“egoless strokes” (Infinite Jest, pp.109-121)

Limits and rituals:

  • Hal’s deconstruction of E.T.A.’s ritualistic bitching and moaning? Brilliant. As he says, “We’re all on each other’s food chain. All of us. It’s an individual sport. Welcome to the meaning of individual. We’re each deeply alone here. It’s what we all have in common, this aloneness” (112). To avoid this existential alienation, we must be allowed the illusion of communion. And so: “They want to let us sit around and bitch. Together. After a bad P.M. set we all, however briefly, get to feel we have a common enemy. This is their gift to us. Their medicine. Nothing brings you together like a common enemy” (113). More 1984? Or more [insert your group identity and reflect on what it does to you]? It’s an unsettling possibility, that the hatred you learn to feel is by design. It makes sense. We could say that the hierarchy itself is what keeps it going, or we could consider that powerful people aren’t so intent on covering up their power plays. And they’ve learned, over time, to take tribal instincts and prey on psychology. When our bodies were no longer unsettled and constantly on the move, power was enacted by unsettling the mind and giving it false security, making it dependent on what it believed it needed to survive. Hal sees this in all its Foucaultian clarity: “it’s not about the physical anymore, men. They physical stuff’s just pro forma. It’s the heads they’re working on here, boys” (113). Society gives us a we. Now more than ever, we feel in control of choosing our we. Of course, having more options doesn’t mean we’re better off, or that we’re ever choosing in the first place. Social identity is always prescribed. It’s inculcated by repetition. When we read of the training at E.T.A., we ought to be reminded of our own conditioning. “Just do it. Forget about is there a point, of course there’s no point. The point of repetition is there is no point. Wait until it soaks into the hardware and then see the way this frees up your head” (118). Freedom. Ha!
  • “it’s about how to reach down into the parts of yourself you didn’t know were there and get down in there and live inside these parts. And the only way to get to them: sacrifice. Suffer. Deny. What are you willing to give.” (119)
  • It’s all about “limits and rituals,” folks (120). Limits and rituals.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *