Monday, December 14, 2009

My favorite passage in Infinite Jest

I've been thinking about this book a fair amount lately; its affect on me is akin to the Wire's. . . . things stir memories, and I mull over the details.

IJ was probably the hardest book I've ever read; it required an attentiveness I rarely lend to fiction. Labyrinthine multi-paged footnotes.
A chronology that doesn't make sense until 2/3 of the way through the book - is the Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment before or after the Year of the Whopper?
Tough reading.
Very powerful. Most of the book hits me on some level or another, and recommend it to anyone who's got the fortitude to plow through 900+ pages of meandering genius.

This was one of the passages that blew me away. It's between the tennis coach (a wonderful character in his own right) and one of the boys at Enfield Tennis Academy, LaMont Chu.
The tennis coach speaks first.
“You burn to have your photograph in a tennis magazine.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Why again exactly, now?”

“I guess to be felt about as I feel about those players with their pictures in magazines.”

“Why?”

“Why? I guess to give my life some sort of meaning, Lyle.”

“And how would this do this again?”

“Lyle, I don’t know. I do not know. It just does. Would. Why else would I burn like this, clip secret pictures, not take risks, not sleep or pee?”

“You feel these men with their photographs in magazines care deeply about having their photographs in magazines. Derive immense meaning.”

“I do. They must. I would. Else why would I burn like this to feel as they feel?”

“The meaning they feel, you mean. From the fame.”

“Lyle, don’t they?”

“LaMont, perhaps they did at first. The first photograph, the first magazine, the gratified surge, the seeing themselves as others see them, the hagiography of image, perhaps. Perhaps the first time: enjoyment. After that, do you trust me, trust me: they do not feel what you burn for. After the first surge, they care only that their photographs seem awkward or unflattering, or untrue, or that their privacy, this thing you burn to escape, what they call their privacy is being violated. Something changes. After the first photograph has been in a magazine, the famous men do not enjoy their photographs in magazines so much as they fear that their photographs will cease to appear in magazines. They are trapped, just as you are.”

“Is this supposed to be good news? This is awful news.”

“LaMont, are you willing to listen to a Remark about what is true?”

“Okey-dokey.”

“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”

“Maybe I ought to be getting back.”

“LaMont, the world is very old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded. But this is good news. You have been snared by the delusion that envy has a reciprocal. You assume that there is a flip-side to your painful envy of Michael Chang: namely Michael Chang’s enjoyable feeling of being-envied-by-LaMont-Chu. No such animal.”

“Animal?”

“You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.”

“This is good news?”

“It is the truth. To be envied, admired, is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are any more enjoyable than the feelings associated with envy of fame.”

“The burning doesn’t go away?”

“What fire dies when you feed it? It is not fame itself they wish to deny you here. Trust them. There is much fear in fame. Terrible and heavy fear to be pulled and held, carried. Perhaps they want only to keep it off you until you weigh enough to pull toward yourself.”

“Would I sound ungrateful if I said this doesn’t make me feel very much better at all?”

“LaMont, the truth is that the world is incredibly, incredibly, unbelievably old. You suffer with the stunted desire caused by one of its oldest lies. Do not believe the photographs. Fame is not the exit from any cage.”

“So I’m stuck in the cage from either side. Fame or tortured envy of fame. There’s no way out.”

“You might consider how escape from a cage must surely require, foremost, awareness of the fact of the cage.”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. I was in a discussion the other day about what it must be like to be famous, to be a particular famous person actually, and I remembered this scene. It's probably the most piercing insight into fame ever written.

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