Tag Archives: Hamlet

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.” 

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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?

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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.” 

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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.”

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: “…”

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

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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.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Monsters

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

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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.”

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Fire at Your Will

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

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November 16, 2011, pgs 450-469/1032-1033.  After some tonal dissonance, we are back in harmony with two sections — one from Ennet and one from ETA — that mirror each other with training motifs.  But first, a Hamlet Sighting: Tavis surveying his (usurped) kingdom while working himself into a state of “Total Worry.” There is also a mention that Tavis may in fact be Mario’s father.

Then on to the morning conditioning at ETA, a scene that is physically punishing to read and probably raises unpleasant memories for anyone who’s ever practiced with a team and/or been compelled to do exercises appropriately named “suicides.”  (These pages are owed a great debt by many of the pages in The Art of Fielding.)  They also bring the ETA part of the story back down to earth after the I-day puppet show. It probably has the same effect on the kids, who are up early the day after their sugar binge to do this conditioning. Some great moments include Wallace’s point about Schtitt: “Like most Germans outside popular entertainment, he gets quieter when he wants to impress or menace.” Along with Edgar Marsalla in chapel at Pency in the early pages of “The Catcher in the Rye” and Gately being “the one who’d farted” earlier in the book (281), the part when “Left-hander Brian van Vleck picks a bad moment to break wind” is among the better uses of a fart in literature.

Over at Ennet House, Gately is engaged in a similar kind of training regiment.  But first, a quick “Gravity’s Rainbow” sighting with Gately who feels like he’s “strapped into a missile and launched at the site of a domestic errand” while driving Pat M’s car.

Regarding his struggles with the Higher Power and over whether the program actually works, Gately is told that “it didn’t matter at this point what he thought or believed or said. All that mattered was what he did.” So he does his own daily conditioning, including the calisthenics of getting down on his knees every AM and PM, regardless of whether he believes: “he treated prayer like setting an oven-temp according to a box’s instructions.” He gets active and goes to Commitments and finds that suddenly, he’s gone days without craving substances.

The ETAers and Gately are both following Schtitt’s instructions to “Fire at your will,” a clever mistranslation on Wallace’s part.  And Schtitt’s internal world for the players echo’s the in here/out there of AA. To top it off, toward the end Wallace notes “the extremely low resting pulse-rate of a guy with geologic amounts of sober AA time,” a quality that is most often connected to elite athletes, including, presumably, the ETA kids.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: ONANism

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

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October 31, 2011, pgs 380-418/1028-1031.  I think I enjoy this section most as storytelling strategy. Wallace obviously had to at some point explain the development of his near-future reality of subsidized time and President Gentle and Interlace teleputers. He could have done it with a standard flashback, or obliquely through the development of other parts of the story. It’s possible that Hugh Steeply could have been a narrative vehicle, or James O. Incandenza’s ONANtiad. Instead, we get Mario’s puppet show spoof of his father’s film, viewed annually at Enfield Academy on Interdependence Day.  The format allows for a fleshed out telling of the story in a way that enhances, without undermining, the fundamental ridiculousness of a microbe-phobic ex-crooner maneuvering his party into governmental leadership and his struggling nation into the Organization of North American Nations. I was reminded of Homer Simpson’s rise to Sanitation Commissioner of Springfield, as captured in image and song below:

Then on to Lyle, whose relationship with the hyperhidrostic Marlon Bain seems to have been the basis for JOI’s movie Death in Scarsdale. As Mario’s film plays in the cafeteria, Lyle counsels various ETAers in the unlit weight room. His visitors include Ortho Stice who is struggling (along with this reader, so far) to understand why his bedroom furniture is being rearranged while he sleeps.

At the same time, Hal is ingesting massive amounts of sugar, noticing a toothache, and thinking about his father’s films, in particular The Medusa v. The Odalisque.  Again with the St. Therese, who in this case is “a character out of old Québécois mythology who was supposedly so inhumanly gorgeous that anyone who looked at her turned instantly into a human-sized precious gem, from admiration.”  A deadly, mythical, Canadian PGOAT.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Waste Displacement

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

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September 14, 2011, pgs 240-270. These 30 pages have giant catapults tossing waste into the subannular (?) regions of the Great Concavity, Hal tossing clipped toenails with mystic accuracy into an across-the-room waste basket, and Pemulis tossing his cookies into a bucket at the Port Washington tournament.

