Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 2:08 pm 
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Since this is one of IJ's key puzzles, I thought it deserved its own topic...

Two proposed solutions I remember people offering up (I'm a re-reader; this was maybe 10 years ago) about Hal's misperception problem:

1. It is a long-delayed reaction from the mold he ate, which somehow bio-synthesized into a dangerous drug (DMZ?). Seems unlikely given the passage of time, but since "something I ate" is juxtaposed with the memory on p. 10 -- a memory later underscored by Orin's retelling on p. 1041 -- is interesting.

2. It has something to do with Hal's toothbrush, which is stolen and dosed by someone at ETA. (I can't remember details... Maybe Michael Pemulis does it? Will have to look it up.)

Neither/both may play a role. But my own theory, which I'm still working on, is that Hal becomes inverted somehow, in an optical sense -- the way in which a lens turns the object being viewed upside down. This is essentially what happens to Hal, in that people seem not just to generally misperceive him, but see the opposite of what he intends to project (p. 5 - Hal's smile seen as grimace, and similar examples). Continuing the lens concept: we never see what happens because the story's focal point is outside the narrative frame...

Given the key role of optics and distorting lenses throughout IJ, I've always thought there is something to this. What do others think?

Mike


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 3:54 pm 
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I am personally partial to the DMZ theory, which I came across reading Dan Schmidt's notes (linked to on The Howling Fantods (amended: originally thought it was linked from here, but I was wrong)):

http://dfan.org/jest.txt

Some relevant quotes:

- On p. 170 Pemulis researches DMZ: "The incredibly potent DMZ is
synthesized from a derivative of fitviavi, an obscure mold that grows
only on other molds."

- From the description of the medical attache on p. 33: "The medical
attache's particular expertise is the maxillofacial consequences of
imbalances in intestinal flora. Prince Q--- ... suffers chronically
from Candida albicans, with attendant susceptibilities to monilial
sinusitis and thrush, the yeasty sores and sinal impactions of which..."
Note the intestinal flora-yeast connection again. Doesn't Hal have
a toothache (p. ??)?

Hal does, in fact, have cavity problems, though this is associated with dry-mouth (p.27), which is in turn a possible symptom of Thrush:

http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/tc/thrush-cause

I don't know anything about the biology / physiology behind this, mind you. But here's why I think they're related:

Description of DMZ OD (p.214):

"One article out of fucking Moment of all sources talks about how this one Army convict at Leavenworth got allegedly injected with some massive unspecified dose of early DMZ... and about how this convict's family sued over how the guy reportedly lost his mind... Allegedly Moment says how the guy's found later in his Army cell, in some impossible lotus position, singing show tunes in a scary deadly-accurate Ethel-Merman-impression voice."

Footnote 321 (p.1063):

"It was the Leavenworth convict... The one belting out Ethel Merman... In the dream I was the soldier... In the dream the horror was that I wasn't really singing 'There's No Business Like Show Business,' I was really screaming for help. I was screaming like 'Help! I'm screaming for help and everybody's acting as if I'm singing Ethel Merman covers! It's me! It's me, screaming for help!'"


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 4:44 pm 
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Posts: 86
Location: North Dakota
About the mold eating incident-

This may be pretty unlikely, but could it be that Hal never ate the mold? The memory is, afterall, Orin's and he is not the most trustworthy source given his propensity to lie (the explanation for Avril's dog's absence, among others). There are a lot of red-herring trails in IJ and I've always wondered if this is one that gets overlooked since it occurs so early in the book and we're used to books telling us the truth or at least telling us later about lies that came up earlier in the text. I realize this line of speculation opens the possibility that nothing in IJ is trustworthy, but if Hamlet is a template for IJ, it's only appropriate. One of Hamlet's major themes concerns the question of what we can truly know.

