16 Mar 2010, 2:12pm
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4.48 psychosis

on friday i went to see defunkt theatre’s production of 4.48 psychosis, by sarah kane, a play i know very well. sarah kane was a british playwright in the 1990’s who wrote vulgar, violent plays that a critic described (along with works by some other playwrights of the era) as “in-yer-face theatre.” i mostly disliked her early plays when i read them (after reading 4.48), but 4.48 i love, and it feels important to me. it was kane’s last play, and she wrote it shortly before committing suicide. it doesn’t look like a play. there are no stage directions (except perhaps a few “(silence.)”s) and no specified characters whatsoever. some parts are marked as dialogue by dashes, while others look like poems splashed across the page (or stage?). it is deep, dark, and sometimes opaque and maybe incomprehensible. it is very human and parts of it are even funny.

i first read it during my junior year of college for a directing class. it took me four days to read it and i thought it was crazy and fascinating and i wrote, while directing a ten-minute section (including “to be forgiven / to be loved / to be free” and “i fucking hate this job and i need my friends to be sane”): “it’s such an interesting text to work with. i wrote in my notes: ‘i keep wanting to analyze this to death instead of figuring out how to stage it!!’ but it was the things i learned by trying to stage it that made me want to analyze it further, and vice versa.” the next year i wrote my undergrad thesis on women and psychiatry, sort of. here’s my not-very-exciting abstract, probably written in the wee hours a few day before the thing was due, after i’d spent way too many hours thinking about it to really know what it was about anymore:

In this thesis, I examine the function of creativity in madness (and vice versa), especially its relationship to decision and paralysis in The Bell Jar. I also explore embodiment in The Bell Jar and 4.48 Psychosis. My original play, Light At Night, which explores these themes dramatically, is included here as the second chapter. Finally, the third chapter recounts my experiences writing and directing Light At Night.

in the spring of my senior year, three years ago this month!, in the midst of producing and directing light at night, i also produced a production of 4.48 psychosis for reed arts week. from my application to the r.a.w. committee:

This project will try to include as many directors, actors and designers as possible, each of whom will interpret a section of the play as they did fit. The resulting production will be a whole with sharply contradicting parts—much like the human psyche.

it worked out all right. i divided the play into six sections of roughly equal length and gave each to a different director. i took one section myself (including “last in a long line of literary kleptomaniacs” and “did it relieve the tension?”) and directed myself and a friend in it to see what it was like to direct myself (the answer: it is difficult). we got everyone together once for a dress rehearsal the night before our one-show-only performance but otherwise worked separately. i found out at the dress rehearsal that the director responsible for the last section had found herself too busy and overwhelmed by other things to so much as get actors together, so myself and a few other participants got together and quickly divvied up the lines—for the performance we scattered ourselves throughout our venue, turned off all the lights and read the lines into the darkness with flashlights. at “please open the curtains,” all the lights came up again abruptly and we took a curtain call. it was actually sort of wonderful.

a lot of the time that year i was either miserable and convinced i was crazy, reading about how fucked up the psychiatric industry is, its history of abuses, etc, while simultaneously searching for myself in the d.s.m. (sitting on the floor in the library at night with the big book open in my lap. usually i thought i was cyclothymic, sometimes full-on bipolar)—or i felt high on my youth and my friends and my lovers and the sort of sexy mystique of the madness i was spending so much time reading about… i don’t know. it was confusing and beautiful and messy. i saw a counselor at the health center who asked me once what made me a good friend, echoing the first lines of 4.48: “what do you offer your friends to make you so supportive?” i couldn’t answer that question and it did not make me feel better. i liked to joke about how my thesis made me crazy, which everyone always said about their thesis, but i felt like i had some extra credibility w/r/t craziness ’cause i was reading and writing about suicide and stuff.

mostly i was writing about self-actualization, really, and sometimes i think that’s what i was reading about, too. that is a pretty recent realization, though, even though my favorite reading of 4.48 is the one given my graham saunders, who wrote what was basically the only book about sarah kane’s work that was out there when i was writing my thesis (maybe there’s more now), called ‘love me or kill me’: sarah kane and the theatre of extremes. saunders says,

it is almost the last line of the play—‘It is myself I have never met, whose face is pasted on the underside of my mind’—that sets up the implication of not only all those voices belonging to one person, but that the ‘awful physical aching fucking longing’, in fact constitutes the search for self-hood…. One of the speakers asserts, ‘Body and soul can never be married’… For Kane…, ‘the only way back to any kind of sanity is to connect physically with who you are emotionally, spiritually and mentally.’