Orin’s got “Helen” Steeply around, and I think we all know there’s much more to his wheelchair admirers than he or Hal recognizes. The conversation, which begins “Mr. Incandenza, this is the Enfield Raw Sewage Commission, and quite frankly we’ve had enough shit out of you,” also features discussions on interred bodies and freed souls before turning to the death of James O. Incandenza. With that in mind, Hal’s Orin-esque slip that “Launching the nail out toward the wastebasket now seems like an exercise in telemachry.” (emphasis mine) raises a handful of issues. Telemachus being Odysseus’s son is thematically important in a son waiting/searching for his father kind of way; Telmachus also being the model for Stephen Dedalus in “Ulysses” presents possible Hal I/Don G and Stephen Dedalus/Leopold Bloom parallels at work; and ‘telemachry’ (i.e. search for father) being the replacement for ‘telemetry’ has significance regarding the (to be seen) eerie behavior of objects around ETA and the presence of lost father — which counts as a Hamlet Sighting.

Hal was the one who found JOI after his suicide (on April 1 — infinite jester indeed), and was forced by the adults in his life into some intensive mental rehab from the experience. The talk about self-help books warrants a link to this glimpse into Wallace’s self-help library, which is light-shedding on the attitude the author has on this stuff and will come in handy later when it comes to AA cliches. It’s hard to tell if Hal’s need to perform and excel in his healing is more anxiety inducing than his actual traumatic experience, and we learn that he was the first-person narrator “dreaming of a face in the floor” way back when.

Then the ETA kids wail on some of the Port Washington preps. Schacht (another one of Wallace’s normal-ish but really-hard-to-figure-out-how-to-pronounce names) is relatively at peace with his lot in life.

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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Too Much Fun

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

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September 14, 2011, pgs 219-240. Here comes Joelle van Dyne, a veiled Boston-ite who, with her knowledge of film making and Incandenzas and hard drugs, is the primary link between the two major plot lines in this book. She arrives on the stage just as she is planning to exit by way of Too Much Fun with some freebase. In addition to a filthily cluttered grad-student bathroom that is so well written it’s annoying at an adult-etiquette level, this section is full of important information. Here is what to look for:

— “The rain’s wet veil blurs things like Jim had designed his neonatal lens to blur things in imitation of a neonatal retina, everything recognizable and yet without outline.”

— “The ultimate annular fusion: that of exhibit and its cage.”

— The chronology of Subsidized Time on page 223 (of my edition) is critical. You’ll want to turn back to this page, so you may as well mark it somehow.

— The man in the wheelchair holding the removable cartridge.

— “She’s had her last fling with film cartridges. Jim had used her several times. Jim at the end had filmed her at prodigious and multi-lensed length, and refused to share what he’d made of it, and died w/o a note.”

— “…after Orin first left, and then Jim came and made her sit through that filmed apology-scene…”

— “Joelle van Dyne” is ” a.k.a. Madame P[sychosis]” from the MIT radio show.

— “Joelle even now lives hand-to-lung on a grossly generous trust willed her by a man she unveiled for but never slept with, the prodigious punter’s father, infinite jester, director of a final opus so magnum he’d claimed to have it locked away.”

— Joelle “doubts that any sum of scenes as pathologic as he’d stuck that long quartzy auto-wobbling lens on the camera and filmed her for could have been as entertaining as he’d said the thing he’d always wanted to make had broken his heart by ending up.”

— “…on either side of the mirror he’d cut for the scenes of that last ghastly thing he’d made her stand before, reciting in the openly empty tones she’d gone on to use on air…”

— “Was the allegedly fatally entertaining and scopophiliac thing Jim alleges he made out of her unveiled face here at the start of Y.T.S.D.B. a cage or really a door?”

— “…brain heaving in its bone-box, memorizing every detail like collecting empty shell…” (this just sounds like a description of what it’s like to be Wallace in a room on a tough day)

— “…a kind of wraith- or phantom-like—”

— “—way it can be film qua film. Comstock says if it even exists it has to be something more like an aesthetic pharmaceutical.”

— “‘This ultimate cartridge-as-ecstatic-death rumor’s been going around like a lazy toilet since Dishmaster… Have a look. See that it’s doubtless just high-concept erotica or an hour of rotating whorls. Or something like Makavajev, something that’s only entertaining after it’s over, on reflection.’”

– “She always sees, after inhaling, right at the apex, at the graph’s spike’s tip, Bernini’s ‘Ecstasy of St. Teresa,’ behind glass, at the Vittoria, for some reason…”

— “‘The Face of the Deep’ had been the title she’s suggested for Jim’s unseen last cartridge, which he’d said would be too pretentious and then used that skull-fragment out of the Hamlet graveyard scene instead, which talk about pretentious she’d laughed. His frightened look when she’d laughed…”

— There is an oblique indication that Joelle was molested by her father right at the end of 239. This is a potential, credible but unconfirmed threat.

— Hamlet Sighting: Joelle attempts suicide in a blue bathtub. She is Ophelia.

These chapters do an excellent job of capturing the excruciating experience of hanging out with graduate students who are up their own asses with academic syntax and latin phrases. But the whole nexus of addiction and entertainment and annular cycles of cages and doors and death here is, to be honest, kind of thinly veiled.

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