Bloom’s Day 2011 – David Foster Wallace & Infinite Jest   2 comments

Bloom’s Day 2010 Blog Here

Ulysses and Me

Blooms day is upon us again.  Celebrate. Seize  the day and Seize  the hour of day.  In 1936, Joseph Campbell was a Ph.d student in Medieval Literature living and doing research in Paris. He bought a book, at Shakespeare & Company. That book was James Joyce Ulysses. A book would change his life. After a few days Campbell tried to return the book for his money back. Outraged, he told the seller that the book was unreadable. Fortunately, the owner talked Campbell into continuing to read the work. Becoming convinced of the genius of the work and of Joyce, Campbell was later to write ‘Joyce seems to have read every book. To know every symbol.’ Thus was born Campbell’s long journey in search of the symbol, the myth and the god with a thousand faces. The turn from history to myth was faithful for both Campbell and for mythological studies. Perhaps no other scholar would do so much to complete Jung’s visions for the archetype and of the collective unconsciousness than Joseph Campbell. What if Campbell had given up? It took me two tries to get into Ulysses on it own terms. I had to read the original Odysseus in verse and reread the Bible and have a near death experience which left me convalescing for three months before I could finish. It was worth it. Nothing is like the trill of the final monologue when I was finally ready for it.

You are watching, ‘As The World Turns.’

The Bloom is dead, Infinite Life to the new King.  Not on Blooms day but Tax Day (April 15, 2011) an edited draft of David Foster Wallace’s notes and working chapters of his last work, A Pale King was released. Time will judge A Pale King. There was a rush to review. At least two distinguished reviews (you know who you are) published ‘reviews’ of A Pale King and it was clear, to those of us who have actually read the book, that the reviewers had not! It took a couple of years for DFW’s previous major work ‘Infinite Jest’ to be digested and placed along side of Ulysses and Moby Dick as a great novel. The joke is however, on us. Infinite Jest is really about infinite unspeakable sadness in the author’s soul. A loneliness which would ultimately kill it’s author. Among the jokes, and there are some great jokes, within the monumental Everest like sentences which carry on for 64, 128 or 256 words, sentences so long and beautiful you never wanted them to end, was the chill of isolation and fear. Infinite Sadness.  But make no mistake about it.  If Ulysses is a great novel, then Infinite Jest is a great novel.  You have to work for Infinite Jest. DFW said once: “All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it got to be for hers’. Graduate students will carry on about po-mo and meta-fictions and meta-meta. ‘Self-conscious self-consciousness’ someone wrote. None of that means anything. The experience of reading Infinite Jest, the pure psycadellic joy of reading Infinite Jest. In that, Infinite Jest is like Ulysses. But a Raven is not like a writing desk. If you read the first chapter and it doesn’t grab you by the throat and never let’s go until the last.. Why you should stop reading the novel right there. Read the Bible. Read Odysseus. Watch American Idol. Do something else. Do any thing else. You are not ready. It will wait for you. Just like Ulysses waited for me and then took me up when I least expected it and transformed the fiber of being.

[True freedom] means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and choose how you construct meaning from experience…

Kenyson Collage Commencement Address

No author is as present in his writings as DFW.  Joyce is much more circumspect but each pushes the reader to confront that she is conscious and if conscious, conscious of what?  Or rather conscious of whom?  To Descartes’s  “I think therefore I am”, Kant replied:  “I think.  All other conclusions from this are merely redundant.” (I made that quotation up but it was Kant position).  Joyce pushes us to confront the deeper reality of ourselves (which Jung called the archetypes) well in a similar vain Wallace pushes us to confront our deepest emotions. “Don’t worry about getting in touch with your emotions.  They will get in touch with you”, he wrote.  History and science are simple, cold and dead.  History is Karl Rove and  Thimothy Geithner  arguing about how to balance the federal budget, forever.  Myth and heart is alive and warm.  It is symbol.  It is Author pulling the sword from the stone.

I Wish You More That Luck.

