“stuff that was real” (Infinite Jest, pp.540-593)

You got Lenz demapping rats then cats then dogs then like maybe lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Whispering ‘There‘ to them in what “turned out to be crucial for the sense of brisance and closure and resolving issues of impotent rage and powerless fear that like accrued in Lenz all day being trapped in the northeastern portions of a squalid halfway house all day fearing for his life, Lenz felt” (541). In a way (that doesn’t diminish at all what Lenz experiences nor create an evaluative hierarchical system of pain), we are all cornered and fearing for our lives. Our way out is the panacea of consumerism. Feeling down? Buy something! Which is way more acceptable than what you’d otherwise do (see: Lenz) with the pain we’ve deliberately inculcated in you so as to trigger the appropriate response re consumerism. The most efficient system of waste generation there’s ever been. You think “Ennet House generates serious waste” (541)? Take a look at our Wall-E culture of all-you-can-eat buffet-style Wal-Mart-Costco endless self-fuckery!

And you – yes, you – who partakes in said self-fuckery is probably inclined to judge Lenz’ particular expression of Catharsis, ammiright? But let’s not increase “the sense of Powerlessness that Lenz is impotent to resolve” (547). We feel it too. The anxiety. The anxiety about feeling anxiety. The anxiety about knowing that it’s just a feeling and that we should be able to surmount it, the feeling. Even though the feeling is all we have, the thing keeping us alive, and so but we feel bad about it, the feeling, and think that we’re not supposed to feel it, the feeling, and so we started feeling obsessed about the feeling and so much feeling just makes us feel bad and dirty and all sorts of wrong so that we eventually like become Total Worry. Take your pick which form of Total Worry you want to perform today: Lenz, Green (in his super slow motion version of it), Mario (whose worry is genuine Empathy in probably its highest, effectively inconceivable form), Hal, Avril (worrying about how much her kids worry about her worrying which perpetuates the familial worry cycle), Gately (who worries about how dumb his worries are and how he might be dumb for reaching a point of not worrying, i.e. the point where the treatment is working), Joelle (whose persona of Madame Psychosis would serve as a great eponymous title for a book about Total Worry, because this shit drives you bats), et al.

And what might become the object of your Total Worry? How about your penis? It seems to be a great locus for Tine, who measures it, his penis, daily, and has been measuring it, his penis, since he was 12, which is a great age to develop a lifelong neurosis of this sort. Meanwhile, while Tine measure his penis, others are busy falling to the lethal charms of the samizdat, which is accumulating quite the comical body count in deliciously absurd fashion. The Entertainment is a collective cathexis then, yes? Which is as good as saying collective psychosis and/or cultural destruction, yes? (See: Dr. Dolores Rusk’ conversation with Ortho Stice on p.550 for fun with cathexis and other Freudian diagnosing.)

But what of sincerity and the cultural psyche that forbids its expression, or at least leads us to have doubts like Lenz: “but like for instance where do you look with your eyes when you tell somebody you like them and mean what you say? You can’t look right at them, because then what if their eyes look at you as your eyes look at them and you lock eyes as you’re saying it, and then there’d be some awful like voltage of energy there, hanging between you…You can’t go around giving that kind of thing of yourself away” (554). What was the watershed moment in humanity’s twisted history when shame displaced love as our modus operandi? We can trace our current psychic energy to events in our childhood, sure, but just as surely events don’t add up to the phenomena we see; they’re just convenient, tidy narratives that help us wrap our heads around the chaotic swirl of the psychological translation of cosmic energy engulfing us (or vivifying us, if we open up to it) in every moment (See: Lenz on p.557). It’s “trouser-foulingly scary,” life (558).

But life isn’t “about conquest or forced capture” (566). Wait, except in Orin’s mutated worldview, it totally is. He had love once, “the obliterating trinity of You and I into We” (567). But he’s long since given up on such transcendent creativity and settled into destructive consumption. So it goes…another woman/Subject conquered. But it is cute the way DFW describes it, the thing with the buttons.

“Somebody in pain isn’t entertainment” (567). This book is Pain. It is not Entertainment.

The Idris Arslanian blindfolded-having-to-pee scene is pain. It is entertainment. So that’s out the window. Or I’m an asshole. I identified, alright. But it was an amusing ID. As for the fusion produces no waste analogy that very likely complements the whole has to pee really badly but Pemulis won’t help situation for Id (Freud joke too?), I got nothin’. Fusion is apparently “self-sufficient and wasteless perpetuation” but then DFW’s geometrically precise vision of the Great Concavity and what not is totally lost on this decidedly anti-visualizing reader (571). I’m sure Fuller sees it clearly. What I did get was the interesting outcome of meta-solutions, e.g. using hyperbolic amounts of waste to get rid of the current problem of waste (like beating cancer directly with more cancer), which only generates more waste and like ecosystemic hypertrophy where it becomes too robust to be habitable. What you get is an “uninhibited ecosystem…exhausting the atmosphere’s poisons so that everything hyperventilates” (573). In other words, a beautifully American version of waste management on steroids. Too efficient at its job of waste clean-up that it actually becomes apocalyptic in its anti-waste efficiency.

But then we go back to Lenz and Green and their parents’ deaths, e.g. the morbidly obese Mrs. Lenz having a potty accident on a public bus that led to her personal version of the Entertainment, the Universe like exploiting her morbid obesity in Seven-style glutton retribution. And as Green’s remembering his totally repressed childhood trauma, he ends up hiding behind a tree only to see his new friend Lenz go H.A.M. on a dog, which leaves him in the undesirable state of being misperceived as accomplice to the crime. Some people can’t catch a break.

And then there’s Mario, who “never changes” (590). He’s Enlightenment and Empathy all wrapped into one ridiculously small, deformed package. He is Whitman’s child that goes forth, absorbing and feeling all of experience. He’s most alive when what he feels is “very real,” like at Ennet House (591). And as he reflects on all the “stuff that was real” at Ennet, we connect Mario to Gately (592). We find the waves of empathy that DFW has been trying to get us to ride the entire way. We look back, and we realize that “real stuff” was there all along. We look forward, and we hope that “real stuff” will be there too. Except that looking backward and forward doesn’t yield anything real. That stuff is all in and of the head. What’s real is Here and Now. And that’s the struggle of reading this book and being alive. Being Here and Now for what’s Real.

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