I don’t know how Wallace comes up with some of this stuff.
The passage on pages 569-574 is really funny, but I’m wondering what the deeper significance to the rest of the novel is. This is the passage where Mike Pemulis comes across a blind-folded Idris Arslanian and the two start talking about how much of the NNE waste gets catapulted up to the Great Concavity to counteract some crazy growth that occurs as a result of a lack of pollution in the area. The lack of pollution was caused by an idea of JOI’s in which two highly toxic and radioactive particles combined to create some sort of stable, non-toxic compound.
But, in a classic DFW ironic twist, this lack of pollution in the area caused everything to grow so lush and rapidly that the area became what sounds like a sci-fi planet, with “rapacial feral hamsters and insects of Volkswagen size and infantile giganticism and the unmacheteable regions of forests” (573). So now the problem is that the area needs more radioactive and toxic stuff, and this is why garbage is catapulted up there.
We can never fully predict the consequences of our actions. This little anecdote highlights the fact that in our world, everything is dependent on something else. If one problem gets solved, another one crops up in its place. Everything is “annular” (possibly DFWs favorite word.)
I think this has a lot to do with the issue of second-order vanity and the ironic loop that we are all caught in. People try to hide their vanity, but instead of eradicating vanity all this does is make the problem worse. Similarly, now that irony has become such an integral part of our culture, we can sort of ignore all the different levels of irony that we deal with every day, but this does nothing to actually solve the problem. Eliminating pollution and waste creates a need for more waste.
And so this is my problem with Wallace’s proposed cure for cancer: giving the cancer cells cancer. Let’s believe for a second that it is possible to give cancer cells cancer by “getting force-fed micromassive quantities of overdone beef and diet soda, forced to chain-smoke microsized Marlboros near tiny little cellular phones” (572). Giving the cancer cells cancer may kill the cancer cells, but there are still tinier cancer cells within the cancer cells within the human body. Shouldn’t this be just another endless loop that humanity will probably be caught in forever? Or is Wallace attempting to provide an example here of how a cycle can end?