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!

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 Porousness of Certain Borders

 

Hi Jesters,

 

This theme’s week is “Otherness.” I think Infinite Jest is all about the “other,” but instead of thinking of it in terms of binaries like ETA / Ennet, or Concavity / Convexity, I want to think about otherness in terms of the porousness of certain borders, particularly during Poor Tony’s withdrawal.

 

When Poor Tony is experiencing withdrawal on the train he recalls scents from his childhood, like his father’s Old Spice. Tony loses all self-control and shits in his clothes. “He suddenly felt nothing, or rather Nothing, a pre-tornadic stillness of zero sensation, as if he were the very space he occupied.” (305)

 

This description of the experience of Poor Tony’s withdrawal reminds me of the description of the experience of an astronaut (whose name I can’t remember now) in outer space. The astronaut said he felt that there was no distinction between him and the space around him.

 

I think that Tony’s experience might seem to be different from the astronaut’s at first (Tony sees it as “Nothing” but the astronaut’s experience was more fulfilling and closer to awe) but both these experiences involve a loss of the self and a sense of merging with the space outside of oneself.

 

I think that stepping outside of oneself is one of the driving questions/challenges for many characters in IJ — how they try or fail or succeed in these many many small ways.

 

During my reads of IJ, I’ve found myself questioning the extent to which characters have really been able to “step outside” of themselves. I’ve changed my mind often and continue to do so. The initial sadness I felt when I read IJ the first time (I didn’t think anything was funny then!) returns to remind me just how difficult it is to “step outside” for all the characters of IJ. Today I find Tony leading me to questions about Mario. What does it mean for Mario to be disabled; to live with an awareness that he’s dependent on something external to him for functioning? Does this allow him to step outside of himself much more easily than the other characters (because it allows him to acknowledge the interdependence on other factors and people, and to understand others better)?

 

On William James and the Religious Attitude of Addiction

Hello halated guests!

 

For this week’s theme of “expectation,” I’m going to try talk about the role of expectation in addiction. I’ll try think through William James’s words about “the religious attitude in the soul,” anticipation, and the capacity for imagination, which makes addiction and the “religious attitude” possible.

 

In “The Reality of the Unseen” in Varieties of Religious Experience, William James says:

 

“Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto. This belief and this adjustment are the religious attitude in the soul. I wish during this hour to call your attention to some of the psychological peculiarities of such an attitude as this, of belief in an object which we cannot see. All our attitudes, moral, practical, or emotional, as well as religious, are due to the ‘objects’ of our consciousness, the things which we believe to exist, whether really or ideally, along with ourselves

 

[…]

 

religion is full of abstract objects which prove to have an equal power. […] We shall see later that the absence of definite sensible images is positively insisted on by the mystical authorities in all religions as the sine qua non of a successful orison, or contemplation of the higher divine truths.”

 

Expectation is founded on “a belief in an object which we cannot see” (an “object” refers to both thoughts and things), as is the religious attitude. James says that the vagueness of the abstraction of god and the inability to clearly visualize an image helps the religious attitude.

 

Remember our bug Erdedy? He pushed himself to the limit and got rid of all of his bongs and pipes and everything else (more than once) and only then restarted his addiction. And Joelle: “No more throwing the Material [cocaine] away and then half an hour later rooting through the trash.” (222)

 

This anticipation affects what they expect of themselves.  I think it’s this very act of expectation that makes it harder to quit, and that the anticipation of this expectation is itself part of the process (“cravings”) of being addicted.

 

Expectation and anticipation here fuel another form of reverence.

 

Well, I just stated the obvious! But I do think that reading this part from James’s Varieties has deepened the parallels between the themes of worship, addiction, and something like that higher power of AA/NA.

 

Thanks y’all!

Please Commit a Crime

 

Hi Pemulises of the world! I’m going to cheat at Lectio Divina today and pick a passage I want to think about in relation to this week’s theme of “commitment.”

