Reach and Pull

Musings on Infinite Jest

Rest in peace, David Foster Wallace

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This is all I can post right now:

To be fair, I’d independently figured out most of what you did, and I think you’re still underestimating J.O.I.’s role and overestimating Hal’s, and I view IJ as too important to worry about things like intellectual priority anyway.  Anyway, I just wanted you to know I still think you almost totally nail the narrator issue which is a hell of a lot more than everyone else can say.  I mean, for example, not to be a prick (well, kind of) but how in the hell could any IJ reader even a second think that Randy Lenz narrates the book?  Christ!
Along the lines of this: “I encourage everyone to let me know about any holes in the theory in order that I can find an excuse to read my favorite novel again”. Well, first off:  You mention that the syntax grammar and diction of the narrator points to Hal, but remember that 1) a pre-death J.O.I. presumably wasn’t a chump either when it came to eloquence; 2) J.O.I. has all the time in the world, so he could leisurely read the entire OED himself 50x over in the time it would take Hal to get through half of the letter F; 3) J.O.I. could be the one doing all (or at least just as much of) the OED borrowing, from Hal.  As for phrases borrowed from other characters, it’s just a far more efficient route for J.O.I. to be giving the reader coinages directly — yes, re-mediating them through/inspiring them in Hal at times, just like he mediates/inspires every other POV.  But your theory introduces too many inefficient devices, like Hal trying to fool the reader into thinking there are multiple narrators.
Remember how I reminded you in my previous email how Pemulis says Hal likes to write in the third person, according to the ESCHATON transcription footnote?  (I said that in that email, right?) Well, I no longer think that it’s a crucial sign of Hal being even a co-narrator.  I think it’s Hal just being an empty vessel at the time and (unintentionally, unwittingly, indifferently) letting JOI’s wraith (who’d be way more likely than Hal to use the third person for Hal, right?) flow through his speech unfiltered as Hal/JOI describes himself/Hal’s self.  When exactly does Hal use the first person?  The beginning, when he’s presumably been awakened and freed by JOI, finally, to speak, and be.  But narrator-wise, still through JOI as always.  Yes, it’s interesting (almost touching) that once Hal is rendered speechless to everyone else the only person he’d be able to communicate with would be his wraith father, finally.  I think this is more of a plot thing than a narration thing, though.  JOI  rendering Hal and Gately speechless/immobilized, to make them able/willing to communicate with him and be recruited into (or just survive) the samizdat war.
For the whole book to be written/narrated by Hal, think of the monumental effort and vast amount of time that would take the living Hal.  Now think of how much time J.O.I. has, and remember as you said his Found Dramas, which were phantom jokes to him alive but turn out (joke’s on J.O.I., ouch, the irony) to comprise his entire existence among the living as a wraith.  If Hal is basically Hamlet (and he is IMO) then his role in the novel (in the gap) is to be an actor (in the samizdat/AFR plot), not a describer.  There’s also just literally not enough time for him to narrate IJ, especially in the (feigned like Hamlet?) unhinged state he’s in post-whatever-J.O.I.-has-exposed-to-him.  J.O.I. on the other hand, has endless time, and can finish “writing” IJ from scratch in the span of, like, 15 living minutes.  Also, I think there might a limit to how much Hal could take of what JOI could show Hal, and of what JOI would be willing to show Hal.  Then again, maybe not, considering that one of JOI’s pre-death attempts to communicate with Hal was Accomplice! (!) (all of his films from a certain date on were bizarre ineffective attempts to communicate with Hal) and also considering how fucked in the head Hal seems to be (seeing everything JOI sees could do that, I imagine — but so would far less) and I think it’s impossible for Hal to receive the kind of information he gets from JOI without knowing JOI is giving it to him.  Also, Hal as the narrator would kind of spoil the multitude of parallels between JOI as filmmaker (techniques, structures, themes, everything) and DFW as novelist.  The reader is Hal, in a way, since DFW is trying desperately to communicate with us.
So then a question is, well how does the book get written then, if not by a living hand?  How could a wraith physically write a book?  Well, that’s assuming that IJ is supposed to be a book for the living.  Every reader of IJ (and any book ever, except choose-your-own-adventures, which I actually think there’s a small element of in IJ but that’s another subject) essentially becomes a fellow wraith, a fellow figurant.  Right there next to JOI as he traverses the book’s settings.  Maybe IJ is a book written by a wraith, for wraiths.  Based on the Lucien brother’s soaring call to arms and the little details we get of JOI’s wraith lifestyle, you’ve got to figure the wraith’s universe is absolutely fucking overflowing with wraith personality and culture and conflict, a world indistinguishable from the living’s except for some of our laws of physics etc. I mean, think about it, the living AFR vs. the living ETA’s/OUS’s must pale in comparison to the wraith wars being unleashed, using the living as pawns.  Surely there’s a thriving world of wraith literature.
But…after all that, then I think about Hal not being able to speak and Hal still having his mind boggled and speech incapacitated long after the samizdat plot has been resolved, and your theory makes sense in that context, that Hal isn’t limited to communicating with the wraith telepathically because he can also write about it, with JOI’s help.  And the parallels are surely there for DFW and Hal, the background of DFW considered.  So, ultimately I still don’t know for sure.  Maybe it’s somewhere in between us?  I wouldn’t be shocked if you’re totally right, though, and I’m just overthinking shit.
So, wow, sorry again, this time for the rambling mess above.
Once that blog is up I’m going to let only a handful of friends and acquaintances make comments/converse there, and I’d love for you to be one of them.  I’m going to start my 2nd reading of IJ (I feel like it’s been so long and it’s only been a month since I finished it), and my friend who recommended it to me will be starting his 3rd reading, and two other friends will be reading it for the first time.  So, what better time for you to re-read it, eh?  This blog thing is going to be fucking
epic, I promise.  Loose thoughts still, but way more structured than this freaking email, lol.”


