Ma boys Wallace n Franzen lookin correct in the party.
So obviously the “plot” of Infinite Jest is kind of fragmented and all over the place and whatnot. And it’s fairly obviously “anti-confluential” (which term has appeared, according to a cursory Google search, pretty much nowhere other than this book), i.e. it was never going to tie up nicely at the end, I got that. But what I didn’t anticipate was the sheer volume of shit that would be left partially answered or in some cases just totally not addressed at all.
The first one I want to throw my hands up and say “no fucking clue” and maybe ask for your input on is: What the fuck happened to Hal.
I know a lot of you have probably checked out The Howling Fantods (and if you haven’t then… well, do it, because it’s definitely a better resource than this sorry excuse for a blog), and from what I saw there, there are a few theories flying around w/r/t (I KNOW SORRY) Hal’s final condition:
1. DMZ toothbrush: His toothbrush was laced with DMZ. Evidence supporting this theory includes the ceiling panel which Pemulis finds removed on p. 916, suggesting someone has found his stash and subsequently dosed some ETA toothbrushes with DMZ; also the toothbrush and NASA glass are mentioned repeatedly during this time. Not sure I buy this theory, and it certainly hadn’t even occurred to me while reading the book.
2. Hal took that shit himself: Pretty self-explanatory. Hal’s deteriorating mental state and detox etc. led him to steal the DMZ from Pemulis and just eat those fuckers. There’s not much supporting this, but there’s not a lot of evidence to the contrary either, so accepting this hypothesis would be fairly unproblematic but kind of uninteresting, no?
3. Hal internally synthesised DMZ over a period of years (say wuuuut?): I have to say I kind of like this idea more than I actually believe it. You should really shimmy over to this page on the Fantods site for a full exposition of this theory, but the gist is:
Totally batshit, but I like it. The “clues” cannot be accidental - could anything in a Wallace novel be accidental? Maybe coincidental is the word I’m looking for, I’m not sure, I’m tired all the time. But: I am inclined to think that this theory is either correct, or a Nabokovian red herring which was deliberately given some credibility in the text to draw our attention away from a more subtle and nuanced truth.
4. Hal was abused as a child: I don’t know. Maybe. The theory goes that his final state is brought on by the resurfacing of repressed memories, perhaps as a result of his withdrawal. Let there be no doubt, James Orin Incandenza was one fucked-up individual, but I think this theory is a stretch.
5. Hal watched the Entertainment: This did actually occur to me when I was reading the scene in which Hal is supine on the floor of Viewing Room 5; he asks Pemulis to get a cartridge off the shelf, and a number of cartridges are described as being “mislabeled” or as having peeling labels. Blah blah blah, maybe he watched a part of one of the mislabeled cartridges which contained part of some version of Infinite Jest, survived, and went kind of crazy.
I’d also like to add my own observation: Michael Pemulis, near the end of the book, keeps trying to talk to Hal about something. All we know from the text is that it has something to do with the urine testing they managed to postpone, but we never get to hear what Pemulis urgently wants to interface with Hal about. I think he suggests that he needs to tell Hal the real reason they got out of providing urine samples - which, as far as I can recall, was Pemulis’ knowledge of the tryst between Avril and John Wayne, so that doesn’t really tie in with any of the above theories. Maybe I’m missing something really obvious here.
I genuinely want to discuss this because my real life friends are all like getting laid or ingesting substances or whatever young people are supposed to do, and as such have neglected their basic duty to read Infinite Jest and discuss it with me endlessly. So please: what the fuck happened to Hal?
EDIT: Please feel free to use the “submit” link for long-form responses, if you want to ramble. Rambling’s good.
Especially considering the sporadic/thin nature of my posts. I’m working my way through Infinite Jest for the third time, which is the best I can offer by way of an excuse. I’m sure I’ll have lots of insightful things to say after that.
In the meantime, feel free to submit anything even tenuously DFW-related, and actually anything even totally non-DFW-related, because why not.
The world is incredibly, incredibly, unbelievably old.
The Decemberists have unveiled their latest video for “Calamity Song,” a collaboration with director Michael Schur in his music video maiden voyage. Schur is the co-creator of NBC’s acclaimed comedy series Parks and Recreation, and has also been a writer for Saturday Night Live and a producer of The Office. The video was inspired by David Foster Wallace’s gargantuan, mind-altering novel Infinite Jest. It was filmed on location in Grant Park in Portland, Oregon on the rainiest July 17 in the city’s history.
