a lot of his interviews he talks what it's like to suddenly become famous and struggle with being a "successful" and well known author. 

The second weird piece of Lyle wisdom is dispensed to Ortho Stice, who is complaining about objects moving around in his room (we will see more of him later in the book so we'll come back to him). Lyle's advice to him is "do not underestimate objects," which is an incredibly weird thing to say. I didn't really understand it the first time and I still don't know what it really means, but maybe he's referring to addiction? Don't underestimate the objects of your addiction, whether it is a drug, or it is a lethally enjoyable film, or it is fame. Don't underestimate objects because the world is made up of them and it's very easy to get snared in the untruth of the importance of the object.

Some other interesting things:

  • At one point during Mario's film Rod Tine says "Allow me to illustrate what Lur—just what the president means" while explaining the proposed Reconfiguration. Luria P is a high level anti-ONAN operative- what is she doing advising Rod the God, theorized to be the one pulling the strings behind the formation of ONAN? How does this relate to the Hal/Orin phone call and the motivations of the Quebecers? 
  • It was brought up really briefly during the Joelle Van Dyne at the party chapter, but the US calls the Reconfiguration the Great Concavity and Canada calls it the Great Convexity. That seems like just a normal math term until you consider that the math terms don't seem exactly right- a concave line looks roughly like a valley, and a convex curve looks roughly like a mountain. The new property line goes from NY up to Vermont and down to Boston, which, from the US perspective is a convex curve, so why do they call it the Great Concavity? They call it the Great Concavity because they don't want that territory, so instead of looking at it from the US perspective, they look at the land from Canada's perspective, which looks like a concave curve. The same in reverse holds true for Canada. 
  • The guy that keeps writing headlines that are too long and keeps on getting demoted or fired in Mario's film
  • Eric Clipperton's story, the guy who wins tennis games by threatening to kill himself. My favorite bit is the very last sentence in the story:
    when an E.T.A. jr. whinges too loudly about some tennis-connected vicissitude or hardship or something, he’s invited to go chill for a bit in the Clipperton Suite, to maybe meditate on some of the other ways to succeed besides votaried self-transcendence and gut-sucking-in and hard daily slogging toward a distant goal you can then maybe, if you get there, live with.
    which really nicely illustrates the dangers and destructions of success and fame and how maybe the only way to achieve it is through persistent and patient self destruction.
  • Hal's paper on the relationship between broadcast TV and advertising, especially w.r.t. free will amongst consumers. It reminded me a lot of DFW's essay E Unibus Pluram except this one describes fictional events. The distinction that the ad company makes between passively picking between channels versus actively playing anything you want made me think of TV versus Netflix/ internet streaming, and I wonder how our viewing habits have changed in today's day where you can watch virtually any show or movie at any time.
  • Moms cheated on Himself with C.T.! Mario is maybe C.T.'s son!! C.T. refers to Mario as it!!!
  • I think about this sentence a lot: Marathe sniffed so deeply that it became a sigh. 

And some quotes I liked:

  • On pain:
    There’s serious pain in being sober, though, you find out, after time. Then now that you’re clean and don’t even much want Substances and feeling like you want to both cry and stomp somebody into goo with pain, these Boston AAs start in on telling you you’re right where you’re supposed to be and telling you to remember the pointless pain of active addiction and telling you that at least this sober pain now has a purpose. At least this pain means you’re going somewhere, they say, instead of the repetitive gerbil-wheel of addictive pain.
  • On God:
    He can’t even look at F.F. in the Crocodile’s row as he says that at this point the God-understanding stuff kind of makes him want to puke, from fear. Something you can’t see or hear or touch or smell: OK. All right. But something you can’t even feel? Because that’s what he feels when he tries to understand something to really sincerely pray to. Nothingness. He says when he tries to pray he gets this like image in his mind’s eye of the brainwaves or whatever of his prayers going out and out, with nothing to stop them, going, going, radiating out into like space and outliving him and still going and never hitting Anything out there, much less Something with an ear. Much much less Something with an ear that could possibly give a rat’s ass.
    I particularly like and relate to the image of brainwaves or prayers going endlessly outward.
  • On tennis as cerebral, as a sport you play in a world you build in your head:
    ‘Hit,’ he suggests. ‘Move. Travel lightly. Occur. Be here. Not in bed or shower or over baconschteam, in the mind. Be here in total. Is nothing else. Learn. Try.'