Sunday, June 24, 2012

Infinite Summer #1: What the *BLEEP* have I gotten myself into?

First, if you are reading with us and haven't read the first post, please sign-up and do so here.

If you want to read all our pre-reading post, click on Infinite Summer 2012 to be taken to a complete list of all things IS12, so far.

Think of these Sunday posts as jumping off places...discuss what I've posted, post something yourself, answer questions, ask questions, add whatever it takes to make this experience enjoyable and understandable for you!

These post will be CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS for the reading for that week (Just in case you didn't already know that!). I think knowing this will stop those of us that aren't at a certain place from reading on and will enable those of us who are writing to do so without worrying if someone knows that fact or not. If you are reading ahead and want to post about the pages ahead please wait and if you want to talk about other books, not Infinite Jest and are giving spoilers please indicate that in some fashion...even a *spoiler* before the comment would be nice.

And, finally, if there is anything I can do to make this run more smoothly please don't hesitate to message me on here, on twitter or on Goodreads and I'll see what I can do.

Let's begin the discussion.

I don't know about you all, but I spent the first few pages wondering what was going on...and, then I googled and googled some more.

Setting (from the IJ wiki)
In the novel's future world, North America is one unified state comprising the United States, Canada, and Mexico, known as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). Corporations purchase naming rights to each calendar year, eliminating traditional numerical designations; for example, "The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment" and "The Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland". Much of what used to be the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada has become a hazardous waste dump known as the "Great Concavity" to Americans and as the "Great Convexity" to Canadians.
The novel's primary locations are the Enfield Tennis Academy, Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House (footnoted "Redundancy sic" in the text), and a conversation between a Quebec separatist and a U.S. double agent outside of Tucson, AZ. Enfield Tennis Academy ("ETA") and Ennet House are separated by a hillside in suburban Boston, Massachusetts. Many characters are either students and faculty at the school or residents and staff at the halfway house.
For more information about the setting check out this lovely post by Book Drum beyond the page. And, I'm sure, Brain Pickings' 3 Ways to Visualize David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, will come in handy later, as it breaks down characters, settings and the whole book by diagram.

I enjoy that DFW has given us such rich settings, they just make things (such as Orin's chapter with the roaches) more realistic and in some ways sympathetic. By far my favorite chapter this section is with Erdedy and the long wait for his favorite addiction. What do you guys think? For me, knowing the fact that it's set sometime in the future helped, and I'm glad to have a visual foundation as I continue reading. However, I do wonder what will be at the end of this rabbit hole.

I also really liked this, too bad nobody got to hear it!:



  1. So, at 78 pages in, not everything that's in the summary has appeared yet. There's something quietly lovely about that. This is my second time through, and it's amazing how much I missed first time - it's almost like I only saw half of it. Double-true of the massive filmography endnote.

    Isn't there something just wonderful about the absurdity of the conversationalist and Hal? Either that or the harrowing scene of Kate Gomport in the hospital could be the best bit so far - both about trappedness/alienation but with radically different tones.

    1. I, too, liked this chapter.

      “I’m an OED man, doctor.” Too funny!

      I especially liked Hal’s father’s reference to his own father who turned the newspaper into the fifth wall.

      Instead of a room’s four walls bringing them together, this fifth wall provides the barrier so that any attempt of a connection between them can be quickly discouraged. Feeling . . . Connecting . . . oh so hard to do. It makes us too vulnerable. We must build walls of any kind . . . quickly before we have to make a connection, before you see who I really am, before I have to think or care about you.

      To quote Pink Floyd, “The prisoner who now stands before you / was caught red handed showing feelings / showing feelings of an almost human nature / This will not do!”

      “Tear down the walls!”

      Now I’m rambling, but I just found a website called “Outside the Wall.” It provides “the song in a sentence,” the moral to PFs musical story. I must explore it. Where’s Keith O when I need him!

    2. Once Hal declares himself an OED man, I'm completely on his side.

      Newspaper as 'fifth wall', as you say, is just a great way of putting things. Your Floyd lyrics are spot-on,

      What's really odd is that this scene is in Himself's filmography (pp.992-993) and the summary of it as a film takes Hal's diagnosis. What on earth is Himself up to in this bit?

