Coatlicue Complex

This week, we walk right into rejection, like walking into the wall that is righteously pissed off Roy Tony. You reject his hug, like Erdedy does. Roy Tony isn’t looking for a hug, Roy Tony doesn’t like to hug. But Roy Tony has surrendered his will, has risked sharing his “vulnerability and “discomfort” and Erdedy risks the ass-kicking of his lifetime by acting like he, Erdedy, is somehow above this all and can reject AA’s tenet of Hugs Not Drugs.

 

Marathe and Steeply do their own Medusa v Odalisque-esque dance of rejection, itself a fitting double bind (or quadruple bind?). The complete essence of their conversation is to offer up and reject each other’s ideologies, disdain loosely hidden behind their sparrings. And yet both have also on some level rejected their own governments (a deep betrayal on Marathe’s part, and a less impactful but still self-positioned semi-betrayal on Steeply’s).

 

The conversation-slash-argument between Gately and Joelle has always left me feeling very very sad. They speak over each other, and Don gets really testy – the first jerk-like behavior I’ve really seen in him. It would be ridiculous to read IJ as a sacred text and not bounce the idea around that generally Don Gately has a Jesus-figure sort of bent to him (especially later as he is inundated with confessional visits). He seems purpose-driven to  share the AA message and actively tries to live according to a moral code. So he really comes up short in this passage (IMHO), rejecting JvD’s assertion that he is driven by shame about what “might be perceived as a lack of brightness” (p. 537). And his bull-headed persistence asking about her hideous deformity forces Joelle to reject his approach and his questions over and over. Neither Don nor Joelle connect with each other, or even listen to each other.

 

And finally, how do you solve a problem like Lenz? His “impotent rage and powerless fear” (p. 541) is bred deep.  Lenz seems borne from a rejection by the entire universe, so his work to “resolve his issues” escalates, as we know it must, with little effect. And then, when faced with a real-life opportunity to connect with Bruce Green, Lenz fears rejection of such intensity that he is paralyzed to tell Green that he likes him (and to leave him alone).

 

Other Notes:

 

  • Half way through this section I made a note to mention how I love DFW’s acceleration techniques. There is a cinematic, madcap, almost Stoogeian feel to the way he stacks narrative steps on top of each other, alternately piling them up like a swaying tower of bricks, or layering them on like oppressive, heavy blankets. And then to play with this comic technique by paring it with truly grim subject matter (Lenz’ progression from rats to dogs, the Drano deaths, Doony’s accident with the bucket of bricks, the Entertainment itself). It is just so freaking effective. So imagine my delight when I caught up with Pemulis as he talked about “accelerated phenomena which is actually equivalent to an incredible slowing down of time” (p. 573) because that right there is what makes it so great. The slowing down of time becomes this parodic, car-crash scenario that you just can’t pull yourself away from.
  • Orin’s chasing of various Subjects with toddler-aged children is of course a classic cover for deep feelings of rejection. And Tavis is riddled with fear of rejection too.
  • Love the connection between the blue carpet and rodential squeaking of the mattress frame we get in the previous mattress saga of JOI’s childhood and the blue carpet and rodential squeaking of Pemulis’ chair in the Headmaster’s office
  • I would love to see serialized treatments of the smaller character studies in IJ, like poor Bruce Green’s family saga- done Black Mirror style.

Performances of Shame and Other Hideous Things

 

Hey annulated friends!

 

Before I begin, sorry for missing last week’s post! Couldn’t do my service for last week’s theme of service L Was launching my new little poetry book in a snowy clime and running around too much!

 

I’m going to resume Lectio Divina for this week’s theme on “rejection” aaaaand I arrive at:

 

“To hide openly, is more like it.” (536)

 

What is literally happening in the text?

 

This sentence is part of the unattributed dialogue between Ennet House residents Joelle and Gately. They are talking about appearances and self-esteem in the context of Joelle’s veil and her membership in the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed / UHID.

 

What is happening on an allegorical level?