 

“Michael Pemulis is nobody’s fool, and he fears the dealer’s Brutus, the potential eater of cheese, the rat, the wiretrap, the pubescent-looking Finest sent to make him look foolish. So when somebody calls his room’s phone even on video, and wants to buy some sort of substance, they have to right off the bat utter the words ‘Please commit a crime,’ and Michael Pemulis will reply ‘Gracious me and mine, a crime you say?’ and the customer has to insist, right over the phone, and say he’ll pay Michael Pemulis money to commit a crime, or like that he’ll harm Michael Pemulis in some way if he refuses to commit a crime, and Michael Pemulis will in a clear and I.D.able voice make an appointment to see the caller in person to ‘plead the honour and personal safety’ so that if anybody eats cheese later or the phone’s frequency is covertly accessed, somehow, Pemulis will have been entrapped.” (156)

 

1)   What is happening in the text?

We learn about Michael Pemulis, his paranoia, social class and background, desire to keep his record clean, and the code words he needs to hear when dealing drugs in order to clear himself of any blame, should someone happen to listen in.

 

2)   What is happening on an allegorical level?

In relation to the theme of “commitment,” I’m interested in the definitions of “commitment” below (from OED):

 

(a) The action or an act of placing a person in custody or confinement, esp. as a punishment or while awaiting trial; committal to a place of incarceration, correction, etc.; imprisonment, detention. Cf. committal n. 2a(a)   (now the more usual word in this sense).

  3. The action of entrusting a thing, matter, person, etc., to the care, custody, or charge of another; the action of transferring responsibility for or control over something to another.

In the passage above “commitment” takes on the meaning of transferring responsibility or control over something to another, particularly, Pemulis asks for the code words “Please commit a crime” to be uttered, which deflects the blame on the person who’s asking, even though Pemulis is also implicated as the dealer.

This meaning of “commitment” relates to the capital C Commitment of AA gatherings in IJ. The Commitments mean duties, obligations — things bigger than oneself. The Pemulis passage shows us how “commitment” is a limiter, a filter in a way, because it restricts other actions, desires, duties, and gives priority to what’s necessary, which would be staying clean, sober, and attending AA gatherings. But Pemulis’ passage also shows us that in committing, one is giving oneself over to another. In this giving oneself over to another, there is a deflection of responsibility in Pemulis’s case, and I think that this deflection of responsibility extends to AA too where people give themselves over to the program and acknowledge something outside of their addiction and themselves in order to regain responsibility for themselves and their lives.

In both these examples, I choose to see “commitment” not as a conscious decision made about priorities, but as a necessary relegation of responsibility in order to regain a sense of responsibility for oneself.

3)   What does this remind me of from my own life?

This passage in IJ reminds me of all the things I am committed to, for example, my writing. I feel that it’s not a decision I make but a necessity that needs to be acknowledged and practised every day to remind me of my sense of purpose, otherwise I get super miserable.

4)   What action does this call me to do?

The Pemulis passage brings to mind the way social class could affect someone quite deeply. As a working-class person, I understand his paranoia about his future re: funding, scholarships etc. The passage calls me to re-evaluate the things that matter to me and acknowledge the many ways that “commitment” is a double bind and involves a giving over of responsibility to be able to learn to decide how to be responsible in the future.

Weed, Secrecy, and Self-deception

 

Hi Jesters! I’ll continue using Lectio Divina to read IJ this week and will follow the questions laid out by our guide of guides Emily Hoffman. I will try to keep this week’s theme of “insecurity” in mind as I think through this passage on page 114:

 

“Hal usually gets secretly high so regularly these days this year that if by dinnertime he hasn’t gotten high yet that day his mouth begins to fill with spit — some rebound effect from B. Hope’s desiccating action — and his eyes start to water as if he’s just yawned. The smokeless tobacco started almost as an excuse to spit, sometimes. Hal’s struck by the fact that he really for the most part believes what he’s said about loneliness and the structured need for a we here; and this, together with the Ingersoll-repulsion and spit-flood, makes him uncomfortable again, brooding uncomfortably for a moment on why he gets off on the secrecy of getting high in secret more than on the getting high itself, possibly. Hal always gets the feeling that there’s some clue to it on the tip of his tongue, some mute and inaccessible part of the cortex, and then he always feels vaguely sick, scanning for it.” (114)

 

1)   What is happening in the text?

