Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:45 am 
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Don't tell me you all understood this section? I thought I was doing well with comprehension until I got to the part with the professional conversationalist.

At first I thought maybe "professional conversationalist" was a euphemism for therapist. But nothing that came after made me think I knew what I was reading.

Do you think this is where the Hamlet references might come in handy? Or are there other theories for what's going on here?


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 10:06 am 
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I wouldn't recommend running to Hamlet for this section. Think about time...where is it in relation to the opening college interview segment? Think about what's being revealed about the characters. Also how it may relate to Hal's situation in the opening segment. Hal's using a lot of words...is he communicating? What's the "conversationalist's" agenda?
Sorry to answer a question with questions, I know that can be annoying, but you can't get all the answers from other readers. Bring your own perspective and effort to the table & you'll be rewarded.


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 10:11 am 
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Please always answer with questions! I give the section another try (when I get home tonight) and see what I get this time.


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:07 am 
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I shouldn't be doing this just yet, but since I'm still thinking about it, I'll come up with a theory to square away what's going on here:

First, I'm just going to accept that at this point in my reading, this section is going to be more dream sequence than reality. It does more to develop character and describe relationships than it does to advance plot.

But I do have a guess about what might materially might be going on -- and I'm sure it will be revised later. There is something sort of mechanical about the Professional Conversationalist - it's like Hal is having a conversation with one of those online robots than can simulate conversations. Only he's speaking to one that is more technologically advanced than our own versions. Still, it seems to have the telltale word and information diarhea; and it doesn't quite know how to prioritize what it wants to say. It seems to cut and paste information its received in the past, stringing it together without a lot of finesse.

I'm guessing this might even be a futuristic simulation program of some kind. Since at this point I don't know enough about this world, I'm not sure how well this holds up.

I know I haven't said anything about the character development here.. but that sort of isn't the part that I'm really confused about. It's just the way DFW is conveying it that intrigues me.


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:31 am 
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I was undecided after the first read through of this section whether or not Hal was communicating but rereading it just now it seems clear that he is not.

I love the line

"Would it be rude to tell you your mustache is askew?"

The biggest question I am left with after this section is Himself in disguise. I guess I don't question if he really was or not, the fake nose and mustache seem believable but I am fascinated by the reasons behind that.


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 12:36 pm 
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And if it is Himself in disguise what does that tell you about Hal and his father's relationship? How well do they communicate (or not?)

And this section is screamingly funny- for bonus points.


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 12:52 pm 
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Maybe there is more to it, but why would Hal want to communicate with a stranger who seems to also be trying to push his buttons? And he's just ten years old? The stranger, or Himself in disguise, is a bit patronizing, and demanding right? Although I agree Hal is not innocent. And he's probably not just a ten year old kid here who doesn't know any better. Though I don't know if he can help it if he's precocious. And this really is a funny section! All of those lemon soda drinking sounds. It's all a creepy uncanny kind of funniness. Is that what you mean by screaming?


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:43 pm 
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Location: UTAH. Yes I'm from Utah. No I'm not a Mormon.
This is one where I'm not sure what to think. They are both behaving as if their perception of what is going on is exactly what actually IS going on. It seems to swing back and forth. I'm reading it again and skipping all of Hal's responses to see if it really is the case that Hal isn't speaking... Some of Himself's statements seem like they could be follow-ups to clearly unanswered questions, but there are too many that imply that he heard what Hal had just said. The age-correction could only come after he heard Hal's response. When he says "I'll begin by asking if you know the meaning of implore, Hal." he says "I'll ask you again whether you know implore, young sir."
When you read only Hal's comments, it seems as likely that James isn't actually hearing him. When Himself tries to get Hal to talk about Byzantine erotica he completely disregards Hal's response until Hal criticizes him for using full-bore in casual conversation. Then it's back to ignoring what Hal says when he agrees to discuss Byzantine erotica.

It's kind of like if you ask a liar if they are a liar...

Maybe this is one of the parts where DFW meant to inspire debate akin to the "What, exactly, happened to Hal?" and the Joelle debate. It's just one of those things that keeps us coming back for more. It's scary how similar this book is to the Entertainment...


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 10:45 am 
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my take on this section is that this is Himself's pathetic attempt at building a relationship with his kid. notice how Himself doesn't give up the ghost; even when hal has caught on, Himself still continues to talk over him as though he is not Himself.

it's sort of ironic that Himself's attempt to build a relationship with his kid involves deception followed by not acknowledging the truth. hmm.


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 Post subject: Re: Page 27-31 Professional Conversationalist section
PostPosted: Tue Jun 23, 2009 1:00 pm 
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This is the bit where Hamlet is visited for the first time by his father's ghost, right? So you have a person who knows things that he probably shouldn't be able to know, (like the Moms's illicit relationships) and he wants his son to do particular things that the son is going to struggle with. Himself's face melting is a particularly haunting picture...


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