Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 10:31 am 
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Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:38 pm
Posts: 18
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
stephaniejane posted an inquiry in the "Questions" forum, but after considering it I decided to post my reaction here under "Daily Discussion" because I think it reveals a potential problem with DFW's timeline that deserves more visibility than I fear it would get if it were left in the "Questions" section:

stephaniejane wrote:
[...] JOI killed himself in the Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar. [p.64]

On pg 172, it says that the Year of the Yushityu... is almost exactly 3 years after JOI killed himself.

On pg 142, it says that August DAU was four years after JOI killed himself. [...] Page 142 HAS to be wrong, right?

Upon reading this post, I originally thought that the apparent difficulty could be overcome if we located JOI's death late in the year in which it occurred. So, for example, if his death hypothetically occurred in December of YTSDB, then the two claims describing his death -- as occurring (1) "almost exactly three years" prior to April of YY2007MRCVMETIUFI/ITPSFH,O,OM(s); and (2) "four years" prior to August of YDAU -- would make equal sense, since the time-gap from (2), although spanning five calendar years, would only actually encompass about four and a half. (Q.v. Matthew's post from today to see how our CE years get matched up to ST years.)

However, after investigating the matter further, I've found that the problem is actually more intractable than it would at first seem. On p.249 Hal asks his brother in reference to their father's death in a phone conversation that takes place on 5 November YDAU,

Quote:
"Listen, may I ask why this sudden interest after four years 216 days, and with two years of that not even once even calling?"

It seems reasonable to assume that Hal begins counting from the actual suicide itself. So, referring to the chronology on p.223...

Quote:
(1) Year of the Whopper
(2) Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad
(3) Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
(4) Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken
(5) Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster
(6) Year of the Yushityu 2007 Mimetic-Resolution-Cartridge-View-Motherboard-Easy-To-Install-Upgrade For Infernatron/InterLace TP Systems For Home, Office, Or Mobile (sic)
(7) Year of the Dairy Products from the American Heartland
(8) Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment
(9) Year of Glad

... Hal's comment indicates a precise date of death for JOI of 3 April Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken! This results in a direct conflict with the claim on p.64 that JOI died in the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar. And most importantly, the conflict remains unresolved regardless of how we match up our nominal CE years with Subsidized Time.

I see only two ways out of the contradiction. The first is that I'm wrong in my assumption that Hal is counting from JOI's precise date of death. There could be two reasons for this: (1) Hal isn't really referring to the death itself, but instead to an event that is somehow related to the death which both callers implicitly understand but which the reader is perhaps not meant to, at this stage of the novel; or (2) Hal's math is wrong. Both of these seem highly unlikely, given, first, the context of the call between Orin and Hal, second, the obvious trauma that Hal experienced as a result of the suicide (making it unlikely that he would get the date of the event wrong), and third, Hal's extreme genius and mental acuity.

The only other way out of the contradiction is that DFW screwed up. This conclusion would seem to be supported by the passage quoted above from p.172 that he died "almost exactly 3 years" prior to April YY2007MRCVMETIUFI/ITPSFH,O,OM(s), which gets the month right but the year wrong, as well as the passage from p.142, which, along with Hal's comments also places JOI's death in YPW.

The passage from p.64 that explicitly places JOI's death in YTSDB would thus be a flat-out error. I don't see any way around this conclusion, which is regrettable because so many other clues in the text are consistent with each other.


--Todeswalzer.

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Started: 26 June 2009 | Finished: 25 July 2009


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 2:07 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 4:16 pm
Posts: 86
Location: North Dakota
Todeswalzer wrote:
I see only two ways out of the contradiction. The first is that I'm wrong in my assumption that Hal is counting from JOI's precise date of death. There could be two reasons for this: (1) Hal isn't really referring to the death itself, but instead to an event that is somehow related to the death which both callers implicitly understand but which the reader is perhaps not meant to, at this stage of the novel; or (2) Hal's math is wrong. Both of these seem highly unlikely, given, first, the context of the call between Orin and Hal, second, the obvious trauma that Hal experienced as a result of the suicide (making it unlikely that he would get the date of the event wrong), and third, Hal's extreme genius and mental acuity.

