Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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The Inficratic Oath: first, post no spoilers. Limit your I.J. discussion to only those events that take place on or before the page 981 (100%).



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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 7:53 am 
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Montag wrote:
This is my second attempt at this behemoth (last time I bailed around page 156) and I am incredibly intimidated. I bought the 10th Anniversary edition because I'd heard good things and it was incredibly cheap. I had no idea what I was getting into and quickly got out.

On the other hand, I adore the first chapter so much that I had to wonder why I couldn't finish this last time...


Just a quick interruption to address Montag's mention of being intimidated. I think anyone who's made it through will tell you there are parts of the book that bogged them down. For some it's the Wardine section, for me it's any scene with Marathe in it... Perservere, power through it, then bookmark it. Somewhere down the road you'll get an echo that will bring you back to it. It's worth it.

On my first read, I was nearly convinced that in the first scene Hal was suffering from a form of autism. Further reading & discussion revealed no evidence of that, but there's an example of how each reader brings his/her own experience to the reading.


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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 8:52 am 
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For me, the biggest theme with Hal so far is his hyper-awareness of the difference between the way he sees himself and the way others see him. On page five, he "compose[s] what I project will be seen as a smile," (emphasis added) but Athletic Affairs takes it to be a grimace: "Is he in pain? Are you in pain, son?"

Clearly, Hal is smart. Really smart. Smarter than the average bear. I feel like this might actually have something to do with the "something [he] ate" (10), the patch of fungal basement mold—hey, it wouldn't be the first case of fungal-enhanced consciousness, if you get my drift. That section on pp. 10-11, in fact, strikes me as analogous to the Biblical fall of Man and subsequent exile from Eden. Hal is in his mother's garden, presumably a normal kid at this point, but he eats this nasty basement stuff and his poor mother, who seems sort of rigid and dour with her "presbyopic squint," either cannot or does not want to understand him when he says, "I ate this." Instead, she goes into hysterics, and starts pacing in circles around the square garden. Hal tries to follow her, but trips on the twine fencing. Their relationship has changed. Hal has changed.

Yet exactly in what way has he changed? It depends on whose perspective you take, whose story you accept. Hal understands himself to be brilliant, possibly the smartest human who has ever lived. On page 12, my favorite passage so far, he becomes almost god-like, trying to explain himself calmly and rationally while the Deans look on in uncomprehending horror. "There is nothing wrong," he says. "I'm in here." Then, "I am not what you see and hear."

The Deans, however, see it differently. "Like an animal," they say about him (14). "Subanimalistic noises and sounds." They think he's disturbed, or retarded, possibly even dangerous. "His face," one of them says. "As if he was strangling. Burning. I believe I've seen a vision of hell."

Has anyone here read William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell? Famous passage: "...I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity." My reproduction of this quote is out of context, but it gets at the gist of what Wallace is saying here. Based on what we know so far, what is Hal? We know he's become more or less incomprehensible to others. But does that make him a genius, or an animal?

I'm going with genius. If we can trust Hal's narration—not necessarily trusting that everything he says is true, but trusting it insofar as we believe it to be coming from him, and not someone else—then we know he's operating on a higher level than the Deans give him credit for. There is a nice image on page 16 that gives us an inkling of the actual situation, in which Hal is being prepped by the medics for an ambulance ride, and the Deans and C.T. are debating the necessity of his hospitalization. Hal observes: "The issue whether the damaged even have interested wills is shallowly hashed out as some sort of ultra-mach fighter too high overhead to hear slices the sky from south to north" (16).

Hal is that ultra-mach fighter, and indeed, nobody can hear him.

EDIT: The more I think about it, the more it seems that the Blake allusion might have been DFW's intention. Incandenza brings to mind "incandescent," which refers to artificial light, as if from a lightbulb. Hal, like Lucifer, is a bearer of light—delight!—but it is a harsh light, it burns too brightly, and people cannot bear to look at it directly. Think about the Erdedy section, in which light is represented as an intruding force, as a "shadow of light" (17) that obscures vision. Erdedy would rather live in the isolated darkness of a smoke-filled room, practically Plato's cave, illuminated only by the pathetic flickering of his TP set. But now I'm creeping into spoiler territory, and so I'll be quiet.


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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 5:08 pm 
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Thanks McSlice - you've at least given me a tenuous rationale I can start to explore with.

But c'mon what's the deal with Hal? Fine - he's a genius but why is it the admissions board only perceives a damaged boy "like a stick of butter being hit with a mallet". Even his dad in the surreal "conversationalist" bit doesn't seem to apprehend the kid.

OK, I guess I'm just going to have to trust in the DFW.


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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 7:28 pm 
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Just a forum question - can we get a Kindle location for the spoiler limit? I don't want to breach so I'm just going off what other people have stated they've read.

Secondly - I read a lot of what happened with Hal as his own experience of the matter, not what actually took place. Everything that happened we experienced from behind his eyes, so what happened is up to his interpretation and memory. Things appeared (to me) to be a whirlwind of happenings around him in a chair. I got the impression that this darkly lit room could almost be a sort of interrogation, with him in a center chair and many people around him breaking in and out of his thoughts. He is a genius but is trapped within his own mind, unable to communicate those to the outside world. At least that's how I experienced it. Like you Denisess, I thought Autism or some other high-functioning "damaged" mental state.

