Tag Archives: Hamlet Sighting

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Using Your Head

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

—————

March 29, 2012, pgs 902-911/1077. Many questions in just a handful of pages. We continue to get Gately’s backstory, which is kind of funny in a you-don’t-get-the-backstory-of-a-major-character-until-the-last-hundred-pages kind of way. We establish that Gately was nine years old during what sounds like the Rodney King riots.  Assuming Wallace is referring to these specific riots, that means Gately was nine in March of 1992, and is 29 here in the YDAU, making it 2011 or 2012. It’s unclear when his birthday is, though I’m sure some enterprising young obsessive could figure it out. For not, it’s another clue in nailing down the exact year.

Gately’s relationship to his head, at least in his younger days, is far different from the way Wallace usually deals with heads. Gately’s is a tool, a physical object so large and indestructible that it serves as a net positive in his social interactions and overall happiness. Most of the other heads in this book are portrayed as something along the lines of locked cages and/or torture instruments.  The “here” from Hal’s “I am in here.” on the first page of the book is reasonably interpreted as inside his head. It’s the first of many times when someone is basically trapped by their head — but not the young Don Gately, who uses his head to get laughs, get beers and get touchdowns. For more on how Wallace felt about heads, check his Kenyon University remarks.

Speaking of being inside Hal’s head, we swing back to another of his first person sections. “Some more heads came and awaited response and left.” This section marks the return to the main text of Mike Pemulis, who appears looking haggard. When Hal says “I could see my asking him where he’d been all week leading to so many different possible responses and further questions that the prospect was almost overwhelming,” it sounds an awful lot like the way being high has been described earlier in the book.

As I said, there are many questions, for example…

Pemulis says that Petropolis Kahn, who Hal appeared to ignore a moment ago, had “mentioned hysterics” when reporting to MP about Hal being in the room.  Hysterics?

Hal is thinking of his father’s funeral.  Why?

There is “a whoop and two crashes directly overhead.”  Significant? Or just general ETA-waking-up noises?

There is what seems to be a deliberate mention that Hal hasn’t seen C.T. or his mom all week. Where are they?

When asked about going to get food off campus, Hal finds that “I couldn’t decide.” Hamlet Sighting? (Yes.)

When Hal says that Pemulis “blarneyed” the urinalysis guy into giving them 30 days, Pemulis, who is itching to talk to Hal about something important, replies “Blarney wasn’t why we got it, Inc, is the thing.” Why did they get it, then?

Pemulis remarks that he hasn’t even heard of half of JOI’s stuff, followed by “And me using the poor guy’s lab.” What is Pemulis using the lab for?

Pemulis misreads that Annular Fusion is Our Fiend, and is corrected by Hal that it’s our Friend.

The closing of the section focuses on JOI’s film Good Looking Men…etc, with Hal specifically requesting to watch the last part in which Paul Anthony Heaven delivers a pedantic lecture on ancestors and inherited behaviors. When JOI enters the pages I always consider him as a stand in for Wallace, or at least Wallace’s artistic ambitions, and here we have his work appearing as Pemulis wears rimless specs and talks about blarney, while Hal considers the insertion of references to the artists JOI loved while the lecturer refers to generational hydrophobia. These cues make me think of James Joyce, and may perhaps explain Wallace’s struggle to avoid being “deprived of some essential fluid, aridly cerebral, abstract, conceptual, little more than hallucinations of God,” and step out of the shadow of his ancestor: “it is, finally, artistic askesis [discipline, or asceticism] which represents the contest proper, the battle-to-the-death with the loved dead.”

…tears run down Heaven’s gaunt face…

Last question: The book ends in 70 pages. How is he going to wrap this up?

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a comment

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: When it Hit

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

—————

March 22, 2012, pgs 883-902/1077. We are now into a repeating Gately-Hal cycle. Gately wakes up with the sound of “sandy sound of gritty sleetish stuff” against his room window, which means it may be in the same timeframe as Hal’s morning with the snowstorm. He attempts to argue with his M.D. — a cheerfully sinister South East Asian who echoes the Near Eastern Medical attaché.  As the M.D. offers up possible painkillers, “Gately imagines the M.D. smiling incandescently as he wields a shepherd’s crook,” recalling Gately’s painfully obvious dream about relapse. When the M.D. gets around to recommending Dilaudid, Gately thinks of his old crew-mate Gene Facklemann. There are more womb images appearing here and there as well.  “Pentazocine lactate is Talwin, Gately’s #2 trusted standard when he was Out There, which 120 mg. on an empty guy was like floating in oil the exact same temperature as your body”  and “The thing about Demerol wasn’t just the womb-warm buzz of a serious narcotic.” Gately also continuously refers to his resistance as “not-Entertaining,” which with the capital-E on there on more than one occasion seems hardly coincidental. When McDade and Diehl show up, Gately wants to know what day it is: “That Gately can’t communicate even this most basic of requests makes him want to scream.” Which sounds familiar.