 

Joelle’s veil is not simply the desire to remain hidden, but the desire to achieve commonality (…a voice among other voices, invisible, equal, no different, hidden, 534). It’s accompanied by a sense of shame about the urge to hide. I think it’s paradoxical that the desire stems from wanting to feel accepted, but by being visibly veiled, she feels rejected. It’s almost as if she has to perform her rejection in public to confirm it for herself. She also feels that she’s so desperate for some kind of control but that she settles for the appearance of control. (535)

 

This reminds me of Hal smoking weed, the way the secrecy of smoking appeals to him more than the high itself. But more than this, it reminds me of Hal’s silence and non-responsiveness. Both Joelle and Hal perform a refusal without being aware that they’re performing it. Joelle shuts out the world with her visible veil and reluctance to discuss UHID, and Hal shuts out the world by being non-responsive and/or responsive in a way that encourages closure in the conversation/interaction.

 

Their rejection of the world is completely and utterly masked from themselves. This refusal is egoistic, even though it may not seem to be that way because they both want to hide and be quiet — let’s not forget that Joelle’s room is mirrored on all sides, and that Hal is unable to look outside of himself quite a lot of the time.

 

In IJ overall, I think this solipsism takes on many guises and includes deceit of oneself.

 

What does this remind me of from my own life?

 

It reminds me of that time I watched Steve McQueen’s Shame and cried for about four hours afterwards because I could actually relate to many things. Thankfully, humans are creatures that can change and adapt…

 

What action does this call me to do?

 

Ultimately, I think Joelle’s veil is a performance of her shame — the fact that she’s aware of it and wants everyone to know she’s aware of her shame.

 

To be honest, I think this is still a pretty bad situation.

 

I think DFW himself had said something along the lines of how being critical of oneself publicly only makes oneself seem and appear morally superior.

 

Thinking through this calls me to be open and generous to other people in the best way I can. Doing so without expectation of anything in return is pretty damn hard, but I want to try to do so more deeply and more often — and I know that if I try, eventually the self-conscious aspect of “trying” will decrease and become second nature, and it’ll feel ok.

 

 

RE: “Service”

I think the above leads to the thoughts I had around “service.” I was thinking of “service” in terms of intention. I think “service” starts to serve the server, as it were, only if the person’s intention and determination to serve continue. Gately goes to his shitty job and cleans shit off the walls at lonesome, horrid hours of the morning. It’s degrading and would strip the humanity from anyone, but he does it. This makes me think that Gately’s “service” is ultimately to himself, even though he may not see it that way in his immediate present, but the framework of AA helps him remember this.

 

This is all I can serve today! Thank you, Jesters!

To send from yourself what you hope will not return

In Boston AA, they call it Getting Active with your group. You get in the car and travel to some other AA meeting on the other side of town, and you get up in front of the assembly of addicts and Share. When Gately goes on these Commitments with the Crocodiles, the more he “slips up” and admits his shortcomings in sobriety, the more enthusiastically the addicts react to his Share. They tell him that having heard his testimony has done wonders for their own sobriety, and beg him to Keep Coming Back, for their sake if not his own. By speaking honestly about his own struggles with the Program, Gately has unwittingly been of service to all the other addicts in the group.

If you used the word “serve” with Don Gately, it would probably summon to mind his bit in MCI-Billerica, or the next impending stint in prison he’ll likely have to serve. If you used the word “serve” with Hal Incandenza, he’d undoubtedly think of his tennis serve, which he’s spent countless hours perfecting, hitting balls to no one in the cold Boston pre-dawn mornings. According to Schtitt, to serve in tennis is “to send from yourself what you hope will not return.” For Gately, service is paying what he owes. He serves his time in prison as penance for his crimes. He serves the newly-sober at Ennet House by running errands, cooking dinner, and staying up all night on Dream Duty. He serves his fellow AA’s by sweeping up and emptying ashtrays after meetings. He serves perhaps the few Boston citizens less fortunate than himself, the homeless and incontinent at the Shattuck shelter, by cleaning their bodily excretions. Without realizing it, Gately has devoted his whole life in sobriety to serving others. He considers his sobriety a cosmic loan, which he can only hope to pay back by aiding the sobriety of others. By paying sobriety forward, Gately is sending his addiction from himself, in the hopes that it will never return.

It’s been a while since I last practiced Lectio Divina with this text, so the rest of this post will be devoted to finding meaning in a random sentence from this week’s reading.