The only other way out of the contradiction is that DFW screwed up. This conclusion would seem to be supported by the passage quoted above from p.172 that he died "almost exactly 3 years" prior to April YY2007MRCVMETIUFI/ITPSFH,O,OM(s), which gets the month right but the year wrong, as well as the passage from p.142, which, along with Hal's comments also places JOI's death in YPW.

The passage from p.64 that explicitly places JOI's death in YTSDB would thus be a flat-out error. I don't see any way around this conclusion, which is regrettable because so many other clues in the text are consistent with each other.
--Todeswalzer.


Another way out is to consider Hamlet when he's talking about his father's death to Ophelia and is totally screwed up on the duration of time that's passed. Act III Scene ii:

HAMLET:
That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
OPHELIA:
What is, my lord?
HAMLET:
Nothing.
OPHELIA:
You are merry, my lord.(115)
HAMLET:
Who, I?
OPHELIA:
Ay, my lord.
HAMLET:
O God, your only jig-maker! What should a man
do but be merry? For, look you, how cheerfully my mother
looks, and my father died within's two hours.(120)
OPHELIA:
Nay 'tis twice two months, my lord.
HAMLET:
So long? Nay then, let the devil wear black, for I'll
have a suit of sables. O heavens! die two months ago, and
not forgotten yet? Then there's hope a great man's memory
may outlive his life half a year. But, by'r lady, he must build(125)
churches then; or else shall he suffer not thinking on, with
the hobby-horse, whose epitaph is, 'For, O, for O, the
hobby-horse is forgot!'


Hamlet interpretations range for this scene: sarcastic, losing his own mind a bit, confused by stress, etc. Could something similar be going on with Hal and Orin? It's very interesting to me that Ophelia and Orin are both nicknamed "O." DFW has done the gender bending thing in Broom of the System, so what would prevent him from designing Orin off of Ophelia?!

Here's a modern language version of the same scene:

HAMLET:
That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
OPHELIA:
What is, my lord?
HAMLET:
Nothing.
OPHELIA:
You are merry, my lord.
HAMLET:
Who, me?
OPHELIA:
Yes, my lord.
HAMLET:
O, your only dancer! What should a man do but be
merry? Because look how cheerfully my mother looks,
and my father died within these two hours.
OPHELIA:
No, it is four months, my lord.
HAMLET:
So long? No then, let the devil wear black, for I’ll have a
suit of black fur. O heavens! Died two months ago and
not forgotten yet? Then there's hope that a great man's
memory may outlive his life at least six months, but, by
our Lady, then he must build churches or else he won’t
be remembered with the prostitute, whose epitaph is
“For, O, for, O, the prostitute is forgotten!”


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 2:09 pm 
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Joined: Thu Jul 02, 2009 8:49 am
Posts: 8
Interesting!

I recently decided to bother to find out what year J.O.I. killed himself. I had forgotten / missed / didn't underline the p. 64 explicit reference to Y.T.S.D.B. Here is how I came to the same Y.T.S.D.B. conclusion after furious flipping through the book on the train.

p.249, Hal wrote:
He stopped living on April First, if you weren't sure, was the day. I can tell you on April First he wasn't back by the time P.M. matches started, because I'd been around the lab door right after lunch and he wasn't back.


I have the date as April 1st.

p.172 wrote:
APRIL IN THE YEAR OF THE YUSHITYU...ALMOST EXACTLY THREE YEARS AFTER DR. JAMES O. INCANDENZA PASSED FROM THIS LIFE


April being almost exactly one year matches with Hal's description, so I thought I had a good bead on it. Then using the table on p. 223 back counting from Year of the Yushityu you get Year of the Trial Size Dove Bar. And I write next to the Y.T.S.D.B. entry, "Himself kills himself Apr. 1" in ink.

I just so happened to find the p.172 section heading before the p.142 section heading, so everything worked out for me.

By your 4 years 216 day math, which I'm going to trust you on, you come up with April 3rd. I'm okay with that. Hal could be referring to the day of the funeral that Orin decided to ditch.



