Author Archives: tammy

I cannot believe this class is over

I debated for a little bit whether I should write this post or not. I didn’t want it to be cheesy, but it’s really hard to believe that this class has ended. Our project for this class was so big (possibly infinite?) in so many ways–if we count the number of pages, the number of blogs, the number of hours. But there’s more to this class than the monumental workload. I’ve never taken a class like this before, where the issues we dealt with and the points of discussion were all so pressing, so urgent, so relevant, and all so related to our lives. Maybe this class will be a once-in-forever-class, never to be taught again. But even if it does get taught again, it will be taught at a different time, a later time, when temporally, everything will not be as near or immediate. Maybe this doesn’t even make sense. Anyway, it’s just hard to believe that this has come to an end. It feels like we all stumbled across a hole, jumped into it together, and dug deeper into it throughout the semester, and now, we are walking back out of it–feeling bittersweet and wishing we could all just sit around the classroom and discuss Wallace’s stories, novels, and essays together just one more time. Echoing what an earlier blog post said, It’s been fun. And it will be well-remembered. I wonder what I’m going to do with a DFW-less semester next fall. Or how closely these texts will stick with me into the future.

Faces and Floors, Beginnings and Endings

The end of Infinite Jest-abstruse and surreal-in a way brings the reader back to the beginning of the giant novel. Images from the first scenes of the novel float into the last scene, with Gately lying in the hospital room, feeling disembodied and gravitating his attention toward the floor.

Gately’s feeling and perception of disembodiment reminds us of Hal’s description of the cold room of the university administration office in the opening pages. The narrator informs us in the end that Gately experiences a physical sense of disembodiment:   “Gately felt less high than disembodied…his head left his shoulders” (981). Although Hal does not explicitly describe his own sense of disembodiment, the entire first scene deals with the university deans’ concern with “using a boy for just his body” (10) and the haunting disparity between Hal’s voice in his head and Hals’ voice-or “sounds” (14)-projected and heard by the people around him. Why is this sense of disembodiment present in both characters, and furthermore, in the bookends of the novel? How is Gately’s experience of disembodiment different from Hal’s, if at all?

Not only do Gately and Hal experience a sense of disembodiment themselves, but they also display a keen awareness of disembodied heads and faces around them. In the end, Gately perceives only faces (with the exception of the chinks and the Oriental-who are not exactly described, but just sort of thrown into the picture). The narrator, as if through Gately’s eyes, describes, “P.J.-J.’s face was gray and blue. The floor came up slowly. Bobby C’s squat face looked almost pretty, tragic, half lit by the window” (981). Thus, the concluding narration gravitates toward faces as opposed to whole bodies or whole people. The difference, between Gately’s perception of these faces and Hal’s, however, lies in that Gately describes these faces in vivid detail, as if they are close and familiar to him, while Hal describes what he sees as simply “heads and bodies…Three faces have resolved into place above summer-weight sportcoats and half-Windsors” (3). Hal seems to be far more detached and distant than Gately in relation to the faces they identify. What accounts for this difference in their perception of faces? Is Gately’s ability (or Gately’s narrator’s ability) to vividly express these faces indicative of a trajectory of progress or some kind of healing or convalescence by the end of the novel?

Another commonality between the first and final scenes of the novel is the recurring image of the animated floor and its relation to the two main characters. With respect to Gately, the floor moves upward. In fact, the floor’s upward movement coincides with and intercuts Gately’s description of faces (see quote above). The narrator explains that “the last thing Gately saw was an Oriental bearing down with the held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced” (981). Thus, a pouncing floor (and an Oriental) stand out as the last things Gately sees and as one of the last images we as readers receive. Meanwhile, the word “pounced” dictates a sense of violence and in particular an animalistic one, which can be traced back to metaphors comparing Gately to animals throughout the novel and to Hal’s animalistic tendencies in the beginning:   “This sort of awful reaching drumming wriggle. Waggling” (14). Hal, on the other hand, seems to talk at or even to the floor:   “‘There is nothing wrong,’ I say slowly to the floor. ‘I’m in here'”(13), and later in the novel, we discover that Hal has nightmares in which he sees faces in the floor. Does “I say slowly to the floor” suggest that Hal simply looks down when he speaks these words, or does Hal actually talk to the floor? Is there something-another world or a phenomenon-on the other sides of these floors that the novel consistently and insistently wonders about?