    3. @AGD I get the feeling that I'm going to want to read this book more than once. It has to be nice reading it again without the confusion one gets when tackling a large book. The conversationalist and Hal made me crack up, because I was reading thinking 'What is this guy trying to get at and why is he asking such strange questions?' and when I read the end I could help, but laugh. I also like how you've compared the two chapters. That's what I've been finding I've been doing a bit...connecting chapters to others based on something that I feel in my own personal being. I also think that it's strange that I feel someone connected to these characters that in no way resemble me...and, yet, they do.

      @Tamera Feeling and connecting at the same time are hard to do as one dictates some sort of selfish approach...and, for the other we must be selfless and listening is the hardest thing to do. What I find interesting is that we do all build walls and with the advent of so much technology we don't even have to try to build the walls they are there for us. I remember one time a friend of mine said he liked dating on the internet as he could weed out those people he knew he wouldn't like. based on what? picture, quotes, how other people perceived that person, of course.

      And, you should get Netflix and watch the PF documentary, it's beyond awesome. Chris, loves Pink Floyd! I'll be telling Chris all about the website! And, hmm...I wonder if Keith would want to join us. I bet he'd read it, even if he doesn't join in formally. He'd love it, I can tell. Which reminds me...did you finish AMERICAN GODS?

    4. Second time through does feel a lot safer. I'm also already finding that thinking about what to say about (phew) is really helping focus the old grey cells.

      Does Elegant Complexity help at all?

      I think the connectedness we feel with the characters is because we share with them the modern problem of being pretty radically disconnected. "This is Water" is worth a read/listen, as it goes through some pretty similar themes and is very digestible.

    5. I haven't bought Elegant Complexity at all, because I'm finding the internet beyond sooooo helpful. I find that I'm using the scene by scene the most. I read and then check that to get in my head what I've read. I've also been taking notes, but they're pretty vague...

      I have to absolutely agree with the 2nd half of your comment...we are so disconnected, as Tamera points out, more so than when the book was completed.

      I do need to listen to that, I'll do so tomorrow after the kiddo goes to is after all summer! :D

  2. The quote that you have chosen, Stephanie, has to be a key to the book. Does it reflect his world and our world? Have we become mechanical, “manufactured, conditioned, bred for a function”? Do many of us “not care” or simply wish to remain ignorant of this fact? As long as “I feel good,” does anything, or anyone, else really matter? However much these characters try to “interface” with others, do they really know how to make a meaningful connection? Considering how far technology has come since DFW wrote this book, it makes the reading of this book even more interesting. Look at us interfacing even now.

    We all know the meaning of “interfacing,” but how important will the “act of interfacing” play in this book? Surely, something is lost in this subsidized world if human conversation and interaction is now labeled “interfacing.” In these initial chapters so many people are trying to create links with someone else, yet people can be in the same room and still feel so separate, so isolated from everyone.

    I feel. I have opinions . . . If you let me, I could talk and talk and talk . . . Do you know many who could “interface” you under the table? Teaching young writers to show thinking is my goal as a teacher. In a nutshell, that’s it. All else will follow if you have that.

    IJ will be one of those books that I will not necessarily enjoy the act of reading it chapter by chapter, but will love in reflection.

    1. There's something really odd about the idea of interfacing someone under the table - it's as though Hal's somehow not quite grasped what's involved is supposed to be communication, not bludgeoning someone with a stream of fact and opinion. But, as you say, maybe that's something gone wrong with the world in Subsidised time

  3. Ditto. Especially the last thought. I'm at a point in the book where I just don't care anymore. (Pg 240ish)

    I prefer interfacing because I hate being vulnerable. I will leave before I show emotion. And thats the last time i will tell you that, so if I take off or change topics on you in the future, that is why. And I will never tell you why in person. Alright thats all you're getting from me.

    Tamera will be writing my posts from here on out.

