Byzantine erotica and Hal’s dad
From the “Is IJ among the whitest novels ever?” thread:
By genealogy Hal is one-eighth Pima Indian (one-quarter ethnic Arab if his father is a Near Eastern medical attache) so it’s really just the whites of the eyes.
If his father is a Near Eastern Medical Attache?
Well, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence so far.
Hal gets described as the only ethnic appearing extant Incandenza (indicating that his parentage must be closer to an ethnic source than his siblings’) with black hair, radiantly dark, unburnable, sleek, moist, tea-colored skin, and dark eyes, characteristics not shared with Orin, whose legitimate birth nine years earlier had been primarily a Green Card maneuver for Avril.
The half-Canadian Near Eastern medical attache would have begun his 5-year otolaryngology residency at Brandeis while Avril was still teaching there, right about nine months before Hal was born, and we hear both that she was cavorting with no less than thirty Near Eastern medical attaches and fucking just about everything with a Canadian pulse.
Seven years’ itch after Orin, and with Jim becoming more self-absorbed and dissatisfied, her second pregnancy is also suspect. Kept hidden until premature delivery, Mario is apparently the result of an affair with fellow Canadian Charles Tavis.
Not to mention Hal’s affinity for Byzantine erotica, which also hangs on the medical attache’s wall, is something far too obscure to be just coincidental.
Whoa! 3rd reading and I had not considered this! Nice work!
At one point Avril is described as wearing a “levantine” jacket. Though I think “Levant” was around Ottoman empire time, and not Byzantine, though the Ottoman emp. follows the Byzantine emp., so probably not too far off to read into this…?
I remember something else closer to the end of the novel. Hal says his interest in Byzantine erotica had grown out of a reference in the O.E.D … But hey this only points to The Moms and parties with her O.E.D friends!
Awesome analysis – I’ve always wondered why Hal and the attache both specifically and pointedly had Byzantine erotica. This is the thing that makes your theory compelling.
However, the book takes a pretty hard-line stance on addiction being an inherited behavior, which I think is some evidence that Hal is JOI’s legitimate son, as the attache is described as abstaining from alcohol (yes I know you can still be an alcoholic without actually drinking). And I thought that when Hal’s physical description was given, he was described as resembling JOI as well.
But I’m also kinda annoyed that this is my 4th read and it literally never occurred to me that the attache could be his father.
I’d say the substance addictions portrayed in the book develop mainly as learned behaviors, with Jim of course getting his from the powerful example set by his own father. Hal, Don Gately, and Joelle, on the other hand, develop their specific addictions by being exposed to them via non-familial acquaintances at a crucial time when they needed something. This proclivity for addiction seems pretty universal unless there’s something specific like the devout Sufism of the medical attache to take its place or prevent it, which of course Hal does not have. Hal appears to be more addicted to the secrecy than the pharmacological effect of the marijuana anyway, which could well be something he learned from Avril.
And though somewhat physically similar, Hal is never described as “the same as” any of JOI’s traits, unlike Orin, who gets directly compared to both Jim and Avril. Hal’s physical description also reads noticeably more ethnic than JOI’s when it should only be half as much, which only makes sense if JOI is one quarter Pima Indian, and Hal is one quarter Near Eastern Arabic. I would say the specific wording used to describe Hal is also more in line with Near Eastern than Pima Indian. And while Hal is tall at 183.6 cm in stocking feet, he’s quite a bit shorter than Avril, 197 cm in flats, who herself only comes up to JOI’s ear lobes. It would seem he’d need one parent to be shorter than both of them if he is, however the medical attache’s height is unknown.
A lot of this is subjective anyway of course, and there’s nothing to definitively prove anything. There sure is a lot to consider though.
And then! From Infinite Summer forum archives: The Consummation of the Levirates.
Happy Birthday to DFW, also the day that Hal Incandenza submitted his paper “on anything even remotely filmic” in the Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken.
I just finished my week 2 p.m. drills and have spiders on my mind.
Reviving our spiderwebs from Week 1 – Spoilers, and nudging you: /u/ZepNess, /u/platykurt, /u/nathanseppelt,/u/Peemsters_Yacht_Cap, /u/MarkVo, /u/emindead, /u/0liviakay, /u/chaichaya, /u/blattanzi, /u/lifeofglad
When J.O.I’s dad takes the fall during the game, he’s certain that he slipped on something: “I don’t know what I slipped on, son. There were spiders well-known to infest the palms’ fronds all along the courts’ fences.” (bottom of p. 166).
He says (more than once) that he started to fall before he heard his dad’s reply: “Yes, But He’ll Never Be Great“, and then blames his fall on dead-spider sap, or sap from rotting palms. When J.O.I’s dad notices that his dad doesn’t sit on the ground in the shade out of fear that a black widow will drop on him, it’s as though the impending sense of doom felt by his dad has been noticed on some level, and becomes real/concrete for J.O.I.’s dad.