Sensitivity in Infinite Jest

A few of you have already written blog posts on Wallace’s style in Infinite Jest; nonetheless, the singularity of his style deserves yet another post. I just finished re-reading jtlax45’s post on the maximalist style of Wallace’s prose. I had not heard of the term maximalism in a literary context before (and I failed to find anything relevant when I googled the term), but if we take jtlax45’s definition of maximalism-“a deep and sometimes frivolous-feeling exploration of the minute details”-then that sounds about right in characterizing Wallace’s style in Infinite Jest (as well as his other works). In this post, I would like to expand on Wallace’s detail-driven style with special attention to the sensitivity and control Wallace exerts in his writing, focusing on this week’s segment of Infinite Jest.

One instance of the sensitivity ingrained Wallace’s writing occurs when the three White Flaggers visit Gately:   “The three all pause, and then Jack J. puts the back of his hand to his brow and flutters his lashes martyrishly at the drop-ceiling. They all three of them laugh. They have no clue that if Gately actually laughs he’ll tear his shoulder’s sutures” (844). The writing is sensitive because Wallace does not only depict what happens but also what does not happen-the non-events, the silence, the omissions, the what-might-have-happened-but-does-not-actually-happen-moments. In other words, the writing is sensitive in that it is aware of so much more than the plot that it describes; the writing notices even the elements that the plot excludes. In fact, the writing almost emphasizes the elements that the plot excludes by eliciting an awareness of these elements.

For example, by including the pause of the three visitors, the text draws attention to a moment of silence, which is in a way a moment of non-occurrence, non-plot. By informing the reader that “they have no clue that if Gately actually laughs he’ll tear his shoulder’s sutures,” the text gives the reader access to information apart from and outside of the plot. The text reveals its awareness of everything-the events that occur and those that do not. By including those details and elements of non-plot, Infinite Jest exudes a rare level of sensitivity-one often absent from other works of fiction.

Not only is the text itself sensitive to its milieu, almost every single character in the text displays an uncommon level of sensitivity. Earlier in the novel, we witness that even the despicable Randy Lenz is more sensitive than the average human being when he conducts an internal debate over how to tell Green to stop following him and “still have Green know he thinks he’s OK?” Lenz worries about every detail, from “where the fuck is he supposed to look when he says it” to the “voltage or energy there, hanging between you” (554-555). In this segment of the reading, we see Gately’s sensitivity, as an eight or nine year-old child. When Mrs. Waite brings a birthday cake, the narrator tells us, “Mrs. Waite had spared Gately the humiliation of putting just his name on the cake as if the cake was especially for him. But it was. Mrs. Waite had saved up for a long time to afford to make the cake, Gately knew” (848-849). These passages and many others imbue an unparalleled quality of sensitivity in the characters.

The passage about the M.P.’s fly-whacking style reminds me precisely of Wallace’s own style-not that Wallace’s style is as cruel as the fly-whacking style, but that Wallace’s style seems just as controlled and meticulous as the M.P.’s style. Wallace’s description of the manner in which the M.P. whacks flies creates an almost perfect mirror image of his own style. He expounds that the M.P. hits flies-

in a controlled way. Not hard enough to kill them. He was very controlled and intent about it. He’d whack them just hard enough to disable them. Then he’d pick them up real precisely and remove either a wing or like a leg, something important to the fly. He’d take the wing or leg over to the beige kitchen wastebasket and very deliberately hike the lid with the foot-pedal and deposit the tiny wing or leg in the wastebasket, bending at the waist. (842)

Like the way in which the M.P. smacks flies, Wallace’s writing peels apart each character carefully to his or her bare personality and inner sensitivity (in his non-fiction, Wallace’s writing peels apart issues such as the morality of cooking lobsters and the wars over usage in an equally exceptional and meticulous way). Every word and sentence and phrase in the text seems as deliberate and controlled and carefully selected and architected as this nasty, yet subtly similar scene of fly-parsing.