    1. I interface at times when people think I'm actually feeling and communicating... :D

  4. @ K8L do we need interfacing PD? Maybe for admin too? :) I am truly intrigued to read more about how DFW fleshes out this theme.

    In general, I am delightfully confused. I'm glad I knew going in that this was going to be one of those books. I find myself asking whether I should be on drugs to understand it better or if I maybe already am. (No world, I am not a drug user!!)

    Deeper insights to come... hopefully... maybe... lord willing.

  5. Is anyone else having trouble with email alerts and seeing new comments? I've got five copies of 'Tamera has posted... I read the filmography too!' but still can't see the comment in the thread here.

    Either way, Tamera's right about how horrid the payoff of enlightenment is for "The Man Who Began to Suspect He Was Made of Glass". The poor blighter. And if he's transparent to others, how does that relate to the horrifying/isolating opacity of everyone else floating around the book?

    And as for Himself knowing he was deluded - it could just be he's very pragmatic about making his (admittedly not-that-pragmatic at all) films - there's a footnote to the filmography that basically accuses him of not coming up with any new material, so maybe he just recognises a good joke.

    1. Yeah, I got a that post about 5 times too! and, I still don't see it here. Tamera's comment to your post was in my email about an hour before it actually appeared here, but Kate and Amanda's (who were at my house sitting right next to me while we talked and typed)post went straight through...I'm not sure what is going on...I hope all 5 of them don't appear on here.

      Concerning the post, I really enjoyed the filmography of movies that don't exist. I laughed a lot...should I not have laughed? They just felt ironic and silly and gave a better picture of Himself...and, maybe even a better picture of the Incandenza family as a whole. In general, if you are truly a person who is aware of yourself...people do consider you crazy or selfish et cetera, but aren't you really just enlightened and aware in a way that they don't even try to be?

    2. Are we sure the blog itself isn't trying to make us live out Hal's failure to communicate by spitefully picking on a commentor? I mean, that would be a really cruel way of making a point but who knows how cruel Blogger wants to be?

      Oh, loads of the films are hilarious. If we aren't meant to laugh at them, DFW has gone terribly wrong. You've got a point about the enlightened/crazy split; there's no higher authority to determine which side is right in any given case - another insurmountable communication problem.

  6. First of all, this book is really overwhelming me, but I knew that was what I would be getting into. All of the supplementary materials overwhelm me even more, and I'm tempted to just read it a la carte, and then go back and read it a second time with all of the extra materials, but I'm afraid I will be cheating myself out of a lot of background information if I do that (DFW's long sentences are rubbing off on me).

    @Stephanie M Hasty- You mention in your post that your favorite chapter is Erdedy waiting for his favorite addiction. I thought the exact same thing. Even one who doesn't do drugs or have any serious addictions can relate to what he is feeling in this section. When Erdedy is considering that the woman with his drugs isn't going to show, his anxiety builds and he thinks about how important it is that he gets what he is waiting for. "...once he'd made the decision to have marijuana in his home one more time it mattered a lot. It mattered a lot (19)." It's amazing how much weight a simple decision can carry, and DFW captures this perfectly. When I'm resolving to eat healthy for a period of time (*cough* fitting into a wedding dress) and I make a split-second decision that I want- and WILL have- McDonald's, there is no going back. Nothing will stand in my way of that juicy burger and wonderfully fried-in-fat french fries. Once that decision is made, I may as well have already eaten the thing. When Erdey makes his decision to smoke again, everything else is set in motion. He knows he will have to draw the curtains and change his voice mail message. He knows he will have to get his usual assortment of food. He knows he will need to make all of the preparations, because, as far as he is concerned, there is no undoing the decision he's made. Yes, theoretically, he could realize that it's not worth it and decide to undo the decision, but in reality, a decision is as good as action. DFW makes Erdedy's anxiety palpable. It's almost humorous at times, but what I think I like so much about it is that it is so real.

    I'm looking forward to/completely dreading reading this book. It eases my mind to know that I will most likely have to read it again. I am able to sort of let myself off of the hook and know that I may not understand everything the first time around and I will hopefully get it the second time around.