(that is a blockquote straight out of my thesis!)

in my thesis i talked a little about embodiment and performativity and also drew a connection between this reading of 4.48 and the bell jar’s esther greenwood’s own struggle against her body and eventual integration with it. i wrote:

Esther conceptualizes her suicide attempts as a battle between herself (“I”) and her body (“it”). She realizes, “I would simply have to ambush it with whatever sense I had left, or it would trap me in its stupid cage for fifty years without any sense at all.” Her body’s stubborn refusal to cease existing is emphasized by its own mocking chant: “I thought I would swim out until I was too tired to swim back. As I paddled on, my heartbeat boomed like a dull motor in my ears…. I am I am I am.” After the attempt that lands her in a hospital, the vocabulary of Esther’s internal battle changes slightly; and rather than fighting her body, she acknowledges that something is wrong with her head: “if only something were wrong with my body it would be fine, I would rather have anything wrong with my body than something wrong with my head.” The disconnect remains, though, and is not fully resolved until the last chapter, a page from the end of the novel. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart…. I am, I am, I am.” The same repetition of “I am” seen earlier in the novel now plays a very different role. Where once it was her body’s inability and unwillingness to shut up and leave Esther to her peace—“I” meant “me, the body, mocking you, Esther”—it is now a reassuring mantra, in which “I” is the integrated self, body and mind, reminding Esther of her concrete existence in the world. This is the self that the speaker in 4.48 Psychosis struggles to arrive at without success.

incidentally it took me months after i graduated to really internalize the things i was writing about and break out of my own mind-body dichotomy and start getting sun and exercise and eating good food and feeling a lot saner.

in early 2008 i saw an excellent production of 4.48 at psu that i think took a different, more literal approach to the text. there was one central character, a leading actor, who was clearly institutionalized and suicidal. the other actors played doctors and nurses and so forth as needed, and the play as a whole was as straightforward as such a play can be made to be. textual nonsequitors like “RSVP ASAP” were seamlessly and beautifully incorporated—i think for that one it was an incongruous invite to an institution social club type event, sort of hilarious and banal… on the whole, that production was, in my opinion, incredibly successful. it was also a different play than the one i saw at the backdoor theatre on friday. i think it’s 4.48 that really taught me that theatre is a collaborative art, writer(s) + director(s) + actor(s) + designer(s) + audience + culture +…

i guess all of that is to say that i can’t write a review of the show i saw on friday, not really. i can write about the play and about what that particular production made me think and feel. i think that what i felt while watching the performance reflects more on me (and my history with the play) than it does on the production.

defunkt’s understanding of the script felt to me more like saunders’ reading. the lines were shared among three actors who sometimes spoke simultaneously and sometimes dialogued and spoke sometimes as though unaware of the others and sometimes as though painfully or tenderly or distantly aware of them.

(at least) two of the actors were wearing long-sleeved shirts with many zippers sewn into the inside sleeves. just before “oh dear, what’s happened to your arm?” they slowly pulled open a zipper each. it sounds a little cheesy but their sleeves gaped open and i was struck by that, by the opening. i thought about: letting what is inside out, and letting what is outside in. not too long after that point are the lines:

I can fill my space
fill my time
but nothing can fill this void in my heart

The vital need for which I would die

that last line parses weirdly for me, usually, but on friday i heard it for the first time as: i would die for that need. i would die to feel need. (as opposed to an awkward way to say: i would die to get my need to fill the void in my heart met.) later, close to the end of the play:

this vital need for which I would die

                                       to be loved
  
  
I’m dying for one who doesn’t care
I’m dying for one who doesn’t know

if “one” is herself, the pain here seems to me to be both that she does not/cannot love herself, and also that she does not/cannot care about not loving herself.

watching the three actors onstage move fluidly from one kind of relationship among themselves to another, i started thinking of even the most straightforward dialogue in the script—the dialogue between the speaker and a doctor figure of some sort—as a kind of self-creation or self-exploration process for the speaker. we as humans do this storytelling thing with ourselves (and with others), feeling out our responses to situations, rehearsing our reactions. while i acknowledged that possibility in my thesis (which i am sort of reviewing as i write this), in defunkt’s production, every conversation took on that quality for me.

where am i?

