Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Paradox of Choice, among other things.

I wanted to organize my thoughts on this problem, as it's really one of the central themes of Infinite Jest, and so it's been kind of popping up now and then throughout, most especially in the so-called Marathe/Steeply sections. Which from Infinite Summer I see are (I really want to write like here but I'm going to just say that I have that urge and this is how I'm exorcising it, as per my promise not to use that word in that way ever again) just about everybody's least favorite. Course I totally love that stuff, as it's all, so far, essentially one long conversation about philosophic ideas.

(Sorry but I'm gonna have to geek out on Jest for a minute here and it may not make total sense if you haven't read the book)

Somebody somewhere mentioned how both the AA and the ETA stuff illustrate some of the problems of choice. In both cases the characters are not really free to make whatever choices they want. While they are technically free (as Schitt says to the A squad who are half-arsing [I'm officially reverting to my policy of toned down swearing just because I'm more generally comfortable with that {I know I said I would cut back on the bracketing, but I really love asides}] their way through morning drills, 'You can leave if you want'. Really words to that effect [I'm not hunting up the actual quote]), this freedom is a for a kind of non-choice. The choice for an addict to go back out and use or for a teenager at Tennis academy to quite are choices with readily obvious consequences for where that person's life will pretty quickly end up.

That's not to say that the choice doesn't exist. It's just probably a really bad one to quit school or AA, if you're at the point where you are in AA. So, Schitt and the crocodiles make it clear that this is a personal choice because the motivation has to be internal for it to be maintained. The more the A squad feels like they want to be great tennis players and are doing these drills for themselves, the better the chance that they will in fact become great tennis players. Because if you feel forced, then you half-arse. Weirdly that kind of works at first in AA. You've got to be desperate for sobriety, but at first you can just go through the motions of prayer and AA attendance.

Marathe/Steeply have been getting into (at around the 480 mark [I'm actually behind the spoiler line for the first time the week I'm on vacation. How about them apples?]) the question of what is a free choice. And this relates nicely to a piece by C. Wright Mills about what the sociological imagination is. In his short essay of the same name, C, as I like to call him, talks about how the biographical intersect with the socio-historical. The idea is that although we have this whole biographical history that feels to us like it's been a series of escalating choices as we've moved from childhood to adulthood (or maybe doesn't feel that way), if you chop up those biographical facts and then look at the members of society that share similar facts, such as financial stability, marriage rates, divorce rates, etc, when you see wide ranging trends among similar socio-economic groups, there will be historical reasons for these trends. That was some pretty awful paraphrasing of a pretty smart and interesting writer (his essay on the military-industrial complex is really spot on).

So, is this a choice? The short answer is no. But the illusion of choice is a central support of The American Dream. Everyone has the potential to be some great, brilliant, successful, phenom. The rags to riches story is useful in maintaining this illusion. And it's just not really true, as the sociological datum shows beyond the pedestaled anecdotes.

This idea is more embedded in the story of Jest than explicit in the discussions of Marathe and Steeply. The Marathe/Steeply stuff, just recently has been on this weird fictional building on the CIA's old MK-Ultra program about a neurosurgical group in Manitoba who figure out a way to implant electrodes into the brain that stimulate some form of pure pleasure. The problem is you just bliss out on this stuff until you die from having stopped eating or drinking or sleeping or anything. I think there's a Phillip K. Dick story that has something similar to this, but I'm forgetting now.

The point is in the range of this problem of the Entertainment in Jest. If people know the Entertainment will veg them out, then what's the problem? Why would you have to make it illegal? Why would you restrict the choice? I think the real question is why would we want this choice in the first place?

And I think (I think) that Wallace is making the point that human's make what appear to be bad choices all the time. And those bad choices exist on a spectrum from, say, eating a bag of candy or watching a crap load of television to shooting heroin to killing someone to genocide. But these choices get made even though they are bad, either for the self or for others. Really, the spectrum of making bad personal choices and making bad choices that effect others are separate spectrums and should be dealt with separately. But if we're making bad choices is that really freedom?

Arrright, I'm just spinning myself in circles here and not really moving forward. I don't know why I've recently thought I should think through these ideas by just sitting down and doing blog writing and seeing where I get to. I do much better with this stuff pacing around my living room muttering to myself and occasionally writing down the really good ideas. A lot of this is just stream of conscious rehash of things I already know for myself.