Kenyson Collage Commencement Address

There are several original works by David Foster Wallace on the net which I recommend to you:

The Kenyson Collage Commencement Address can be listened to here. [suppressed]  But Still Available here: Part 1 and Part 2

Consider The Lobster (Gourmet Magazine August 2004)

String Theory (Esquire January 2010)

Tense Present (Harper’s 2001-04 ) Registration Required

Shipping Out (Harper’s 1996-01) Registration Required

I’m a man of my…

DFW’s first work is well worth a look at: The Broom in the System. Wallace wrote this novel as a undergraduate just as he was turning from philosophy & mathematics to writing. DFW said it reads like it was written by a very smart 14 year old. That 14 year old becomes the character Hal Incandenza in Infinite Jest. In my mind’s eye I saw this as titled A Bloom in the System. Jung meets Wittgenstein in a cotton dress and tennis shoes

Infinite Jest – Excerpts:

Chapter One: YEAR OF GLAD

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.

I am in here.

Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors across a polished pine conference table shiny with the spidered light of an Arizona noon. These are three Deans — of Admissions, Academic Affairs, Athletic Affairs. I do not know which face belongs to whom.

I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I’ve been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.

I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully, ankle on knee, hands together in the lap of my slacks. My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X. The interview room’s other personnel include: the University’s Director of Composition, its varsity tennis coach, and Academy prorector Mr. A. deLint. C.T. is beside me; the others sit, stand and stand, respectively, at the periphery of my focus. The tennis coach jingles pocket-change. There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor. The high-traction sole of my complimentary Nike sneaker runs parallel to the wobbling loafer of my mother’s half-brother, here in his capacity as Headmaster, sitting in the chair to what I hope is my immediate right, also facing Deans.

The Dean at left, a lean yellowish man whose fixed smile nevertheless has the impermanent quality of something stamped into uncooperative material, is a personality-type I’ve come lately to appreciate, the type who delays need of any response from me by relating my side of the story for me, to me. Passed a packet of computer-sheets by the shaggy lion of a Dean at center, he is speaking more or less to these pages, smiling down.

‘You are Harold Incandenza, eighteen, date of secondary-school graduation approximately one month from now, attending the Enfield Tennis Academy, Enfield, Massachusetts, a boarding school, where you reside.’ His reading glasses are rectangular, court-shaped, the sidelines at top and bottom. ‘You are, according to Coach White and Dean [unintelligible], a regionally, nationally, and continentally ranked junior tennis player, a potential O.N.A.N.C.A.A. athlete of substantial promise, recruited by Coach White via correspondence with Dr. Tavis here commencing .. . February of this year.’ The top page is removed and brought around neatly to the bottom of the sheaf, at intervals. ‘You have been in residence at the Enfield Tennis Academy since age seven.’

I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw, where there is a wen.

‘Coach White informs our offices that he holds the Enfield Tennis Academy’s program and achievements in high regard, that the University of Arizona tennis squad has profited from the prior matriculation of several former E.T.A. alumni, one of whom was one Mr. Aubrey F. deLint, who appears also to be with you here today. Coach White and his staff have given us —’

The yellow administrator’s usage is on the whole undistinguished, though I have to admit he’s made himself understood. The Director of Composition seems to have more than the normal number of eyebrows. The Dean at right is looking at my face a bit strangely.

Uncle Charles is saying that though he can anticipate that the Deans might be predisposed to weigh what he avers as coming from his possible appearance as a kind of cheerleader for E.T.A., he can assure the assembled Deans that all this is true, and that the Academy has presently in residence no fewer than a third of the continent’s top thirty juniors, in age brackets all across the board, and that I here, who go by ‘Hal,’ usually, am ‘right up there among the very cream.’ Right and center Deans smile professionally; the heads of deLint and the coach incline as the Dean at left clears his throat:

‘— belief that you could well make, even as a freshman, a real contribution to this University’s varsity tennis program. We are pleased,’ he either says or reads, removing a page, ‘that a competition of some major sort here has brought you down and given us the chance to sit down and chat together about your application and potential recruitment and matriculation and scholarship.’