“Okay man, screw all my don’t tell anyone crap, the blog is up prematurely and I got the Lyle thing out there, so it’s all good!
Like I said, I intend for the blog to have scholarly citations and whatnot, but for now I just wanted to get it up there asap.  BTW, isn’t it neat how the white font thing
parallels wraithhood kind of?”


You raised a great question.  My guess is the reason that JOI and Lyle don’t directly interfere with the movie is that 1) they are somehow opposed by separatist wraiths trying to spread the movie and 2) they aren’t all-powerful, even if they are all-knowing.  They can manipulate objects, obviously, like baseline winners and cafeteria decorations, and they can inspire action in the living, but there’s got to be some blockage preventing them from fixing the movie problem themselves.

As for JOI’s (and DFW’s) motives, maybe it’s for us, the Hals of the real world.  Not sure about your experiences, but after reading IJ, real life has become decidedly stranger for me.  For example:  As soon as I started the book a troubled younger cousin of mine shot herself in the head, but has miraculously survived intact…possibly better.  Days ago, her fearless younger sister took a dare to jump 40 feet into a lake, landed in 8 feet of water, and miraculously crushed just the one vertebra that wouldn’t have left her paralyzed, living only because the fool who dared her became a Gately-esque hero, holding her aloft in the cold water for an hour and a half.  I don’t mean to sound like a loon, but there are reasons why it would make sense to me if there were bad wraiths who incited those two incidents, and good wraiths who mitigated them.  Basically, our world needs saving from multiple catastrophes on the horizon, and I think DFW (maybe with the help of wraiths, lol, since how in the fuck can a mere mortal create this almost-perfect book as fast as he did) has given us a type of secular scripture to understand our world better, to awaken us, to reach us, to pull us out of ourselves, to salvage the hope that postmodern nihilism threatens to extinguish — would you expect anything less of the book’s ambition?  I have a hunch that DFW’s worldview incorporates this, literally:
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
I’ve never read any Nabokov, save for an aborted attempt at Pnin.  Naturally, I’ve read great things about him (in books like Nicholson Baker’s U & I), and a long time ago I wiki’d Pale Fire and discovered the general gist of the book and the cosmic mess of interpretations it has inspired.  It’s already “spoiled” for me, so (pale) fire away with your observations!
I just checked the blog and you should be able to comment, just click on “no comments yet” and then I’ll approve it and once I approve one from you then
you’re good to go the rest of the way.  I’ll have to tweak the settings later to make it easier to use.
Dude, we’re going to unlock the everlasting shit out of it!


“Just to clarify what I meant, so that I don’t seem even loonier than I am (lol), when I said wraiths would make sense to me in the real world, I don’t mean wraiths from the book, I mean what people refer to as ghosts, i.e., the ghosts of members of my family who have died.
But shit, back to the context of IJ, maybe the reader is supposed to be a wraith, i.e., the reader’s world is the world of wraiths, we’re living in JOI’s and Lyle’s universe, and IJ is a book written
by and for wraiths, like I had rambled in an earlier email.”


“That’s fucking wonderful to hear Jesse, I can’t wait to re-read it myself.  I totally plan on posting more, as soon as I can.  I’m a little busy at the moment trying to save the world in my own way, at the message board for Rigorous Intuition.  I go…there.
I’ll make you co-owner/blogger/manager of the blog, and you can post your stuff there, and I promise I will comment the living shit out of it even while I don’t have time to create blog posts myself.  I’ll also coerce my friends into commenting…on your posts and (for the time being) my comments.  We’ll have a grand old time, and we’ll probably be the world’s premier Infinite Jest interpreters, and we might help save the world a little. 
I promise.”

Written by reachandpull

September 15, 2008 at 7:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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