Sometimes I turn around and catch the smell of you and I cannot go on I cannot fucking go on without expressing this terrible so fucking awful physical aching fucking longing I have for you. And I cannot believe that I can feel this for you and you feel nothing. Do you feel nothing?

(Silence.)

Do you feel nothing?

(Silence.)

And I go out at six in the morning and start my search for you. If I’ve dreamt a message of a street or a pub or a station I go there. And I wait for you.

(Silence.)

You know, I really feel like I’m being manipulated.

What does she look like?
And how will I know her when I see her?
She’ll die, she’ll die, she’ll only fucking die.

it feels wrenching and familiar, human and maybe universal, to hear the speaker calling for this person—herself, i think—who is mortal… with whom any relationship is inevitably temporary and so difficult (because we all carry darkness inside us)… how do we put ourselves together? how do we identify ourselves? by our pasts, by what we do? how do we know ourselves? how do we love ourselves?

to be forgiven

to be loved

to be free

the production runs through april tenth; info at defunkt’s website here.

12 Mar 2010, 6:53pm
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tree landscapes

this grandma tree in my neighborhood is see-through. i don’t know how much of it is still alive, but it is all beautiful (and it contains multitudes). it excites the divine wow in me when i walk past it.

10 Mar 2010, 3:50pm
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end notes

well, it took me just over a month, but i’ve finished infinite jest. i read the last 300+ pages in two days. partly because i wanted to be done with the book so i could move on and read something (frankly) more cheerful (the book remains funny throughout, but cheerful, no), and partly because i wanted to know what was gonna happen. i still don’t know what was gonna happen. i guess it’s not that kind of book. i don’t know why i thought it would be.

when i was reading it i was sort of vaguely seeking out discussions of the book online (there is a truly mind-boggling amount of discussion of infinite jest on the internet), and every once in awhile i would run across some mention of “the last line” of the book and i would quickly click away because if it was some sort of epiphanic moment i didn’t want to ruin it for myself. but last night at the end of my 300-page reading binge the ending did not feel epiphanic. maybe it will kick in later. it didn’t feel like a bad ending, and the questions it left unanswered didn’t make me want to throw it across a room, but.

so, some things about the book:

dfw has this way of conveying character through (mostly third person) narration that i really admire. like, the narration itself takes on the qualities of the central-to-that-section character’s voice or thought patterns. little details like using señorio for scenario if the character’s not super well-educated but thinks he’s hot shit, and so on. he even adds occasional endnotes like, “Marathe’s malentendu of live-in” i guess when he thinks we won’t get it otherwise, or when he feels like reminding us that there’s a presiding author writing all of it. or sometimes he doesn’t do this and then there’ll be endnotes like, “She didn’t literally say shitstorm” or “Actual term employed is downer-type” or “The speaker doesn’t actually use the terms thereon, most assuredly, or operant limbic system, though she really had, before, said chordate phylum.”

oh, here’s another one, wrapped up in a (long!) section i dogeared, which i will use this excuse to share with you (incidentally it also illustrates the funny-but-hardly-cheerful thing quite well):

