Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Stages of Grief

    Within the first third of Infinite Jest we learn what happened when Hal Incandenza, a brilliant tennis player on the rise and son of filmmaker James Incandenza and brother of professional football kicker Orin Incandenza, found James after his suicide by microwave.

    James is the auteur behind the movie "Infinite Jest."  His suicide, perhaps on impulse after relapsing into alcoholism, was extremely gruesome.  He rigged a microwave so that he could put his head inside, effectively turning his cranium into a pressure-activated flesh bomb.

    Hal, we learn, was shipped off to "a top grief-pro," who "...made it manifestly clear I wasn't delivering the goods.  I'd never failed to deliver the goods before."

    Here's Hal's description of how he handled his therapy:

    "The whole thing was nightmarish.  I just could not figure out what the guy wanted.  I went down and chewed through the Copley Square library's grief section. Not disk.  The actual books. I read Kübler-Ross, Hinton.  I slogged through Kastenbaum and Kastenbaum.  I read things like Elizabeth Harper Neeld's Seven Choices: Taking the Steps to New Life After Losing Someone You Love which was 352 pages of sheer goo. I went in and presented with textbook -perfect symptoms of denial, bargaining, anger, still more denial, depression.  I listed my seven textbook choices and vacillated plausibly between and among them. I provided etymological data on the word acceptance all the way back to Wyclif and 14th-century language-d'oc French.  The grief therapist was having none of it."

    So, a couple of things here.  One is the theatricality of grief.  Hal is expected to react a certain way and is being professional evaluated based on it.  He over-intellectualizes everything and thus over-researches and over-rehearses as he tries to pass the test, to the point where the evaluation of his feelings have trumped his feelings in terms of importance.

    Then, there's what he actually felt, upon finding his father.  The gruesome, true revelations, masked underneath all of the grief theater (told in conversation between Hal and Orin):

    "'I said nobody can choose or have any control over their first unconscious thoughts or reactions when they came into the house.  I said it wasn't really my fault that my first unconscious thought turned out to be__'

    'Jesus, kid, what?'

    '"That something smelled delicious!'" I screamed.  The force of my shriek almost sent the grief-therapist over backwards in his leather chair."

    It's brilliant black comedy and also affecting because it is true about our first reactions to things, both beautiful and horrible. We cannot control them or take them back.  Life is full of immediate moments of moral, aesthetic and logical failure that just happen -- they aren't even fully considered before they do -- yet they can remain lasting and fundamental to both our character and our relationships.

    Elsewhere in Infinite Jest while describing the residents of the drug treatment facility near the Enfield Tennis Academy, the book discusses the things that addicts do under the influence that they would never have done while sober. These actions were rarely pre or post-meditated.  In some cases, people have been criminally prosecuted or successfully sued for things they do not even remember doing.  The phrase those in the AA program use to describe this is, "you can't unring a bell."

    It serves to remind us, uncomfortably, about how mechanistic human life and character can be some times.  It's worth thinking about, I think, within the contexts of politics and this blog's larger purpose, what we tend to think are the consciously motivated actions and utterances of public figures, would-be leaders and the like.

    Well, this started about the theatricality of grief but turned into a post about first impressions and how involuntary responses can sometimes define us.  All in the same field of inquiry, though.


    Except for Robocop


    This is just like when Sting tried to get Robocop to save him from Ric Flair's Four Horsemen.


    Okay, I hereby render unto Mike M the Dayly Retort of the Day for this here Dagblog Site, Given to all of his nekked person, from all of me




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