Hal has gone from feeling and apparently acting a little funny to having a full physical reaction. “I was moving down the damp hall when it hit.” He’s perceiving things very intensely and thinking about his accumulated days walking down the halls of ETA in all “kinds of light.” Lying on his back in Viewing Room 5 he thinks about how “if it came down to a choice between continuing to play competitive tennis and continuing to be able to get high, it would be a nearly impossible choice to make.” Hal mentions that the attendant at the Shell Station last night had recoiled from him, meaning that his weird faces and such might have started the night before. Apparently John Wayne had been taken to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital after his encounter with the Tenuate, which means he could have been the person crying with the deep voice next to Gately.  But that seems unlikely since Gately says he could tell the shot the man was getting was narcotic. Hal has a sort of teenager-type revelation/recurring DFW theme that “We are all dying to give our lives away to something” and follows up with a literal Hamlet sighting. Tavis’ biological father was killed in a freak accident playing competitive darts, and his mother was at least partly homodontic like Mario. While Gately’s thinking about wombs, Hal lays in his “tight little sarcophagus of space.”

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a comment

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Tragedy Comedy

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

—————

March 14, 2012, pgs 865-883/1077. Hal, still in first person, goes to brush his teeth. The early morning crying he hears behind closed doors reminds me of the stories I’ve heard from people who were in Teach for America: “Lots of the top players start the A.M. with a quick fit of crying, then are basically hale and well-wrapped for the rest of the day.”

For some reason, the clock in the bathroom reads “11-18-EST456” when the day is actually the 20th. Maybe it’s an uncorrected effect of ETA’s fixing of the mirrors to prevent Pemulis from messing with them.  Maybe it’s something else.  I like to think that the snow on the boys’ dorm windowsill is a basically meaningless but polite nod to “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Hal wanders out to find Ortho Stice chanting to himself. His forehead is frozen to the window, facing outward much like a night watchman, as a previous commenter has pointed out while posing a pretty compelling theory that this is the point at which the narrative begins to line up with the narrative of Hamlet.

If this theory has legs, it’s possible but (again) probably a stretch to think that Wallace dropped a little hint for us. When Hal speaks to Ortho, Ortho asks Hal if he is crying.  At the end of the scene Hal is asked why he’s laughing so much.  In neither case does Hal believe he’s doing either — on speaking to Stice: “My voice had been neutral and a bit puzzled.” But these expressions may be referring to the Tragedy and Comedy masks of the theater (or theatre, if you must). It would be appropriate, if this is officially where “Infinite Jest” — or at least this part of “Infinite Jest” — begins to properly parallel the narrative in “Hamlet.”*

Whatever the case is, strange things are all around. There is a figure outside sitting on the bleachers in the snow. Ortho tells his story about waking up in the middle of the night and slips and says “The point’s I’m up there —” about his bed. Troeltsch and Axhandle have either switched rooms or are in the same room on the same twin bed. The Darkness then asks if Hal believes “in shit” like ghosts. He mentions that someone came by before but just stood behind him silently, “Then he went away. Or…it.” Ortho tells Hal that if he pulls him off the window, “I’ll take and show you some parabnormal shit that’ll shake your personal tree but good,” referring to his bed moving around in his room. Stice won’t come unstuck from the window.

Hal goes for help, taking his toothbrush with him because of a previous incident at ETA in which students’ brushes had been dosed with Betel nut extract. Kenkle interrupts a monologue on sex — which sounds an awful like the description of a beast with two backs — to greet “Good Prince Hal.” Hal explains the situation to them and Kenkle asks him why it’s so funny. He appears to be laughing.

A yell sounds from upstairs.

