Monthly Archives: March 2009

Boundaries of reality

Once again, our reading for the week touches on and expands the variety of themes we have identified as central to Infinite Jest (and basically to DFW’s writing as a whole). The theme I’m concentrating on here is the one about the relations of varying realities and worlds–the idea that not only games but life has rules.

In this section, Marathe and Steeply continue their conversation on freedom as it relates to the Entertainment, and Steeply speaks up a lot more. He clarifies that the problem is not that
Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents are employing a very insidious weapon against the American population (that type of act is, after all, not out of the question when it comes to U.S.-international history). The problem is that they seem not to have a motive. They are doing it just to hurt America. With past aggressors, actions were understandable: “It’s like there’s a context for the whole game, then, with them. We know where we stand differs from where they stand. There’s a sort of playing field of context. . . . Rules of play. Rules of engagement” (421). When it comes to the AFR, there are no rules. They have broken those bounds that Steeply and most others cannot see around. What they have done, really, is completely abstract the idea of an enemy that Americans can define: an enemy wants to hurt, yes, but there is a goal in mind. That enemy is an Other who is its own Self, and we can understand the desire to harm for the sake of Self. When harm is caused without intention, without Self-gratification in some way, it is utterly puzzling. Because that Other is not doing it for its own Self, is that Other even an Other? It does not define itself as a Self, which paradoxically seems to be a prerequisite for being called an Other (viz. a Self that is separate from the POV’s Self). So, then, who is this enemy that has no purpose but hurt? If it is not Other . . . What else is there? (Is the abstraction beginning to hurt your brain yet?)

Of course, before we can talk about breaking rules and boundaries of reality, we have to recognize that these things exist. In elucidation of this point, one of the biker AA members tells Don Gately a little joke: “This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’ and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, ‘What the fuck is water?’ and swim away” (445). In the shallow argument against this, we could say, Look, the fish know they are surrounded by something and just haven’t named it water, like if someone called “air” something else, of course we wouldn’t know what they meant; that doesn’t mean we don’t recognize that air exists. But in a less shallow way, we have to admit, we don’t really know what “air” means either. We are told in science classes that air is made up of a bunch of molecules (a variety mainly including nitrogen) bouncing around with a lot of energy. But we can’t really see this. We can’t really
see anything. Air is right in front of our noses, like the water is right in front of the fish (their eyes, since they don’t have noses (which seems like a better way to put that expression anyway, right?)) and yet we can’t see it. Philosophically, there are probably a lot of things that are right there, so obvious, and yet we don’t recognize their existence. This is probably why, leading into things like AA, we have the ubiquitous “admitting the problem is the first step toward recovery.” It is impossible to change anything unless one first realizes a change ought to be made. For the AA members, the reason they first stepped through the doors is because they finally recognized the reality that had been there for a while. They admitted the fact of addiction (which, to any observer, probably would have been obvious), something very big and encompassing that was for quite a while, unseen and unnamed, like the fish’s water.

To tie these two accounts together, one might say that humans need to see boundaries to live. These boundaries may be of different realities, or they may be the places that divide Self and Other, but they are necessary for our existence. It isn’t always easy to see them, but when they are disrupted, we feel very distressed.

Eric Clipperton

Of the many passages of Infinite Jest that I enjoy reading, either for entertainment value or for thought-provoking content, the Eric Clipperton episodes are high up there in the latter category. I’ve even gone so far as to use E.C. in a philosophical debate, about which I have now forgotten. The concept of “Clipperton’s hostage” – this fear of causing death less out of respect to the victim and more out of psychological self-preservation – has always struck me as one of the most subtle and most awe-inspiring metaphors in literature, such that it’s inspired in its own way one of my writing projects. This post isn’t about that. Instead, it’s about the more-mundane topic: evaluating why E.C. does what he does.

What amuses me is that basically everyone who ever encountered E.C., as DFW repeatedly notes, are focused on his victories and believe that he derives some strange pleasure from his pseudo-victories (431 contains a good metaphor for this, in an anatomically-questionable act that drives the “pleasure” point home rather bluntly). The entire concept of E.C., to these kids who live tennis, is anomalous, which creates this sensation of hatred. And E.C. certainly didn’t make this any harder to handle, what with how he “always seemed so terrifically glum and withdrawn and made such a big deal out of materializing and dematerializing at tournaments” (431) – to reduce himself to the level of phantasm and thus strip away any sensation of reality.