So He Writes It for Her

Wallace does this beautiful thing with athletes in his non-fiction (I realize this is a vague and sloppy sentence by all standards, but any different set of words simply will not suffice-cannot capture the same sentiment). To borrow Wallace’s words, here is a theory. In “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” Wallace writes Tracy Austin’s biography.

The function of “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” is binary. On the one hand, Wallace evinces the paradox that the ones endowed with the gift of athletic genius must “be blind and dumb about it” and the ones denied of that gift become the (only) ones who “see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift” (155). On the other hand, in portraying himself as a member of the latter group, Wallace, in “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” finds his way to express the athlete’s experience of her gift.

In the beginning, Wallace conjectures why Americans purchase sports memoirs. He reasons that “We want to hear about the humble roots, privation, precocity, grim resolve, discouragement, persistence, team spirit, sacrifice, killer instinct, liniment and pain….we want to know how it feels, inside, to be both beautiful and best” (144). His reason for why Americans read memoirs of top athletes echoes his reason for fiction’s existence:   “to give her [the reader] imaginative access to other selves,” to provide the reader “an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience” (McCaffery 127).

Moreover, Wallace sets himself apart from the athlete, as someone on the other side, someone on the outside, someone yearning for that vicarious experience:   “She was a genius and I was not. How must it have felt? I had some serious questions to ask her. I wanted very much, her side of it” (144). In these lines, Wallace stresses his-the reader’s, the outsider’s-desire to know the feeling of that experience. He begs for an answer to “How must it have felt?” and he emphasizes that “we want to know how it feels.”

His disappointment stems from the athlete’s inability to communicate that feeling or any feeling at all. Wallace laments that Austin’s autobiography’s function is not to communicate or illuminate feeling, but rather “to deaden feeling” (151). More precisely, Wallace’s disappointment arises from the athlete’s utter lack of feeling:   the feeling that readers crave access to turns out to be absent. Wallace concludes that “the real secret behind top athletes’ genius, then, may be as esoteric and obvious and dull and profound as silence itself….just what goes through a great player’s mind as he stands at the center of hostile crowd-noise and lines up the free-throw that will decide the game might well be:   nothing at all” (154). In a way, Wallace concludes that the athlete is ultimately empty-headed, like an automaton that simply acts-thus, not a being incapable of articulating her feelings, but a being lacking the capacity to feel-to be self-conscious and self-reflective. In essence, Wallace depicts the athlete as dead. Accordingly, to Wallace, all the climactic moments in her life seem to be “boiled down to one dead bite” (151). Furthermore, the death of the athlete seems to be associated with silence-a non-linguistic expression.

And Wallace brings her back to life through writing-through translating or perhaps more accurately, imagining her feelings into words. Wallace transcribes Tracy Austin’s non-linguistic, “public and performative kind of genius” (153) into a linguistic, verbal, written kind of genius. By delineating what Austin’s autobiography “could have been” (148), Wallace in effect writes her biography for her. Wallace feels her feelings for her:   “having it all at seventeen and then losing it all by twenty-one because of stuff outside your control is just like death except you have to go on living afterward” (150). Wallace discerns her privation, her persistence, her sacrifice, and her pain for her:   “Tracy Austin’s most conspicuous virtue, a relentless workaholic perfectionism that combined with raw talent to make her such a prodigious success, turned out to be also her flaw and bane” (149). Through his writing, Wallace accomplishes what Tracy Austin cannot:   he makes her “a recognizable human being” (151). Wallace thus brings the athlete to life. The athlete cannot write her own story, for in a sense, in her story, in the center court and “at the center of hostile crowd noise,” there is “nothing at all.” So he writes it for her.

There is so much more to Wallace’s athletes than what I have written here. What do you guys make of his athletes? The other non-fiction one that occurs to me most poignantly is Michael Joyce. How about Wallace’s fictional athletes? Do they have common qualities? They are also different; the fictional ones don’t seem as dead. In a way, Wallace seems to be inventing not only the fictional athletes, but also the non-fictional ones, by giving them life, feelings, and redemption.

