Today’s my birthday. I’m 31 years old, and I’m trapped in a high schooler’s body. In other words, I’d be the perfect person to cast in a Saved by the Bell revival. (I’m looking at you, Netflix.)
Today is also the last scheduled day of our #InfiniteWinter, and I’ve decided to lump together a bulk of the final sections into one post because (1) I forgot the details of what I read, since I finished it several weeks ago, and (2) fuck you.
(“You” here is me since I’m my primary audience. But whatever, fuck you too. It’s a book. I have no critique of it because analytical writing is like masturbating: it serves only me, and I’m not really even satisfied by it. I have no reason to summarize it because it’s like life: go experience it. But I have every reason to be inspired by it because I needed a third thing to say in this parenthetical series: it’s a rule.)
In my last post, I closed with a real crowd pleaser, some shit about anhedonia and being murdered by the eternal mother. I also spent a great deal of time musing (yeah, I muse) on the wraith’s concept of figurants. Being in L.A. a few weeks ago brought it into full view because everyone there is waiting for their chance to be brought into the scene. With my burgeoning desire to do stand-up comedy, I’m right there with them. (Compliments to L.A. for its stand-up scene, by the way. I went to four different shows and was encouraged by the experimental approach of the performers and the greenlighting nature of the audiences. Of course, it helps that the performers are funny, so it’s not like the audience has to extend too much compassion. Plus, most of the shit is free. It’s easy to be forgiving and open when your wallet stays full.)
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?! ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? (italics added for what hopefully marks the right inflection in Russell Crowe’s voice as he repeats the rhetorical question, which with the repeat indicates possible anxiety, like he might’ve been waiting for a lone figure in the crowd to speak up and answer him, except then that figure might only question the negative framing of the original question, which would inspire a lot of head nodding and rabble rousing and an eruption of linguistic sparring, like “did you not mean to ask more simply, are you entertained?” because though rhetorical, let’s say Maximus really wanted to know so then but like how would we answer yes? “Yes, I was not entertained. Wait. No. No, I was not entertained. Wait. Yes, I was not not entertained? Fuck it, where are the lions?”)
That allusive outburst brought to you by The Entertainment: That’s What It’s All About.
Not entertaining but frighteningly resonant: p.897, when Hal describes “experiencing this food in toto” as he gets crushed under the weight of his future consumption habits. I’ve felt this acute anticipation of pain (and then actual psychic pain, whatever that is…like do you feel psychic pain?) about food, especially in my days of orthorexia (which aren’t entirely behind me). In a world begging us to be hyperconsumers, the amount of information, calories, whatever we consume, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. It’s remarkable we aren’t burning out more often. Our bodies and minds weren’t built (I’m spitballing) for such hyperstimulation/activity. Good thing we don’t pause to think about it too much. But that’s by design. Passive consumption is the default setting, but breaking that setting ushers into an awareness that can absolutely destroy us. We become paralyzed like Gately, forced to let the world wash over us.
“We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe…The original sense of addiction involved being bound over, dedicated, either legally or spiritually. To devote one’s life, plunge in” (900). By what value system do we determine which addictions are good? How do we learn our addictions? Do we inherit them biologically or learn them socially? It’s enough to make you want to lie horizontal like Hal (and Gately) and not move. All that standing and moving…to what end?
And what might we be saved by? A football scholarship? A tennis career? A film ouvre? What plunge is worth taking?
What makes a life? It’s no coincidence that the Serenity prayer makes an appearance in the novel. But what do we make of the wisdom we pray for when we realize that we control so little? That’s the difference we might learn to tell, and we call it wisdom? What then of our addictions?
Euphemisms for addiction: discipline, faith, resilience, pride. We are asked to become addicted to something. Anything. Be devoted to a thing. What’s your thing, i.e. what are you addicted to? What can’t you help but do? What do you need to do? Let’s say comedy becomes my calling. Is that not my addiction? What elevates it above any other addiction? It’s a form of self-destruction like any other activity. I’m surrendering myself to Comedy as I help create The Show with a strange audience in a strange room that we’re all trying to make sense of and but I happen to be the voice that brings us to momentary meaning and catharsis.