Then — the US Office of Unspecified Services is preparing for a release of The Entertainment, with market tested ideas on how to reach little kids. It’s an interesting idea but feels like a bit of a distraction from the events unfolding with people we really care about. There is one interesting point of note, a connection to way back on page 419, when Marathe is thinking about the “latent and sadistic” assignments USOUS gives to its operatives. One of the things he lists is “healthy women as hydrocephalic boys or epileptic public-relations executives.” In this scene 460 pages later, Carl E. (‘Buster’) Yee, Director of Marketing and Product-Perception at the Glad Flaccid Receptacle Corporation, has an epileptic fit in the middle of the meeting. And I won’t even venture any unwelcome speculation about hydrocephalic boys.

*Maybe it’s crazy to look for such deliberate clues. It’s as stupid as trying to find “Hamlet” in Pi — unless…

.

Happy Pi Day everybody!

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a comment

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Alas, Poor Tony

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

—————

March 8, 2012, pgs 845-864/1076-1077. Finally, the end comes for Poor Tony Krause and Randy Lenz, two of the most unpleasant characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

But age with his stealing steps/ Hath clawed me in his clutch,/ And hath shipped me into the land/ As if I had never been such.

Lenz remains Lenz right up to the very end, apparently cutting Krause’s digits off and offering them up during the AFR civilian testing of The Entertainment. If there was any ambiguity, it seems that Marathe has definitely made his choice since he failed to report Jolene’s Joelle’s presence to Fortier and “had made his decision and his call,” said call being to Steeply. In the meantime, he helps plan an AFR incursion to ETA to get at Hal, Mario and Avril.

Gately dreams. He’s with Joelle getting ready for romance when her revealed face is that of Winston Churchill. This is reminiscent of the description of Ortho Stice from two hundred and ten pages prior: “A beautiful sports body, lithe and tapered and sleekly muscled, smooth…on whose graceful neck sits the face of a ravaged Winston Churchill, broad and slab-featured…”  It’s too far a stretch for me to call this a Hamlet Sighting, but I do think it’s funny that there is some possibly family resemblance between our possible Laertes and our almost certainly Ophelia characters. The root cause, however, is most likely David Foster Wallace’s feeling that Winston Churchill was funny looking. Gately’s touching memory-dream of Mrs. Waite morphs into what appears to be the content of The Entertainment, in which JOI’s death/female/mother cosmology is explained to Gately, who submits to it.

Hal wakes from a dream and — for what I think is the first time — speaks in a first person voice that is loudly and clearly identified as Hal (and not just a random, nameless first-person somewhere in the jumble of characters in the previous 850 pages). Hal now has a voice, and it’s one of the coolest tricks in a tricky novel, mostly because it doesn’t feel like a trick.  Pemulis is off the stage, but he’s clearly on the mind of Hal, who describes the snow outside as “Yachting-cap white.”  He is then struck by that fact that he’s having feelings of not wanting to play tennis: “I couldn’t remember feeling strongly one way or the other about playing for quite a long time, in fact.” Hal is shifting out of neutral, which seems like a good thing, but is also accompanied by the feeling that “without some one-hitters to be able to look forward to smoking alone in the tunnel I was waking up every day feeling as though there was nothing in the day to anticipate or lend anything any meaning.”

Gately wakes up to the real Joelle van Dyne.  Like her Ennet House-mates, Joelle unloads her recovery narrative on Gately, only this time he doesn’t seem to mind.  He takes inspiration from her progress and has his own kind of breakthrough: “He could do the dextral pain the same way: Abiding.”  We hear a by now familiar Wallace refrain “What’s unendurable is what his own head could make of it all.” All this business about living in the moment and ignoring the mind carries more-than-subtle notes of Buddhism.

In addition to refusing narcotic painkillers, Gately also tries to convince himself to swear off Joelle.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a comment

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: “…”

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

—————

February 25, 2012, pgs 809-845/1076. Gately is laid up in the trauma wing of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, mute and only non-narcotically medicated.  As such, he has become a target for Ennet House visitors eager to unload their memories, and for his own mind to unload a few of his own memories as well. Tiny Ewell is first, along with a “tall and slumped ghostish figure” and “the blurred seated square-head boy” who is likely to be Otis P. Lord with the computer monitor still stuck over his head. Ewell’s story of his school boy days makes him sound quite a bit like an early Mike Pemulis. Gately keeps dreaming about “Orientals” for some reason that I can’t identify.

Gately talks about the “airless and hellish, horrid” condition of being unable to speak and it seems that, as we approach the final pages of the book, both of our main protagonists are fighting the temptation to take drugs.  Hal sees faces in the floor and Gately sees breathing in the ceiling.  Gately’s bed is moved like Stice’s and he ends up next to a crying patient with a very deep voice.  No clue who that is.

