Thursday, July 2, 2009

"The Sort of Deep-Insider's Elegaic Tribute No Audience Could Be Expected To Notice"

Now that my lack of credentials and other formalities are out of the way, let's begin.

I'm just sort of spitballing here, so bear with me as I attempt to find my critical groove.

  • In the opening scene, the Deans continually stress that they want no part of any agreement with Hal wherein they "could be accused of using [him.]" They wouldn't mind actually using him, mind you, just so long as they can maintain an aura of plausible deniability.
  • The various Deans and C.T. employ this interesting rhetorical tactic of speaking in terms of one another's metaphors to put one another at ease during their negotiation, which really serves no purpose other than making it more difficult for them to understand each other since C.T. is, in fact, deliberately hiding the truth, so his repurposing of their metaphors sounds extremely contrived and desperate.
  • On page 9, Hal says, "The sort of all-defensive game Schtitt used to have me play: the best defense: let everything bounce off you; do nothing. I'd tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear." First off, this is an effective strategy in dealing with the mentally ill--easier said than done, though, because of that last bit, which is a potential pitfall in any conversation between two sane people. It's only fair to tell you that I have the sort of devotion to Gerherdt Schtitt that rivals my friend Caroline's devotion to Severus Snape, so I'll probably be extolling his virtues all over this here blog. Maybe it's my German heritage or maybe it's the fact that he always treats Mario Incandenza as an equal, but it seems to me that of all the characters in the book, Schtitt is fighting on the side of the angels. Whatever that means in this post-deity world I inhabit.
  • Just some phrases I like: p. 11: "...first real sight of adult hysteria..." p. 19: "Money created a sense of obligation."
  • In the endnotes on p. 987, number 24, J.O Incandenza's filmography, there is a reference to the "Bay Area health care riots of 1996" and the "MIT language riots of BS 1997." There's a billboard across the street from the gym I frequent (and by "frequent," I mean "drag my ass to occasionally") that says something to the effect of "Why don't we spend all this money we're pumping into the Iraq War on health care?" Well, California Nurses Association, perhaps it is your lack of commitment to starting a riot.
  • There are some film titles in the aforementioned filmography that seem to be rejected drafts of titles for DFW's own 1999 publication Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: "Various Lachrymose U.S. Middle Management Figures" and "Good-Looking Men in Small Clever Rooms That Utilize Every Centimeter of Available Space With Mind-Boggling Efficiency."
  • Between the professional conversationalist scene, the filmography and description of Enfield Tennis Acadamy's inception/hiring practices, I get the sense that J.O. Incandenza's madness is very similar to the madness which plagued the author. DFW considers nearly every possible perspective on the world (this is probably more evident in some of his essays, namely "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" and "Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All" wherein he spends a lot of time calculating every potential reaction every person he encounters might have to a paralyzing degree), as does Himself. Naturally any author worth his salt is going to plant aspects of himself in his characters, but whether DFW thought of Himself as a sort of alternate future version of himself is, again, one of those things we'll just never know.
  • Just a general note, an emerging theme of IJ is the horrifying discovery that the person you thought you knew is, in fact, a complete stranger.
  • As the owner of a BFA in Acting and unabashed theatre nerd, I was pleased to see a reference in the endnotes on p.993 to Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty. In its pagebound way, IJ itself is a bit of an experiment in that genre, since there are certain passages that are dull and meandering to the point of psychic pain. After my first reading, given the attention DFW pays to recorded entertainments in the novel, I wondered if he deliberately structured the novel so as to prevent any sort of filmic interpretation from being produced, because the mere quixotic attempt would be a little slice of cruel performance art for anyone observing the hubristic suckers who dedicated themselves to such an endeavor. In addition, given the current saccharine state of what passes for American "theatre" in this day and age, a few years of forcing some sadistic, reality-confronting live plays on the Times Square set might set us back on the right track. Does that make me an asshole?
  • On p. 72, Kate Gompert says, "But I notice they don't take away the feeling, do they?" This, I think, exposes the chief fallacy of mental health treatments. Patients are led to believe that with the right chemical balance and the right verbal or electroshock or whatever kind of therapy, they can be cured. Perhaps if patients, physicians and various researchers just acknowledged to one another that it's kind of impossible to kill a feeling from the outside, it would go a long way to reintegrating mentally ill persons back into society. I know from my own experience and the experience of some close friends that often the worst thing that can happen after diagnosis with whatever disordered way of thinking one has is the internalization of that condition as something we just have to "live with," that we do not, in fact, have control over our minds. Maybe that's the case, or maybe psychiatric researchers just haven't found a workable way for the patient to exercise the right kind of controls.
  • On p. 78, when the near-Eastern medical attache's wife discovers him plastered to his recliner, she doesn't even look at the TP screen. However, when she receives no response from her spouse, she is forced to look elsewhere for stimulus in order to figure out what's happened. A metaphor, I guess, for the need to control the various stimuli we expose ourselves to, or maybe the sheer impossibility of that level of control.
  • "There aren't any flat children, really." Just want to say that I also adore Mario Incandenza, not just on p. 80.
  • To wrap up, here's some more Schtitt, p. 83: "Except Schtitt says Ach, but who can imagine this training serving its purpose in an experialist and waste-exporting nation that's forgotten privation and hardship and the discipline which hardship teaches by requiring? A U. S. of modern A. where the state is not a team or a code, but a sort of sloppy intersection of desires and fears, where the only public consensus a boy must surrender to is the acknowledged primacy of straight-line pursuing this flat and short-sighted idea of personal happiness: 'The happy pleasure of the person alone, yes?" This is one of my favorite passages in a book chock-full of favorite passages. I didn't take notes or really think too critically about IJ the first time I read it because my prime directive was to just get through the thing and sort it out afterward, so this concept may have slipped past me at the time. But that was in 2005, the midpoint of the Bush Administration, and for all I may have thought of correllation between the misbegotten, deadly experiment of the Iraq War and Schtitt's little speech here, I doubt I possessed the necessary perspective for that corellation to resonate fully. The invasion of Iraq, it seems to me, was calculated by people who have deified America's great personal sacrifice during WWII for people who did the same. The people calling the shots made their money, back in the 70s, 80s, 90s, whenever, on the fact that since VE DAY, Americans have been resting on their laurels and getting extremely into themselves and forgetting all the things that made our united front against the Axis powers possible (this is already going on for longer than I intended, so I won't bother to expound on the [more or less] fact that this same cycle of personal sacrifice followed by intense self-involvement between WWI and WWII led to the attacks on Pearl Harbor), and didn't take into account the fact that certain people were aware of this and would not support their action--though those at the top did correctly deduce that those who disapproved were so into the "happy pleasure of the person alone" that none of them would take any kind of drastic, homefront liberty-protecting, riot-inducing, potentially suicidal action. So fair play to Bush and Company on that score, I guess.
That's all for now, but that last bit should dovetail nicely into all the Marathe/Steepley stuff coming up.

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