However, I hesitate to follow prior writers and gesture toward Clipperton being either a genuine narcissist or an abrupt metaphor for the American Dream. There are several clues that give his story a greater depth, clues that really make the story so resonant in my mind.

For starters, consider Mario Incandenza, a character who at this point of the book hasn’t really been considered. Mario, while older than Hal, occasionally is portrayed as a rather innocent creature, despite his interest in Madame Psychosis’ shows, his penetrating cartridges, and ability to hit home at what is truly underlying the scenes around him. His association with Clipperton is important in that respect. Where everyone else treats E.C. and his gimmick as a joke or a travesty, Mario understands that E.C. is really just a very lonely teenager trying to make his tranqed-out and blind parents recognize his capabilities. He just did it in the most offensive way imaginable. But Clipperton’s home situation isn’t unlike that of Hal, whose parents are respectively [redacted for spoilers] (Avril) or pre-microwave lost in his head/post-microwave dead (Himself). And Mario recognizes this. See, for instance, Mario’s request that Himself not film E.C.’s funeral. Himself’s interest in E.C. is more of an aesthetic or perhaps merely archival. Which isn’t necessarily Himself’s fault, but certainly indicates how Mario related to E.C. In a sense, Mario was the closest thing E.C. had to a friend, and DFW emphasizes this to color Clipperton’s story. At the very least, it takes quite a bit of dedication to insist that you be the sole person to clean up the aftermath of someone eliminating their map*, especially in Mario’s condition.

The Hal-E.C. link is more than just a tenuous “have shitty families” association. Both of them are trying to actively escape their surroundings, both from their families and from their conditions. Hal feels dissociated from his success and his family, and is losing an ontological battle with himself, which he responds to with weed (and a lot of it – it’s mentioned that he smoked four times on Interdependence Day). Clipperton, meanwhile, is facing down a living situation with two basically nonexistent parents and little real potential to escape. Tennis to him provided an opportunity to get away from his circumstances, and succeeding gave him a glimmer of self-fulfillment. He’d never get invited to speak on Atlas Shrugged, for sure, but there’s something, if not admirable, at least a bit interesting about such a need to escape that he’d be willing to put his fate in the hands of people who clearly do not have his best interests at heart.

Clipperton’s story may be viewed as a cautionary tale, for sure, about letting success overwhelm better reason or taste, but I would hesitate to label E.C. himself so one-dimensionally. Clearly his final solution indicates that he wasn’t in it to win it – otherwise he probably would retire to perform the aforementioned anatomically-questionable act. Instead, E.C. represents something that defines and yet is anomalous in the sport of youth tennis: a kid, lost and incapable of coming to grips with a world that’s tearing at the edges.

* Which reminds me – I don’t know if anyone has mentioned “eliminating a map” as a strange choice of phrase in the book. It probably relates in some way to the US giving Canada toxic territory, but when I think this, I think of the Borges story about an empire with a map of the same size ª. Anyone else got an idea? I like the Borges story especially because it gives Pemulis’ “It’s snowing on the map, not the territory” bit a whole new level.
ª From Borges’ “On Exactitude In Science”:

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Eliminating the Map

When reading Infinite Jest I often get mixed up with the themes of other books that we have read thus far this semester. The book is so enormous and complex that it seems to hold every message that Wallace has to offer all in one. One idea that keeps popping up is the same one we explored in A Radically Condensed History of Post-Industrial Life. That is, the theme of losing ourselves in our quest to create the perfect image.

                      This most clearly came to my attention during the tragic Eschaton debacle in which Evan Ingersoll left the bounds of the game and struck Ann Kittenplan with a tennis ball to the back of the head. Immediately following the incident there was a huge argument concerning the difference between the territory and the map. These can be interpreted as metaphors for the self and the image. Since reading this portion I have been reading the book in this context and noticing that it is largely a book about finding the self that is buried deep below the image. Perhaps the failure to reconcile the two is what forces some of the characters to try to eliminate “their own personal map,” as Wallace says.

