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