Since I'm rehashing, I'll just lay down a few that I look back I see that I've already gone on for some time, so I'll save my theory of what true choice is for another day (it's blindingly brilliant so be forewarned [we're talking staring directly at the sun kind of blinding here]). Really, this was just an excuse to ignore...You know what also, I'm just gonna lay this down here, even though it should really technically go in with the Access the Process stuff, but only sort of, cause it's content and form and not really process.

I'm working on beginning a first draft of the second novel of a trilogy (while simultaneously also working on the second draft of the first novel) about...well, infinite possibility (kind of), which was why I was so keen on reading Infinite Jest this summer. The second novel is structured around the attempts of the protagonist to write a screenplay, and the idea is that each chapter is preceded by a chunk of screenplay of varying size depending on how much Thomas, our protag, has written. The rub is that after he's written it, it actually happens to him, as in he's somehow transported into the movie that he's writing. The problem is that when he started, before he knew he was really writing himself into this role, he wrote the central character as this real anti-hero (read: jerk-off [sort of {maybe morally ambiguous would be better}]) in the tradition of film noir, as in it's set in the 1920's and is all dark and moody.

So, half-way through the second book he decides to start over because his personality outside of the movie is beginning to disintegrate (not to mention that that outside reality is altering every time he goes back into the movie world and then comes back), which just makes things worse. And there's this whole wider story about how the woman who he's written the movie's protag as in love with (and then consequently he's then kind of fallen in love with because he becomes that protag) has dissociations into this other dimension, which is all sci-fi weirdness and shit (I know I said no more swearing, but it makes me really excited to finally write about this shit) because of childhood trauma. The idea being that this woman in the sci-fi universe is a kind of Jesus figure and the fact that our protag has rewritten the film's female lead who dissociates into her, the sci-fi Jesus woman, has split her personality in two (because when the movie's female lead dissociates into her they swap, and there's this whole back story about this swap which involves convoluted time lines, crazy plot points, and weird character personality alterations) thereby making it impossible for her to save not just that universe but the entire infinite dimensionality of universes (because there are infinite universes where infinite possible worlds exist and our own consciousness potentially can dissociate into these other universes through artistic creation [because in the realm of infinite dimensional possibility all worlds that you might make up in your head both exist and don't exist {that's a tricky piece of infinite possibility, in that, the possibility that something doesn't exist has to exist for infinity to be true}] or spiritual transcendence or trauma [Judith Herman's book Trauma and Recovery talks about some interesting parallels between traumatic dissociation and spiritual altered states of consciousness]).

So, I'm trying to plan out these two movies, which are split variations on the same movie, and my idea is to reimagine all the characters and plot lines from the movies that Kar-Wai Wong has both written and directed (if I included the ones he just wrote too, it would be insane [right, that's what would make this project insane. It's not way already there] because he wrote about 8,000 movies before he started auteuring) because he's my idol and shit. Plus, the stuff works, as I've already got some pieces of the puzzle, mostly shaping the movie In The Mood For Love into the backstory for the first film. And but so, his movie 2046 has a character who writes a sci-fi story, so I'm now thinking that in the third novel the protag, Thomas, will be writing at least one screenplay (as he'll have to finish both [and almost as assuredly kill off this woman that he's sort of in love with {both times} so that the sci-fi Jesus woman can then reintegrate her personality and save the multiverse [it sounds awful that he's killing these women {really, just writing that they die}], but it's the only way to save the multiverse dammit! [and also reunite with his true original reality love from the first book]) about a man who starts writing a sci-fi serial, and somehow this is related to this other sci-fi universe that was discovered in the first book and returned to at the end of the second and then resolved in the third, and...well, you can see how complicated this whole thing is to try and work out. Okay, maybe complicated is an understatement. Maybe totally lunaticly insane would be the better description, but you know what, fuck it. So I'm crazy. Is that so damn terrible? Really?

And so I've been procrastinating by blathering on here. But I do. I really do have to get some forward motion on this if I want to have the whole thing wrapped up in say, two or three years given the other demands on my time (like a job, this whole idea about trying to lay the groundwork for a philosophic work outlining a plan for a cooperative economic structure, and really actually finishing one, just one undergraduate degree [which is itself hilarious because I've done the requirements for degrees in every social science as well as quite a bit of the wider humanities as well {thank you, tuition reimbursement, for making all my manic educative dreams come true}]). Yeah, so, there you go. I'm not even gonna bother editing this post. It is what it is, and is probably chock full of unintentional misspellings, grammatical errors, and unparsable bracket asides, but we'll just chalk this whole thing up to the previously mentioned vacation style. As if the fact that I was on vacation somehow excuses me from my sanity. Well, like, whatever and shit (I knew I wouldn't make it through this post without having to use the word like like that).

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