And the wraith on the heart monitor looks pensively down at Gately from upside-down and asks does Gately remember the myriad thespian extras on for example his beloved ‘Cheers!,’ not the center-stage Sam and Carla and Nom, but the nameless patrons always at tables, filling out the bar’s crowd, concessions to realism, always relegated to back- and foreground; and always having utterly silent conversations: their faces would animate and mouths move realistically, but without sound; only the name-stars at the bar itself could audibilize. The wraith says these fractional actors, human scenery, could be seen (but not heard) in most pieces of filmed entertainment. And Gately remembers them, the extras in all public scenes, especially like bar and restaurant scenes, or rather remembers how he doesn’t quite remember them, how it never struck his addled mind as in fact surreal that their mouths moved but nothing emerged, and what a miserable fucking bottom-rung job that must be for an actor, to be sort of human furniture, figurants the wraith says they’re called, these surreally mute background presences whose presence really revealed that the character, like any eye, has a perceptual corner, a triage of who’s important enough to be seen and heard v. just seen. A term from ballet originally, figurant, the wraith explains. The wraith pushes his glasses up in the vaguely snivelling way of a kid that’s just got slapped around on the playground and says he personally spent the vast bulk of his own former animate life as pretty much a figurant, furniture at the periphery of the very eyes closest to him, it turned out, and that it’s one heck of a crummy way to try to live. Gately, whose increasing self-pity leaves little room or patience for anyone else’s self-pity, tries to list his left hand and wiggle his pinkie to indicate the world’s smallest viola playing the theme from The Sorrow and the Pity, but even moving his left arm makes him almost faint. And either the wraith is saying or Gately is realizing that you can’t appreciate the dramatic pathos of a figurant until you realize how completely trapped and encaged he is in his mute peripheral status, because like say for example if one of ‘Cheers!’’s bar’s figurants suddenly decided he couldn’t take it any more and stood up and started shouting and gesturing around wildly in a bid for attention and nonperipheral status on the show, Gately realizes, all that would happen is that one of the audibilizing ‘name’ stars of the show would bolt over from stage-center and apply restraints or the Heineken Maneuver or CPR, figuring the silent gesturing figurant was choking on a beer-nut or something, and then the whole rest of that episode of ‘Cheers!’ would be jokes about the name star’s life-saving heroics, or else his fuck-up in applying the Heineken Maneuver to somebody who wasn’t choking on a nut. No way for the figurant to win. No possible voice or focus for the encaged figurant. Gately speculates briefly about the suicide statistics for bottom-rung actors. The wraith disappears and then reappears in the chair by the bed’s railing, leaning forward with its chin on its hands on the railing in what Gately’s coming to regard as the classic tell-your-troubles-to-the-trauma-patient-that-can’t-interrupt-or-get-away position. The wraith says that he himself, the wraith, when animate, had dabbled in filmed entertainments, as in making them, cartridges, for Gately’s info to either believe or not, and but in the entertainments the wraith made himself, he says he goddamn bloody well made sure that you could bloody well hear every single performer’s voice, no matter how far out on the cinematographic or narrative periphery they were; and that it wasn’t just the self-conscious overlapping dialogue of a poseur like Schwulst or Altman, i.e. it wasn’t just the crafted imitation of aural chaos: it was real life’s real egalitarian babble of figurantless crowds, of the animate world’s real agora, the babble342 of crowds every member of which was the central and articulate protagonist of his own entertainment. It occurs to Gately that he’s never had any sort of dream where somebody says something like vast bulk, much less agora, which Gately interprets as a kind of expensive sweater. Which was why, the wraith was continuing, the complete unfiguranted egalitarian aural realism was why party-line entertainment critics always complained that the wraith’s entertainments’ public-area scenes were always incredibly dull and self-conscious and irritating, that they could never hear the really meaningful central narrative conversations for all the unfiltered babble of the surrounding crowd, which they assumed the babble(/babel) was some self-conscious viewer-hostile heavy-art directorial pose, instead of radical realism.

342. Or possibly Babel.

(pages 834-6, & endnote)

that looks like a long paragraph, but actually it’s just a chunk out of the middle of an even longer paragraph.

(and there is one endnote referencing a “Coatlicue Complex” that just reads “No clue.” the internet’s done the a lot of work for me w/r/t to that: here. but i’d be pretty interested in exploring why the heck the “no clue” endnote, when, obviously, yes clue, dfw…)

and so now i am sharing quotations:

Then the number of times I would have to repeat the same processes, day after day, in all kinds of light until I graduated and moved away and then began the same exhausting process of exit and return in some dormitory at some tennis-power university somewhere. Maybe the worst part of the cognitions involved the incredible volume of food I was going to have to consume over the rest of my life. Meal after meal, plus snacks. Day after day after day. Just the thought of the meat alone. One megagram? Two megagrams? I experienced, vividly, the image of a broad cool well-lit room piled floor to ceiling with nothing but the lightly-breaded chicken fillets I was going to consume over the next sixty years. The number of fowl vivisected for a lifetime’s meat. The amount of hydrochloric acid and bilirubin and glucose and glycogen and gloconol produced and absorbed and produced in my body. And another, dimmer room, filled with the rising mass of the excrement I’d produced, the room’s double-locked steel door gradually bowing outward with the mounting pressure…. I had to put my hand out against the wall and stand there hunched until the worst of it passed. . . .

