Friday, July 24, 2009

Bodies and the sound of a mind coming apart

1. Bodies
I’m fascinated with the various remarks in IJ about bodies, and there’s a real mother lode (or better, “father lode”) in Winter B.S. 1960 – Tucson AZ garage scene with young J.O.I. and his dad.
For starters, there’s:
She treats bodies outside herself without respect or due care. (157)
The trick will be transcending that overlarge head, son. Learning to move just the way you already sit still. Living in your body. (158)
The stimulator of this car must know the car, Jim, feel it, be inside much more than just the …compartment. It’s an object, Jim, a body, but don’t let it fool you, sitting here, mute. (159) [compare to Hal’s book-opening muteness]
It’s a body and will respond with a well-oiled purr once I get some decent oil in her and all Mercuryish at up to 95 big ones per for just that driver who treats its body like his own, who feels the big steel body he’s inside, who uietly and unnoticed feels the nubbly plastic of the grip of the shift up next to the wheel when he shifts just as he feels the skin and flesh, the muscle and sinew and bone wrapped in gray spiderwebs of nerves in the blood-fed hand just as he feels the plastic and metal and flange and teeth, the pistons and rubber and rods of the amber-fueled Montclair, when he shifts. (159)

I find the car=body riff of Jim’s dad’s really cool. I’m reminded by it of one of my favorite parts of Grant Morrison’s comic series The Filth where, in issue 10, “man made god,” there’s a guy who self-induces religious hallucinations via temporal lobe seizure.

When I heard scientists declare they’d found the source of all religious experience, I didn’t join in all the stupid, theological debates. So what if “God” chose to show his face in the form of a seizure in the brain’s left temporal lobe, it was still God. Soon as I could afford it, I bought myself an electromagnetic generator which promised to induce temporal lobe epilepsy…. You know what happened when I wired myself up? I became a kind of limitless transparent presence, alive and self-aware and totally absorbed in the wonders of my own creativity. I was God, driving a car of raw muscle through the world I’d made. …This temporal lobe Buddha button is real, the ultimate transcendental experience is available to everyone! It’s right there in the head of every crack-eyed rapist and child murderer and broken-hearted depressive. (5)

Back to Jim’s dad:
Jim, a toast to our knowledge of bodies. To high-level tennis on the road of life. Ah. Oh. (159)

Compare to p. 54’s:
Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It’s hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency.

Jim’s father to Jim, re: their respective generations:
We’re just bodies to you. We’re just bodies and shoulders and scarred knees and big bellies and empty wallets and flasks to you. (167-168)

So, after all of this long super-absorbing hypnotic ode to being aware of being a body, Jim’s father’s now expressing some ambivalence about his thesis, where being just a body is somewhat deprecating. One of the big payoffs, the big smack up side the head or punch in the gut that we’ve been set up for with all this car=body stuff is the wrenching description of the father’s fall:
A rude whip-lashing shove square in the back and my promising body with all its webs of nerves pulsing and firing was in full airborne flight and came down on my knees this flask is empty right down on my knees with all my weight and inertia on that scabrous hot sandpaper surface forced into what was an exact parody of an imitation of contemplative prayer, sliding forward. The flesh and then tissue and bone left twin tracks of brown red gray white like tire tracks of bodily gore extending from the service line to the net. (168)

Red and gray, by the way, are the tennis academy’s colors. Red and gray = heart and brain? As many have noted there’s a lot of anatomico-architectural parallelism with, for instance, the brainy MIT building, the cardioid layout of the tennis school. And also there’s the designation of “unit” as male sex-organ vs. Ennet House campus buildings on p. 201.

I was very much under the influence of this obsessing over bodies in my thinking about the following to gems:
Nets and fences can be mirrors. And between the nets and fences, opponents are also mirrors. This is why the whole thing is scary. This is why all opponents are scary and weaker opponents are especially scary. See yourself in your opponents. They will bring you to understand the Game. To accept the fact that the Game is about managed fear. That its object is to send from yourself what you hope will not return. (176)

Regarding E.T.A.’s version of the trivium and the quadrivium:
Plus also the six-term Entertainment Requirement because students hoping to prepare for careers as professional athletes are by intension training also to be entertainers, albeit of a deep and special sort, was Incandenza’s line, one of the few philosophical points he had to pretty much ram down the throats of both Avril and Schtitt, who was pushing hard for some mix of theology and the very grim ethics of Kant. (188)

So, what is anti-Kantian about the line that J.O.I. is pushing, a line he presumably inherits from his father? When I teach this sort of stuff to my undergrads, I focus on the opposition between utilitarians, for whom the maximization of happiness/pleasure (“joi”?) is the end justifying all means, and the Kantians, for whom such maximization is abhorrent, for a human should never be treated as a means to an end, but only as an end unto himself. That a human would be an entertainer, or an entertainment, is quite a squicky idea from a Kantian point of view. Ditto re squick for being just a body.

2. The sound of a mind coming apart
Bodies are things in space. But enough about space. Let’s talk about time. It’s common, of course, to comment on DFW’s use of endnotes and the deliberately disruptive effect on the flow of the reading experience. Note too what the primary psychedelic effects of DMZ are, they are, contra LSD primarily ontological and, especially, temporal. See p. 170 and alsot note 57. From the note:
…comparing himself on DMZ to a piece of like Futurist sculpture, plowing at high knottage through time itself, kinetic even in stasis, plowing temporally ahead, with time coming off him like water in sprays and wakes.

One of the ways in which DFW thinks out loud about time is through various sounds which are described as lying along a spectrum between the rhythmic and the lacking in rhythm.
At one end of the spectrum, there’s the finger drumming “without any kind of rhythm” on 176-177 which is “The sound of a fucking mind coming apart.” At an intermediate point of the spectrum is Madame Psychosis’s music which is “unpredictable and somehow rhythmic” (187 and also 190, 191) and utterly fascinating to Mario. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s this, which is just terrific:
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)