A Universal Problem?

What is Steeply describing when he says, “‘Stuck. Fixed. Held. Trapped. As in trapped in some sort of middle. Between two things. Pulled apart in different directions'” (IJ 647)? In context, Steeply is describing the expression of his old man’s eyes, glued to the television screen. His words, however, also seem to describe precisely the existential traps that multiple characters in Wallace’s writing find themselves stuck in.

In the pre-fight scene, as Lenz dashes behind Gately to use Gately as a shield, Gately literally stands between Lenz and the Nucks, “as in trapped in some sort of middle. Between two things” (IJ 647). But more than being physically positioned between two forces or groups, Wallace reveals Gately’s psychological positioning as being similarly stuck between two seemingly conflicting forces. Wallace writes, “Late in Gately’s Substance and burglary careers, when he’d felt so low about himself, he’d had sick little fantasies of saving somebody from harm, some innocent party, and getting killed in the process and getting eulogized at great length in bold-faced Globe print” (IJ 611). The text portrays Gately as a character who is “stuck, fixed, held, trapped” in a state of contradiction. Gately wants to perform an act that simultaneously captures both selflessness and selfishness.

The writing highlights the two opposing forces combating inside his head. On the one hand, by sacrificing his own life, his act would ultimately save somebody from harm (this half of the fantasy seems to be at least partially performed within the next few pages, even though we do not know if Gately actually gets killed). On the other side of the hand (as Lenz often says), the text reveals his effectively selfless act as ultimately stemming from selfishness, from the desire of “getting eulogized at great length in bold-faced Globe print” (IJ 611). Apropos, after being shot, Gately imagines:   “SHOT IN SOBRIETY in bold headline caps goes across his mind’s eye like a slow train” (IJ 613), which reiterates the voice of self-interest chugging through his head. Moreover, the text flops back and forth in the characterization of this act. First, the text labels this act with negativity-“sick little fantasies” (IJ 611)-but later, in portraying Gately as “a big animal that’s hurt” (IJ 615), the text wipes away all stains of negativity and instills a blanket of sympathy, for Gately and his selfless act. Thus, Gately, much like the expression of the eyes on Steeply’s old man’s face, exists or lives in the trap of being “pulled apart in different directions” (IJ 647)-these directions seem diametrically opposite and incompatible, yet coexisting for Gately.

Orin Incandenza faces an analogous trap. Wallace writes, “Orin can only give, not receive, pleasure” (IJ 596). In this line, Wallace depicts Orin as not only compassionate, but also tragically compassionate-to the point that he can “only give,” but not receive any pleasure. The following sentences, however, unveils the other side of the view:   “But he cannot show the contempt, since this would pretty clearly detract from the Subject’s pleasure. / Because the Subject’s pleasure in him has become his food….It gave him real pleasure to give the impression of care and intimacy” (IJ 596). Thus, like Gately, Orin also seems trapped in the loop of simultaneously giving selflessly and taking selfishly, unable to do one without the other. On the one hand, Orin does give others pleasure, making women believe “he is a wonderful lover, almost a dream-type lover” (IJ 596), but on the other hand, Orin feeds off of and consumes the pleasure he gives to others, a description that renders he himself contemptible.

A similar symptom manifests in the speaker of “Good Old Neon,” but there, with a heightened sense of self-awareness created by the first person narration, that symptom becomes paralyzing. From the age of four, Neal begins to experience the “Stuck. Fixed. Held. Trapped” (IJ 647) feeling of “trying to create a certain impression of me in other people…to be liked or admired” (Oblivion 141) and actually making others feel good-for instance, by pretending to tell the truth to his stepparents or playing dumb with Dr. Gustafson so as to “let him feel like he was explaining to me a contradiction I couldn’t understand without his help” (Oblivion 155)-a feeling, or “problem” as he calls it, that he “couldn’t seem to stop” (Oblivion 143) and ultimately takes his life away. I wonder, to what extent is this feeling a problem? Is this feeling universal? Selflessness and selfishness seem mutually exclusive, but are they in fact inescapably intertwined? And to what extent does the selfishness matter, if the impression or effect of the act helps another-even if fraudulent, insincere, or self-interested?