‘I’ve been asked to add that Hal here is seeded third, Boys’ 18-and-Under Singles, in the prestigious WhataBurger Southwest Junior Invitational out at the Randolph Tennis Center —’ says what I infer is Athletic Affairs, his cocked head showing a freckled scalp.

‘Out at Randolph Park, near the outstanding El Con Marriott,’ C.T. inserts, ‘a venue the whole contingent’s been vocal about finding absolutely top-hole thus far, which —’

‘Just so, Chuck…

On Alcoholics Anonymous 

She says that she’s finding it especially hard to take when these earnest ravaged folks at the lectern say they’re `Here But For the Grace of God,’ except that’s not the strange thing she says, because when Gately nods hard and starts to interject about `It was the same for–‘ and wants to launch into a fairly standard Boston AA agnostic-soothing riff about the `God’ in the slogan being just shorthand for a totally subjective and up-to-you `Higher Power’ and AA being merely spiritual instead of dogmatically religious, a sort of benign anarchy of subjective spirit, Joelle cuts off his interjection and says that but that her trouble with it is that `But For the Grace of God’ is a subjunctive, a counterfactual, she says, and can make sense only when introducing a conditional clause, like e.g. `But For the Grace of God I would have died on Molly Notkin’s bathroom floor,’ so that an indicative transposition like `I’m here But For the Grace of God’ is, she says, literally senseless, and regardless of whether she hears it or not it’s meaningless, and that the foamy enthusiasm with which these folks can say what in fact means nothing at all makes her want to put her head in a Radarange at the thought that Substances have brought her to the sort of pass where this is the sort of language she has to have Blind Faith in.”

Eschaton – 



Every year at E.T.A., maybe a dozen of the kids between maybe like twelve and fifteen — children in the very earliest stages of puberty and really abstract-capable thought, when one’s allergy to the confining realities of the present is just starting to emerge as weird kind of nostalgia for stuff you never even knew120120 — maybe a dozen of these kids, mostly male, get fanatically devoted to a homemade Academy game called Eschaton. Eschaton is the most complicated children’s game anybody around E.T.A.’d ever heard of. No one’s entirely sure who brought it to Enfield from where. But you can pretty easily date its conception from the mechanics of the game itself. Its basic structure had already pretty much coalesced when Allston’s Michael Pemulis hit age twelve and helped make it way more compelling. Its elegant complexity, combined with a dismissive-reenactment frisson and a complete disassociation from the realities of the present, composes most of its puerile appeal. Plus it’s almost addictively compelling, and shocks the tall.

This year it’s been Otis P. Lord, a thirteen-year-old baseliner and calculus phenom from Wilmington DE, who ‘Wears the Beanie’ as Eschaton’s game-master and statistician of record, though Pemulis, since he’s still around and is far and away the greatest Eschaton player in E.T.A. history, has a kind of unofficial emeritus power of correction over Lord’s calculations and man-date.