“None but the most street-hardened Ennet residents would ever hazard an open crack about the food, which appears nightly at the long dinner table still in the broad steaming pans it was cooked in, with Gately’s big face hovering lunarly above it, flushed and beaded under the floppy chef’s hat Annie Parrot had given him as a dark joke he hadn’t got, his eyes full of anxiety and hopes for everyone’s full enjoyment, basically looking like a nervous bride serving her first conjugal dish, except this bride’s hands are the same size as the House’s dinner plates and have jailhouse tatts on them, and this bride seems to need no oven-mitts as he sets down massive pans on the towels that have to be laid down to keep the plastic tabletop from searing.” (469)

(I swear I didn’t cheat and purposefully pick a sentence with the word “serve” in it, total coincidence!)

  1. Gately is serving a dinner of his own making to the Ennet House residents.
  2. Even though the food is a bit unappetizing, none of the residents want to complain or insult the meal because of the physical threat of Gately’s enormous size. The humor of the scene comes from the juxtaposition of Gately’s large, imposing size and his gentle demeanor, plus his desperation to serve everyone a tasty meal.
  3. This sentence makes me think about the double-sided nature of service. We serve to help others, but the feeling of having served well also benefits the servant. Service is a paradox, both selfless and selfish. It also makes me think of the transformative power of service. Being a servant has changed Gately from a sometimes-violent thief into a blushing bride, anxiously awaiting the reactions to his meatloaf covered in cornflakes (for texture.) Gately has transformed from addicted burglar to sober servant, from one who consumes and steals to one who abstains and gives back.
  4. This sentence calls me to embrace my vulnerability more. I tend to throw up defense mechanisms like humor or apathy, especially when putting something out into the world that I really hope people will like. This description of Gately is so endearing. I aim to be more like him, with my hopes for people to like what I make written all over my face.

The intersection of faith and doubt

On first glance, doubt and faith seem like opposites. To the skeptic, faith is the blind acceptance of that which cannot be proven; irresponsibly naïve. To the devout, doubt is blasphemy. But as we learned this week from Don Gately’s struggle with doubt and faith, the two are inexorably intertwined. Gately has been sober for over a year thanks to the saving grace of AA, but he’s baffled as to how he can be saved by something he doesn’t really understand or believe in. How does showing up to a bingo hall full of fellow recovering addicts, listening to their stories, and shouting trite catechisms like “Keep Coming Back,” and “It Works If You Work It,” and “One Day At A Time,”  keep Gately’s cravings for oral narcotics at bay? The answer lies at the intersection of faith and doubt.

Addiction itself is an act of faith. Performing their rituals, like Hal’s descents to the subterranean pump room with his little brass one-hitter, or Joelle’s elaborate improvised free-base cocaine routine, substance abusers trust that their drug of choice will always provide the comfort and relief they’ve come to rely on it for.

“Substances start out being so magically great, so much the interior jigsaw’s missing piece, that at the start you just know, deep in your gut, that they’ll never let you down; you just know it. But they do.”

Divine illusion shattered, addicts Come In to AA. “This unromantic, unhip, clichéd AA thing,” seems hopelessly limp to Gately, and most other newcomers, at first. But as he racks up more and more sober days, Gately is shocked to find that somehow, it really does work.

“And then this goofy slapdash anarchic system of low-rent gatherings and corny slogans and saccharin grins and hideous coffee is so lame you just know there’s no way it could ever possibly work except for the utterest morons… and then Gately seems to find out AA turns out to be the very loyal friend he thought he’d had and then lost, when you Came In.”

The blind faith addicts put into their Substance, the absence of doubt that drugs or alcohol could ever fail you, is every addict’s downfall. AA is the inverse, the antidote. The clichés that form AA’s dogma seem so shallow, inspire so much doubt. That doubt seems crucial to AA’s success. Early in his sobriety, Gately tries to get kicked out of his Beginners meetings by insulting the program and all its participants with obscenity-strewn vitriol. Much to his chagrin, his invectives are met with smiles, thanks, and more trite encouragements to “Keep Coming Back.” Gately is invited to doubt away, and to share that doubt as hatefully as he needs to. You don’t have to believe in AA for it to work. You just have to do it. The deep faith that eventually creeps in is founded on the freedom to doubt. Faith without doubt is empty, doomed to let you down. Doubt interrogates faith, forces it to evolve to new information, and strengthens the foundation on which faith resides.