The remainder

Just in case you want to continue the discussion of E & M, here are some things that I’d be super interested to discuss:

1) Math as a parallel to life (Tom, I think it was you who ended the conversation on this note, which I think is brilliant!). Wallace’s E & M certainly draws out parallels between math and life. For example, the lack of solutions and finality. Another example, that not everything can be proven. And another–there are real numbers, irrational numbers, rational number, imaginary numbers–do these types of numbers perhaps mirror a few general categories of people?

Precisely what is the relationship between the math world and the human world? Can this relationship be pinpointed, or is the solution / answer to this question indefinite like infinity? Is there a map / function / correspondence between these two worlds? Are there common elements that both care about? For instance, existence seems to play a huge role in E & M as it does in The Broom. But in what ways is the issue or urgency of existence different in these two (con)texts?

2) I also wanted to ask, “What did you guys learn about math from E & M?”

3) Also, Wallace definitely dramatizes the history of math in E & M, I think. But it’s interesting how he does it–he seems to portray the history of math as a battle–the battle between Intuitionists and Platonists, the battle between the everpresent existence vs. the created existence of math, etc.

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.

What is this madness?

In Infinite Jest, Wallace writes about Tony Krause in the process of Withdrawal: “He’d naively assumed that going mad meant you were not aware of going mad; he’d naively pictured madmen as forever laughing” (303).

The fact that Tony “naively pictured” and “naively assumed” suggests that going mad does not mean forever laughing and that going mad does not mean you are not aware of the process (of going mad). Then what does going mad mean?

Suppose that Tony is in fact going mad. Then for Tony, madness certainly entails an awareness of itself. The text, however, does not explicitly state that Tony is aware of his madness. Instead, the text defines madness by what it does not mean: madness does not mean laughing forever, does not mean being oblivious of one’s own madness. The text leaves the reader to infer what madness actually means. What does the text leave the reader?

The text leaves the reader with an absence or a void–in particular, one that results from an extraction (like a dentist extracting a tooth and leaving you with this hole where your tooth used to be). Immediately before discussing Tony’s naïve assumptions about going mad, Wallace discloses that “He [Tony] was haunted by the word Zuckung, a foreign and possibly Yiddish word he did not recall ever before hearing. The word kept echoing in quick-step cadence through his head without meaning anything” (303). In the first sentence, Wallace declares “Zuckung” as the word that haunts Poor Tony. In the second sentence, however, Wallace does not use the word Zuckung again. He does not say, “Zuckung kept echoing.” Instead, he simply writes: “The word kept echoing.” That way, the word becomes a void, emptied of its content, just as it becomes emptied of its meaning: “The word kept echoing in quick-step cadence through his head without meaning anything.” Incidentally, Wallace does not provide the reader with the meaning of Zuckung (according to the Internet, Zuckung means twitch, spasm, or convulsion in German).

Another effect of “The word kept echoing in quick-step cadence through his head without meaning anything” is that the vagueness and generality of “The word” gives the reader space to fill in another word, a different word–in which case, for me, the word would doubtlessly be “time.” Throughout the paragraph in which this sentence is embedded, “time” crops up repeatedly; the word “time” keeps echoing in quick-step cadence through the reader’s head and perhaps, “without meaning anything.”

With each repetition of “time,” time takes on another form; in the end, time ceases to mean anything at all. Wallace writes, “Time was being carried by a procession of ants….time itself seemed the corridor, lightless at either end. After more time time then ceased to move or be moved or be move-througable….time with a shape and an odor….time had become shit itself” (302-303). In the last mention of “time” in the paragraph, Wallace explains that “Poor Tony had become an hourglass: time moved through him now” (303). In this metaphor, Tony becomes an hourglass, a device that measures time, but time does not move through an hourglass; sand does. This warp draws attention to time’s absence. Here, Tony becomes a metaphor for an hourglass and time becomes a metaphor for sand, but nothing becomes a metaphor for time. Nothing can do that. By rendering time a metaphor for a cornucopia of different objects and not allowing time to be a reference for any other metaphor (does this make sense?), this paragraph strips time of its denotation. Time itself becomes empty and extracted.