    Good luck to everyone else!

    1. I also like how Erdedy has to eliminate from his life all that reminds him of his addiction after he succumbs...only to do all over again. I think this is also something that everyone can universally relate to...

      And...about that Mickie Ds thing...I have no idea what you mean...chicken nuggets and I are not friends.

      I look forward to reading it again...and, soon...well, I look forward to skimming it as soon I finish reading. I can't wait to talk about this in person.

      And, I know I'm a sicko, but all the extras really make me H-A-P-P-Y...

  7. Wow, everyone has great comments! Thought-provoking discourse is always nice to read.

    I guess the one thought that crossed my mind while reading Infinite Jest was how most of the characters so far are interlinked to each other by the use of drugs. Some of the characters ingest depressants to slow down their autonomic nervous systems and reach a sensation of euphoria. Others—Erdedy and Katherine—need marijuana to probably "get back to normal." What do all of these drugs have in common? It's simple: they are all substances that produce an escape from reality and alter the user's state of consciousness. What intrigues me the most is the "altering state of consciousness" aspect. In psychology, drugs, sleep, and hypnosis all produce an altered state of consciousness; they create an environment in which we are less and less aware of ourselves and our surroundings. While some of the characters in Infinite Jest feel like they physiologically need these drugs to transcend into another state of consciousness, I believe people in the real world unconsciously have their own "drug": society. As people willingly accept the mores and norms of society, their consciousness metamorphose to serve one purpose—become a cog in society's machinery. If Sociology has taught me anything, it's that rules are created by humans to prevent society from spiraling into chaos; they create in society intricate systems that lessen the amount of entropy. But, what else do rules do? They not only have the ability to inhibit creativeness, but also to turn humans into bureaucratic automatons that are programmed to ensure not one single rule--no matter how minute or ludicrous--is broken by fellow comrades. Some of the most famous people in history rebelled against society—Thoreau, the Beat Generation, and Gandhi. Once they rebelled, their shackles that binded them to conventionality were thrown off, allowing them to become spiritually unfettered. So, the characters in Infinite Jest may consume drugs to experience self-induced perceptions and trances, but until we circumspect society's control over us, we may be no different than them. Will we wake up from this hypnotic state, or will we continue to take society's drug?

    One other part of Infinite Jest I found interesting was the chapter containing Katherine in the psychiatric ward. From a quick Google, it seems Wallace died in 2008 from suicide. That passage where Katherine explains to the medical student undergoing residency about the maudlin feelings she experiences is truly horrifiying. Katherine says, "Well this isn't a state. This is a feeling. . . . It's like horror more than sadness. It's more like horror. It's like something horrible is about to happen, the most horrible thing you can imagine. . . . Everything gets horrible. Everything you see gets ugly. Lurid is the word" (73). These intense feelings don't seem like they're made up. Maybe they're feelings Wallace experienced himself, and he's using Katherine as a surrogate character to release those suppressed emotions?

    1. I think if we let it we could think of this book as a cry to be heard, and Katherine and Hal could be two halves of that. But, to do that kind of makes me sad and I don't think this book is supposed to make me sad and I don't want to detract from the feeling...whatever that happens to be.

      And, concerning your first brilliance. I don't think we are different from any of them. Even those of us who don't do drugs are addicted to something and it's that addiction that separates us and keeps up that 'fifth wall' as Tamera put. Lord knows! there are times when I'd rather watch a show or read a book than talk to other people...which is so strange since I live with two people constantly. It also goes back to the point of interfacing. We do whatever we can to make sure that we aren't too personal and to make sure we aren't truly giving ourselves to people. We even go so far as to say that those people who want to connect are too mushy or fake and we make sure they conform or are ostracized. There are times when I know I'm guilty of doing this and there are times, sadly, I suppose, when I just don't care.

      Which characters (or do all the characters in some way)feel this way? Are you supposed to be learning lessons from them?

      Love your thoughts Brandon...they've been buzzing around in my head for days.