                      One character that comes to mind is the P.G.O.A.T., Joelle Van Dyne. Her actual self is so gorgeous that everyone is too intimidated to approach her. Because of this she is forced to wear a veil and she assumes the image of a hideous woman, whom everyone guesses is deformed under the linen. I cannot say that this lead to her suicide attempt or drug usage, and I do not want to fall into the trap of excuse-making that so irritates the crocodiles at Boston AA, but she does eventually try to kill herself by having “way too much fun,” which struck me as sounding oddly similar to being way too pretty and thus hideous. Perhaps substances themselves have something to do with this inability to understand oneself. They serve different purposes for different people but one thing that they do for many is assist in escaping oneself, becoming a different person. Not really sure where I am going with this, but just an idea.

                      Another character is (this comes on page 408, don’t read the following if you would rather not have it spoiled) Eric Clipperton. For all intents and purposes he is without identity, other than his name. No one knows where he comes from, all that is known is that he gets marked “Ind.” for independent. This apparently Self-less junior tennis player prances about the court with a gun to his head threatening to take his life should anyone ever beat him. Again, the importance placed on the image and the lack of understanding or acceptance of the self seems to lead to an inability or lack of desire to live.

                      Whether it is the cause of the elimination of maps or not, image obsession vs. self understanding seems to be a desperately important theme in this book. DFW seems highly critical of the modern disconnect between these two things.

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?

Eric Clipperton

I’m really interested to hear what other people make of the passages about Eric Clipperton, beginning on page 430 of Infinite Jest.   Clipperton is the independent tennis player who would bring a gun to matches and threaten to kill himself if he ever lost a game.   His opponents would always let him win, so Clipperton “won” tournaments but was never officially ranked because the USTA felt he had never played a legitimate game.   Wallace writes, “the very tactic that let him win in the first place kept the wins, and in a way Clipperton himself, from being treated as real” (431).   Everyone else at the tournaments, besides Mario, would completely ignore Clipperton, as if his existence at the tournaments was so inconsequential that he really didn’t exist to them.   And can a person really exist if everyone around him pretends he doesn’t?

Clipperton’s being seems to be totally attached to his tennis game.   After the USTA becomes the ONANTA and a new ranking system is put into place, Clipperton gets ranked as number one and has a total breakdown.   I still don’t understand why this is.   Clipperton placed all of his self-worth in his tennis game; he threatened that if he ever lost a game he really would make himself physically vanish.   So wouldn’t winning every tournament and getting ranked as #1 make him feel legitimately worth something?

His mental breakdown and suicide following this ranking suggests that Clipperton was only ever in it for the chase.   Apparently this is not only a problem for Clipperton; Wallace writes of other tennis champions who have had similar issues once they have finally reached the top.   “But the whole Clipperton saga highlights the way there are certain very talented jr. tennis players who just cannot keep the lip stiff and fires stoked if they ever finally do achieve a top ranking or win some important event” (436).

Can this be compared to the American dream, the “pursuit of happiness” that we talked about in class last week?   Once someone has actually reached his goal, fulfilled his only purpose in life, his life is essentially over.   Our discussion about addiction, and how addicts become addicted to AA, ties into this as well, I think.   An addict is an addict forever, and he has to keep on going to meetings for the rest of his life.   No matter how many years he is sober, he is still always on a journey of sorts to sobriety.   It seems as though this is another one of those never-ending pursuits.  

I’m wondering if humans need to always be in pursuit of something in order to have a meaningful existence.   Is it more important to be working towards something than to actually have something?    

