Tag Archives: addiction

Gately’s Upbringing and the Origin of Addiction

Keeping it simple this time.  So, towards the end of Infinite Jest, DFW gives us a detailed look into Don Gately’s past and looks at the beginning of his substance abuse problems.  All this invites the reader to guess and check, trying to pin down the cause of Gately’s downfall, but there is so much wrong, that it becomes just a vague, futile game.  Why does Gately end up how he does?  

Gately, high school football star, could not handle the academic part of high school, relying for a while on compassionate teachers and one drug synthesizer/tutor named Trent Kite.  School had no real end or set of results in Gately’s mind, and neither did his outside life, given his broken family life and friend circle that focused on substance abuse.  All he had was football, and even then, “Quaaludes and Percocets were lethal in terms of homework, especially washed down with Heffenreffer, and extra-especially if you’re academically ambivalent and ADD-classified and already using every particle of your self-discipline protecting football from the Substances” (905).  He’s still in high school here, but having gotten such an early start, I think it said he started at nine, the addiction has already taken on a life of its own, deserving of it’s own capital “S,” Substances.  Once Gately’s Mom went to the mental institution he fell off completely, coping by trying newer and harder drugs and letting them take over his football career, a battle he lost unfortunately early.

Gately’s story’s a sad one, but brings up one final point about addiction: where does it come from? I mean exactly? Clearly we all don’t need such a tragic story like Gately’s to become addicts, but it would certainly push me down that road.  Is it something everyone is capable of?  Or is it more from a set of outside factors?  Some combination?  Would Gately still have been an addict had he not been in such a harsh school and home environment?  Or is it in him anyway?  Is it in everybody anyway?  God I don’t know.  Thanks everyone!

An at least marginally workable definition of Happiness

Here goes nothing, Happiness or unhappiness is the product of either of these processes: 1. You look at yourself, treat yourself as other or object, and make a judgement about yourself (this judgement could be moral, aesthetic, whatever), 2. You look at everything but yourself, the outside world, and make a judgement about it. You’re happy when these judgements are positive judgements, unhappy when they’re negative. If happiness is what you want, than you can adjust the process in a few ways to get it.  

One way is to alter the quality of your perception, say through drugs. Some recreational drugs change how we see ourselves, they can make us forget, they can make us feel (read ‘see ourselves as’ if you’ve lost the perception angle) wittier, smarter. Other drugs change how we see the world. On drugs the world can just feel better to move through, look prettier, more forgiving and fun. recreational drugs in general can make us see the same object which we were ambivalent about or even judged negatively while we were sober in a different way, they’re rose colored glasses.  

Another way to effect happiness is to positively alter the object of your perception: yourself, or the world around you. This is the traditional method of achieving happiness. Selfwise, you work out so you can judge yourself beautiful, you go to school so that you can judge yourself learned, you act morally so that you can evaluate yourself as a moral person. Worldwise, you get a wife and kids and an job doing work that’s meaningful to you, or you sorround yourself with luxury (although this can be a drug-like perception alterer more than a world alterer perhaps), you go into politics and try and effect positive change, you join AA and kick your addictions. At any rate, so long as you keep the same rubric of judgement, this method will get you way happier for way longer than drugs.  

Which brings us to another way you can effect happiness within this process, by changing your rubric of judgement. You can look at your object (whether the looking is reflexive or the object external), and rather than changing how you see the object or changing the object itself, you can change your understanding what would constitute good and bad, beautiful and ugly, moral and amoral; you can change your method of arriving at a positive or negative judgement. Asceticism represents this kind of transvaluation, so does Nihilism (because true nihilists aren’t all torn up about the abyss like we are).  

The final way you can effect happiness is by The Entertainment, which fits into none of these categories. The Entertainment gets rid of (or at least completely distract us from) the whole self/world object entirely, and puts instead a wholly positive thing before our eyes. It eliminates dissatisfaction with self and world by diverting our attention from them, and in so doing it eliminates consciousness but not perception.  



The Abusable Escape: where to draw the line?

In this new section of Infinite Jest, Wallace puts a lot of attention directly on addiction, specifically the recovery process.   His story of Boston AA meetings, especially from Gately’s perspective, exposes some of the nuances and details of rehab.   Sections in particular that highlight this are on pages 200-205 and 343-367.  

Most notably the passage mentioned above reminds me of a concept Wallace suggested on page 202 and in footnote 70 called the “abusable escape.”     When recovering from addiction, DFW explains that patients cope with the emotional tension of withdrawal from whatever substance by finding a new pastime to fill the void.   He says on 202, “That sleeping can be a form of emotional escape and can with sustained effort be abused…. That purposeful sleep deprivation can also be an abusable escape.   That gambling can be an abusable escape, too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and abstention, and masturbation, and food, and exercise…” (Infinite Jest 202).   Now, what becomes immediately clear is that just about anything at all can become an abusable escape.   Anything.   DFW obviously selects opposing principles in his definition, likely to drive home this very point.   He also continues the idea in footnote 70, which I believe is another example of significant material being left out of the main text (like we briefly discussed in class on Monday the 23rd).

That footnote is significant in that DFW uses the long list of harmless pastimes (yoga, chewing gum, solitaire, cleaning) to show that to a recovering addict, just about anything (“ad darn near infinitum”) can replace the offending substance.   He even suggests that the addiction recovery process is an emotional, abusable escape from addiction, a notion that seems almost contradictory.   He says in footnote 70, “quiet tales sometimes go around the Boston AA community of certain incredibly advanced and hard-line recovering persons who have pared away potential escape after potential escape until finally, as the stories go, they end up sitting in a bare chair, nude, in an unfurnished room…until all that’s found in the empty chair is a very fine dusting off of white ashy stuff… (Infinite Jest 998).   Recovery from addiction here proves to be an addiction worse than what they had before.   Addiction to avoiding abusing emotional escape becomes avoiding emotional escape all together.            

So all this begs the question, where does emotional escape end and abuse of that escape start?   All the cited activities seem relatively painless and certainly not intrinsically or chemically addictive, so it becomes difficult to discern exactly when abuse starts.   The same is true of addictive substances, but usually you can tell when addiction’s starting because lives start getting messed up.   Recovering patients need activities to pass the time and keep their mind off of Substance, but how much is too much exactly?   This is where Don Gately’s section (343-367) comes in, especially when he begins to discuss Joelle.  He perhaps uses observation of others as an escape, but with Joelle Gately takes a markedly keen interest.   DFW says, “but this Joelle van Dyne, who Gately feels he has zero handle on yet as a person…” (Infinite Jest 364).     So is Joelle an example of Gately abusing his own emotional escape? Or does it not matter because observing people is harmless and seems to help keep his own substance addiction at bay? It’s worth thinking about, I think.

Also, why does DFW draw such a distinction between Boston AA meetings and other places?   Just a side note I guess.