It now lately seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately—the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into. Flight from exactly what? These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat? To what purpose? This was why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions why and to what grow real beaks and claws. It was kind, in a way. Modern German is better equipped for combining gerundives and prepositions than is its mongrel cousin. The original sense of addiction involved being bound over, dedicated, either legally or spiritually. To devote one’s life, plunge in. Stice had asked me whether I believed in ghosts. It’s always seemed a little preposterous that Hamlet, for all his paralyzing doubt about everything, never once doubts the reality of the ghost. Never questions whether his own madness might not in fact be unfeigned. Stice had promised something boggling to look it. That is, whether Hamlet might be only feigning feigning. . . .

(pages 897 & 900)

oh here is another thing about the book: every time i tried to read it while eating something, i sort of regretted it.

infinite jest college paper topics (heh):
*infant imagery and wildness, humanness, naïveté
*the concavity/convexity w/r/t to the above
*maps: map v. territory, “demapping,” one’s “own personal map”/face/life
*something about narration (’cause, dang)
*something about annulation and all of that (which i need to reread the whole darn book if i want to figure out)
*endnotes (their purpose in the narrative, etc)
*human-as-machine? (the whir in mike pemulis’s head v. the lack-of-whir—according to one of the ennet house residents; i can’t remember who—in marathe’s?)

. . . younger athletes who can’t help gauging their whole worth by their place in an ordinal ranking use the idea that achieving their goals and finding the gnawing sense of worthlessness still there in their own gut as a kind of psychic bogey, something that they can use to justify stopping on their way down to dawn drills to smell flowers along the E.T.A. paths. The idea that achievement doesn’t automatically confer interior wealth is, to them, still, at this age, an abstraction, rather like the prospect of their own death—’Caius Is Moral’ and so on. Deep down, they all still view the competitive carrot as the grail. They’re mostly going through the motions when they invoke anhedonia[*]. . . .

Deluded or not, it’s a lucky way to live. Even though it’s temporary. It may well be that the lower-ranked little kids at E.T.A. are proportionally happier than the higher-ranked kids, since we (who are mostly not small children) know it’s more invigorating to want than to have, it seems. Though maybe this is just the inverse of the same delusion. . . .

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip—and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté. Sentiment equals naïveté on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration). . . . Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically round the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.281

[*defined earlier as "a kind of spiritual torpor in which one loses the ability to feel pleasure or attachment to things formerly important. . . . It's a kind of emotional novacaine, this form of depression, and while it's not overly painful its deadness is disconcerting and... well, depressing."]

281. This has been one of Hal’s deepest and most pregnant abstractions, one he’d come up with while getting secretly high in the Pump Room. That we’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that he goes around feeling like he misses somebody he’s never even met? Without the universalizing abstraction, the feeling would make no sense.

(pages 693-5, & endnote)

but, ok, so, the ending. if you haven’t read the book and you’re planning on someday reading it and you think you might remember this ultimately insignificant little blog post of mine, you might want to skip the rest of this entry, because you may need the promise of the ending of this book (like, that it’s actually gonna be an ending) to act as your carrot on a stick to get you through the reading of it, though here too it is true that the wanting beats the having, maybe.

i don’t know how much my experience of the ending was influenced by my mood when i read it (more Hal than hale, if you catch my drift). i put it down and was like, oh. well, goddamn. and then i turned over and went to sleep, with way more questions that answers. namely: what happened to hal? what happened to gately? what happened to joelle, orin, mike pemulis, ortho stice, kate gompert, marathe? for that matter, what happened to lyle (is he dead? or has he always been a really-good-at-holding-still wraith?), Himself-the-wraith himself, steeply? (at least i know what happened to randy lenz, or at least i have a pretty good idea, and good riddance: i was so angry at dfw for making me feel even a moment’s compassion for that piece of crap. it’s a good thing the rest of the book was so good; i think i can forgive him, whereas i have yet to forgive haruki murakami for that one chapter in kafka on the shore.)

