This week we have readjusted the schedule for pages 321-379. Who’s with me. Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Since I already posted the Decemberist’s tribute, the Eschaton video here, I will post what Steve M. emailed me after I asked him about who might be narrating the Eschaton section. Is it Hal? Is it the author? Is it the narrator, and if so, who is s/he?


OK, so Wallace goes to some trouble to make it appear that this account of the Eschaton is not just Hal’s POV but written by Hal. Exhibit A in this is how footnote 123 begins, “Pemulis here, dictating to Inc” and eventually gets to Pemulis saying, “It’s going to be interesting to see if [sic] Hal, who thinks he’s just too slyly trying to outline Eschaton in the 3rd-person tense [sic]”. Sidenote: The way Hal uses the “[sic]”s to dig at Pemulis is super-fun and just a slick meta way to get at a set of characters and their relationship.

This is more or less enforced throughout the chapter because Hal is — again more or less (and we’ll get to this) — the only character whose interior we get access to. To wit: “whom Axford keeps growling at under his breath, Hal can hear”; “Hal … is struggling with a strong desire to get high again for the second time since breakfast”; “Hal, who’s declining all public chemicals, he’s decided”; etc. The events unfold from his perspective, i.e. we are not party to the discussion about terms between AMNAT and SOVWAR but instead only see that it’s happening. All communication from the court is shouted, whereas conversation on the Gatorade pavilion is directly reported. (Although it’s interesting to note that Wallace includes a footnote telling us that Pemulis does not actually say “breath and bread” at one point, reinforcing the idea that this is a report written by Hal from memory.)

The one major departure from this is where we’re given an interior perspective of Ingersoll: “The exact utility transformations are too oogly for an Ingersoll who’s still grappling with fractions, but he can see clearly that this’d be the most remorselessly logical best-interest-conducive scenario for both LaMont Chu and especially the Sleepster, Peterson, who’s hated Ingersoll for months now anyways without any good reason or cause or anything, Ingersoll can just somehow tell.” That’s a pretty big POV break, although the next paragraph maybe cuts back against it by handing the reigns back over to Hal with a hint that the above is speculative (“Hal … watches Ingersoll bob on his haunches … cerebrate furiously and logically conclude …”).

But so for the sake of argument let’s overlook that lapse or exercise of literary fiat and call this a close third on Hal Incadenza. The next big question on POV is to determine at what distance this story is being related. It’s written in the present tense, but if we follow the lead of the Pemulis footnote, it seems clear that this is written by Hal after the fact, but not long after the fact, I think. It has the sense of being almost immediately after the action, almost as if he’s supposed to be explaining what happened to someone else.

So who is that someone else? It’s someone who doesn’t know what Eschaton is, most obviously, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s being told to someone in a place of power. That is, although it has an almost deposition-like quality, it’s not intended to get him out of trouble. It seems honest — any deception in the telling seems like it’s part of Hal’s POV and not something conscious on his part.

The book as a whole obviously incorporates multiple POVs of varying distance, reliability and time. There are many chapters where the POV is Hal’s, but some of them are first-person, some are third-person, and they vary in how close the third-persons are and also distance in time from the events. This has to be one of the closest, although I also love what he does toward the end of the chapter where Hal becomes a kind of all-seeing eye of what’s happening, with events that are happening almost simultaneously get pulled apart and lined up. Also maybe noteworthy? This may be the first hint of his future problems when he touches his face to see if he is in fact wincing.

2 Responses to “INFINITE JEST Readalong”

  1. Heidi Says:

    Needed to glance back through my notes for this section to see what caught my attention besides eschaton (which between Kiki and Steve and The Decemberists seems well covered territory (or map)). I’ll just add my favorite line. “…as everybody gets blackly drunk with thanatoptic fury in the crisp November air—” p.327

    DFW’s words have this quality of cutting right to the bone on subjects most of us modern humans have dealt with in some capacity. Two in particular resonate, mostly uncomfortably, with me: suicide and addiction. The dark humor with which DFW addresses the former tends to catch me off guard the most, as in the Boston AA section, p.348 — “You can either eliminate your own map for keeps—blades are the best, or else pills, or there’s always quietly sucking off the exhaust pipe of your repossessable car in the bank-owned garage of your familyless home.”, that latter method being my uncle’s choice in the matter. The addiction narrative resonates because my ex had substance abuse problems. I’m totally amused by Gately’s scoffing about addiction to weed (the ex’s drug of choice) but greatly appreciate how DFW balances this w/ characters who actually *are* addicted to weed, and takes that variety of addiction seriously.

    Finally, there’s SO MUCH of what have to be DFW’s own views on various AA-isms in this section, my very favorite being Joelle vD’s observations on the misuse of But For The Grace of God, which is HILARIOUS. “…her trouble with it is that ‘But For the Grace of God’ is a subjunctive, a counterfactual, she says, and can make sense only when introducing a conditional clause, like e.g. ‘But For the Grace of God I would have died on Molly Notkin’s bathroom floor,’ so that an indicative transposition like ‘I’m here But For the Grace of God’ is, she says, literally senseless, and regardless of whether she hears it or not it’s meaningless, and that the foamy enthusiasm with which these folks can say what in fact means nothing at all makes her want to put her head in a Radarange at the thought that Substances have brought her to the sort of pass where this is the sort of language she has to have Blind Faith in.”

    Finally, I REALLY wish there was an actual term for what I’ve personally called “embarrassment by proxy” for years. DFW does a fantastic job describing the feeling on p.368, “Close to two hundred people all punishing somebody by getting embarrassed for him, killing him by empathetically dying right there with him, for him, up there at the podium.” It NEEDS a term.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Heidi, I not only loved the line about thanatoptic fury, but that it described what WASN’T going on, and that the kids just stood around staring, and it was super boring to watch.