Communication and the Disappearing Dollar

             One of the many human problems that DFW has beaten over our heads this semester has been the basic issue of communication. We are each alone in our own heads, and language, as an abstraction, only exacerbates this problem by making a complete and flawless communication of our thoughts and feelings next to impossible. In his Everything And More, DFW attempts to communicate the problem of infinity to the non-mathematical mind, and while some of us might find the read kind of enjoyable-ish, the book is filled with technical flaws for the mathematical mind to pick out and get upset about.
                      “Trying to express numerical quantities and relations in natural language- to translate mathematical propositions into English and vice versa- often causes trouble” (34). After he says this, DFW goes into a word problem in which 3 men split a 30 dollar hotel room, receive a 5 dollar refund, each take a dollar of the refund and give the remaining 2 dollars to the bellboy. Simply on the basis of the wording of the problem, a dollar disappears: each man paid 9 dollars (3×9=27) and the bellboy received 2 dollars, which adds up to a transaction totaling 29 dollars. In reality, a dollar did not disappear, as a different framing of the problem accounts for the extra dollar. The issue of the missing dollar is simply a product of a faulty communication of the problem. I think this example can help to explain why there are so many mathematical errors in the book. In attempting to use one abstraction (language) to communicate another (math) to those without mathematical backgrounds, DFW lost much of the math’s meaning.
                      Math is, as DFW never ceases to point out, a multi-layered abstraction that is difficult for some of us to understand, and nearly impossible for a lot of us to relate to the real world. To those who are not mathematically gifted, it is much easier to read well-written books about the surface of mathematical concepts than to gain a deep and fully functional understanding of the concepts. It is these people for whom Wallace wrote Everything And More, and it is these people more than mathematicians who find the book enjoyable and maybe enlightening. Thus, DFW had to dumb down the concepts to a readable level, taking out unnecessary mathematical language and equations and, in consequence, filling the book with errors, both of omission and otherwise. The errors were not intentional, nor were they a result of any lack of mathematical understanding on DFW’s part: the errors were simply a product of the same language difficulties DFW discusses in much of his fiction work.  

Wittgenstein in Everything and More

I was already serendipitously planning to write about Wittgenstein in Infinite Jest and E&M when Tammy posted her questions for group discussion. The one I’m most interested in is Tammy’s third: In what way to abstractions ‘exist’?

It seems sensible to begin with Wittgenstein’s view of this question. He, like his teacher and friend Bertrand Russell (also an important mathematician/philosopher of mathematics, cited often in E&M), wants abstractions to truly exist. They exist as external abstract objects, considered as external and objective as things in physical reality. In Wittgenstein’s view, we can say that 3 exists in the same way as a rock or a house exists; it is external, outside any single individual. Despite 3’s abstract nature, it is objective in the sense that no opinion about it will change its characteristics. The complicating element here is that this abstract objectivity appears contradictory to the subjective-leaning Wittgenstinian notion of meaning as use. By this standard, wouldn’t different use of ‘3’ change its meaning, and hence make it subjective? Strangely, though, it is precisely this principle  that allows math to remain objective.

In paragraph 55 of Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein says the following: “What names in language signify must be indestructible; for it must be possible to describe a state of affairs in which everything destructible is destroyed. And this description will contain words; and what corresponds to these cannot then be destroyed, for otherwise the words would have no meaning.” (We are meant to understand that ‘3’ is a name for 3.) What this means for physical objects is that even when the physical object itself is gone, the name still has meaning via that physical object’s concept, its abstraction. But since 3 is only an abstraction – it has no physical manifestation – it is entirely immune to destruction or alteration. It is unchangeable. When we prove new mathematical properties, we are simply discovering a property that already existed without our knowledge; we are not creating or adding anything to  the  abstraction itself, we add only to our personal understanding of that abstraction.

And so Wallace’s idea of abstraction (his abstraction of abstraction?) aligns with this Wittgenstinian/Russellian model. This view is necessary to consider math an objective enterprise. Without it, proofs are not proofs so much as just detailed strings of subjective reasoning. By this Wittgenstinian standard, post-Cantor, infinity exists in the way all numbers exist, as an abstract external object. If you think about it, it is just as hard to imagine 3 (the abstraction) as it is to imagine infinity.

On a completely different tac, as a side-note of sorts, I want to call attention to Bob Death’s joke on p. 445 of Infinite Jest. It is the same fish-joke that Wallace uses in his Kenyon Commencement speech. The joke is: “This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, ‘What the fuck is water?’ and swim away.” This joke is deeply Wittgenstinian in a number of ways. It is a play on the (more famously Orwellian) notion that to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. This struggle to see what is so obvious and basic as to never be noticed is the main struggle of Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein’s project is to break  language  down to its most basic elements and discover how it actually works, how it is actually used. This preoccupation with ordinary  language  is one of the things that makes Wittgenstein so revolutionary and original. He is trying to see water clearly, even while swimming in it. We already know from Lenore that we are all swimming in language.

