Marathe and Steeply discuss freedom
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Marathe and Steeply extract
In this extract, Marathe, a member of a Québecois separatist group, the A.F.R. (who are wheelchair assassins), converses with an American FBI agent, Hugh Steeply (who is dressed as a woman). The FBI suspect the A.F.R. of releasing into America copies of a film called Infinite Jest, which is so entertaining, that as soon as a person begins to watch it, they cannot drag themselves away, and end up dying. Gentle is the president of the U.S.A and the Reconfiguration was America enforcing a territory swap on Canada.
Marathe made small emphatic circles and cuts in the air while he spoke: ‘These facts of situation, which speak so loudly of your Bureau’s fear of this samizdat: now is what has happened when a people choose nothing over themselves to love, each one. A U.S.A. that would die – and let its children die, each one – for the so-called perfect Entertainment, this film. Who would die for this chance to be fed this death of pleasure with spoons, in their warm homes, alone, unmoving: Hugh Steeply, in complete seriousness as a citizen of your neighbour I say to you: forget for a moment the Entertainment, and think instead about a U.S.A. where such a thing could be possible enough for your Office to fear: can such a U.S.A. hope to survive for a much longer time? To survive as a nation of peoples? To much less exercise dominion over other nations of other peoples? If these are other peoples who still know what it is to choose? who will die for something larger? who will sacrifice the warm home, the loved woman at home, their legs, their life even, for something more than their own wishes of sentiment? who would choose not to die for pleasure, alone?’
Steeply removed with cool deliberation another Belgian cigarette and lit it, this time on the first match. Waving the match out with a circular flourish and snap. All this took time of his silence. Marathe settled back. Marathe wondered why the presence of Americans could always make him feel vaguely ashamed after saying things he believed. An aftertaste of shame after revealing passion of any belief and type when with Americans, as if he had made flatulence instead of had revealed belief.
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Steeply rested his one elbow on the forearm of the other arm across his prostheses, to smoke like a woman: ‘You’re saying that the administration wouldn’t even be concerned about the Entertainment if we didn’t know we were fatally weak. As in as a nation. You’re saying the fact that we’re worried speaks volumes about the nation itself.’
Marathe shrugged. ‘Us, we will force nothing on U.S.A. persons in their warm homes. We will make only available. Entertainment. There will be then some choosing, to partake or choose not to.’ Smoothing slightly at his lap’s blanket. ‘How will U.S.A.s choose? Who has taught them to choose with care? How will your Offices and Agencies protect them, your people? By laws? By killing Québecois?’ Marathe rose, but very slightly. ‘As you were killing Colombians and Bolivians to protect U.S.A. citizens who desire their narcotics? How well did this work for your Agencies and Offices, the killing? How long was it before the Brazilians replaced the dead of Colombia?’
Steeply’s wig had slipped hard to starboard. ‘Rémy, no. Drug-dealers don’t want you dead, necessarily; they just want your money. There’s a difference. You people seem to want us dead. Not just the Concavity re-demised. Not just succession for Québec. The F.L.Q., maybe they’re like the Bolivians. But Fortier wants us dead.’
‘Again you pass over what is important. Why B.S.S. cannot understand us. You cannot kill what is already dead.’
‘Just you wait and see if we’re dead, paisano.’
Marathe made a gesture as if striking his own head. ‘Again passing over the important. This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose – this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death. What you call the death, the collapsing: this will be the formality only. Do you not see? This was the genius of Guillaume DuPlessis, what M. DuPlessis taught the cells, even if F.L.Q. and les Fils did not understand. Much less the Albertans, all crazy inside their head. We of the A.F.R., we understand. This is why this cell of Québecers, that danger of Entertainment so fine it will kill the viewer, if so – the exact way does not matter. The exact time of death and way of death, this no longer matters. Not for your peoples. You wish to protect them? But you can only delay. Not save. The Entertainment exists. The attaché and gendarmes of the razzle incident – more proof. It is there, existing. The choice for death of the head by pleasure now exists, and your authorities know, or you would not be now trying to stop the pleasure. Your Sans-Christe Gentle was in this one part correct: “Someone is to blame.”’
‘That had nothing to do with the Reconfiguration. The Reconfiguration was self-preservation.’