One of these references has to be lying. I will probably now spend tonight trying to come up with a theory of which one(s) instead of reading. It better be Y.T.S.D.B. I wrote in ink. :)

edit: After doing the above, I looked back to the very first section and, to my horror, found it also occurred on April 1st. *cue Lost soundtrack*


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 2:50 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jun 28, 2009 10:06 pm
Posts: 32
I've actually made a list of events occurring on April 1st:
- in Y.T.M.P., J.O.I. poses as a "professional conversationalist" with Hal
- in Y.T.S.D.B., J.O.I. kills himself
- in Y.D.A.U., Hal and Mario have the conversation about flagpoles

I've come to the conclusion that so many events take place on April 1st—that is, April Fool's Day—because, well, we are dealing with a book titled Infinite Jest. It all seems to come back to this obsession with entertainment. After all, even when something serious goes down, it's J.O.I. committing suicide with a microwave on April Fool's Day. It's the most fitting way he could have died, considering all of his attempts at great entertainment through film.


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2009 3:07 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:25 am
Posts: 89
Location: Brooklyn
I was out for the day and came back to find this discussion over the question I raised. I'm so pleased!

I, too, thought JOI died on April Fool's Day, based on the conversation b/w Hal and Orin. And I knew it was the Year of the Trial Sized Dove Bar from a few different places in the book - I think that seems pretty definite. For example, on pg. 993, in the footnotes, it says that JOI died during the post-production of Infinite Jest, which is dated as Year of the TSDB. And all other references seems to match up with this date. I can look through my notes and find the exact pages if it will help.

It's really two references to the year of the DAU that confuse me:

1) Pg. 142 - August DAU was 4 years after JOI killed himself

2) Pg. 249 - On Nov 5, DAU, Hal says his father died (or more likely, his father's funeral was held) 4 years and 216 days prior.

If this was the case, that DAU was 4 years after TSDB, Hal wouldn't be 17 - he'd be 16. He was 11 in the year of the Tucks..., then in 7th grade in the year of the Perdue WonderChicken, but he was about to graduate in the year of Glad, at 18, which would have meant he skipped a year and a grade somewhere. Most importantly, it doesn't match up with the chronology on page 223.

My best guess is that DFW did it on purpose, to play with memory, time, and chronology, the way he does throughout the rest of the book. I think the person who quoted Hamlet was spot on. But it's possible he made an error along the way, since he changed Hal's age in the professional conversationalist scene - Hal had initally been about to turn 11, I think it was, in earlier editions, but in the 2006 reissue, Hal was now turning 13.

Anyway. I'm so happy people responded to this!


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 10:01 am 
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Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 4:49 pm
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The five and a half years between Apr Y.T.-S.D.B. and Nov Y.D.A.U. is often misstated as four and a half years in Infinite Jest.


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:40 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jul 14, 2009 11:41 pm
Posts: 6
Todeswalzer wrote:
The only other way out of the contradiction is that DFW screwed up.
I believe he readily admitted this. I know timeline alterations were made for the second edition; whether it's supposed to be 100% solid after that, I dunno.


stephaniejane wrote:
But it's possible he made an error along the way, since he changed Hal's age in the professional conversationalist scene - Hal had initally been about to turn 11, I think it was, in earlier editions, but in the 2006 reissue, Hal was now turning 13.
There's something backwards there -- first ed definitely says 13 (just confirmed), and it was edited to 11 (which fits better). If the 10th anniv. ed. says 13, they must have reverted to the original text.


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2009 8:43 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:25 am
Posts: 89
Location: Brooklyn
rinard wrote:
Todeswalzer wrote:
The only other way out of the contradiction is that DFW screwed up.
I believe he readily admitted this. I know timeline alterations were made for the second edition; whether it's supposed to be 100% solid after that, I dunno.


stephaniejane wrote:
But it's possible he made an error along the way, since he changed Hal's age in the professional conversationalist scene - Hal had initally been about to turn 11, I think it was, in earlier editions, but in the 2006 reissue, Hal was now turning 13.
There's something backwards there -- first ed definitely says 13 (just confirmed), and it was edited to 11 (which fits better). If the 10th anniv. ed. says 13, they must have reverted to the original text.


Oh yeah, I switched the two. This stuff is confusing...


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 8:01 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jun 12, 2009 10:32 am
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joel wrote:
I've actually made a list of events occurring on April 1st:

April 1 / Avril I.


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 Post subject: Re: A Flaw in DFW's Timeline?
PostPosted: Sat Jul 18, 2009 9:11 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:47 am
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Location: Brooklyn, NY
yesss.

JOI / joy


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