There are many great passages from Infinite Jest that presage this year’s presidential campaigns – and no better description that could apply to Donald Trump than this insult buried near the end of the Notes and Errata: “so full of himself that he could have shit limbs” (pg. 1074, Abacus). At that point, he would be bragging about his small hands…
Republican candidates Trump, Carson, Cruz, et al, follow the Ricky Bobby philosophy of discourse in framing their dialogue, meaning you can say whatever you want so long as you preface any comment with the proper qualifier…
For Ricky Bobby, you can say anything as long as you say it “with all due respect.” As in… “With all due respect Mr. Dennit, I had no idea you’d gotten experimental surgery to have your balls removed.”
For the candidates, you can say any inane, insulting, or horrible thing, so long as you preface it with a declaration such as, “I am not politically correct, but…” As in… “It’s not politically correct to say, but all Mexicans are rapists.” Or… “It’s not politically correct to say, but prison makes you gay.”
So sayeth one of Graham Greene’s priests – “Sometimes I think God was not entirely serious when he gave man the sexual instinct.” (A Burnt-Out Case, pg. 191, Penguin)
I was gratified that PT Anderson decided to include the eloquent “dark crews” passage in the film version of Inherent Vice. However, I did regret the exclusion of the “1 percenter speech” from the Golden Fang lawyer to Doc near the end of the story – it would have been apt for our time:
“…We’ve been in place forever. Look around. Real estate, water rights, oil, cheap labor—all of that’s ours, it’s always been ours. And you, at the end of the day what are you? One more unit in this swarm of transients who come and go without pause here in the sunny Southland, eager to be bought off with a car of a certain make, model, and year, a blonde in a bikini, thirty seconds on some excuse for a wave—a chili dog, for Christ’s sake. We will never run out of you people. The supply is inexhaustible.” (Pg. 347, Penguin)
But I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t in film – it might have occurred while the guy next to me in the movie theater was snoring. Thanks a lot, you fat bastard…
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Graham Greene buried this great description in the middle of a paragraph in A Burnt-Out Case:
“The pouches under his eyes were like purses that contained the smuggled memories of a disappointing life.” (pg. 30, Penguin)
Other lesser writers (a designation that roughly translates to almost all other writers), were they to conceive a descriptive of equitable greatness, would be sorely tempted to put it on its own, as a lead, a chapter title – or maybe just make it the book’s title. More proof that Graham Greene is awesome.
Pynchon may be documenting the end of a specific era in American life in Inherent Vice, but there is a universal resonance in his description in which the mainstream co-opts that which was once new, unique, and “alternative”:
“Was it possible, that at every gathering—concert, peace rally, love-in, be-in and freak-in, here, up north, back East, wherever—those dark crews had been busy all along, reclaiming the music, the resistance to power, the sexual desire from epic to everyday, all they could sweep up, for the ancient forces of greed and fear?” (Pg. 130, Penguin).
Rand Paul strapped on a pair of opaque ideological blinders when he posited that Eric Garner died because of taxes. Seriously, he must have matching black holes swirling two inches from his temples, from which no event—past, present, or future—can escape the twisting, contorting force that bends all things to fit within his very narrow and pathetic worldview.
You’d think, here in the South, churches would not have to resort to sad and desperate messages to bring in the flock. But I recently saw this pronouncement on a church sign while traveling between Houston and Austin:
“Church is cheaper than NFL tickets.”
Never mind that this particular church was nowhere near a football stadium, or really any professional sports team… You would think the two Texas religions would have found a way to share Sundays by now. Perhaps the church is nervous as the NFL encroaches on the rest of the week – Monday, Thursday, Saturday … really the only things stopping football from total week dominance are cops and concussions.
Philip K. Dick’s story “Survey Team” was so prescient for its time that it has completed the cycle and now seems passé.
He sees a future where we are stuck in an endless cycle of resource abuse, casting out to other planets to replace what we have wasted. These explorers discover our ancestors had already ruined one planet (Mars), and a splinter group moved on to a third planet, farther into space, where we could possibly find resources to replace our ruined Earth. The protests of the character Mason at the end fall on deaf ears:
“It’s wrong!” Mason shouted. “Two are enough! Let’s not destroy a third world!”
Nobody listened to him. Judde and Young and Halloway gazed up, faces eager, hands clenching and unclenching. As if they were already there. As if they were already holding onto the new world, clutching it with all their strength. Tearing it apart, atom by atom… (Pg. 51, The Early Work of Philip K. Dick: Volume 2: Breakfast at Twilight and Other Stories, Prime Books)
That’s a great ending – and we have been inundated with that message for so long that most people, just like Judde and Young and Halloway, are immune to the moral protests against our behaviors. We are in a mindless survival mode now.
Azrael lesson for the day is to identify what is already in your life that is important to you, that gives your life meaning, and focus on that.
“That irreparable change a death makes in the course of our daily thoughts can be felt in a vague and poignant discomfort of mind.” Pg. 86, Nostromo.