Working Theories for the Birds?

I’ve read a couple of different takes on the Actaeon myth, which is referenced several times in today’s milestone. According to an Infinite Jest wiki entry, it goes as follows:

This is not a real psychiatric disorder. Actaeon was a figure from Greek mythology who fell in love with the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, only to anger her and then be changed into a deer, which was then hunted unto death — all of which perhaps suggests an underlying reluctance in the men to pursue Joelle because she might pursue them in return.

According to the wikipedia entry, it goes more like this:

Greek literature accounts for the hostility of Artemis in various ways. In the version that was offered by the Hellenistic poet Callimachus (Hymn v), which has become the standard setting, Artemis was bathing in the woods[4] when the hunter Actaeon stumbled across her, thus seeing her naked. He stopped and stared, amazed at her ravishing beauty. Once seen, Actaeon was punished by Artemis: she forbade him speech — if he tried to speak, he would be changed into a stag — for the unlucky profanation of her virginity’s mystery. Upon hearing the call of his hunting party, he cried out to them and immediately was changed into a stag. His own hounds then turned upon him and tore him to pieces, not recognizing him.

The discrepancy makes me wish I hadn’t years ago sold my copies of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (in which I presume this tale appears) to a local used book store (to my credit, I was moving, and I needed to conserve shelf space, and my DFW collection was more important to me than my dry, rehashed mythology section). In any case, as Joelle is ultimately the one who approaches Orin, the notion of the hunted (or let’s say passively and longingly observed) becoming the hunter may apply. For this pathologically shy reader, what’s more resonant is the notion of being muted by the beauty of a woman, the idea that no man would speak to Joelle somewhat paradoxically because of the very beauty that made him want more than anything to speak to her.

A bit more on Orin. His name can be switched around to “iron,” “noir,” and “orni,” which, this last, makes me think of ornithology. He plays football for the Cardinals and is actually made to don fake wings (I think) and like a jetpack and fly down onto the field earlier in the book. Then a bird falls out of the sky into his apartment’s pool (oddly reminiscent of the end of Barton Fink, starring John Turturro, whom I peg as a shoo-in for playing JOI and/or JOI’s father in a movie adaptation of Infinite Jest). Then, on page 294, we have Orin engaging Joelle “entirely through stylized repetitive motions,” making me think of the mating dances of birds. I’m not really trying to build up any sort of theory here — just noting a few observations.

Is it coincidence that Poor Tony goes incontinent during the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment?

Is Mario a Christ figure? His name can be reconfigured as “or I am” and “am roi,” this latter being sort of a pidgin English/French (see various English/French language boundaries/mistakes throughout) for “I am king.” There’s also the notion on page 312 of his first birth (versus being reborn or resurrected), the appearance of the word “nativity” on page 314, his being inseparable (also 314) from his father, as in sort of the trinity. Speaking of which, who besides Mario and JOI would be in the trinity? Well, there are pretty strong clues in this section that Tavis, rather than JOI, is Mario’s real father, making JOI, dead by now, the holy ghost, Mario of course the son, and Tavis the literal father. Hal (and various others, including various authority figures at ETA) idealizes Mario, who is considered to be something of a (slowly) walking miracle. This of course would make Avril the virgin Mary, which is of course laughable. But “[h]er love for the son who was born a surprise transcends all other experiences and informs her life” (“Hal suspects.”). As with the Orin-as-bird thing, I’m not prepared to posit this as any sort of formal theory, but you can bet I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Mario-as-Christ-figure things as I continue to work through the book. I like Mario a whole lot, by the way.

5 thoughts on “Working Theories for the Birds?

  1. Danny July 20, 2009 / 7:49 am

    Mario’s also got that whole police lock/vest/camera get up that holds him upright and slightly pitched forward in a way that I imagine is kind of Christ-on-the-cross-like, minus the whole crucified, out-splayed arms thing. I don’t know. Just sayin’.

  2. infinitetasks July 20, 2009 / 11:07 pm

    Nice job on this post, Daryl! I like what you uncovered about Actaeon, as it adds to the complexity of the Orin question, which I’ve also been writing about (primarily about Orin’s existential dread: ).

    I’m also a Mario “fan,” to date anyway, and find the idea that CT is his father quite interesting, as it hadn’t crossed my mind. I’ll re-look at those passages and keep a watch for it as things progress.

    You’ve done a great job keeping up this site, seemingly alone. I guess, like Fight Club itself, where Tyler Durden fights Tyler Durden in the alter-egoish sense, you’re shadow boxing with yourself, but nonetheless have great things to say!

  3. Daryl Houston July 20, 2009 / 11:19 pm

    Thanks, infinitetasks. I’m running over as soon as I post this to have a look-see at your blog.

    I don’t think it’s ever made explicit that CT is Mario’s father, but there are definitely suggestions (look for gray-green skin, and something about the hair in this past week’s milestone, plus the way CT flees from Mario as if he’s ashamed). That Mario would somehow be something of an abomination (physically, at least, since I think he’s something of a gift along other dimensions) precisely because he’s the child of an adulterous union also seems plausible and probably in line with some old literary formula or another.

    Thanks for the kudos re keeping the site up. I do seem to be the lone torch bearer these days. Wheat kept up for a bit, but everybody else seems to have jumped ship. I had considered calling my would-be fellow zombie bloggers out in a post in something of a Fight-Clubbish fit of aggression, but I’ve so far remained optimistic that my compatriots would, as it were, be resurrected and add to the conversation. What we need around here is more braaaaiiiiins.

    • Anne Ominous July 22, 2009 / 11:20 pm

      The CT-as-Mario’s-father thing is made pretty clear later in the book; I’m not sure whether to be more specific — are you adhering to the Infinite Summer “spoiler line”?

  4. Daryl July 23, 2009 / 8:20 am

    Anne, yes, Im trying to adhere to the spoiler line, which is tricky since I’ve read the book a few times before.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s