    2. Thank you Stephanie! :D

      You're spot on about about your first point! If we dwelled on this book being a huge cry for help from Wallace, we'd be doing him and the novel a great injustice. It would be like only dwelling on the sex in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Sure, they contain those scenes, but it's not what those novels are about! They contain so many deeper themes!

      Tamera and you did such a wonderful job expaining the "fifth wall." We're all guilty of putting up those walls, but so many people keep them up for so long! I'm terribly afraid we're getting close to the point where they're going to become rigid and permanent.

      Where I'm at in the novel, Hal, Erdidy, and Katherine feel that way. Whether it be Hal sometimes having a fear of communicating with others, or Erdidy's inability to have social interactions with others when he's experiencing marijuana, they all show us that we should embrace interfacing; to not only talk to others, but understand them.

  8. Thank you Stephanie! :D

    You're spot on about about your first point! If we dwelled on this book being a huge cry for help from Wallace, we'd be doing him and the novel a great injustice. It would be like only dwelling on the sex in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Sure, they contain those scenes, but it's not what those novels are about! They contain so many deeper themes!

    Tamera and you did such a wonderful job expaining the "fifth wall." We're all guilty of putting up those walls, but so many people keep them up for so long! I'm terribly afraid we're getting close to the point where they're going to become rigid and permanent.

    Where I'm at in the novel, Hal, Erdidy, and Katherine feel that way. Whether it be Hal sometimes having a fear of communicating with others, or Erdidy's inability to have social interactions with others when he's experiencing marijuana, they all show us that we should embrace interfacing; to not only talk to others, but understand them.

    1. Darn it! I forgot to push the Reply button! :D I'll go ahead and copy and paste it under your comment Stepahnie.

    2. And, I spelled your name wrong! This is just not my day!

  9. From the chapter with Hal and Mario, "Close your eyes and think fuzzy thoughts" (page 58).

    How often would you rather settle for this?

    Right now, I'm torn because I'm trying to decide how much the characters desire the attachments that allow their detachment. Are they addicted to the attachment or are they addicted to the detachment that it creates? Both?

    These attachments--entertainment, drugs, tennis, anything--are obviously addictive, all-consuming, and mind-numbing. Sometimes that feels pretty good. The problem, however, is what happens when the show, the match, the high, the whatever, is over, when the clouds begin to clear (or maybe when the clouds return), when you begin to go through withdrawals, when we have to face our reality. Then what?

    Have they been trained or conditioned so well that they have given up their own consciousness, probably without even noticing that they have? Surely something inside nudges them to know that something isn't right, that something is missing.

    Do the characters want to "make a connection"? That doesn't seem like the right word. Is it that they feel so disconnected and alienated that they have no idea how to make a connection, and because they have never felt connected, that concept is so foreign that they wouldn't recognize if it happened to trickle in just a little bit?

    Maybe the DFW quote helps: "We're all lonely for something we don't know we're lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we've never even met?"

    I hate that I feel like I need to apologize for my fuzzy thoughts. I'm definitely talking in cirlces. DFW said, "I tend to think my way into circles instead of resolving anything. It's paralyzing and boring for people around me." I apparently don't want to resolve. I have only questions.

    Well, I hope this post goes through. I'm trying it on my laptop to see if it makes a difference. My computer did sound a little odd on Sunday, but most of you know that I still have some learning to do with technology.

    I'm headed to Durango tomorrow. We arrive late Sunday, so I will have to wait all day to see discussions. I'm over 400 pages into the book, and it consumes me, so this trip will force me to let go of it for a little bit, at least outwardly that is.

    1. I love your thinking!

      I think most of the characters are afraid to create social connections. They prefer to hold on to material/addicting objects to ensure their own euphoria, while at the same time pushing away any attempt at intricate relationships. Sure, they see other people everyday, but do they actually open themselves up to them? I think E.M. Forster has some advice for them: "Only connect!"

      Concerning your fuzzy thoughts...Don't apologize! Fragmented thinking sometimes comes together to form a beautiful resolution. And if it doesn't, wasn't it fun to be apart of such wonderful rumination?

