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Is the Reader Paranoid Enough?

August 18, 2009

Spoiler Line: p. 644

Photo by Flickr user Anyhoo, used under a Creative Commons license.

The old man is by this time pretty much unable to converse about anything except the television program “M*A*S*H.” The theory of the theme of this Burns-slash-Burning apocalypse now sort of spreads out to become huge and complex theories about wide-ranging and deeply hidden themes… (644)

So: who else can Identify with this? Substitute Infinite Jest for M*A*S*H and I feel like Steeply’s dad is basically me as I try to read and understand Infinite Jest. One day it’s Wittgenstein, the next it’s Coatlicue complexes, the next it’s Guy DeBord – the rabbit holes of IJ are themselves huge, complex, and infinite in number.

I love it all so much.

At first blush the Steeply’s Dad story is a bit of an allegory about the dangers of over-investment and over-interpretation. Steeply Sr. is reading way too much into the TV show; he’s becoming unbalanced; he ends up dead in his easy chair in front of the Tube, prefiguring the Near Eastern Medical Attache however many years later.

Except, what if Steeply’s Dad was right?

At least one some level. Check out the sentence that comes immediately after the ones block-quoted above:

Like evidence of coded communication to certain viewers about an end to our familiar type of world-time and the advent of a whole different order of world-time. [!!!!!!]

This is pretty unequivocally a reference to the advent of Subsidized Time (“a whole different order of world-time”), which doesn’t begin until nearly two decades after Steeply’s Dad’s untimely passing in ’83 or thereabouts. This means that whatever batshitty paranoid reading Steeply Sr. applied to M*A*S*H led him to correctly predict Subsidized Time.

Neither Steeply or Marathe comment on this, meaning the reader has to tease this out and ponder the implications all by her lonesome, which means that Wallace is fucking with us a little bit.

To wit: over-interpretation is dangerous, and can lead us to do ridiculous things like write elaborate letters to fictional characters like, say, Major Burns or Hal Incandenza. Can basically cause us to loose our grip on reality completely, if we’re not careful, ending up dead in our interpretive armchair in a puddle of our own shit.

Except that sometimes, ridiculous over-interpretation can bring us around to an understanding that is univocally and unequivocally correct and true.

Well fuck you too, David.

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