Perhaps this is what it means to go mad: to be emptied and to be aware of it–the emptiness.

A bridge to Everything and More: Apparently, according to the dictionary, “to extract” and “to abstract” are synonymous. Check out this quote from Everything and More: “Thinking this way can be dangerous, weird. Thinking abstractly enough about anything…surely we’ve all had the experience of thinking about a word–‘pen,’ say–and of sort of saying the word over and over to ourselves until it ceases to denote” (12). Compare it with “The word kept echoing in quick-step cadence through his head without meaning anything.”

Here is how to

Passage that we read in class last Wednesday:

Marathe: “Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen” (107).

Steeply: “But you assume it’s always choice, conscious, decision…You sit down with your little accountant’s ledger and soberly decide what to love? Always?” (108).

About 60 pages later, in the Year of the Yushityu, Hal narrates TENNIS AND THE FERAL PRODIGY, which “according to the entry form” (172), is written by Mario. The script of this “11.5-minute digital entertainment cartridge” (172) champions Marathe’s argument that there is always a choice. Moreover, the script conveys that one can always be in control–of anything and everything.

The script is structured like a lesson, with nearly each paragraph beginning with “here is how.” Therefore, the script assumes that abilities from “how to hold a stick” (172) to “how to sweat” (174) can be learned, and hence, can also be controlled and regulated, as if a product of choice.

In particular, the speaker instructs, “Here is how to handle being a feral prodigy” (174). In here lies a contradiction–because feral denotes untamed, natural, wild, and incapable of being “handled” (174). To handle, on the other hand, signifies to control, to manage, and to dominate. The script thus insists that it is possible to conquer even the unconquerable, to control even the uncontrollable. In fact, this possibility can be shown, taught and learned by what seems to be a simple lesson–a lesson that tames the self.

In here lies another contradiction–the freedom, or ability, to take control of the self in turn limits and subjugates the self. The cartridge does not instruct “how to handle a feral prodigy.” It instructs “how to handle being a feral prodigy” (174). Thus, the cartridge instructs not how to tame an external feral prodigy that has come to invade the body, but rather how to control a self or a being who has come to be defined by his feral prodigy. In a way, by stating, “Here is how to handle being a feral prodigy,” the text evokes a giving away of the self, a surrendering of the self. The complete “being” or existence of the self has become replaced by only being a feral prodigy, an alternate, reduced existence.

Handling “being a feral prodigy” (174) ultimately effaces the being, reducing it to zip. The paragraph is poetic. It creates a contrived, controlled, regulated, unnatural–not feral–effect. Using words such as “signifying” and “composed of” renders the sentence–”Here is how to handle being seeded at tournaments, signifying that seeding committees composed of old big-armed men publicly expect you to reach a certain round” (174)–literary and formal and also, forced and unnatural. Furthermore, the lesson–”By repeating this term over and over, perhaps in the same rhythm at which you squeeze a ball, you can reduce it to an empty series of phonemes, just formants and fricatives, trochaically stressed, signifying zip” (174)–carries a poetic rhythm per se. This rhythm reverberates throughout the script. The repetition of “Here is how to” and the choppy syntax create their own rhythm. The use of the words “trochaically stressed,” “signifying,” “phonemes,” “formants,” and “fricatives” produces the effect of a poetry explication. Moreover, “phonemes,” “formants,” and “fricatives” generate an alliteration, furthering the poetic style. Ultimately, however, the poetic style of these sentences in synchronization with the result of handling being a feral prodigy amount to nothing, “signifying zip” (174). This paragraph delineates a process of reduction: reducing terms to “an empty series of phonemes”–which are irreducibles, and reducing a being into a feral prodigy, and then that feral prodigy into, presumably, a tamed prodigy. In this way, this paragraph, along with the lesson embedded in this paragraph, exerts control–a control that is perhaps tragically and inescapably self-limiting and self-effacing.

So then looking back at Marathe’s words, he claims that the lack of choice renders a person “a fanatic of desire…a citizen of nothing” (108), but the contrary–that is, the option to choose, the ability of control–can lead to the same result: nothingness.