-Storm


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 7:04 pm 
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Posts: 75
I think what happened to Hal has more to do with his perspective than what he actually ingested. I think "something I ate" was like the apple from the tree of knowledge or self understanding. As Hal began to understand himself he questioned the importance he placed on getting to The Show. When he realized the absurdity of this pursuit he became unable to communicate with those who saw his only "function" as a great tennis player.

I think this, in part, because I don't think IJ is a big mystery book. I don't think DFW meant for us to track clues and find the solution about who done it (or what he ate). I believe DFW when he says "fiction's about what it is to be a fucking human being" so I try to see this scene as Hal being more human and the heads and bodies being more the monsters. The two can not communciate, but Hal the human is in there hoping to talk to a real human, someone who asks what his story is.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 8:42 pm 
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I dunno, I have a hard time seeing the various Deans' reactions as metaphorical, and it's difficult for me to imagine Hal's described "inhuman" grunting and flailing as a manifestation of his disillusionment with competitive tennis?

I believe there is something physiological that DFW is not spelling out for us. If the question is whether or not it matters? Yeah, I think it does. It's a vastly different reading, for example, if Hal is actually unable to communicate or if he just doesn't want to because he's sick of tennis (or if his sickness over tennis so torments him as to impede human interaction).

Nonetheless, I do agree with IJ as predominantly a human experience (ironically, the lack of humanity is what James Wood trashes DWF over, and so much for that). To me, though, that doesn't mean "what happened to Hal as metaphor" as much as it does "what does this say about our own assumptions about language and communication?" IMO the human experience, in that respect, is (also footnote 321): "There was a quality of loneliness to it, though. Unlike anything. To be screaming that I'm screaming for help instead of singing a show-tune and to have the wardens and doctors gathered around snapping their fingers and tapping their feet."

Assuming Hal has an actual physical impediment to clear speech, DFW is portraying a scene for us in which everyone is pretty much doing the right thing - the human thing - but it's not working out for anyone. If Hal is doing this consciously, then fundamentally all we have is a kid being a brat. If Hal is doing this because he can't control his Rage Against the Tennis... I guess what we have is a discussion on hating the things we once thought we loved? I dunno; the way DFW portrays this scene, that doesn't resonate with me.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 9:03 pm 
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Posts: 42
testforecho wrote:
When he realized the absurdity of this pursuit he became unable to communicate with those who saw his only "function" as a great tennis player.


This is interesting. I had been thinking something different in that Hal had decided to rededicate himself to tennis after the crisis of being tested for marijuana passed, and this rededication was causing him to turn more into a tennis machine a la JNR Wayne. And so Hal becomes, like Wayne, someone who almost never speaks for themselves, but is spoken for. But that was before I started this read and now I find your take pretty persuasive. (I'm also not sure the Pemulis-doping-the-toothbrush timeline works out, but that's for later.)

On the other hand, pleasing authority figures is tremendously important to Hal. In this case he's decided to not fulfill his mother's wishes for him (the "lexical prodigy" side) but has decided to continue to attempt to fulfill his father's wishes (the "feral prodigy" side) since it's clear that while he can't communicate, he can still play tennis quite well. (It also strikes me that he's much cockier when he talks about playing Dymphna than when he talks about playing other people earlier in the chronology. He's now much more dismissive of his opponents.) Moreover, his one physical impediment to playing even better (the ankle) hasn't bothered him since around the time of his first ER visit.

Every time I settle on a theory, I talk myself out of it...

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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2009 2:56 am 
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paraplegicNomad wrote:
I dunno, I have a hard time seeing the various Deans' reactions as metaphorical, and it's difficult for me to imagine Hal's described "inhuman" grunting and flailing as a manifestation of his disillusionment with competitive tennis?

I believe there is something physiological that DFW is not spelling out for us. If the question is whether or not it matters? Yeah, I think it does. It's a vastly different reading, for example, if Hal is actually unable to communicate or if he just doesn't want to because he's sick of tennis (or if his sickness over tennis so torments him as to impede human interaction).