I really expected the Erdedy section to end with him having already consumed his weed due to the severe paranoia and interest he bears with the insect. However the more I thought about it, his story about the harder drugs made me think that perhaps he was a greater degree of addict which would explain his greatly disrupted mood. I felt the section went from high energy while he was concerned about the lateness of the woman to a fairly low energy while he reminisced about his previous 'girl' and back to high energy again. These swings made me think he was into harder stuff than just weed like he alluded to but he hadn't quite admitted it to himself.

As this is my first experience with IJ, I'm surprised at how easy I'm getting into it. I'm excited and looking forward to more.

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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 9:43 pm 
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Truly excited for IS! I started the book earlier in the year, but wasn't giving it the time it deserved and set it aside until more time was available to me. Lucky for me that is now coupled with IS motivation.

I think someone mentioned this (I couldn't find the message), but I had also wondered if Hal's communication problems at the beginning were due to the mold situation, some sort of disintegration that occurred over time perhaps.

McSlice- Thank you so much for your insightful comment! Definitely some of the most interesting things that anyone has said thus far.

mblanc - You bring up some interesting ideas that I hadn't considered.


There seem to be parallels between Erdedy and the bug. Both seem trapped or just to be going nowhere.

I think that Himself definitely responds to Hal during the conversationalist sequence, at least at first. And the parallel seems less between Himself's and the interview panel's impression of Hal, but rather a parallel between Himself (from the conversationalist sequence) and Hal (in the first sequence). In the separate sequences, Himself and Hal both seem to be falling apart or losing something of themselves. For Hal, he can no longer communicate with others and for Himself, he can no longer perceive communication, perhaps. I'm not sure and really not sure what all this might mean, just some thoughts.


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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 11:02 pm 
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mblank13 wrote:
Just a forum question - can we get a Kindle location for the spoiler limit? I don't want to breach so I'm just going off what other people have stated they've read.


If you check here: http://infinitesummer.org/archives/168 you'll see a Kindle percentage correlated with a page number. This week is 6%, location 1522. How nice was that for someone to do?

My first impressions: The first chapter was pretty confusing. ? Was Hal catatonic or did he just blow everyone's mind with the things he was saying? Prob. catatonic. I've heard of genius children burning out later. (See John Stuart Mill.) I think we get insight into what happened to him a little later.

Because of the fanfare and because I didn't know this author, I was trying to get a fix on the author. Does anyone do that? I got the impression from the book that DFWallace knew a lot about: biology, Latin, mental illness and tennis. Did it take anyone else a while to figure out what YDAU meant?

I am lucky that I have Kindle and can just click on a word to get the definition. I doubt I'd spend the time with a dictionary, but I was curious how many words were made up. OED found about 80%.


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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 5:37 am 
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Saraguin wrote:
My first impressions: The first chapter was pretty confusing. ? Was Hal catatonic or did he just blow everyone's mind with the things he was saying? Prob. catatonic. I've heard of genius children burning out later. (See John Stuart Mill.) I think we get insight into what happened to him a little later.

Good point, Saraguin. Have you heard of William James Sidis? Sort of the same situation: estimated IQ range of 250-300, enrolled in Harvard at the age of nine, and by ten was hosting lectures about the mathematics of four-dimensional bodies. Burned out in his late teens, was committed, and ended up doing menial odd jobs for the rest of his life. Death by cerebral hemorrhage at 46.

Oddly enough—and I mean no disrespect here—DFW was exactly the same age when he died.

EDIT: Sidis' Wikipedia page bibliography cites a 1986 text called The Prodigy: A Biography of William James Sidis, America's Greatest Child Prodigy, by one Amy Wallace. My head almost exploded when I read that. Then I checked, and was somewhat disappointed to discover that the author was not, in fact, our David's sister Amy, but actually the daughter of late author Irving Wallace and sister of, get this, journalist and sports commentator David Wallechinsky.

But wait! It gets better. According to Wikipedia:

Wikipedia wrote:
When David was conducting genealogical research on his family, he discovered that the family's original last name was Wallechinsky. It had been anglicized to "Wallace" by an immigration clerk. He was so angered at this that he legally changed his name to "David Wallechinsky."


So you could say, technically, that Amy Wallace, sister of David Wallace, wrote a biography of William James Sidis.


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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 8:40 am 
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First impressions:

IJ is not nearly the hard-to-slog-through piece of writing that I was expecting. It's certainly dense and literate and way, way smarter than me, but it is not hard to read.

Second impressions (from when I put the book down the first time):

I "get" what's going on, but (oh man!) I can't imagine the stuff I'm missing. This is going to be fun to work through, but I kind of wish I was already on my second reading.

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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 11:48 am 
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He isn't going to let you drown...not for a second.....

That phrase just shattered me. Tears pouring down my face.


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 Post subject: Re: First Impressions?
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 1:54 pm 
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Quote:
My head almost exploded.



I'm familiar with that feeling. Is it synchronicity? I enjoy being in the audience of that theater.


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