That’s all for now. Thoughts?

Some questions

In effort to prepare for our presentation on E&M on Monday, our group decided to ask some questions on the blog over the weekend so that you can start thinking about them!

1. What makes this text so difficult to talk about?

2. Recently on the blog, a few conversations have returned to The Broom. Does E&M figure math as a game? In what ways? And what are the implications?

3. Wallace’s question throughout the book:   In what way do abstract entities exist?

The proof

According to the author, what does the mathematical proof do? How does the proof function in Everything and More?

The concept of a math proof is fascinating to me, and in its discussions of proofs, Everything and More inquires about the nature and power of the proof.

Please keep these questions in mind as you read this blog:   “In what way can we say a unicorn exists that is fundamentally different, less real, than the way abstractions like humanity or horn or integer exist? Which is once again the question:   In what way do abstract entities exist, or do they exist at all except as ideas in human minds-i.e., are they metaphysical fictions?….Are mathematical realities discovered, or merely created, or somehow both?” (20).

The proof holds enormous power in the world of math and in Everything and More. The author proposes that through a proof, we can definitively prove the truth. In discussing abstractions in the context of set theory, the author insists that “we are proving, deductively and thus definitively, truths about the makeup and relations of such things” (256). Furthermore, the writing suggests that the proof literally give existence to abstractions:   “So one thing to appreciate up front is that, however abstract infinite systems are, after Cantor they are most definitely not abstract in the nonreal/unreal way that unicorns are” (205). This quote conveys the author’s faith in the power of the proof. The proof, according to the author, confers existence to infinite systems. The author does not assert that infinite systems have always existed. He does, however, express that “after Cantor, they are most definitely not abstract in the nonreal/unreal way that unicorns are.” What does the author mean by “after Cantor”? What does Cantor do that convinces the author of the abstract existence of infinite systems? Cantor proofs it. Thus, the proof has the power to make previously “nonreal/unreal” entities real or at least confirm their reality.

I mentioned that by writing “after Cantor, they are most definitely not abstract in the nonreal/unreal way that unicorns are” (205), the author suggests that the proof somehow creates the abstract existence of infinite systems. In another moment, however, the author rescinds his earlier insinuation that the proof creates existence and scorns that entire notion. In a footnote response to an editor asking, “we can always create new ones [subsets]?” (273). The author responds, “The ‘we can always create new ones’ part is deeply, seriously wrong:   we’re not creating new subsets; we’re proving that there do exist and will always exist some subsets” (273). Thus, here, the proof becomes an instrument of finding, not creating, and here, the author insists on the distinction between the two.

In another instance, however, the author does not seem to mind the conflation between proving that “there do exist” and “creating.” He explains that for the Constructivists, “The only valid proofs in math are constructive ones, with the adjective here meaning that the proof provides a method for finding (i.e., ‘constructing’) whatever mathematical entities it’s concerned with” (225). The author points out an interesting English-language coincidence in the footnote, where he notes that “the word ‘constructive’ for us can mean ‘not destructive’. As in good rather than bad, building up rather than tearing down” (225). The author, however, does not point out the other interesting English-language nuance that he does call attention to earlier:   the difference between finding and creating. In the beginning, the author asks, “Are mathematical realities discovered, or merely created, or somehow both?” (20). For the Constructivists, discovering and creating become synonymous, and by not calling out this distinction here, the author indicates his acceptance of this conflation, which seems odd considering his previous tirade on the difference between the proof as creating existence and the proof as merely showing existence.

Nonetheless, the existence led by mathematical entities, whether created by proofs or already there, seems more tragic than celebrated. The author laments, “And, as true numbers, transfinites turn out to be susceptible to the same kinds of arithmetical relations and operations as regular numbers” (243). He writes as if existence were a disease, rendering these entities “susceptible.”

