Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 11:14 pm 
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I'm also of the school of thought that what happens to Hal has to do with the Entertainment, because IJ was made specifically for him (and thus may affect him differently). It doesn't have to be the master per se that Hal watches, so it's not necessary that Hal digs up the head and only then sees the entertainment. While I think the entertainment's got *something* to do with it, I also think that Hal's withdrawal from marijuana has a weird effect of inverting his inner state (the switch to first person narration would also mirror this). Previously, Hal seemed disembodied, emotionless, and utterly logical, and didn't access his inner world at all. He does, however, have complete control of how he appears to others. But when he's forced to quit smoking weed (feeding back into IJ's themes of addiction, btw), he's forced to go through his own inner state on his floor while losing control of his facial emotions. Considering all the screwed up stuff that goes on in the family - incest between Avril and CT, implied incest between Avril and Orin, Orin's inability to be a human, Avril's weird brand of manipulation, his father's suicide, etc, etc...it's not a huge leap that he simply completely loses his shit when he's forced to finally confront and digest all that's happened to him with an adult perspective, and sober to boot.

Also, there's a really interesting foil going on between Hal and Gately, which might provide more insight on this conundrum.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 9:20 pm 
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I just finished! So I was obviously dying to know what other people thought happened to Hal. I had not considered the laced-toothbrush theory until after I read this thread, but I am REALLY curious why some figure that Pemulis would have been the one to have done so. What would have been his motivation?

He had mentioned to Hal that to stop EVERY substance cold turkey would kill "whatever part you feel has come to need what you're plannng to take away from it." Do the theorists who suppose Pemulis laced the toothbrush think he did it as a way to help Hal from withdrawal? Or could it be that Pemulis was just bitter about being kicked out? Or is it because he has a prankster reputation? I hope someone will explain!

I originally thought the mold Hal ate when he was a child was the reason for his inability to communicate, but then I figured that it was a result of withdrawl from marijuana after I read the conversation between Pemulis and Hal mentioned above (meaning the mental facilities that controlled his ability to express emotion, whether nonverbal or verbal, were what needed pot and thus "died" when he quit.)


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 11:03 pm 
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I haven't worked this all out in my head yet, but I'm (kinda) convinced that Hal's descent into communicative impotence is related in some way to what the JOI wraith "tells" Gately about figurants (pp. 834-838). Basically, Hal's existential crisis -- triggered at least in part by marijuana withdrawal -- pushes him off "center stage" by robbing him of the purpose/meaning he's known all his life (but which had been supplied by others). It's a mid-life crisis at 17-18, and Hal is rendered mute to the outside world until he settles on a new, self-defined "role" / purpose as a "character" in his life's drama -- until then, he is just silent "furniture" in the drama constructed by others, albeit furniture that plays tennis very well.

1. The wraith's observation (at 834) that "he can more than Identify with an animate man's feelings of communicative impotence and mute strangulation" is a perfect description of Hal in YOG. Hal isn't insane; from his inner monologue we know he is reasoning well, remembering his vocabulary -- not to mention what he's been coached to do at the interview, namely, remain in mute strangulation so as not to frighten the U-AZ folks. Like he feared in his Ethel Merman dream, he is able to process internally but not communicate with 3rd parties.

2. In defining figurants, the wraith says their presence "really revealed that the camera, like any eye, has a perceptual corner, a triage of who's important enough to be seen and heard vs. just seen." My theory is that Hal's crisis following marijuana withdrawal is an internal, meaning-of-life-and-where-I-fit-in crisis; he once accepted (before being old enough to ask "why?") that he was Hal J. Incadenza, tennis player, possible pro. Now he has lost that mooring and doesn't know who he is (note that in one of the AA sections it says the complaint that people "don't know who they are" turns out to be a real issue and a common one at that).

3. The wraith points out that, if a figurant tried to break out of its "cage" by starting to speak or gesture in a bid to communicate, one of the "audible" characters would "bolt over from stage-center and apply restraints or the Heineken Maneuver or CPR..." This, of course, is precisely what happens when Hal tries to speak at the U-AZ interview -- they treat his outbreak as a medical emergency, try to restrain him, etc. He is different from them, the "audible" main figures in the interview room, people who know their place in the drama because they have a ROLE, a CHARACTER to play -- note that Hal refers to them all by their titles (Director of Composition, etc) -- while Hal is adrift, not knowing his place/purpose, and therefore not having a "speaking part" in his own drama.

4. And, most obviously, the wraith tells Gately that he "had seen his own personal youngest offspring, a son, the one most like him, the one most marvelous and frightening to him, becoming a figurant, toward the end." (p. 837) This description, which echos JOI's "hallucination" of Hal not making any noise when apparently speaking referred to in the professional conversationalist episode, parallels Hal's YOG communication problem; the wraith felt horror at "watching [his] own offspring open his moth and have nothing come out." Again, it is an existential, not physical crisis being described, in which Hal "retreat[s] to the periphery of life's frame." The wraith makes clear that the communication he sought with Hal was on a deep, genuine, emotional, open level -- but that Hal got progressively more "hidden" and silent, a fact which the wraith blamed the Moms. This seems a clear description of Hal's emotional detachment, his inability to access and experience his own emotions. I'd have to double-check the timeline, but I think this movement-towards-figurant happens roughly the same time as Hal's plateau-jumping tennis improvement -- in other words, his real self is slowly being silenced as he internalizes the role others have cast for him.