Enter ghost.  The figure that has been resting its tailbone on the window sill (like JOI’s mother in previous scenes) is JOI Himself. The Hamlet Sightings are off the charts here, with the se offendendo that Wallace notes in the endnotes to JOI being the ghost of Hamlet’s father to his insertion of the word LAERTES into Gately’s thoughts. Bear in mind also that Laertes is the father of Odysseus, so there may even be some James Joyce/Homer sightings taking place here as well. We learn from the ghost of JOI about figurants, and how he felt like one his entire life and how Hal had started to become one just before JOI’s se offendendo. The figurants conversation also offers a hefty justification for why this book pretty much features “every single performer’s voice, no matter how far out on the cinematographic or narrative periphery they were.”  Immediately the early Clenette chapter (“Wardine say her mama aint treat her right…”) comes to mind.

We learn that the purpose of The Entertainment was for JOI to connect with Hal, “To bring him ‘out of himself,’ as they say. The womb could be used both ways. A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard. A life-long dream. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.” I’m not certain of the exact timeline here, but it seems possible that JOI-as-wraith might be able, at some point during these interactions with Gately, to whisk up the hill to ETA and see his son actually watching and presumably being entertained by his father’s movies.

Gately slips in and out of consciousness, remembering the MP who abused his mother.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

2 Comments

Filed under Liveblog

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Subsequent Events

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

—————

February 16, 2012, pgs 785-808/1066-1076. Rather than taking Pemulis’ advice to try something new, Hal visits Ennet House to try and get information on meetings to help him kick the habit he won’t call an addiction. It’s a quick section, but Wallace does a nice job of being Johnette Folz and seeing a well established character through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know him and doesn’t particularly care about him.

Molly Notkin is spilling the beans in the decidedly less-strenuous variety of technical interview performed by the U.S.O.U.S.  We get more important details about The Entertainment and Joelle’s history. These revelations include: JOI’s death/female cosmology; two kitchen appliance related suicides; sordid implications that Avril Incandenza was involved in both a sordid relationship with Orin and the sordid details of JOI’s suicide; the story of Joelle’s weird father and the alleged disfiguration that keeps her veiled.  All of this seems very enlightening and settling of certain questions until Notkin* tells her interviewers that “Madame Psychosis’s name was in reality Lucille Duquette,” at which point we realize that any of the other details might be lies or exaggerations as well.

Then Hal heads out to an unspecified anti-substance meeting, but not before he “rushed through P.M.’s dispatching Shaw 1 and 3 by the time the regular P.M.’s were even warming up” — which indicates that Hal may be getting his tennis chops back at least. The meeting turns out to be one of the more absurd and horrible things in the book (and this is right after a section in which a woman has been described killing herself with a kitchen sink garbage disposal), where we get a look at at least one variety of feral infant. I’ll sum it up the way Wallace sums up the section:

So Hal’s most vivid full-color memory of the non-anti-Substance Meeting he drove fifty oversalivated clicks to by mistake will become that of his older brother’s doubles partner’s older brother down on all fours on a Dacronyl rug, crawling, hampered because one arm was holding his bear to his chest, so he sort of dipped and rose as he crawled on three limbs toward Hal and the needs-meeter behind him, Bain’s knees leaving twin pale tracks in the carpet and his head up on a wobbly neck and looking up and past Hal, his face unspeakable.

**

*A possible nod to “A little more than kin, and less than kind,” as a friend and fellow reader pointed out to me. There may be a deliberate connection here, but the line from Hamlet seems less directed at Molly than a perfect description of Avril Incandenza.

** Throughout all of this, the story of Mike Pemulis has been relegated to the endnotes. In two long ones we hear the story of the Seldane-Tenuate mix up that leaves MP in a situation where his “sinuses felt like four-laners and his sense of smell was a lot keener than a man in a locker room might wish” and John Wayne (who Pemulis refers to as The Duke in an oblique Hamlet Sighting) spouting off wildly on Troeltsch’s broadcast. The whole things seems almost too well orchestrated to not have been set in motion by someone with an agenda against Pemulis.  Any list of Persons of Interest would have to include certain school administrators who were not likely amused by Mike’s flyer about how 17 could go into 56 way more than 3.294 times.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

Leave a comment

Filed under Liveblog

Wherein I’ll Catch the Conscience of The Pale King

IF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE ISN’T HERE to read “The Pale King,” it’s nice that Adam Scott, Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson), Josh Radnor, Henry Rollins and others are.

