Limits and Boundaries

”  ‘So. Second world without cold or purple dots or of bright for you is 23.8 meters, 8 I think .2 meters. Yes? In that world is joy because there is shelter of something else, of purpose past sluggardly self and complaints about uncomfort. I am speaking to no just LaMont Chu of the temperance world. You have a chance to occur, playing. No? To make for you this second world that is always the same: there is in this world you, and in the hand a tool, there is a ball, there is opponent with his tool, and always only two of you, you and this other, with always a purpose to keep this world alive, yes.?’ The pointer motions through all this become too orchestral and intricate to describe… ‘Not “adjust to conditions.” Make this second world inside the world: here there are no conditions.’  ” (459)

Most will notice that this monologue from Schtitt is neither the first nor the last mention of explicit boundaries or limits: the body, or physical, limits the head/intellect (which has its own limits of language and subjectivity/solipsism), that a tennis match is not a confrontation with an opponent (importantly here Schtitt calls the opponent an Other) but instead a confrontation with personal limits, the obsession with waste (athletic defecatory poses, trebuchets, etc), even the tactile reconstruction of national boundaries with reconfiguration. The title’s “Infinite” is very clearly referencing mathematical limits, and the boundaries that can be drawn along any line, whether in time or space, and the infinite points that can be found between – or occur between.

How does consciousness function within these limits, or set boundaries itself? How do limits and boundaries define and problematize the Self, and consciousness? What is Wallace after with this obsessive recursion? Schtitt’s speech (and it can be noted this speech is not a unique occasion, he goes through something similar after every A.M. according to the older player’s demeanors) is clearly teleological – why does Wallace present us with these claims of purpose behind relationships, boundaries, and “occurring?” Hopefully this post can explore or illuminate some of these deep questions.

Recall for a moment Marathe’s brother, who was killed by voluntarily jumping in front of a train in La Culte du Prochain Train to test his will, a game among Quebecois youth whose “historic best… ignore their five competitors completely, concentrating their entire attention on determining the last viable instant in which to leap, regarding the last, final, and only true opponent in the game to be their own will, mettle, and intuition about the last viable instant in which to leap,” establishing the Other not as the train nor the opponent, but instead the very boundaries of will.

Earlier in the novel it is noted that the boundaries of the tennis court, or any competitive environment, are the necessary frameworks for confronting the self and pushing its limits – precisely the Self in relation to some Other, even if it is posited as within the player, that she is only confronting her own limits – the confrontation requires a relationship with something or some boundaries to ground it – in a similar way the head needs the body – the psychological the physical, and vice versa (do objects require the psyche? or are bodies reflecting this – differentiating a body tethered to head from, say, a tennis ball – perhaps this is after some of the questions facing correlationism, that is incredibly hard to disorient discourse from the human perspective).

It is important to note, however, that in the passage above it is not some Self adjusting to the boundaries, but in fact is an entirely separate, second thing occurring when within the limits, that depends on the (arguably objective) boundaries agreed upon.

The questions of purpose still dumbfound me – in some ways I think Wallace is making fun of Schtitt here… but I am unsure. Wallace is keenly interested in relationships and how they function – between people, between a book or piece of art and its reader, between thought and physical modality… the list seems endless, infinite.

I am always drawn and brought back to Adam Kelly’s conceptions of “anticipatory logic” evidenced in Wallace’s work – that in the same way television or advertising functions along a precipice, calling attention to itself while also attempting to appear genuinely interested in the audience’s needs, to the point that the program/advertisement is dictated not by anything genuine anymore but entirely by how it may be perceived, that Wallace is concerned with how people conceive of themselves and how meaning occurs, for him what he saw as “artistically real” – that we can still have genuine connections with one another, love, friendship, etc., in the face of a vapid reality (and everyone, if they have not had a chance to read any of Wallace’s interviews or conceptions of his own work, should read this interview, as it is often cited – although some would argue too often).

Perhaps it is precisely that through relationships, and the boundaries and limits that define them, we can “be here in total,” occur within some boundaries not as an adjusted self but simply as a part of some relationship, that we might make meaning for someone else in the way C.T. describes to Echt that she might become “a high-velocity object people can project themselves onto, forgetting their own limitations in the face of the nearly limitless potential someone as young as yourself represents” (460, 524). That she might simply occur out there, find a second world to inhabit where she could just be an object. That perhaps it is more important to a point along an infinite line of points dictated by two boundaries than to attempt to comprehend all the point between them.

One final note, and I am unsure how to connect the images so maybe someone else will have an idea if they track my line of thinking or perhaps another, that I would like to draw attention (point) to – I kept remembering during Schtitt’s weather-pointer infused monologue C.T.’s repeated upward stabbing from the very first scene, where Hal can only see from his stretcher the antenna of Tavis’s cell phone jabbing the sky… I am thinking of it as an image of an individual longing to be more than a receiver or something along those lines? What do people think of these semi-analogous images?

