The Good Word — fitviavi
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.