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The Good Word — Scopophiliac

July 14, 2009

Let’s get to it:

p. 230
Was the allegedly fatally entertaining and scopophiliac thing Jim alleges he made out of her unveiled face here at the start of Y.T.S.D.B. a cage or really a door?

p. 233
‘Comstock says if it even exists it has to be something more like an aesthetic pharmaceutical. Some beastly post-annular scopophiliacal vector. Suprasubliminals and all that. Some kind of abstractable hypnosis, an optical dopamine-cue.’

p. 226‘s “scopophobic” is also germane:
Unwittingly all but authoring the Union designed to afford the scopophobic empathetic fellowship and the genesis of sturdy inner resources through shame-free and unconstrained concealment…

The way Wallace clusters 3 uses of this unfamiliar word (or its antonym) across 7 pages pretty much screams “pay attention to this!” First stop is the OED:


Psychol. [A formative element f. Gr. word for observation (cf. -SCOPY) + -PHILIA] Sexual stimulation or satisfaction derived principally from looking; voyeurism.

A Google search finds that the word also has a specific function in film theory. From the website of an Introduction to Narratology class at Purdue:

SCOPOPHILIA: Literally, the love of looking. The term refers to the predominantly male gaze of Hollywood cinema, which enjoys objectfying women into mere objects to be looked at (rather than subjects with their own voice and subjectivity). The term, as used in feminist film criticism, is heavily influenced by both Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.”

In this section of Infinite Jest we get deep into the psyche of Joelle van Dyne, who was the subject (or perhaps object?) of James Incandenza’s final film, which by this point is pretty clearly The Entertainment itself. JvD recalls that “Jim had used her several times. Jim at the end had filmed her at prodigious and multi-lensed length.” The final scene had involved “mother-death-cosmology and apologies she’d repeated over and over, inclined over that auto-wobbled lens propped up in the plaid-sided pram.” While Joelle has “never seen the completed assembly of what she’d appeared in,” she “doubts that the sum of scenes as pathologic as he’d stuck that long quartzy auto-wobbling lens on the camera and filmed her for could have been as entertaining as he’d said the thing he’d always wanted to make had broken his heart by ending up.” Some brutal syntax, there.

So it’s clear that Wallace is having some fun with Lacanian film theory here. Joelle is the consummate female object fully delimited and inscribed by the male gaze, which pins her down via James’ enormous scopophilic phallus of a lens. Wallace, in that Charlie Rose interview from 1997, gives the impression that he’s not terribly impressed with this kind of grad-school tomfoolery and dismisses a similarly dick-based critique of his own magnum opus with a self-deprecating joke.

On the other hand, these notions of the relationship between performer and audience are hugely important to IJ. Joelle is an entertainer – an entertainment? — in first the visual and later the audio arenas. Orin Incandenza’s contract with the Cardinals obligates him to jump off football stadium stands in a bird suit and be interviewed for soft-focus puff pieces, all for the entertainment of his adoring fans. The E.T.A. kids “prepar[ing] for careers as professional athletes are by intension training also to be entertainers, albeit of a deep and special sort.”

And of course, the mother of all performer/audience mindfucks is Himself’s own Cage III. Block quote time:

The figure of Death (Heath) presides over the front entrance of a carnival sideshow whose spectators watch performers undergo unspeakable degradations so grotesquely compelling that the spectators’ eyes become larger and larger until the spectators themselves are transformed into gigantic eyeballs in chairs, while on the other side of the sideshow tent the figure of Life (Heaven) uses a megaphone to invite fairgoers to an exhibition in which, if the fairgoers consent to undergo unspeakable degradations, they can witness ordinary persons gradually turn into gigantic eyeballs.

Cage III: the ultimate annular fusion of performer and audience, as well as the reductio ad absurdium of the scopophiliac principal.

I’ve said something along the lines of “this is all totally cool and interesting but I have no idea what the significance of it is” so many times now that from here out its appendage to every IJ-related post is implied.

One Comment leave one →
  1. howard johnson permalink
    August 29, 2009 5:11 pm

    i’ll read some of your blog and try to make inteligent comment when i’m less distracted; do: laundry, a drawing a pb+h sandwich, a reply to a reply to an e-mail.
    noticed when posting a drawing earier today a referal i clicked then clicked again and ended up here. what does that mean?
    scopophilia? lacan? i wrote just today, “No attractive other clearly not attracted; a glance emptying, a gaze gone as quickly as it appeared.” what about Purdue? I went there.

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