 

As staggering as it is that Wallace seems to have prefigured things like Netflix and Snapchat filters (albeit in his analog low-tech way,) the most striking prediction I’ve noticed in Infinite Jest so far is that of “fake news.” That phrase itself pops up more than once in this week’s reading in reference to the spinning newspaper headlines Mario uses to illustrate the chronology of Johnny Gentle’s presidency. Some of the headlines are real, some are fake, and it can be really hard to distinguish between the two. This, in tandem with Gentle’s undeniable Trump-ness and the section on advertising and entertainment, seem to paint a frighteningly familiar picture of America in 2017. In a clickbait world where entertainment, and more troublingly, news, is heavily influenced by the people responsible for funding it, doubt is absolutely crucial. The only hope we have of surviving this administration and our cultural political moment is to be skeptical of everything we hear, research the truth rigorously, and use our best judgment to scrutinize the motivations of content-producers. As Gately teaches us, faith without doubt is a dead-end road. If faith in America is to be upheld, doubt is one of our most powerful tools.

Fake it til you make it

Whoa. Hmmmm. Gah. This week was hard.

 

These 100-odd pages of IJ have never really shook me before. Not truly. Of course, the stories that come out of the AA meetings are incredibly dark, as is the tale of Eric Clipperton, but I have always enjoyed Mario’s take on The ONANtiad.

 

But now…now Johnny Gentle just isn’t funny anymore.  To wit:

 

The Totalitarian’s Guide to Iron-Fisted Spin.

 

GENTLE’S “PATHOLOGICAL INABILITY TO DEAL PROACTIVELY WITH ANY SORT OF REAL OR IMAGINED REJECTION”

 

GENTLE HAS COMPLETELY LOST HIS MIND… ‘WILLING TO ELIMINATE OWN MAP OUT OF SHEER PIQUE’

 

Just…ugh.

 

So let’s talk about doubt.  Doubt can double as Denial. Doubt can be paralyzing, sending missed opportunities whizzing past you. Doubt will make you underestimate the permanence of objects.

 

Geoffrey Day isn’t the only one who doubts that the seemingly benign and trite tenets of AA can actually work.  We spend 36 pages sitting on a hard plastic chair, listening to speakers as they go on their Commitments, sharing their horror stories with each other.  Throughout, Gately shares his experiences with Tiny Ewell, Ken Erdedy and Joelle, encouraging them to release the doubt they have about the efficacy of AA, to just Come In

 

Lyle lives as much on doubt as he does on the sweat of young boys. LaMont Chu recognizes an intense double bind as he chases The Show. Lyle attempts to release Chu from this fixation with fame by placing a seed of doubt in Chu’s mind, telling him “You burn with hunger for a food that does not exist” (p. 389).

 

Both Marathe and Steeply circle each other, doubting their respective motivations. Steeply tries to understand why exactly the AFR, with seemingly with no political motivation, are so set on causing extreme chaos and death to U.S. citizens. Marathe counters with his parable of the can of soup, doubting Americans have the capacity for delayed gratification, which Steeply refutes, stating it is as easy as “simply being a mature and adult American instead of a childish and immature American”(p. 428). SIGH.

 

We never truly learn the motivations for Eric Clipperton’s decision to “win” at any cost, but surely self-doubt as to his own skills, or a crippling need for gratification must be at the core. That his final, actual suicide occurs because he has been given the exact thing he seemed to want seems to infer that self-doubt and an eventual self-awareness pushed him to the other side.

 

Noted Things:

  • I would love to see someone tackle Mario’s film in all its finger-puppet glory
  • The sad career of the drug-addled headline writer was brilliant
  • Note 304 is sub-referenced in both Note 45 and Note 173. Did you read it the first time? The second time? Are you waiting until 304?
  • There were children at that AA meeting listening to those stories.

Clipperton, Faith and the Dead Option

Hello halated friends,

 

I’ve been skimming parts of William James’s essay “The Will to Believe” and Bob Corbett’s outline of this essay to think about the theme of doubt and that very grim and serious Jester of ours, Eric Clipperton.

 

I’ve always felt that the Clipperton spectacle is much more complicated than it seems. I’m going to try unravel some less obvious aspects about the Clipperton scene as I skim through James’s “The Will to Believe.”

 

Here’s a Wiki summary of “The Will to Believe.”

