Sign in or
Petrus van Ewijk's "I" and "Other"
In “I” and the “Other,” Petrus van Ewijk argues that the presence of AA in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest offers a solution to addiction, as well as the solipsism of the characters. By connecting addicts with the “Other,”AA helps individuals move away from the “I” and form earnest connections within a larger community. The article links AA’s effectiveness in combating solipsism with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of the language-game, Emmanuel Levinas’ ethics of the “Other” and Martin Buber’s I and Thou.
Van Ewijk notes that most of the characters of Infinite Jest are oblivious to the solipsistic cage that confines them. He contends AA creates a “language-game” that stresses the notion of “Other.” It does this by drawing addicts out of their isolation and into a community. This community is formed around sharing life stories. The purpose of offering one’s experience is to stimulate identification among peers. Also, the use of jokes within the community creates a sense of shared emotion. In Infinite Jest, when a speaker offers a joke, “everybody’s posture gets subtly more relaxed…Everybody in the audience is aiming for total empathy with the speaker, that way they’ll be able to receive the AA message he’s here to carry. Empathy, in Boston AA, is called Identification” (345).
The article talks about Wallace’s use of Wittgenstein’s ideas regarding language. In Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein argued that the individual is an isolated being trapped by language. He maintains that words are pictures of reality and that individuals are divided from one another by the limited pictures we speak. However, in a separate work, Wittgenstein completely overrides this argument when he concludes that language is dependent on a human community. According to Van Ewijk, this same shift in language occurs at Ennet House. Residents “transition from language as a cage for the individual to language-games as an inherent part of a human community” (135). Joelle is provided as an example of someone who moves from her internal cage, where the exit is actually an entrance, to Ennet House, a true exit. In rehab, she relearns how to interact, communicate, and exist in a world that is outer-oriented, rather than inner.
Levinas maintains that human beings are continually set on viewing reality as a totality. “The “I” only perceives “Other” in so far as s/he can be made useful for the self” (138). Levinas argues that this act isolates and imprisons the “I.” Instead of forcing the “Other” to assimilate to the “I,” the scholar suggests that we open up to the “Other.” Van Ewijk compares this act to step one of AA, which is to admit an inability or powerlessness to overcome addiction alone.
Levinas’ notion of “I” and “Other” is backed up by Buber’s belief that humans have a dual attitude towards the world. This attitude is dependent on two “basic word pairs: I-You and I-It. In the latter, the “I” is only interested in objectifying the world and the “Other” (139). Buber maintains that the “I-It” reality results in an isolated world where there is no space for the “Other.” Only the “I-You” attitude, which Van Ewijk argues exists in Ennet House, can break individulas out of their egocentric world.
Van Ewijk notes that residents of Ennet House are quickly stripped of their individuality. They learn that they aren’t unique in their suffering and struggle to overcome addiction. In rehab, residents are denied the right to attribute causes. Instead, they are encouraged to look for the commonalities with fellow residents. Van Ewijk contends that residents are asked to identify and not compare, because comparison only leads to totalizing the “Other.”
By shifting the focus beyond the self, AA members are able to adopt the language of a community. Don Gately’s success in AA allows him to take the narrative from Hal Incandenza, a character whose isolation causes the literal lose of his voice. Van Ewijk concludes that this transition “reinforces the notion that this linguistic strategy not only benefits Ennet House addicts,” but helps combat solipsism among the characters (143).
The article offers a nice, surface level analysis of the notion of “I” and “Other” in AA and Wallace’s Ennet House. Van Ewijk is able to clearly demonstrate how the philosophies of Wittgenstein, Levinas, and Buber relate to AA. However, he neglects to define the philosophy of AA, its multi-step system of recovery, and how the program functions beyond members just sharing their experiences.
Although there are dozens of Ennet House residents, Van Ewijk focuses solely on Don Gately and Joelle van Dyne. Both characters are success stories who effectively adopted the language their community. Joelle exhibits her new language when she say, “I found myself telling them that I’d stopped seeing the “One Day at a Time” and “Keep It in the Day” as trite clichés. Patronizing” (858). This declaration demonstrates that she’s moved away from the “I” and into the “Other.”
Van Ewijk, Petrus. ““I” and the “Other”: The relevance of Wittgenstein, Buber and Levinas for an understanding of AA’s Recovery Program in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. English Text Construction: 2.1 (2009): 132-145.
Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New York: Back Bay Books, 1996.
Latest page update: made by JonLimdiffittini
, Mar 24 2012, 8:09 PM EDT
(about this update
About This Update
Gately prefers AA to NA. Took out last paragraph since Ewijk didn't really make a mistake.
62 words deleted
- complete history)
Keyword tags: None
More Info: links to this page
|Started By||Thread Subject||Replies||Last Post|
|rymister104||NA v AA||0||Apr 22 2011, 11:53 PM EDT by rymister104|
Thread started: Apr 22 2011, 11:53 PM EDT Watch
Actually Gately goes to AA, as he found it preferable to NA. Joelle I can't say decisively though. You're kind of nitpicking there anyways, but then again so am I right now ( Probably a habit of many IJ readers)
Showing 1 of 1 threads for this page