‘That: forget it. There is the villain he saw you needed, all of you, to delay this splitting apart. To keep you together, the hating some other. Gentle is crazy in his head, but in this “fault of someone” he was correct in saying it. Un ennemi commun. But not someone outside you, this enemy. Someone or some people among your own history sometime killed your U.S.A. nation already, Hugh. Someone who had authority, or should have had authority and did not exercise authority. I do not know. But someone sometime let you forget how to choose, and what. Someone let your peoples forget it was the only thing of importance, choosing. So completely forgetting that when I say choose to you you make expressions with your face such as, “Herrrrrre we are going.” Someone taught that temples are for fanatics only and took away the temples and promised there was no need for temples. And now there is no shelter. And no map for finding the shelter of a temple. And you all stumble about in the dark, this confusion of permissions. The without-end pursuit of happiness of which someone let you forget the old things which made happiness possible. How is it you say: “Anything is going”?’
‘And This is why we shudder at what a separate Québec would be like. Choose what we tell you, neglect your own wish and desires, sacrifice. For Québec. For the state.’
Marathe shrugged. ‘L’état protecteur.’
Steeply said ‘Does this sound a little familiar, Rémy? The National Socialist Neofascist State of Separate Québec? You guys are worse than the worst Albertans. Totalitarity. Cuba with snow. Ski immediately to your nearest reeducation camp, for instructions on choosing. Moral eugenics. China. Cambodia. Chad. Unfree.’
‘There are no choices without personal freedom, Buckeroo. It’s not us who are dead inside. These things you find so weak and contemptible in us – these are just the hazards of being free.’
‘But what does this U.S.A. expression want to mean, this Buckeroo?’
Steeply turned to face away into the space they were above. ‘And now here we go. Now you will say how free are we if you dangle fatal fruit before us and we cannot help ourselves from temptation. And we say “human” to you. We say that one cannot be human without freedom.
Marathe’s chair squeaked slightly as his weight shifted. ‘Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country, always to shout “Freedom! Freedom!” As if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it is not so simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do. It is this meaning only, this freedom from constraint and forced duress.’ Marathe over Steeply’s shoulder suddenly could realize why the skies above the coruscating city were themselves erased of stars: it was the fumes from the exhaust’s wastes of the moving autos’ pretty lights that rose and hid stars from the city and made the city Tuscon’s lume nacreous in the dome’s blankness of it. ‘But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?’
Steeply threw away a cigarette and faced partly Marathe, from the edge: ‘Now the story of the rich man.’
Marathe said ‘The rich father who can afford the cost of candy as well as food for his children: but if he cries out “Freedom!” And allows his child to choose only what is sweet, eating only candy, not pea soup and bread and eggs, so his child becomes weak and sick: is the rich man who cries “Freedom!” the good father?’
Steeply made four small noises. Excitement of some belief made the American’s electrolysis’s little pimples of rash redden even in the milky dilute light of lume and low stars. The moon over the Mountains of Rincon was on its side, its colour the colour of a fat man’s face. Marathe could believe he could hear some young U.S.A. voices shouting and laughing in a young gathering somewhere out on the desert floor below, but saw no headlights or young persons. Steeply stamped a high heel in frustration. Steeply said:
‘But U.S. citizens aren’t presumed by us to be children, to paternalistically do their thinking and choosing for them. Human beings are not children.’
Marathe pretended again to sniff.
‘Ah, yes, but then you say: No?’ Steeply said. ‘No? you say, not children? You say: What is the difference, please, if you make a recorded pleasure so entertaining and diverting it is lethal to persons, you find a Copy-Capable copy and copy it and disseminate for us to choose to see or turn off, and if we cannot choose to resist it, that pleasure, and cannot choose instead to live? You say what your Fortier believes, that we are children, not human adults like the noble Québecers, we are children, bullies but still children inside, and will kill ourselves for you if you put the candy within the arms’ reach.’
Marathe tried to make his face expressive of anger, which was difficult for him. ‘This is what happens: you imagine the things I will say and then say them for me and then become angry with them. Without my mouth; it never opens. You speak to yourself, inventing sides. This itself is the habit of children: lazy, lonely, self. I am not even here, possibly, for listening to.’
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David Foster Wallace: Literature and Philosophy
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