Eschaton takes eight to twelve people to play, w/ 400 tennis balls so dead and bald they can’t even be used for service drills anymore, plus an open expanse equal to the area of four contiguous tennis courts, plus a head for data-retrieval and coldly logical cognition, along with at least 40 megabytes of available RAM and wide array of tennis paraphernalia. The vade-mecumish rulebook that Pemulis in Y.P.W. got Hal Incandenza to write — with appendices and sample c:\Pink2\Mathpak\EndStat-path Decision-Tree diagrams and an offset of the most accessible essay Pemulis could find on applied game theory — is about as long and interesting as J. Bunyan’s stupefying Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, and a pretty tough nut to compress into anything lively (although every year a dozen more E.T.A. kids memorize the thing at such a fanatical depth that they sometimes report reciting mumbled passages under light dental or cosmetic anesthesia, years later). But if Hal had a Luger pointed at him and were under compulsion to try, he’d probably start by explaining that each of the 400 dead tennis balls in the game’s global arsenal represents a 5-mega-ton thermonuclear warhead. Of the total number of a given day’s players,121121 three compose a theoretical Anschluss designated AMNAT, another three SOVWAR, one or two REDCHI, another one or two the wacko but always pesky LIBSYR or more formidable IRLIBSYR, and that the day’s remaining players, depending on involved random considerations, can form anything from SOUTHAF to INDPAK to like an independent cell of Nuck insurgents with a 50-click Howitzer and big ideas. Each team is called a Combatant. On the open expanse of contiguous courts, Combatants are arrayed in positions corresponding to their location on the planet earth as represented in The Rand McNally Slightly Rectangular Hanging Map of the World.122122 Practical distribution of total megatonnage requires a working knowledge of the Mean-Value Theorem for Integrals,123123 but for Hal’s synoptic purposes here it’s enough to say that megatonnage is distributed among Combatants according to an integrally regressed ratio of (a) Combatant’s yearly military budget as percentage of Combatant’s yearly GNP to (b) the inverse of stratego-tactical expenditures as percentage of Combatant’s yearly military budget. In quainter days, Combatants’ balls were simply doled out by throws of shiny red Yahtzee-dice. Quaint chance is no longer required, because Pemulis has downloaded Mathpak Unltd.’s elegant EndStat124124 stats-cruncher software into the late James Incandenza’s fearsome idle drop-clothed D.E.C. 2100, and has shown Otis P. Lord how to dicky the lock to Schtitt’s office at night with a dining-hall meal card and plug the D.E.C. into a three-prong that’s under the lower left corner of the enormous print of Dürer’s ‘The Magnificent Beast’ on the wall by the relevant edge of Schtitt’s big glass desk, so Schtitt or deLint won’t even know it’s on, when it’s on, then link it by cellular modem to a slick Yushityu portable with color monitor out on the courts’ nuclear theater. AMNAT and SOVWAR usually end up with about 400 total megatons each, with the rest inconsistently divided. It’s possible to complicate Pemulis’s Mean-Value equation for distribution by factoring in stuff like historical incidences of bellicosity and appeasement, unique characteristics of perceived national interests, etc., but Lord, the son of not one but two bankers, is a straight bang-for-buck type of apportíoner, a stance the equally bottom-line-minded Michael Pemulis endorses with both thumbs. Pieces of tennis gear are carefully placed within each Combatant’s territories to mirror and map strategic targets. Folded gray-on-red E.T.A. T-shirts are MAMAs — Major Metro Areas. Towels stolen from selected motels on the junior tour stand for airfields, bridges, satellite-linked monitoring facilities, carrier groups, conventional power plants, important rail convergences. Red tennis shorts with gray trim are CONFORCONs — Conventional-Force Concentrations. The black cotton E.T.A. armbands — for when God forbid there’s a death — designate the noncontemporary game-era’s atomic power plants, uranium-/ plutonium-enrichment facilities, gaseous diffusion plants, breeder reactors, initiator factories, neutron-scattering-reflector labs, tritium-production reactor vessels, heavy-water plants, semiprivate shaped-charge concerns, linear accelerators, and the especially point-heavy Annular Fusion research laboratories in North Syracuse NNY and Presque Isle ME, Chyonskrg Kurgistan and Pliscu Romania, and possibly elsewhere. Red shorts with gray trim (few in number because strongly disliked by the travelling squads) are SSTRACs — equally low-number but point-intensive Sites of Strategic Command. Socks are either missile installations or antimissile installations or isolated silo-clusters or Cruise-capable B2 or SS5 squadrons — let’s draw the curtain of charity across any more MILABBREVs — depending on whether they’re boys’ tennis socks or boys’ street-shoe socks or girls’ tennis socks with the little bunny-tail at the heel or girls’ tennis socks w/o the bunny-tail. Toe-worn cast-off corporate-supplied sneakers sit open-mouthed and serenely lethal, strongly suggesting the subs they stand for.

[Except of Eschaton Chapter Continues here]

Footnote 123

2 responses to “Bloom’s Day 2011 – David Foster Wallace & Infinite Jest

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