Sunday, April 24, 2005

Babies can't talk.

Here is my considerably-less-well-conceived reply to his email:

From: Debbie
To: Scott Esposito
Date: 24-Apr-2005 19:19
Subject: Re: infinite jest


Thanks for your comments - sorry it took me a while to reply, but I had to chew on what you said for a while.

re: adult infantilization. It's funny that infants, because they can't speak English, are literally unable to communicate -> thus, while we generally perceive babies as being open and unself-conscious, they're actually (through no fault of their own) really private. I'm reminded of the last story in Brief Interviews, where the dad talks about his infant son being just this incredibly narcissistic, repellent, and manipulative thing, but everyone fails to see it but himself. Although it's made pretty clear by the end that the dad was basically transferring all the characteristics he hated about himself onto his infant son, the possibility is still raised: perhaps infants aren't as cute and cuddly as we think. Or, because they can't communicate, most of our perceptions of babies come from within ourselves.

And on a larger scale, even our perceptions of other people that can talk are largely skewed by our own biases because talking is such a limited/impossible activity. (e.g. pg. 956 where Himself is trying to convince Orin not to watch the porno because Orin should "wait until he'd experienced for himself what a profound and really quite moving thing sex could be." Orin finds this talk moving because Himself assumed that Orin was still a virgin. Hal disparages Orin because that wasn't the point at all.)

It also ties into this transcending/defeating cycle that is addiction, where adults try to reach their inner children because they think it will "Fulfill Those Needs" when all it does is add to their loneliness.

Also, none of the characters were really allowed to have childhoods; many of them ended up parenting their parents (Joelle had to fend off her dad's advances - like a reverse Oedipus complex, Gately had to monitor his alcoholic mom).

There also seems to be a lot of this idea of opposites being the same thing (adults = infants); the whole two sides of the same coin idea. E.g., A lot of the characters try not to be like their parents (Orin and Avril), but they end up at the same place (satyriasis). Hal's overabundant vocabulary is the same as Hal not being able to talk at all. The ambiguity w/r/t Joelle - is she hideous or pretty, or both?

So those are the things I thought about. But I'm still not quite able to answer the main question raised by your email: If Gately's figured out a way to overcome his addiction in a satisfying way, then what's his secret, and what prevents everyone else from doing the same thing?

I'm tempted to say that maybe the answer is that people should simply stop trying to "transcend and vanquish the limited self...," but that sounds an awful lot like giving up/killing yourself. And anyway, Gately's battle with his addiction is also a battle to transcend/vanquish his self, except this is a healthy battle, unlike addictions, which are unhealthy. So what's the difference?

- Debbie