Nonetheless, I do agree with IJ as predominantly a human experience (ironically, the lack of humanity is what James Wood trashes DWF over, and so much for that). To me, though, that doesn't mean "what happened to Hal as metaphor" as much as it does "what does this say about our own assumptions about language and communication?" IMO the human experience, in that respect, is (also footnote 321): "There was a quality of loneliness to it, though. Unlike anything. To be screaming that I'm screaming for help instead of singing a show-tune and to have the wardens and doctors gathered around snapping their fingers and tapping their feet."

Assuming Hal has an actual physical impediment to clear speech, DFW is portraying a scene for us in which everyone is pretty much doing the right thing - the human thing - but it's not working out for anyone. If Hal is doing this consciously, then fundamentally all we have is a kid being a brat. If Hal is doing this because he can't control his Rage Against the Tennis... I guess what we have is a discussion on hating the things we once thought we loved? I dunno; the way DFW portrays this scene, that doesn't resonate with me.


Interesting points. I'll keep those in mind on my re-read. You are probably correct that the grunting and flailing is not imagined. I like your idea that everyone is doing the human thing. That's true and something for me to think about. I like your footnote 321 reference. It seems very relevant to what Hal is going through.

I think that, somehow, we have to account for the deterioration of Hal's enthusiasm about the Show and life throughout the book and how it relates to his state during the interview. On my first read of the book, I didn't get the feeling that Hal was just gung-ho about his life and then boom, he did something and he's this monster. Rather, I got the feeling he was like a kid heading for kind of early mid-life crisis. The important elements of what caused Hal to retreat into this monster-like state is right here in front of us. Maybe there isn't a gap that we need to fill in.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 26, 2009 7:09 am 
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Thought I'd throw my $0.02 in here. I'd seen the mold theory online before and I think that it makes a lot of sense, but it doesn't seem to completely line up with my reading. Do you think Hal's condition (which I think is meant to be taken literally) could be linked to his recovering of the Entertainment? Hal's father made the film in order to communicate with his son, so that Hal could understand how he felt, and it doesn't seem to be a giant leap to think that Hal would watch the cartridge after digging it up. It seems that in the conversationalist piece, Himself is trying to direct him to the future location of the Entertainment. While the Entertainment turns everyone else catatonic, maybe it has a different effect on Hal, as it is intended for him.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 26, 2009 9:59 am 
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Location: UTAH. Yes I'm from Utah. No I'm not a Mormon.
jamesthinks wrote:
While the Entertainment turns everyone else catatonic, maybe it has a different effect on Hal, as it is intended for him.



That is what I was kind of thinking when I made the post "Entertainment in Himself's head?" viewtopic.php?f=12&t=134 I was looking at it the other way around, that Hal may have watched the Entertainment and the anti-Entertainment Steeply asked Marathe about on page 126 was what was in Himself's head.

Check it out and tell me what you think.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Fri Jun 26, 2009 10:12 am 
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jamesthinks wrote:
Thought I'd throw my $0.02 in here. I'd seen the mold theory online before and I think that it makes a lot of sense, but it doesn't seem to completely line up with my reading. Do you think Hal's condition (which I think is meant to be taken literally) could be linked to his recovering of the Entertainment? Hal's father made the film in order to communicate with his son, so that Hal could understand how he felt, and it doesn't seem to be a giant leap to think that Hal would watch the cartridge after digging it up. It seems that in the conversationalist piece, Himself is trying to direct him to the future location of the Entertainment. While the Entertainment turns everyone else catatonic, maybe it has a different effect on Hal, as it is intended for him.


Please take me seriously when I say that is some nice hypothesizing. But alas, I don't think it works. The mismatch between Hal's self-perception and what others see and hear begins before the Entertainment could have been recovered.

See for example this exchange on p865. Hal's talking to Ortho Stice:

'What's the matter?'
'What do you mean?' I asked.
'Your voice. Shoot, are you crying? What's the matter?'
My voice had been neutral and a bit puzzled. 'I'm not crying, Orth.'

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