Monday, April 18, 2005

Means to an Ends

So I might have alluded to the fact that I'm writing a pretty big (i.e. 12 pages, which, okay isn't that big) paper on Infinite Jest, so expect this blog to be living and breathing that book for the next few months. Tentative thesis question: What are the implications of the inability of the characters to interact and communicate -> i.e. if everything that the characters (thus implying people in general) do is masturbatory, where do we go from there?

Things I wish to discuss:

1. The word "interface."
Instead of "communicate" or "interact," David Foster Wallace uses this cold technological term. Which, not to go all dictionary on you (because we all know quoting dictionaries is lame), but the word means sharing a boundary. It's a rather unsettling idea, but that's really all communication seems to be in IJ, what with the long Orin/Hal or Hal/Mario conversations that always end up being divergent monologues, or Hal's inability to communicate to his father/his father's inabiltiy to listen, or even the Entertainment itself, which is perhaps his father's attempt to communicate with his son, even though entertainment is essentially a one-sided affair.

2. The means becoming the ends, i.e. addiction
Almost every activity in IJ - tennis, drug-use, tv-watching, &c. - ends up becoming addictive. And by addictive DFW seems to mean that the original ends towards which the activity was performed (e.g. tennis was played to win to feel success, drugs were used to get high to feel pleasure) sort of drops out of the equation altogether and the activity becomes an ends unto itself. Like Hal doesn't smoke pot in secret to get high to feel pleasure anymore - he's stopped caring about the pleasure, about the getting high, about the pot; all he cares about is the secrecy. But it's not always a negative thing; like how Schtitt says that in tennis
You seek to vanquish and transcend the limited self whose limits make the game possible in the first place. (84)
Which is still sort of forgetting or bracketing off the commonly-perceived goal (beating your opponent) and returning to a more fundamental goal (transcending yourself).

3. The ultimate loneliness/one-sidedness of everything.
All the things that are normally seen as interactive, social events become really lonely in IJ. Communication, as we've already discussed. Sex - Orin has sex to feel connections that he instantly breaks the next morning, and because his "Subjects" are usually single mothers, he probably also breaks other connections such as the ones between a mother and her son. Television/movies are such a solitary and passive enterprise; each person has his own private experience when watching it.

So the idea is that the articulation of these ideas will (hopefully) foment further thought, and everything will eventually cohere.