Sunday, April 24, 2005

Adult Infantilization

Scott sent me a really interesting email a couple days ago; I'm reposting it here.

From: Scott Esposito
Date: 21-Apr-2005 17:51
Subject: infinite jest

Your comments field wasn't working so I'm e-mailing you direct.

It all has to do with need fulfillment. There's a pretty strong "adult infantalization" theme running through the book (e.g. the book is mostly set in the "Year of the Depends Adult Undergarmet" -- if that isn't a sign of adult infantalization, I don't know what is). You can see this most clearly in the latter 1/3 -- for instance, that weird AA session Hal ends up at by mistake where the grown men are holding the teddy bears and changing "Fulfill Those Needs". Also, Gately in the hospital bed is pretty blantantly infantile (shit, he's having fantasies back to when he was in his crib, the nurse is pulling shits out of his ass for him, he can't talk).

I think the thing Wallace is going toward is that our capitalist society makes us all like this. We're all on that viscious infinite circle where we "seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place." Whatever it is -- tennis, drugs, TV -- we keep trying to get to that place where we're finally 100% satisfied, but of course that's impossible to reach (and if we ever did reach it we'd be bored as hell), so instead we get these addictions.

Gately is the key character here, because he's virtually the only one who's figured out how to overcome his addiction, but in a way that's not going to collapse from dissatisfaction. It's also no coincidence that he's about the best communicator in the entire book. Note that a lot of the "successful" characters -- Hal's father, the tennis coaches, Hal's mother -- are pretty shitty communicators and are all pretty strange in ways that relate directly to their addictions.

Of course, you can tie this all in to the Entertainment, that functions as a nice little combination metaphor. On the one hand, it's addiction taken to the highest plane possible. On the other, it's a really great satire of the ways our culture pulls us in, pretty much from birth, into this whole incredibly addictive, immersive entertainment system.