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The Infinite Jest Liveblog: Shallow Hal

January 20, 2012

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


January 20, 2012, pgs 682-716/1052-1054. I maintain that when Poor Tony Krause shows up, things are bound to get unpleasant. They do, except this time for Matt Pemulis, and we gain a better understanding of why Mike Pemulis will do anything to not get booted from ETA and return back home to Allston.

Hal, after an unsettling near-loss in which he “just never quite occurred out there,” is compelled to have a James O. Incandenza movie marathon. (For the sake of anyone hosting an “Infinite Jest” trivia night, one of the films he is said to watch is Union of Publicly Hidden in Lynn, which was not listed in the filmography of note 24. Apparently it was part of the original draft and this reference escaped the notice of whoever’s decision it was to cut it from the filmography. If you’re wondering, here is what an Infinite Summer discussion board provides as the missing entry: “Union of Publicly Hidden in Lynn. B.S. Meniscus Films, Ltd. Documentary cast w/ narrator P.A. Heaven; 78 mm.; 60 minutes; color; sound. Filmed proceedings in a Boston, MA suburb of “anonymous” meeting of the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed, a support group for aesthetically challenged persons struggling with issues around light and sight. MAGNETIC VIDEO, PRIVATELY RELEASED BY MENISCUS FILMS, LTD.”)

Wave Bye-Bye to the Bureaucrat is at least slightly referential to what appears to be happening to Hal, in which the systems and routines that have helped him excel are now starting to collapse. There is some relevance in the movie’s acceptance of failure to meet the strict requirements of the institution, and bucking the opportunity to do so because you have bigger but less-obvious responsibilities. And Hal secretly “likes to project himself imaginatively into the ex-bureaucrat’s character on the leisurely drive home toward ontological erasure.” Hal’s inability to remember Smothergill is another indication that his faculties are less than intact, and “the one thing he feels to the limit, lately” is that “he is lonely.”

We can cross anhedonia off the list of possible reasons for the suicide of JOI, which still remains pretty mysterious.

The American Century as Seen Through a Brick is about “the queerly persistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naiveté are mutually exclusive.” This is roughly the same thing that Wallace’s story “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way,” a possible pre-cursor to American Century, seems to be about. In fact, one of the story’s characters, D.L., a self-proclaimed postmodernist working on a poem that is entirely punctuation, has a “special delusion…that cynicism and naiveté are mutually exclusive.” Other “special delusions” that IJ and “Westward” have in common: “That a body is a prison and not a shelter;” and the main character’s belief “that he’s the only person in the world who feels like the only person in the world.”

Hal thinks that “to be really human…is to be in come basic way forever infantile.” This raises a question about the opening chapter when Hal says “I have become an infantophile,” which is something quite a bit different and brings us to about 4,967 in our tally of Curious/Confusing Parallels in the book so far.

A quick look around shows Pemulis looking for his stash and Avril “seeming somehow to have three or four cigarettes all going at once” a la Salinger.

A crowd starts to build as Blood Sister: One Tough Nun begins in Viewing Room 6. If you’re having trouble visualizing it, this might help:



Or this, from Poor Yorick Entertainment:

Credit: Chris Ayers, Poor Yorick Entertainment.

As he watches, we hear about The Night Wears a Sombrero with “an ambivalent-but-finally-avenging-son story,” which gives us another Hamlet Sighting. It’s also worth noting that this “avenging-son story” was in Tucson, AZ. Blood Sister features a young girl with burn scars on her face, which may be what Joelle van Dyne is keeping under the veil. Low Temperature Civics sounds kind of like “Mad Men.”

While thinking about Gately, “Something has taken the tight ratchet in Joelle’s belly and turned it three turns to the good.” This is potentially troublesome since, as we hear in a footnote on endnote 292, “The sudden removal of Substances leaves an enormous ragged hole in the psyche.” Regarding which, see Hal supra.

I particularly enjoy that in the climactic fight scene at the close of Blood Sister, the double-crossing Mother Superior, poised to kill, doesn’t have a face filled with murderous rage or malice, but “the absence of humility and the passion for truth-silencing that add up to pure and radical evil.”

Finally, the word “apparition” seems to be showing up a lot in these pages.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog

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