mostly: what happened? and damnit, dfw, why did you do this to me?

the internet (like my very own book club independent of time and space) wonders too (and parts of it are just as irate and annoyed), and has some possible answers, ranging from partial and resonant to complete and improbable. some partial and improbable and some complete and maybe not so improbable, too (one such fascinating explanation can be found here), but i hesitate to commit. what’s interesting (and a little frustrating) to me is that all this figuring out and whodunit-type-thinking is just to connect the end of the book back to its beginning, which events takes place a year after the events of the ending. the year-later section doesn’t offer any kind of resolution of its own, either… that is to say, things are far from okay. though neither has any kind of apocalyptic future (w/r/t to the lethal Entertainment, O.N.A.N., etc—the big things seem to be more or less as they always were) come to pass. but, i mean, poor hal!

there is so freakin’ MUCH in the book beyond the crazy whodunit plot-type-stuff, and i’m sure a reread is warranted… eventually. that this book will enter the literary canon (if it can’t already be said to be there) is a given, for sure. it is mind-bogglingly well-written, but i suspect that it’s not flawless. like, anybody got an explanation for the wardine section towards the beginning? hmmmm? (or, like, what was the point of the matty-pemulis-the-prostitute section? and so on.) did i miss something? i mean, i know i missed a lot of things. hopefully the quotations i have shared have betrayed some of the depth that is in there. family, communication (”interfacing”), addiction, highs, purpose, happiness, competition, entertainment, choice, patriotism (sort of), politics, beauty, deformity, concealance (if i were dfw i wouldn’t have to use a made-up word to say what i mean), maybe kindness and/or love and/or duty, a little bit… lots of big abstract nouns. anything can be about anything. i say a reread is warranted but i also think dfw warns against obsessing over the details à la steeply’s father and his destructive and ultimately meaningless m*a*s*h addiction—obsession over details would reveal more about the reader than about the book, i think, in dfw’s view. and there’s also the quotation i shared a few weeks ago, about how everything has potential to be abused (but also that letting oneself be crippled into inaction by that potential is itself crippling).

so, the ending. the last, i dunno, few dozen pages of the book are really pretty horrendous. violent and cringe-y (kept thinking about un chien andalou during that one part; you know the image i’m talking about). and then in one final sentence the scenery changes completely:
“And when he came to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”
this scene as described so briefly is (to me) all of the following: melancholy, peaceful, lonely, cleansing, foreboding… the sea represents something dark and threatening, but also represents something that returns, over and over, predictably, that never abandons forever. the tide was way out = the tide will come back in. and then go out again. and then come back in. second chances? or we never learn/we make the same mistakes over again? or what? i dunno.

a few infinite jest resources and links:
infinite summer
infinite jest wiki
a blog entry i particularly like about the ending
“techno-curmudgeonly solutions for life in a wallacian dystopia,” i.e. the world we live in, from another blog

there are tons of thoughtful and sometimes beautiful reflections on the book out there in the blogosphere if you look for ‘em. me, i’m still practicing this writing-about-books thing. getting back in the habit (hah! the habit!).

3 Mar 2010, 11:52am
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people are people

so in the past year or so since i have broken open (that is what it felt like, a little bit) w/r/t everything in the whole entire world being totally fucked (y’know more or less, but as derrick jensen says, “we are SO fucked. life is SO good”) i have had this belief that eventually things will get SO BAD that everyone else will break open too and there will be a critical mass of awake, alert, and angrily optimistic people ready to fix things. i mean, that’s, like, the worst case scenario i have imagined. maybe it would be too little too late, but at least people would GET IT.