So when J.O.I’s dad blames the black widows, he’s really blaming the impending sense of doom that caused the “second of misplaced respect.” I think “respect” here is respect for the “presence” and “animal grace” that’s discussed earlier, a mind-body machinic flow. The impending sense of doom breaks this for J.O.I.’s dad on the court. So basically the spiders make him “webbed with nerves” (168) and become the reason for the cycle of self-sabotage that began with J.O.I’s dad (lost potential and self-destruction etc.).
Anyone remember that the above mirroring * is similar to the black widows and parent-child experience in “Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature” in Oblivion?
*Too reductive, though. Psych idea of mirroring can be taken further with “gesture,” Agamben, and communication. More later!
The Silence and Speech of Hal Incandenza
*am compiling relevant posts from our subreddit w/ intentions of exploring this further
Allusions to both Hamlet and the Metamorphosis of course. But I wonder whether his inability to speak is due to withdrawal from his pot addiction or is somehow related to his father’s inability to hear him (i.e. his view of his son as essentially mute.) Or perhaps a nervous breakdown from the stress of competitive tennis, his father’s death, and his mother’s various dalliances?
Hal says: “Call it something I ate,” and then goes on to describe a childhood memory in a flashback sequence.
Since this is also “the end” in the timeline of the book, there is the theory that he ate the DMZ, which we wouldn’t connect until rereading this section after finishing the book. I’ve always been a little hesitant on the DMZ theory but now I’m a little more on board.
The Aaron Swartz version of the DMZ theory is the most convincing to me. It says that the James Incandenza wraith dosed Hal’s toothbrush with the DMZ (a mold that grows on mold) in order to counteract the effect of the mold he ate a child. Whereas Hal had always been able to communicate brilliantly, he was unable to feel real emotion. The DMZ had the effect of reversing this situation. You can find the whole thinghere
I can’t help but think of the ending of DeLillo’s Great Jones Street (GJS): Bucky Wunderlick is injected with The Product / drug, and loses his ability to speak but slowly regains it as the drug wears off. He then chooses not to speak, and decides to pretend his ability to speak didn’t return. Throughout the novel, Bucky’s life is shaped by the words that others speak about him (e.g. tabloids, news, what the PR people send out etc, “[his] reality was managed by others”). He speaks very little. At the end when he chooses not to speak, it’s as if he can finally have a sense of self that is solely his, not shaped by others.
In the first pages of IJ, I noticed a similar pattern with Hal. During the interview, my impression of him is shaped by 1) what other ppl say about him 2) his interiority. Sometimes during the dialogue, I had to read and reread the passages to figure out who the speaker was, which shows I was understanding/shaping my impression of each character based on what they said.
Maybe Hal’s muteness implies a return to some self that he had lost, and that his father wanted him to regain.
And, maybe Hal’s silence is a form of adult hysteria, if we consider another similarity to DeLillo’s GJS: Bucky in GJS is shaped by ppl around him, and so is Hal, not only during the interview scenes (by what other ppl are saying), but also by the mold flashback. Because Hal doesn’t remember eating the mold, but remembers it via Orin’s retelling, he’s essentially shaped by something he doesn’t recall, but which shapes him nonetheless.
On p. 13 when he’s on the interview-room floor, he says “I am not what you see and hear,” and then ” ‘I’m not,’ I say.” So this made me think of silence as an assertion of the will / agency, hence DeLillo’s GJS.
Theory-wise, for this first section, you might rather want to have a look at Jakobsen’s writing on aphasia & how it manifests as a deficit in the brain’s capacity for either metaphor or metonymy, depending on the type (or, said another way: for expression along either paradigmatic/syntagmatic axes). A pretty good summation:https://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/elljwp/aphasia.htm
You are right. This has been pointed out by Chris Hager too. http://www.thehowlingfantods.com/thesisb.htm
Derrida: “But what is a father… Only a power of speech can have a father” and more from “Plato’s Pharmacy” to come.
Thanks v. much to Brian Cochran + summary writers + wallace-l for catch-up week this week (beginning Aug. 4).
Will add more to this post as the week progresses.
Some words and phrases:
-squeezing my shoes
-the rotating foot
-information vs. experience dichotomy (discussed in prev. post)
-apathy (this word is not in the text)
-delusions and self-deception
-norms and expectations, conformity and nonconformity
-Ritalin and Obetrol
-subdivisions: the accident (fragmented body), branches of the IRS, the “wastoid” protag.’s self vs. the protag’s self post-accident
-“frame” (p. 170)
-the § 22 protag. is possibly one of the people in the elevator with DeWitt/Glendenning in § 19 (see top of p. 193).
