The Pursuit of Happiness

After our conversation in class about the role of happiness in the novel, I went back to the conversation between LaMont Chu (the boy who wants tennis fame) and Lyle. Lyle’s sagely words to LaMont very clearly explicate the over-arching problem with the pursuit of happiness in the novel. Yet, even Lyle isn’t able to offer any true solution to the problem.

LaMont goes to Lyle explaining that he has a “crippling obsession with tennis fame” and “wants to get to the Show so bad it feels like it’s eating him alive” (388). He is convinced that the famous tennis stars must be intensely happy and must “derive immense meaning” (388) from their fame, and LaMont wants to experience that same happiness.

Lyle immediately explains that the happiness obtained from fame is extremely transitory and, in the tennis stars’ case, lasts only for one’s first photograph in a magazine. After that, all happiness immediately turns into fear: “fear that their photographs will cease to appear in magazines” (389), fear that the fame will go away. Though LaMont feels trapped in the cage of envy, the actual attainment of fame is no “exit from any cage” (389). Fame doesn’t end in happiness, but in fear of losing what once caused happiness. This, to me, is pretty much the root of most of the characters’ problems in the novel: the fact that you either endlessly pursue happiness, or you attain it fleetingly, until it immediately gets turned into fear of losing that happiness. Everyone is stuck in this cage wherein any choice made in pursuit of happiness is one that will eventually lead to unhappiness.

The cage and the cycle of happiness and fear are exactly what drive every AA member’s drug and alcohol addiction as well. The desire for drugs is a desire to be in a state of utter happiness, but as we’ve heard from Gately and all the other AA members, the happiness and enjoyment that comes from the drugs is temporary. Once the happiness wears off, all that is left is the addiction and the fear that you won’t be able to get more tomorrow.

So now what? LaMont asks this of Lyle and I’m left wondering the same thing. Lyle offers two suggestions: one is that “the truth will set you free” and the second is that “escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage (389). Through AA, the addicts seem to be able to break out of the cage of drug/alcohol addiction using truth and an awareness of their problem. But, as we decided in class, their addictions just get transferred to another object, though one less dangerous. So, even Lyle’s suggestions don’t truly allow for a break out of the cage.

So what can we do to truly break out? Or is anyone really able to? From what we’ve read so far of the novel, I’m really inclined to say that Infinite Jest is a testament to the fact that we are, in fact, trapped in the pursuit of happiness and that there is no way out. Most of the characters in the novel are caged, one way or another. It seems as though the only way to get rid of the problem would be to not desire happiness. But our desire and pursuit of happiness appears to be built into the fact of our humanness. Is there any way to begin to not desire/pursue happiness?

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