 

At the start of this chapter, Hal is hanging out with his little buddies in one of the Viewing Rooms where they are watching Stan Smith hit perfect forehands and backhands in a video on loop. Hal has muted the video as Kent Blott, Peter Beak, Idris Arslanian, and Evan Ingersoll talk about their shared suffering and complaining in the locker rooms after drills, to which Hal says that the end-of-day whining and rebellious sentiment is all part of the work, and that the suffering is what unites them because nothing brings people together like a common enemy. In the passage above, the narrator tells us that Hal has started chewing tobacco as an excuse for spitting, which is Hal’s body’s response after not smoking weed at his regular time. The narrator also tells us that Hal likes the secrecy of getting high in secret more than the high itself.

 

2)   What is happening on an allegorical level?

 

Focusing on insecurity, this passage makes me think of the many ways Hal and other characters gather habits (built on previous habits) to retain a sense of oneself as an individual, and to have some sort of identity outside of ETA.

 

Hal’s secret with himself i.e. getting high isn’t simply a rebellion against being shaped by the academy — as Hal’s pointed out before, this would be part of the process.

Hal likes the secrecy more than the high itself, and I think this speaks to his desire to want something is solely his — a part of him that is untouched by the tennis academy’s influence on him.

 

I think that this desire to retain individuality resonates with Marathe’s discussion on the necessity of choice. It resonates for me because I see both Hal’s secrecy and Marathe’s emphasis on choice as assertions of agency and control, in opposition to finding oneself carried by the flow of political and/or social forces and shaped by this as a result.

 

The character of Lyle could symbolize this acknowledgement of the interdependent relationship between individuality and the external forces at play.

 

3)   What does this remind me of from my own life?

 

This passage reminds me of why I continue to write. I think that when I write it is impossible to lie to myself. The process of writing always seems to negate itself, especially if I begin with an intention. In writing, I feel a strong sense of individuality that is usually overcome by the truth of the writing process itself, leading me to acknowledge the “outside,” in a sense.

 

4)   What action does this call me to do?

 

Hal’s secrets with himself, and the habits he accrues to cover for previous habits calls me to acknowledge the various self-deceptions I might be avoiding or in which I might be entangled.

 

Mnemonic Steroids: Secrecy, Biopolitics, Performance

Hi Hals and professional conversationalists of the Infinite Jest Internet a.k.a. world! Here’s my first go at reading IJ using Lectio Divina, with questions from our guide of guides Emily Hoffman:

 

Lectio Divina leads me to page 30:

“…that her introduction of esoteric mnemonic steroids, stereo-chemically not dissimilar to your father’s own daily hypodermic ‘megavitamin’ supplement derived from a certain organic testosterone-regeneration compound distilled by the Jivaro shamen of the South-Central L.A. basin, into your innocent-looking bowl of morning Ralston.”

 

1)   What is literally happening in the text?

 

Hal talks to a professional conversationalist who tells him that his mother was lacing his cereal with steroids made to increase his memory and recall capacities.  At this point in the novel, we don’t yet know that Hal knows it’s his father in disguise, but it’s clear that Hal’s aware something’s askew.

 

2)   What is happening on an allegorical level?

 

The themes of secrecy, biopolitics, and performance recur throughout Infinite Jest. This passage makes me think of Hal’s secrets with himself and the secrets within his family. It also makes me think of the various ways that the pressure to perform and compete is internalized by the characters.

 

The range of global connections within that sentence (i.e. history of chemical makeup of steroid that’s added to Hal’s cereal) is characteristic of IJ for me; I often feel that one thing leads to another but that it’s nowhere as clear as cause-and-effect, and that IJ’s sentence and narrative structure acknowledges this overwhelming complexity that is impossible to grasp.

3)   What does this remind me of from my own life?

 

This sentence reminds me of the various substances I’ve ingested to conform and perform. It also makes me think about the personas that people may need in order to speak to those they care about.

 

4) What action does this call me to do?

 

The range of connections of each thing to another, and the vast complexity of trying to understand and trace these connections urges me to accept people as they are, and to acknowledge that I will never be able to know someone fully.

 

The fact that J.O.I. can’t talk to his own son as himself leads me to question the many ways that our conversations with each other are mediated. It reminds me try to speak openly, especially to those I love, regardless of how corny some things may sound.