* * *
-“Meaning” : ongoing translation/interpretation to understand the unreality, which contributes to the incongruity between protag’s childhood “wastoid” self, and post-accident self:
“People who are, as the substitute father said that final day in Advanced Tax, ‘called to account.’ Meaning we are talking about almost a special kind of psychological type, probably. It’s not a very common type–[…]but the thing is that the sort of person of this type who decides that he wants to enter the Service really, really wants to …” (176)
“–I was in the paralyzed shock of the totally busted kid, and I sat there paralyzed, unable to do anything and yet seeing each frame of him coming in with horrible focus and clarity–and him standing there at the edge of the few stairs down to the living room […]” (170)
This objectivity, and detachment happens in traumatic moments, when Obetrolling, and when in Advanced Tax he notices that this type of profession and learning requires one to work while being split (not those exact words, will locate page this week). This sort of objectivity can be achieved naturally (if I can use that word!) w/ cameras and film.
The detachment has grown from something that began w/ a traumatic experience to something that has been internalized as an enjoyable experience (e.g. while Obetrolling), and later as a job in the Service. (So nonconformity is actually conformity, as mentioned by the protag. himself, and disc. in Glendenning and the elevator, § 19)
This detachment is also made concrete in the:
-$5 shopping in divisions
-The IRS’ subdivisions
-The accident and father’s fragmented body
Knowledge and self-deception
-E.g. His mother’s birds
-What I found interesting is that the protag. constantly mentions that he knows, that he is aware, and reminded me of things I thought I’d have to note (e.g. how he’s been “primed”), but the very fact that I can see that he knows these things allowed me to see how much what he didn’t know affected him (unconscious). Intend to develop more about knowledge and self-deception.
Greetings from The Great Convexity,
I am reading the 1st edition hardcover of The Pale King. § 1 begins on page 3.
Some thoughts on § 1-9, in response to the summary by Matthew Evans, and conversations on wallace-l:
– “coins of sunlight” (p. 3) which I first remember as being in Lord of the Flies by William Golding. For me, this quickly set up the nature vs. nurture binary, and conflation of both, which Matthew discusses in terms of intelligence reacting with nature, and generally man-made vs. not man-made things, as well as Bakhtin. (Matthew, thanks again for sending as an attachment, and for your thorough notes.)
Judd Staley has pointed out previous refs.:
“On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.” (Ulysses 2.448-9)
-Language Poetry, Systems & Worlds, Worms
The style of the associative, poetic language reminded me of Language Poetry e.g. Lyn Hejinian’s My Life in which an attempt is made to refuse closure, to refuse the cause-and-effect logic for the creation of meaning, and to use instead associations that inform each other by repetition, juxtaposition, and to draw attn. to how the self is formed by and in language (so “coins of sunlight” is p. awesome) etc. Ok so.
-This happens throughout § 1 – 9.
-In §2, when Claude Sylvanshine repeats the word “illiterate” until “it became just a rhythmic sound,” I wondered how language was learnt i.e. by hearing or speaking first (I think Wittgenstein said hearing first, and Heidegger said the baby learns by speaking first… or the other way round?).
Which brings me to worms. Worms are porous creatures. As are we. Worms respire through their skin, and are essentially segmented creatures constantly in flux, informed by what’s around them, being changed by it (like forms). They are neither open nor closed. And when DFW ends §1 with “Read these,” I took it to be “read these parallel worm-like lines which refuse closure and inform each other kind of like language poetry.” So, things are porous, which also makes sense in terms of concentration, and choosing what to pay attention to (to control this porousness).
-p.15 – “Segment, significant segment, combined segment revenue” (Yep I like these worms) implies the beginnings of the dissociative self via language that appropriates segments and dissociations.
§5 (Stecyk) and §6 (Lane and Sheri)
These two subsections both start by drawing attn to particularities e.g. “It is this boy who dons the bright-orange bandolier,” (§5 Stecyk) and “They were up on a picnic table at that one park by the lake” (§6 Lane and Sheri). Why the sudden dive into the particular?
Stecyk’s subsection could be summed up as an example of “how one comes to be ‘good,'” and Lane & Sheri’s subsection develops that by exploring “what does it mean to be good?” Regardless, both these subsections are examples that prompt questions related to the nature vs. nurture debate (how are kids directly or indirectly informed by parents, religion, norms etc.)
§7 Ice-cream Truck
Help needed here. I am fairly certain that an ice-cream truck was mentioned before this chapter (mention of an ice-cream truck that is not this particular Mister Squishee truck). I’d love to see how this repetition and its variations developed to create meaning.
Dehumanization at the end of §7: “creatures just did what they did.” They are “creatures” because of their ability to assimilate and not be discerning (which also relates to akrasia/weakness of will). One example of this assimilation is on p. 50 where Tom Bondurant understands Cheryl’s gaze in terms of returns (“a person who’s about to transfer something he knows in advance he can never get sufficient return on.”)
This language of exchange (not reciprocity) was also in the passages about Orin and P.G.O.A.T in IJ (p. 295): Confusion and conflation of the emotional, spiritual, sexual, with the celebratory spectacle of sport. Ok back to…
§8 Toni Ware
“The mother’s relational skills were indifferent and did not include truthful or consistent speech.” (p. 55) changes to “the mother’s relational skills being indifferent to this degree since the period of clinical confinement in University City MO.”
§9 David Wallace
The full extent (so far) of being implicated.