The problem, of course, is that -- to the outside world, although perhaps not to Himself, if his "delusion" of Hal's communication problems during YT-SDB is to be believed -- Hal does not have the figurant communication problem during all the years he is assiduously following others' script for his life-as-tennis-prodigy. I think the answer here is related to Hal's observation about starting out at ETA before being old enough to question the "why?" of the kids' roles. Until he reached a certain maturity, he was a fully-audible, if self-unaware, actor in the tennis career drama crafted by the authority figures Hal so liked to please. By the end, however, he is attaining some emotional maturity, asking the "Why" questions, and experiencing the "who am I and what is my purpose?" existential crisis. His communication breakdown comes when he tries to confront the reality of who he really is, but is unable to come up with a meaningful substitute for "Hal, tennis player" -- he is now only a figurant, going through the motions scripted by others, until he can figure things out and gain self-knowledge.

5. As far as "something I ate," I think it's metaphorical. I focus on the "call it..." that proceeds those words, which seems to be a way of saying "here's a metaphor for you." I think he may be referring to his vision of the rooms full of meat (and other stuff) that his body will consume in a lifetime -- his existential crisis of "am I just an organic machine powered by this enormous quantity of food, destined to produce this vast quantity of waste, of am I something more, something with a meaning and purpose?" The "something I ate" bit seems to be a wry in-joke to himself, referring to the existential eye-opener of that moment.

I dunno if this makes sense or is even internally consistent, but it seems to me it is more in line with the questing after a new kind of personal truth through fiction that was DFW's enterprise than does a chemical break with reality, for instance. Hal is struggling to communicate because he has abandoned his old assumptions and the meaning of life assigned to him by others. Ultimately, it's also a more hopeful view, in that it suggests Hal will be able to re-integrate with society once he figures things out on his own terms -- again, a theme which I find parallel to DFW's project in fiction generally.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 10:37 am 
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misterAyed wrote:
3. The wraith points out that, if a figurant tried to break out of its "cage" by starting to speak or gesture in a bid to communicate, one of the "audible" characters would "bolt over from stage-center and apply restraints or the Heineken Maneuver or CPR..." This, of course, is precisely what happens when Hal tries to speak at the U-AZ interview -- they treat his outbreak as a medical emergency, try to restrain him, etc. He is different from them, the "audible" main figures in the interview room, people who know their place in the drama because they have a ROLE, a CHARACTER to play -- note that Hal refers to them all by their titles (Director of Composition, etc) -- while Hal is adrift, not knowing his place/purpose, and therefore not having a "speaking part" in his own drama.

Wow.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 8:06 pm 
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misterAyed wrote:
I dunno if this makes sense or is even internally consistent, but it seems to me it is more in line with the questing after a new kind of personal truth through fiction that was DFW's enterprise than does a chemical break with reality, for instance. Hal is struggling to communicate because he has abandoned his old assumptions and the meaning of life assigned to him by others. Ultimately, it's also a more hopeful view, in that it suggests Hal will be able to re-integrate with society once he figures things out on his own terms -- again, a theme which I find parallel to DFW's project in fiction generally.


THANK GOD. You wrote exactly what I was thinking — only better than I could ever have done myself. This feels much more organic than chasing DMZ and toothbrush mentions.

Really well said. All of it.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 11:59 pm 
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We hear a lot about how almost everything Hal does is to please others: the dictionary-memorizing, the tennis, the spelling bee. And how most of his words and actions come out of a desire to create some impression in other people. (shades of Good Old Neon.)

One of DFW's main themes is how doing things to impress people or make them think of you a certain way is lonely and self-defeating. It isn't really communicating.

So I think when JOI talks about how Hal is a figurant/can't speak even before we see stuff like Hal seeming to laugh at Ortho Stice, he's saying that Hal's unable to communicate in any real way. Not that he truly can't speak, but that he can't speak truly. And I would say JOI is right.

If that makes sense.

In the end, in the Year of Glad, Hal's somehow (MJ withdrawal) lost even the power to create impressions, and then he's well-fucked, because he's never developed the ability to speak openly. Except maybe, without the crutch of marijuana/being able to impress people, he'll have to learn to really talk to people, not just interface with them.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2009 1:22 pm 
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Quote:
One of DFW's main themes is how doing things to impress people or make them think of you a certain way is lonely and self-defeating. It isn't really communicating.


This being one of the tremendously ironic things about Infinite Jest: it is often thought of as a "look at me, I can read hard novels!" book, a book to brag about having read or a book to dismiss as a book to brag about having read; why I hate those IJ 1079 388 shirts, actually.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2009 5:42 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2009 5:40 pm
Posts: 30
paraplegicNomad wrote:

- 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."


hee hee a meta-mold!


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2009 7:36 am 
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Wasn't Pemulis' DMZ missing from his ceiling tile? In that case, unlikely he's the one who laced Hal. My theory was that IF Hal was slipped a DMZ Mickey, it was perhaps either the Wheelchair assassins who stole the DMZ and maybe dosed him to try to get info on the entertainment from him, or (less likely) even Steeply's group. Of course, Hal could have stolen it himself. Either way, he was definitely declining and withdrawing beforehand, so maybe either injesting DMZ or being exposed to something while digging up Himself's head (it was buried in the waseland, right?) were a catalyst.


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 Post subject: Re: What happened to Hal? (Spoilers)
PostPosted: Mon Aug 10, 2009 9:42 am 
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Joined: Sun Jul 05, 2009 5:40 pm
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wait a second. i'm starting to get really worried here. is it possible that we are going to read over a thousand pages of this novel and NEVER KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HAL IN THAT OPENING SCENE?????

[wailing and gnashing of teeth]


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