The Wraith and Hal: A Possessive Sort of Love Beyond Language

Jesters, wraiths, Hals, Gomperts et al. of the world!

We are at the end beginning! Doesn’t it feel great?

[I’m just going to get this out of the way first: Sorry I missed my post last week; my lover broke his collarbone and all hell was revealed in increments. (Thank you, Phil, guide of guides for filling in for me and writing a spooky post on Tuesday!)]

I am feeling quite a bit of dread writing this last post. I just want to have IJ friends always and forever and in steady supply and every day ok thanks v. much no punctuation needed no thx.

I’m going to miss waiting to see Joe usurping my posts’ tidbits and writing his own posts that are truly beings of wonderment and beings of funny. I’ll miss Allie’s wit and gifs, Phil’s A+++ dork moves, and the commenters! TIME! ROB! MARGARET! (and DANIEL from Germany who never returned… I hope Kierkegaard (or me) didn’t swallow you into neurotic happiness (or bad times)).

Since I don’t want this to end, why don’t we talk about the end!?* YA! I mean the beginning! (If I had little leech teeth I’d be biting y’all on the face right now being like I’M A SWAMP BUG FILLED WITH MOLD AND WE’RE GONNA TALK ABOUT IJ FOREVER).

By the end of the novel Hal is able to talk with the wraith / J.O.I.

(Do y’all think so too? If not, let Aaron Swartz do the hard work for you.)

I think that IJ is a (very twisted and possessive) story about love at the end, if we consider the extent of schemery and extra-human problems J.O.I has gone through to talk to Hal. For one, he plants DMZ on his kid’s toothbrush so that Hal is able to feel. Then again, J.O.I. isn’t exactly the most loving person. I mean, what kind of father kills himself only to have his son talk to his father’s ghost? But, you know what kind of stuff is capable of doing ontologically impossible stuff? “Love.” Ya! My definition of “love” here is biased because (I can’t help it) I’m drawing from certain biographical tidbits from DFW’s life, the ones about his idea of love (based on his relationships). Apparently he was possessive and intense, in case y’all didn’t know. I’m not saying “so DFW’s life” then “so it happens in IJ” ­– that’s not what I’m saying. Just trying to explain the kind of “love” I see happening.

This has been my fourth time reading IJ, and Hal is still my fave! I also still think that DFW portrays the men and women in an equally terrible light. There is no one person who’s portrayed in a falsely positive light, I don’t think. Even with Mario it’s implied that sometimes he’s just blissfully unaware (like when he shakes Loach’s hand at the train station, it’s because he doesn’t have enough knowledge to judge the situation and social norms involved in that kind of situation). I like this very much about IJ.

The thing about wraiths and ghosts. OK. Going to do my best to talk about this.


In one of Don DeLillo’s stories “Midnight in Dostoevsky,” the character Ilgauskas says:

“If we isolate the stray thought, the passing thought,” he said, “the thought whose origin is unfathomable, then we begin to understand that we are routinely deranged, everyday crazy.”

Well, how do we even think things, does anyone know!? NO. Time to meet the problem of consciousness always and forever and once again.

I think I understand all the ghosty stuff from the perspective of a writer of poems and other things, so I’ll explain it keeping in mind this frame of mind.

So as a writer, one of the things I do is I’m constantly trying to be receptive/aware to/of “stray thoughts” that don’t sound like me (at least not too much, haha). This has something to do with writing to “discover” or “to find out.” At some point, influences jostle in my head and I feel kinda nuts. They’re not different “voices” or anything, but sometimes I’ll be arrested/jarred by myself and wonder what the hell I was thinking or where that thought came from… Similar to Gately and the way the word “pirouette” pops in his head. But then after a little while, I’m like OHHH that sounds like David Foster Wallace’s story! :3 But after that I always know myself a little better, and it’s very pleasant (not what I come to know, but the fact that I am knowing… haha).

Most of us are absorbed in language so it makes sense for seemingly random things like this (“pirouette”) to happen. Pretty sure we absorb enough information even when we’re not consciously paying attention.

To return to ghosts, I think that absorbing influence and the language of influences can feel ghosty when it arises in writing. I think this is one of the most exciting things about writing… reading and learning everything consciously and methodically… and then the surprise when it comes out when writing (at least this is (somewhat) how I “write”)! And the best part (for me) is when I read the thing I wrote a few days later and I’m honestly freaked out and wonder what the hell I was thinking. It means I “stepped outside of myself.”

I think that the wraith’s attempts to talk to his son are a way of wanting Hal to know about himself deeply. It might seem cruel and heartless at times, but let’s not forget how hard it is for the wraith to stay in one place, him being the quantum being that he is. Is IJ about self-knowledge for both Hal and Gately (and everybody else to some extent?)? Is this finally how Hal comes to know himself – he finally learns what it means to have thoughts and feelings like a human, instead of being somewhat bot-like?

There are other ways of looking at this “ghosty”-ness if you’re averse to the word “ghost.” There’s Bakhtin, polyphony, and dialogism, then there’s also mystical experience and William James, and so on and so on.

When we had just begun reading IJ together, I was suffering from allergies so all the maxillofacial problems in IJ really stuck out for me this time around. Look what I found when skimming thru’ Varities of Religious Experience by William James

In fact, one might almost as well interpret religion as a perversion of the respiratory function. The Bible is full of the language of respiratory oppression: “Hide not thine ear at my breathing; my groaning is not hid from thee; my heart panteth, my strength faileth me; my bones are hot with my roaring all the night long; as the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so my soul panteth after thee, O my God…

I think I’ve already gone a bit overboard in this post, so I’ll stop and say: thank you for reading with us! It’s been so fun and intellectually challenging and neurotic and exciting. I loved every single bit. NOW REFER TO THE SOLE ASTERISK BELOW and SEE YOU SOON (baring my leech teeth)…


*I want DFW friends always forever never-ending 24/7 thx, so I’ll be starting The Pale King slow read asap once y’all say yes in your brain voices.






Author: Shazia Hafiz

Vancouver, BC

5 thoughts on “The Wraith and Hal: A Possessive Sort of Love Beyond Language”

  1. Hey, Shazia (hope that the lover’s clavicle mends swiftly–that’s gotta hurt).

    I found Swartz’ theory compelling and quite plausible. How the hell did he figure that out though? That’s some serious detective work, right there.

    I really dug your idea that the act of writing is a ghostly and weird. I often feel like that when I’m putting anything down–and studying things tends to bring out even more of the “ghosty-ness” of the act of writing. It reminds me of the way people speak, as well–it’s like there’s a spirit being absorbed, or something compelling people to use certain turns of phrase, syntax, etc. For example, I think of the propensity for people to put, “right?!” at the end of a sentence (due to media, pop culture–again, a spirit of sorts). Wallace’s own writing is like this too (“and but so”, “sort of”, etc.).

    Also, “Is IJ about self-knowledge for both Hal and Gately (and everybody else to some extent?)?”

    Just a great observation, Shazia. I think, yes! To my mind, AA is all about self-knowledge (and how difficult it can be to come by). It’s about the road to self-knowledge through fighting against the impulse to stay removed, by (hesitantly) pushing toward community with others. You can only trust your own perspective so much.

    Well, that’s all?

    Forever your pal in (Infinite) Jest (but truly),

    See ya at the beach


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s