.

Given the delay of “Infinite Jest” on audiobook, the best way forward is probably to record all of his novels this way.

Buy “The Pale King” here.

1 Comment

Filed under Hooray Fiction!

The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Monsters

This is the latest entry in Words, Words, Words the ongoing liveblog of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” 

—————

February 9, 2012, pgs 755-785/1062-1066. I recall reading, in an essay I can’t dig up for the life of Google, how DFW’s fiction shows a special affinity for the deformed, the ill, the afflicted and so on. It was not that Wallace wrote with a special sympathy for them; kind of the opposite really.  It was that they seemed to be the only category of people in his fiction who were capable of genuine happiness.  They were not Frankenstein monsters that deserved pity so much as genuine heroes.  Exhibit A in this theory is Mario Incandenza, the homodontic, bradykinetic, macrocephalic and eternally cheerful middle son, who is wandering the halls getting footage for his annual ETA documentary.  His conversation with LaMont Chu (perfectly healthy; punished by desire to appear in magazines) taps us in to the gossip around the grounds, and as Mario shuffles into his mother’s office (tall and beautiful; wildly unhappy and neurotic), the scenery has more to tell us than the interaction itself. A blue blazer with the O.N.A.N.T.A. logo on it hangs in the office, curiously similar to the one the urologist was wearing previously. Avril still has a coach’s whistle around her neck, and the reference to “An old folded pair of U.S.A. football pants and a helmet” as Avril’s “one memento of Orin” (professional athlete and excellent seducer; let’s not even get started on how nuts he is) comes creepily soon after Avril volunteers to be “a subject” for Mario’s filming.

It’s easy to make the assumption that Mario is as mentally slow as he is physically, but there is a mention here that his awareness goes all the way back to his days in the incubator. Or at the very least, as he says, “I have a phenomenal memory for things that make me laugh.”

Remy Marathe (deformities self-inflicted; losing his faith) and Kate Gompert (physically attractive; metaphysical horrorshow) have a late-night rendezvous in Ryles Jazz Bar (a real place), where she has come after being mugged by post-seizure Poor Tony Krause (who himself is headed towards the Antitoi’s shop and another kind of rendezvous), and where Remy has come to call Steeply and betray his comrades. Both are drinking as Remy tells his own story of need and addiction, and how he has no choice in the matter of loving and saving his wife.  Kate seems to have been well-cheered by adrenaline and alcohol, though Remy’s story seems to bring her down, as most stories with lots of bodily fluids will.  Here again we have someone physically grotesque who, if not happy herself is the sole source of happiness for Marathe.

When Remy asks Kate if she would like to go view The Entertainment, it’s hard, knowing her history, not to think that she probably should say yes.

If many of Wallace’s afflicted are heroes, then the opposite can be true with unafflicted and villains. Consider the lobber: Hal’s unsettled state about Pemulis’ ability to lie starts to reveal a sinister side to a character who was until now just a savvy sidekick. Hal even equates his lying with the monsters that once terrified him: “I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there’s simply no way to tell.” Hal’s confession to Mario reveals some building anxiety around his own situation too — in particular his worry about passing the urinalysis because the THC in pot is “fat soluble. It stays in there, in the body’s fat.”

In (another) extended endnote, Hal tells Pemulis about a dream where he is trying to say words but is unable to do anything but sing Ethyl Merman tunes, a la the soldier who took DMZ. His appeal that “It’s me! It’s me, screaming for help!” sounds similar to the opening chapter of the book. Pemulis’ assurances to Hal that he should take a “cobweb clearing” dose of DMZ, or try some other drug to replace the pot would have sounded like reasonable, or at least normal, advice had it not been endnoted right off a section where Hal is deeply skeptical and almost scared of Mike.

Pemulis’ warnings that continuing with weed will make Hal indecisive tug on the Hamlet themes, and I’d bet some enterprising academic could write a solid thesis on the link between marijuana and Hamlet in Infinite Jest. You could start with the second chapter of the novel with Erdeddy, make some connections between Hal secretly smoking in the subterranean pump room and Hamlet in the crypt, and call it “A Hit, a Very Palpable Hit: Marijuana, Hamlet and Infinite Jest.”

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

1 Comment

Filed under Liveblog