Close Reading a Passage; Blog Post 1

“Troeltsch says he for his own part wouldn’t be just sitting and lying there if any of the Little Buddies under his personal charge were out there getting potentially injured, and Hal reflects that he does feel a certain sort of intense anxiety, but can’t sort through the almost infinite-seeming implications of what Troeltsch  is saying fast enough to determine whether the anxiety is over something about what he’s seeing or something in the connection between what Troeltsch is saying and the degree to which he’s absorbed in what’s going on out inside the fence, which is a degenerative chaos so complex in its disorder that it’s hard to tell whether it seems choreographed or simply chaotically disordered.” (Infinite Jest, pg 341)

This is the scene in which the E.T.A.’s young students’ game of Eschaton, a complex game of international relations, calculations, and conquest, has digressed into a chaotic scene of bludgeoning and disorderly “intergovernmental agent” actions after one’s direct megaton attack on an ill-tempered Ann Kittenplan, in much the same way real international relations digress after some minute thing is done that causes a cascade into chaos. Hal and his classmates are observing, affectedly. To start off, it should be said that the structure of this sentence is as chaotically written as the scene itself and Hal’s chaotic, drug-induced thinking. Its long, haphazard-seeming construction is as important as the subject material itself in that it conveys Hal’s mindset of “marijuana-thinking”, this quick, chaotic digression from one thought to another cascading down into oblivion, by forcing the reader to experience a long, confusing string of words that still get the point across but also string you along too quickly to really pay attention to any one thing for too long. In addition, the chaos that has digressed from the game of Eschaton is also reflected in the passage and Hal’s affectedness. This three-part self-reference to chaos and crossed boundaries while touching on drug-use, affectedness, and the international affairs affair involving Quebec are probably just some of the reason this passage deserves attention. The theme of the border crossing appears a few times in this scene, not only with the face value border crossing that occurs while all agents in Eschaton have foregone all map and game lines and rules, but also with Hal, who has left the safety of his underground haven to smoke in public, with others, in front of impressionable youngsters who proceed to produce a situation in which is paradoxically extremely complex while also making lord of the flies seem humane. This theme emphasizes the theme of drug use by showing Hal’s affectedness and anxiety, paralyzed not only by what’s happening, but rather by the way he perceives everything because of his affectedness. His anxiety begets itself, recurring like an addiction, stymied into inaction by thoughts so far out they themselves are chaotically choreographing the infinite-seeming implications of what Troeltsch is saying, which doesn’t really seem like all that much. And these all perpetuate this fugue-within-fugue, fractal, infinity theme by reflecting and referencing one another, like two mirrors, Hal watching externally what is happening internally, which is partially caused and perpetuated by what is occurring externally, forever looping and cycling like the marijuana-thinking that is affecting Hal and his perception of what he sees. The infinity fugue of affected observance of digression into chaos, observed by a mind digressing into chaos. A perpetual self referencing cycle tipped into the void by the smallest of actions.

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3 Responses to Close Reading a Passage; Blog Post 1

  1. mjp99 says:

    I think you draw attention to a lot of what is going on in this quotation, and how it is capturing several themes for multiple characters all in one moment. The eschaton scene is one of my favorites so far, for the game’s complexity coupled with the inescapable humor of imagining pre-pubescents deliberating tennis lobs at strewn clothing so seriously but then failing to account for the potential backlash of a literal attack like pegging a girl with a tennis ball – and what rapid unravelling could occur when the parameters – boundaries – of play are surpassed.

    Also something to note, you close with “the smallest of actions” – Wallace appropriately places a lot of attention on Hal finally spitting in this scene – and how much internal psychic movement can happen before he performs such a simple habitual motion.


  2. You’re drawing some interesting conclusions here that involve large issues in the novel, but I’m failing to quite see how you’re arriving at these conclusions through reading the specific passage you have quoted. I’m esp. skeptical that the passage you’ve quoted is “chaotic,” as it seems a perfectly syntactically correct, straight forward, and rather direct (for Wallace) sentence. Basically, I’d like to see you working more closely and carefully w/ the text itself.


  3. argyle8 says:

    The sentence right before your passage reads, “The figure in the green Ford still hasn’t moved once.” Why do you think Wallace placed this sentence right before the passage that you chose?

    The car is Steeply’s (“Steeply’s car for all field assignments was this green sedan subsidized by a painful ad for aspirin upon its side” [107]), but Hal doesn’t know that (as far as we know) at this point. So, I’d argue that only the car’s presence – not Steeply’s – matters in relation to Hal’s condition.

    How do you think that the car relates to Hal’s “marijuana-thinking” anxiety? Maybe it’s a symbol, like the insect that kept crawling in and out of the hole during Ken Erdedy’s monologue. Perhaps it heightens the tension of Hal’s experience – now that a stranger is watching Hal, the stakes of his actions are higher. What do you think?


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