      I hope you had fun in Durango!! :D

  10. Where to begin? I'm finally getting around to commenting here, though I do plan to catch up with everyone during my upcoming week off. There are a lot of wonderful and thought provoking comments here that have covered a lot of what I wanted to say. I've also appreciated all the links to help sort of explain what is going on -- I knew the book was complex, but wasn't really prepared for this sort of complexity!

    My favorite part so far was the long filmography. I spent a long time reading all of them, and rereading some of them aloud to my husband. I loved that he went through the trouble of putting so many "Untitled. Unfinished. UNRELEASED" lines in there, made me giggle to no end. Some of the movies were very intriguing, in a horrible sort of way. "The Man Who Began to Suspect He Was Made of Glass" was mentioned above, and certainly caught my attention, I also liked "(At Least) three Cheers for Cause and Effect and "Homo Duplex" -- as well as the one that described the scene earlier in the book with Hal and the Conversationalist .. According to the part at the beginning, this happened on 1 April of the year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. And the movie came out in the Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar. My guess is that he based the movie on the real life event, though at first I wondered if either this was the filming of the movie (which I guess not, since some other person is credited with acting the Son's part) or somehow testing out his movie idea.

    But my absolute favorite of the movies was "The Joke". I spent quite a while thinking about this one and how I would feel to be in such an audience.

    The book is a bit disjointed for me to really have a full appreciation of what is going on. I have read many books where each chapter seems to be another disjointed story that come together in the end, so I have faith that this will all work out, but it's very strange for me to have disjointed paragraphs! Just one random paragraph about another character inserted in a long section about a different character. Very odd.

    I have to admit that all of the drug stuff makes me a bit uncomfortable, but nothing I can't deal with. And I did catch (as many said above) that a lot of the drug themes apply to non-drug users as well. But just well outside of my range of subject matter that I would normally read.

    So far my favorite character is Katherine. I was glad she showed up there at the end. I really liked her way of thinking, of explaining things, of "interfacing" with the doctor.

    1. Hiya Deana,

      I'm so glad that you are able to join us! :D
      I, too, enjoyed the movies! If you've read our #2 post, you'll see that I've linked a Tumblr that I think you might love, love, love (at least I do! :D). My favorite is Cage III-Free disturbing, I also like Various Small Flames...again disturbing...hmmm, wonder what this says about me.

      I hear the book is supposed to be disjointed for a long while...I think, which I find in long books I don't mind at all.

      I find it interesting that you picked Katherine to be your favorite. She seems the most messed up, but on the other hand she seems the most sincere. Can't wait to see what you think about the next reading section!

  11. So I'm a little late to the party, and playing catch-up like crazy. I've loved reading everyone else's very thoughtful posts. It's helped me reflect on all that I've read so far.

    Like some others, I am completely overwhelmed and blown away by this book. It doesn't feel like work to read (except the physical toll it's taking flipping to and from the notes.) I loved the filmography. After reading the listing for the scene between Hal and the Conversationalist, I'm left wondering how many other films were at least partially autobiographical.

    The descriptions of Eredy's and Katherine's addictions and MO's regarding their pot use is captivating, but I also found them some of the most disturbing, difficult passages to read. Perhaps I can identify to closely with their lack of self discipline, the dedication to their self-destructive decisions (although not on the same level, thankfully.) Katherine explaining that she doesn't want to hurt herself, just to end the feeling, even a coma being an acceptable alternative to life or death, it was frightingly honest.

    I love the themes of communication so far. Aggressive grammarians, interfacing vs. interpersonal communication. Stephanie, I love your example of technology building walls for us, and it was in regard to a dating site, something that is at least theoretically designed to bring people together! So far, there has not been much true interaction between any characters. Even in the scene with the doctor and Katherine. He was observing her, monitoring her, but did not listen to her.

    I am mostly enjoying the disjointed nature of the book so far. I find myself getting excited with they come back to a character they haven't discussed for a while. Hopefully I'll get a lot of reading done this week!

    1. love the point you make about katherine and the doctor and you are right no one communicates. i wonder what we are supposed to get from that?



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...