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The Good Word — fitviavi

July 10, 2009

On p. 170 of Infinite Jest we learn about “the incredibly potent DMZ” — a much-sought-after mind-warping drug whose effects are described as “temporally cerebral and almost ontological.” “The incredibly potent DMZ is synthesized from a derivative of fitviavi,” the narrator writes, “an obscure mold that grows only on other molds ” (cf. p. 10 and the nasty basement mold that Hal took a bite of at age five. Orin describes the mold as “horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red ” — emphasis mine). See also footnote 56: “the fly agaric fungus’ well-known muscimole, which fitviavi’s derived DMZ resembles chemically sort of the way an F-18 resembles a Piper Cub….”

At first blush the word “fitviavi” appears to be totally made-up — there’s no OED entry, and a Google search turns up results that are almost exclusively Wallace-related. But: Google helpfully asks you if you really meant “fit via vi.” Which maybe Wallace did?

Clicky the link and now we’re getting somewhere. It turns out fit via vi is a Latin phrase from Book II of The Aeneid, line 494, that can be translated as “the way is forged by strength” or “Force finds a road.” This comes from a scene where Aeneas is recounting the sack of Troy, particularly the point where Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, busts the doors of the palace and goes on to murder King Priam and his sons. Fit via vi turns out to be a popular phrase among military types — among other things it’s the motto of the Way family (the Way is forged by strength, get it?), and the motto of the Marine Light Helicopter Attack Squadron 773.

I’m not at all clear on the significance of this for Infinite Jest, but I think I can draw a few connections here. It might be useful to contrast the notion of “forcing your way through” with Hal’s “hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines.” See also “sobriety through utterly total surrender” on p. 138, and the description of Lyle the sweat guru on p. 128: “He just sits there. I want to be like that. Able to just sit all quiet and pull life toward me.” It looks like Wallace is setting up some sort of action/inaction (surrender?) binary, with the fitviavi-derived DMZ clearly on the “action” side of the divide. Although one thing that sort of buggers this dichotomy is footnote 57 and the “Italian lithographer who’d ingested DMZ once and made a lithograph 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” (emphasis mine).

The Trojan connection also recalls Steeply and Marathe’s argument on p. 105-106 over the true cause of the Trojan war.

No idea yet where Wallace is going with all this.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary permalink
    September 24, 2009 3:18 pm

    Not sure what it means, but the scene where Pyrrhus kills Priam is the speech that Hamlet requests of the main Player. I remember being confused by the point of that scene in Hamlet, but certainly fitviavi is at a minimum a reference to that…

  2. PiterJankovich permalink
    March 29, 2010 9:03 am

    My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

  3. Triple One permalink
    January 14, 2011 5:33 pm

    I think Mary’s comment about Hamlet’s request of the Players is a big key to this puzzle. Hamlet requested that scene because he wanted to get a reaction out of his mother and uncle for conspiring to kill his father. Wallace’s opus is rampant with Hamlet parallels such as this one (and Aeneid parallels as well, for that matter…), including the title itself: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now?” (Hamlet, V.i), a passage which, when you consider where the Samizdat is buried, who digs it up, and what it is titled, has a great deal of importance to the story. Infinite Jest is inspired by many great works, and yet it is wholly its own, truly marvelous and original, and eye-opening in ways no other book is (at least, nothing I have read comes close). The loss of DFW is softened only by the fact that he left behind such an amazing codex for us to vivisect, and simultaneously sharpened by the depth of the message hidden within it. Personally, I do not know how anyone will ever top it.
    I also think that the main text on this page, which tackles the fitviavi metaphor, is brilliant and worthy of any true Jest-fan’s perusal. Kudos to infinitedetox for his attention.

    • Sebastian permalink
      January 4, 2013 1:43 pm

      Good comment. Although, you are not entirely right about Hamlet’s intention on the specific part concerning Troy. Hamlet does, indeed, request a play from the travelling players to catch Polonius’ reaction. The play that is meant to do this, however, is one with a part written by Hamlet himself. Within Act II scene ii, (where the play about Troy and Pyrrhus is performed) Hamlet wants to hear out the players abilities in a play he knows (and holds dear, for a reason he may or may not know himself, namely that the play contains an example of exactly the kind of revenge he SO wishes to perform himself, but cannot bring himself to do, i.e. kill Polonious in a bloody vengeful mess). THIS PART of the fall of the king of Troy SYMBOLIZES THE REVENGEFUL ACTION HAMLET CANNOT PERFORM and is what touches Hamlet in such a way, that he is forced into his own quarters to gravely scold himself (imo. the best and most heartbreaking soliloquy of the whole play. Watch it performed by Kenneth Branagh here:
      With all this in mind, the reference to Pyrrhus relentless vengeance only seems all the more fitting. DMZ is the derivation of force/action, which Hal yearns for, but is it the right way to go about it? (Hamlet’s final choice of action results in the death of the whole castle. so?)


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