COLIN MELOY: I wrote “Calamity Song” shortly after I’d finished reading David Foster Wallace’s epic Infinite Jest. The book didn’t so much inspire the song itself, but Wallace’s irreverent and brilliant humor definitely wound its way into the thing. And I had this funny idea that a good video for the song would be a recreation of the Enfield Tennis Academy’s round of Eschaton—basically, a global thermonuclear crisis recreated on a tennis court—that’s played about a third of the way into the book. Thankfully, after having a good many people balk at the idea, I found a kindred spirit in Michael Schur, a man with an even greater enthusiasm for Wallace’s work than my own. With much adoration and respect to this seminal, genius book, this is what we’ve come up with. I can only hope DFW would be proud.
but for some reason, when reading this “story” on the Telegraph site, all I could think was that it sounded like the kind of batshit-insane dialogue that could only be rendered plausible by David Foster Wallace. Please, someone, validate this opinion so I don’t feel like I’m the only one viewing the world through some bizarre Wallace-filter:
Tues, Sept 11, three hours after the collapse of the Twin Towers: Begley is told to turn up at tomorrow’s news conference, dressed as Harry Potter.
Wed, Sept 12: Still feeling stunned, he phones his newsdesk editor Neville Thurlbeck for confirmation.
CB: Hi, Neville. I just wanted to check, given the enormity of events in America - will the editor still need me dressed up as Harry Potter for conference?
NT: Well, she knew exactly what was going on yesterday afternoon and she still wanted you to dress up then. I think you should just assume she wants you to do it now.
Wed, Sept 26: (Begley did not turn up to conference on Sept 12 and, shortly afterwards, was signed off with stress by his doctor.) He speaks to Stuart Kuttner on the phone.
SK: We heard you weren’t well. What’s the problem?
CB: I’ve been diagnosed with stress.
SK: That bit I do know. Now, tell me about it, and we’ll see what, if anything, we can do.
CB: There were a couple of events which brought things to a head. A few hours after the attack on the World Trade Centre, I was asked by Rebekah to dress up as Harry Potter. She wanted me to dress up and go to her office in the middle of the newsroom.
SK: Which date was that?
CB: That was on Tuesday, September 11. It was the afternoon, less than three hours after [the attacks]. I went into her office and Andy [Coulson, the deputy editor] was on the sofa and Rebekah was on the phone. Andy asked me where was my Harry Potter suit and I made some excuse, saying: it’s not here, it’s in the photo studio. [Actually], it was in the office, but it was hardly appropriate for a journalist to be prancing about as Harry Potter. Andy told me I should always have my Harry Potter gear around, in case of a Harry Potter emergency, and told me that the morning after, I was to dress up for conference as Harry Potter. So, at that time, [when] we were working on the assumption that up to 50,000 people had been killed, I was required to parade myself around morning conference, dressed as Harry Potter.
SK: I see.
CB: What person with any journalistic integrity can be humiliated like that, or told to perform like that?
SK: How did you deal with that?
CB: I was pretty dumbstruck, to be honest. I just said, “Right, okay”, and left the office. The following morning, I called Neville before leaving home and asked him, given what had happened, did Rebekah still need me to dress up as Harry Potter?
SK: Right, well, I’m sorry that you’re under the weather. I’m concerned about you.
CB: I’ve spoken to my doctor. I do value my job. I’ve worked hard to get my job. I just don’t think I can cope with it at the minute.
SK: All right, I’ve listened to what you’ve said: a) you have been very straightforward in this call, and b) well, you appear to be very stressed. You had better take it easy and we’ll talk again very soon.
Later that afternoon, Greg Miskiw, the assistant editor (news), [who was away the week of September 11] calls Begley.
GM: I’ve heard you’re ill. What’s the problem?
[Begley repeats what he told Kuttner.]
CB: Neville got a message from Rebekah asking me to dress up in my Potter gear and go to her office. I think Neville was as surprised as I was. I just couldn’t bring myself to prance about as Harry Potter when something like 50,000 people were dead.
GM: I understand where you’re coming from. You want to be taken seriously as a journalist, you don’t want to be prancing around doing silly things.
CB: I’m not being precious. I toed along with it as far as possible. I didn’t walk out there and then, but I have to say I was tempted.