What, then, is the relationship between mathematical existence and human existence, our existence? As Will proposes in his post (Math as Communication), math can be read and understood as a language, and Wallace claims that “language is both a map of the world and its own world” (30). Does the world of math ever intersect our world?

One point of intersection occurs in Cantor’s inability to prove the Continuum Hypothesis. Although the math world eventually proves the unprovability of the C.H., the human world witnesses the actualization of this unprovability, for Cantor’s inability to prove the C.H. performs its unprovability. Another point of intersection crystallizes when Wallace writes, “Mathematics continues to get out of bed” (305). Mathematics here, is personified. Mathematics here, becomes human, even if just for a moment.

Return of the broom

The broom of the system figures prominently in IJ’s narrative, at about the novel’s midway point. Lucien Antitoi has “a broom he made as a boy, carved out of a tree branch” (483), and this broom serves multiple functions, not least of which to remind us we’re in Wittgenstein territory.

Lucien “is one of the few natives of Notre Rai Pays ever who cannot understand French, just never caught on” (480). He practices the three French words he does know on the broom, but he really seems to have a sort of pre-linguistic existence: “he attends mutely, meticulously, and with childlike innocence to the general cleanliness of the store, using a broom he made as a boy, carved out of a tree branch” (483). He sweeps with “his stout trusty broom” (482), but has also sharpened the tip so that it serves “as a sort of domestic weapon, even then, before ONANite experilaist impost made any sort of struggle or sacrifice remotely necessary, as a silent boy, keenly interested in weapons…” (482). Even though Lucien was silent, he had a keen interest in the broom’s second (linguistic) function. The broom is a relic of his childhood, and now shows his inability to participate fully in the Notre Rai Pays- he is excluded from it because he cannot enter their language game.

In a way, Lucien uses the broom as a crutch- practicing his limited vocabulary on it, and never cataching on to the rules of language in general- he is thus like Vlad the Impaler, repeating one catch phrase over and over, out of context. Furthermore, Lucien has “pretty good intuition that the lone comunicable ‘va chier, putain!’ wouldn’t be a good idea in this context” (fn206.1034). The only words Lucien knowns, the only thing he can communicate, is totally innappropriate given the context- it would function to offend his assaulters. His “lips are quivering not so much from fear — although there is certainly fear — but not from fear spo much as in an attempt to form words. Words that are not and can never be words are sought by Lucien here through what he guesses to be the maxilloficial movements of speech, and there is a childlike pathos…” (488). The childhood pathos recalls his childlike innocence, as he goes through the same process a toddler would while trying to learn English- appropriating the right movements, trying to communicate. I think this whole passage, especially given its context (there’s a broom right there!), can be seen as Lucien’s gestation- perhaps it’s a tribute to Joyce’s Oxen of the Sun chapter in Ulysses, where he traces the gestation of the English language, though obviously on a smaller scale.

Lucien soon becomes Vlad the Impaled, as the broom’s function expands from crutch to weapon. In a particularly gruesome passage, “the broom is shoved in and abruptly down by the big and collared A.F.R…. down Lucien’s wide throat…” and this elicits “the landed-fish gasps that accompany speechlessness in a dream” (488). Lucien’s inability to speak or understand makes him a landed-fish, out of his element because he is speechless. He becomes impaled by the broom whose significance he could not comprehend.
DFW describes Lucien’s death in unusually poetic language in the final passage of the chapter/episode, structurally reinforcing perhaps the idea that Lucien’ss linguistic gestation is complete: Lucien becomes “newly whole, clean and unimpeded, and is free, catapulted home over fans and the Convexity’s glass palidsades at desperate speeds, soaring north, sounding a bell-clear and nearly maternal alarmed call-to-arms in all the world’s well-known tongues” (488-9). Where Lucien had struggled with language in life, and could not understand the nuances of language or word’s meaning as function, he now speaks all the world’s well-known tongues; he has achieved linguistic mastery through his “necessary” “sacrifice” (482). He matures, as he moves from “childlike” to “near maternal.”

There seems to be a dark implication here that we must be impaled/killed by our own brooms/words in order to transcend language. I think this ties in to what DFW said in the McCaffery interview, that the author must “be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. And the effort to actually do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage that I don’t seem to have yet. (McCaffery, 150).