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4 Responses to Limits and Boundaries

  1. festsjester says:

    This passage you selected makes me think of a state which Buddhist monks strive for when in search of enlightenment; a state of complete presence, creating a oneness between the “self” and the world around in hopes of dissolving this barrier (the body) between the two. This association I’ve drawn is just my own observation, but it lets me make easy sense of one theme of the paragraph and one of your responses to it; to occur in this space, to have tennis become one’s nature and simply be one with the court, the game, and the opponent, who is actually also part of the self. I remember it being said earlier in the novel at some point that Tennis is a game of two players, but you’re only really playing against the self. I particularly like the questions you brought up about consciousness, because the way they describe how the characters play, and practically live, tennis allows them to go about it without conscious thought, exceeding the boundaries set by the conscious mind. This parallels the situation in which Marathe’s brother so unfortunately went through, in which he was forced to pit himself against himself, or rather his own limits, using his will to overcome them, these limits, in order to succeed this task. I wish you would have made more clear your thoughts on the duality of self (which I would sincerely like to hear) since in both the situation of the culte du prochain train and in tennis, the self is pitted against this entity that is also said to be within the self in order to reach, and surpass, limits. This all makes me think about relativity as well, especially when you talk about relationships, in that with only one point, there is no way to understand any useful quantitative or qualitative information about that point, until there is some reference point; this “other” can give meaning to that single point, and maybe provide boundaries (?). Nothing has meaning except in reference to everything else (a maybe extremely paraphrased and/or misquoted point in buddhist philosophy.)


    • mjp99 says:

      Yes, we will discuss this – the AFR mirrors also directly speak to Buddhism’s concepts of others being reflections of the self, I am also reminded of the naming of things, the possessive nature of the mind (esp. rel. the body), that suffering originates in an incorrect orientation to thinking and the world. (Ego-death comes to mind and I am curious how Hal interacts with this – I’ve heard near the end he “confronts the void”).The bland and banal Wallace seems interested in depicting (cruft etc) has interesting historical parallels to Emptiness also.

      Wallace is a departure – at least IJ, I can’t speak to his personal beliefs obviously – in that he sees everywhere to problematize any transcendent meaning (karma being only one example). This however is generalized and also that there are different schools and deeper teachings that cycle back on themselves (the mind, and thinking, is a tool not an enemy, that the distinctions of good and bad are mind made and complicate conceptions of karma in interesting ways, to completely ignore Buddhist conceptions of time and how this is misunderstood by a lot of people rel. beliefs of reincarnation).

      I’m curious however if we can interpret N. Katherine Hayles’s ideas about symbiosis to be a physical change akin to or a scientifically based “transcendentalism” of the self to the collective human organism – that rather than confronting the nature of the universe the self dies to serve a function within the human – and world – ecology, and whether this can have morals or not.

      This does however correlate itself to larger ideals of Buddhist practice and scripture, where Hayles’s ideas of coproduction (and the paradox of a liberal autonomous self within an interdependent ecology) seem to fit side by side with, say, dependent origination.

      Are you considering incorporating this angle or something similar into your midterm?


  2. charlenejo says:

    Tennis as a confrontation with the Self (between the head and body) within a set of boundaries seems appropriate, Hal mentions on page 113 that “The point is that it’s not physical anymore…the physical stuff’s just pro forma. It’s the heads they’re working on here, boys.”

    I’m struggling with the whether it (a set of boundaries determined by our relationship to an other) holds the potential to confront all the self or simply, as Schtitt alludes, to an entirely separate self, “a second world inside the world.” Do boundaries allow us simple to occur at one of the infinite points of our worlds, of ourselves? It it the entire self, in object form, that occurs at that point?

    If Wallace includes the boundaries of tennis (and the Enfield structure at large) as akin to addiction, does addiction function similarly? Is the addict simply confronting herself within a set of boundaries/limits? Is this how Ken Erdedy’s addiction allows him to crawl insider himself, into a girder that supports some other part of himself (a second world)?

    “Perhaps it is precisely that through relationships, and the boundaries and limits that define them, we can “be here in total,” occur within some boundaries not as an adjusted self but simply as a part of some relationship” — this sounds a lot like the logic of AA. Establish a recursive structure, complete with relationships and cliches (which I think bridge the gaps between all of the infinite points of the self with their ambiguity), such that the self is always realized within boundaries outside of the addiction (or second self?)

    I know that this is incredibly garbled, most of my thoughts about this book are. I intend to come back and perhaps edit this once I’ve thought on it more. But basically: how can we include addiction and AA (as the answer to addiction) in this framework? Mental freedom, control, and the Self are necessarily being challenged/problematized by addiction and by the structures of elite tennis. What do we make of this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • mjp99 says:

      While I am realizing that AA, while it does provide a solution to addiction through community, does so in a strange and problematic way, a dogmatic way that seems almost dangerous. I’m starting to believe it demonstrates, just as the AFR reflect ONAN’s own faults for N. Katherine Hayles, that even community and social interaction can still be dangerous blinders to the paradoxes of existence and selfhood Wallace identifies.

      I am also struggling to parse Wallace’s many references to boundaries and these separations of self – it can be noted (as Hayles does) that Schtitt identifies the paradox of require the Will of the player to drive the player to overcome that will, and in a way transcend themselves.

      While AA does emphasize a breaking down of the ego through a submission to a higher power, among other strategies, the program fundamentally relies on the autonomous self – the individuals to ‘identify’ – while at the same time emphasizing interconnectedness and powerlessness.

      I still think its important how Wallace emphasizes human agency to dictate boundaries, sort of playing with what Rob wrote, that objects only begin to have ‘meaning’ through relationships. I believe he finds this ideology problematic or flawed, however, returning us to the ideas of Brad lectured about.


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