GM: Well, if I’d have been there, I would have said to her: look, he can’t… Ah, well. You said two things?
CB: I heard more great Harry Potter scenarios [were planned]. I’d be in Hollywood prancing around, while Stuart White [NoW’s American editor] and I don’t know who else would [be] in New York doing proper stuff. I would be dressed up as a transvestite teenage schoolboy, for God’s sake. I did it for as long as I could. It’s a shame because I’d worked hard to get my job. But I couldn’t.
CB: I’m sorry that you’ve been left to deal with it, because I’m sure you’re faced with a bit of an inquisition on this. I’m not trying to swing the lead.
GM: I hear what you’re saying, Charles. When I went in to talk to Rebekah this morning, she was concerned this had happened. It was mentioned if it was this Harry Potter thing. At that point, I didn’t know about all this. So, what do you want me to do with this information?
CB: Well, [Rebekah Wade] should know. She should be aware of it. I don’t want to criticise her in a phone call, but I can’t see how the editor of the - as we’re always reminded - best paper in the country, could expect a reporter to do that. I’m not being precious - I know we have to do silly things. It was hardly appropriate and it was bloody humiliating. That was just too much.
GM: I hear you. Let me speak to Stuart.
Later on Wed Sept 26: Miskiw calls back.
GM: Stuart would like to know what your plans are. Now, we don’t want to lose you. I’m not asking you to come in tomorrow. Come in on Friday. We had this problem, and we sorted it out. We are taking this serious, in the sense of how it’s affected you. Rebekah has heard what you’ve said, and accepts what you’re saying. Stuart has heard what you’ve said, and accepts what you’re saying. But saying “I’ll call you tomorrow” is not really acceptable.
CB: I’m thinking to myself that my situation now was that my copy book was completely blotted.
GM: It’s not. I don’t want you to think that. What you need to do is pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and say : “Fuck it”. Rebekah has said: Right, let’s get him off the Harry Potter thing. Let’s get him [to change his name back by deed poll].
CB: Obviously, I do want to come back to work, but if I just rush back in…
GM: We really don’t want to put any pressure on you.
CB: I find it hard to believe that for the editor’s pet project to crumble away, in such a spectacular fashion, is not going to be held against me in any way.
GM: Listen Charles, I decide who goes out on jobs. If a good story comes in on Friday, I’m going to put you on it. I promise you, I’m giving you good advice here. I can’t afford to lose someone of your calibre.
Begley agrees to call Miskiw back in an hour. Later still, Wed Sept 26.
CB: I don’t think I can make a final decision on my future right now.
GM: I’m not forcing you into a decision. I’m telling you something that will benefit you.
CB: I’m so wound up about all this.
GM: Charles, Charles, Charles, let me tell you something. This is not a business for prima donnas. You know that and I know that.
CB: I’m disillusioned…
GM: I have told you that this is not going to be held against you. Charles, you should think very seriously about coming in on Tuesday.
CB: Well, to be frank, Greg, as far as my future at News International is concerned, I haven’t toed the line for the editor’s pet project. I didn’t prance around while the World Trade Centre was being bombed, for her personal amusement. I can’t just stroll in.
GM: Why not? Charles, that is what we do - we go out and destroy other people’s lives.
CB: I don’t want to waste any more of your time, Greg. I’m sorry.
GM: Well, look after yourself. Cheers.
They are awesome! Unfortunately none of my relatives are DFW-obsessed or inclined to make me t-shirts… So I’ll have to buy one.
Things I Am Reading And Their Tenuous Connections To David Foster Wallace #1: Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Maybe this is just a sign of a bias towards, or unhealthy obsession with, DFW, but I find myself constantly comparing literally everything I read with his work. This book is huge, not just in actual length, but in its mind-blowing scale and complexity. So there’s one similarity. To call it science fiction would be kind of reductive in some ways, and just plain inaccurate. It’s a big dystopian alternative-history/-reality novel which reinterprets Glasgow as post-industrial, post-scarcity hellscape. So in some ways it kind of occupies a similar space to Infinite Jest; in both novels, the working classes are pacified and controlled by entertainment and advertising (among other things), and in both novels this is part of something larger and indescribably sinister.
Enfield Tennis Academy t-shirt, bookmarked for payday. The design is pretty cool in itself, and if anyone gets the reference I can add them to my list of potential wives/husbands.