(ideally we as a species figure shit out before it gets “SO BAD,” and/or i and every climate scientist and environmentally-concerned citizen are wrong, in which case:

yup.)

but infinite jest is disabusing me of that notion. it was written in the mid-1990’s and dfw was remarkably prescient w/r/t to culture, the rhetoric of consumerism and corporatism, etc… i would have to reread the whole book (i’m on page 620!) to properly digest and summarize some supporting details for you all, so you’ll have to take my word for it. there’s this ad for some cable company that sometimes plays while a. and i are watching the daily show on hulu, and every time i see it i tell a. “this is just STRAIGHT OUT OF infinite jest!” and he sort of rolls his eyes at me.

anyway, in infinite jest, things get worse and worse and tons of hydrocephalic babies are born in the region of vermont, new hampshire, quebec, and there’s growing waste problems elsewhere, etc etc etc, but no one wakes up and tries to fix things… instead, a bunch of weird imperialist (”experialist”) shit goes down and the u.s. evacuates the whole region and creates this insane waste-land and the status quo continues its fucked up march through time. and i feel like i have not been creative enough, in my silly belief that at some point as environmental and community destruction continues, destructive corporations’ lies will cease to be believable by anyone.

now i am thinking of the proverbial frog in the pot. you know, the story of how if you put a frog in a pot full of room temperature water and then slowly, slowly heat the water, the frog will lay back and let itself be boiled to death?

the good news is that wikipedia says that according to contemporary biologists, and contrary to the 19th century experiments that birthed the parable to begin with, the frog will wise up and jump out eventually. so let’s wise up! THE WATER IS GETTING AWFULLY HOT, PEOPLE.

from abraham lincoln’s inaugural address:

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse.

(notwithstanding the fact that lincoln went on to fight the civil war—i don’t know enough of that history to comment on it—) can you imagine a president saying that stuff today?

let me tell you about corporate personhood. it’s been in the news more than usual recently because of the supreme court decision on january 21st re: citizens united vs. the federal election commission, but corporate personhood is much older than that. the january decision basically declared that limits on campaign spending by corporations are unconstitutional, because of two assumptions for which, apparently, there is ample precedent (at least for the first; i’m not sure about the second):
1. corporations have first amendment rights, and
2. money is speech (and therefore protected).

(on monday night at the bar i got into a conversation with some friends about this stuff, and their reaction of course was “no way! that’s insane!” and i don’t think my friends are much more out of this particular loop than anyone else, which is why i’m writing about this despite my ever-present feeling that i don’t know enough to argue these points well and blah blah blah… i will never know “enough” to stop feeling self-conscious about standing up for shit, but i know enough to know i need to do it anyway. so. i want to write about the things i care about even when i’m not sure what i still have to learn. blogging is a little scary because the words seem permanent and sometimes i feel pretty foolish when i read back on stuff i’ve written a year or several years ago. but it also feels really valuable to me to do. oh there’s something from always coming home that’s sort of about this—i quoted it here—about letting words die and leaving silence for new words. i like blogs because new information and feelings constantly supplant the old but are buoyed by them; the old stuff is always there to learn from or reference. whatever, i am overthinking this.)

also, one reason genetically-modified foods are not labeled in the united states is because of corporations’ “negative free speech rights”—i.e. the right to NOT say something if they don’t want to. (a couple sources: see here or footnote 8 here.) what!? (and for the best argument i have read w/r/t why you should be really fucking suspicious of g.m. crops, read michael pollan’s the botany of desire, which i really cannot recommend strongly enough. i should really read some of his other books as well.)

y’all, corporations are not people. and a nation in which corporations with billion-dollar budgets have free speech rights is not a democracy. paul cienfuegos, who i have now seen speak twice (first at the village building convergence last summer, and more recently just last friday), talks a lot about how insane it is that instead of prohibiting corporations from doing harm, we have varyingly impotent regulatory institutions to sort of attempt to lessen or limit the harm they do.

so what can we do? paul talked on friday about communities all over the country, including a bunch of townships in pennsylvania who have recently joined forces and written a manifesto of sorts calling for a state constitutional convention, who are establishing local initiatives to forbid corporations from perpetrating environmental harm and outlaw corporate personhood. you can read the pennsylvania declaration here.

i am hoping to learn more about this. in the meantime, here are some resources:
the community environmental legal defense fund
reclaim democracy
and some background info, written in 2003

and here is a petition you can sign: campaign to legalize democracy.

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re: infinite jest, btw: i love this book, holy crap.