 

Emphasis in italics and insertion in square brackets are mine:

“James’ central argument in “The Will to Believe” hinges on the idea that access to the evidence for whether or not certain beliefs are true depends crucially upon first adopting those beliefs without evidence. [This can be construed as “leap of faith,” for ease for later reference.] As an example, James argues that it can be rational to have unsupported faith in one’s own ability to accomplish tasks that require confidence. Importantly, James points out that this is the case even for pursuing scientific inquiry. James then argues that like belief in one’s own ability to accomplish a difficult task, religious faith can also be rational even if one at the time lacks evidence for the truth of one’s religious belief.”

 

James talks about genuine choice, and to do so he sets out three choices or options:

-live options

-forced options

-momentous options

 

Bob Corbett summarizes:

 

He defines a live choice in opposition to a dead choice.

  1. A live choice has some emotive appeal to the chooser. This is an internal and subjective appeal, not a rational or forced appeal.
  2. A dead option or choice is one which has no appeal to the chooser in question.

A dead option is one in which there is “no possibility of not choosing.” (James)

 

It’s clear that Clipperton’s given himself the dead option; there’s no possibility of not saying no to Clipperton if everyone wants to continue to progress and compete in the Show.

 

While keeping in mind the summary of James’s lecture, it struck me that Clipperton is unable to take a leap of faith — to leave the question/game open.

I think that this ability to take risks and leave the question open requires a condition/state of mind of doubt. Because he cannot understand doubt, he cannot understand faith. Without this prerequisite of doubt, one can no longer have the propensity to act and to take what can be called a “leap of faith.”

 

Reading the Clipperton scene in terms of doubt and faith has made me understand how to articulate “faith,” that big, abstract, misunderstood word. I’ve always wondered how to articulate the unconditional and unfounded “worship” that AA asks of you. I think it is exactly this that David Foster Wallace tries to talk about in his commencement speech, This Is Water, particularly when he gives the example of Eskimos who happen to pass by to help a man stuck in the snow/wilderness.

 

Clipperton blowing his brains out in front of J.O.I. says to me that the illusion of a game can’t be sustained or feel “real” in any way if there aren’t any “living options” or genuine choices made. This is because there’s no emotional, internal, and subjective appeal for Clipperton (this is the definition of a “living option”). I think he doesn’t have a personal stake in it because of the descriptions of Clipperton’s blunted affects and emotions; it’s as though he doesn’t care (despite the fact that it seems like the opposite at first), which is possibly why he has chosen to act excessively and take on the “dead option” that offers “no possibility of not choosing.”

 

It’s kind of like when kids are playing an innocent game, but they learn the rules quickly and realize the need for there to be something more at stake, which is when it turns slightly violent.

 

More gloom and doom next week y’all. Thanks for coming back for the fantods.

The heaviness of doubt

Is Doubt the absence of faith? This is the question I see Don Gatley Struggling with in this section. His inability to connect with the “higher power” for Gatley spells out the fear that what kept and is keeping him sober amidst the everyday struggle and pain is not real. In his shoes I would think “if my sobriety comes from God, and God isn’t real then is my Sobriety not real?” This thought process however misses a large truth about life. Doubt in anything is not the absence of faith but the context in which faith develops. You can’t have faith without doubt. Faith without doubt is no faith at all because it removes the need for choice, the mandate for free will over our lives. I also enjoy all the instances where we get to see Gately discuss his faith—his unbelief. A favorite is Gately complaining about his lack of understanding about God and F.F suggests that “maybe anything minor-league enough for Don Gately to understand wasn’t Major-league enough” to save him. In Hebrews 11:1 it says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” and it gives me joy to see DFW write about something that has been a major leap in dealing with my own doubt. Reading about how Gately no longer cares if he understands or not. You see him no longer focused on analyzing his disbelief but rather living it out through prayer and actually living not being burdened by the heaviness of doubt. I love that Gately continues to tell the Ennet residents the truth. Though we aren’t given specifically what he tells them from the point he’s at now I imagine it’s something along the lines of

“I don’t understand how it worked, but it worked. People told me that it would work and I didn’t know what to believe but I was desperate and needed to believe and now I see that it did work”

This is a beautiful picture of the Gospel in IJ and such a great reminder to me of the wisdom that can be found in this book.

We carry the people in our lives with us by carrying this revelation: There is nothing wrong with doubt. Doubt is healthy. But belief—whether its in God, yourself or the people in your life—amidst the doubt turns it into faith. And faith is what brings the substance, the wisdom we have to share and give from our experience…our fuel for life.