“We thus become, in the absence of death as teleologic end, ourselves desiccated, deprived of some essential fluid, aridly cerebral, abstract, conceptual, little more than hallucinations of God” (911).
All our rationality won’t save us. We can’t live in our heads, disembodied. We must feel. We must feel each other, feel for each other. We’ve done so much to abstract ourselves out of existence that Entertainment is a tragic reminder of how far away we are from the ground. We laugh, and float farther away. We cry, and still our distance grows. What then shall save us before, like J. Alfred Prufrock, we drown?
Keep your eye on the prize, the carrot? That will save you.
Or is there only Dread and the Abyss? The Truth we cannot escape but try all the time to escape?
And but what will come to us as we recognize our paralysis? What life will we relive, stuck in a body that we can no longer control? Figurants to our own existence.
“a drug addict was at root a craven and pathetic creature: a thing that basically hides” (932)
We are all drug addicts then. But from what are we hiding? That old nutshell of mortality? Screw that. Lick the world like Kyle and taste the rainbow and get on some trippy shit. EAT IT ALL, urges the enlightened one. It’s not “Too Late” (934). It’s all “a goddamn lie,” and that’s the beauty of it, the infinite jest (936). Why so serious? Be the Joker and the Joke. Then you become The Entertainment. You become Death itself. (Or Herself? Or Himself? Is that what he was going for?) The only way to be in an insane world is insane, e.g. Madame Psychosis. Aphorisms are their own logic.
“he’d been so desperate to make something that ordinary U.S. audiences might find entertaining and diverting and conducive to self-forgetting” (944)
Why are we so desperate to forget? To be numbed into anhedonia? Are we trying to rush our return to Oneness? Have we had enough of this experiment with the human form that we’re trying to experience transcendence in this life?
LIFE IS LIKE TENNIS
THOSE WHO SERVE
BEST USUALLY WIN
Memory is a palimpsest. Trust nothing you remember. You’re only lying to yourself. Laugh away your convictions. They’re illusions. Phantoms of an intellect you never had.
“an impoverished, lonely idea of sexuality” (956)
Forget the thing itself. Accept the representation of the thing. Entertainment in reality is better than whatever’s Real. When you get too close to what’s Real, don’t worry, you’ll know. And the Entertainment will be right there to welcome you back into reality. It’s everything you’ve ever imagined. Because everything you’ve ever imagined is a product of it. What’s Real is unimaginable. Terrifying, right? Stay away from that abyss. It wants to hurt you. And you don’t want to feel pain, right? You want pleasure. Pain is Real. Pleasure is your reality. It’s your Right. The Right to be Entertained.
“But I’m just glad to be here. I just wanted to get some of that shit out.” (960)
“I need to let it go. I’ve come to believe that.” (962)
“I wish to emphasize yet.” (964)
“Who, finally, can say the whys and whences of each man’s true vocation?” (967)
“…that the basic human character wasn’t as unempathetic and necrotic as the brother’s present depressed condition was leading him to think” (969)
Mario is salvation. Embodied grace in grotesque form. Grotesque to our dumb minds, constrained as they are by reality. What’s Real is in the spirit, but we are drowning in so much noise that we can’t hear its call. Sometimes though, we are touched by it, and we see that man is not unempathetic. Usually the feeling is from an unexpected source. Be open to the Mario’s of our world.
“Human beings came and went.” (972) Like the women coming and going, talking of Michelangelo.
Do you dare disturb the Universe? Fuck the Universe. In all its procreative glory.
What happens when our author gives us no meaning, when we get mind-fucked instead? We let the seeds germinate. We see what grows. We look upon it and call it Good. We play God. And then…
So it goes.