Brett Szyjka: Incandenza Relations

Brett Szyjka is a Software Engineer from Buffalo, New York.  If he’s not coding, reading, or watching baseball, he’s probably asleep.

Hooray everyone, we’re more than a quarter of the way to the finish!  This is my second time through Infinite Jest aside from all of the picking I’ve done at my favorite sections.  I’m enjoying it more than the first time actually and I wanted to quickly thank all of the guides for doing the work of facilitating conversation and highlighting perspectives that otherwise I would have missed out on. Continue reading “Brett Szyjka: Incandenza Relations”

The Play’s the Thing

“The play’s the thing,” Hamlet declares in Act II: Scene II of Hamlet, “Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (582-3). With this, Shakespeare’s titular character finally decides to take action after two full acts spent in a perpetual limbo of indecision. This moment in the play thus announces what looks like a definitive turning point for the hero and for the audience because the stage is set  – all the players have been introduced and their motivations laid out – and it seems as if it is time for some action at last.

Well, the section that I read this week felt akin to this moment for me. Like things were really starting to come together and signal a forward push in the narrative. For the first time thus far in my journey into Infinite Jest, I felt like I was truly beginning to make connections – between all the characters, events, and tiny details mentioned earlier in the novel – and piece together a kind of bigger picture (albeit a fuzzy one).

Honestly, though, I had so many delightful “Aha!” moments when reading this latest page chunk.


For instance, I had three huge moments of revelation (resulting in a reaction not-so-unlike the one depicted in the gif above) prompted by the following occurrences:

  • The discussion that the ETA boys have on pages 211-9 about DMZ, its infamous side-effects, and the necessity to sample it before “unleashing it” (216) on the general population that seems to suggest that this is what causes Hal to deteriorate and reduce him to his pitiful state in the opening pages. And, even if I’m wrong, it seemed to offer at least a potential explanation for what happens in Hal’s future.
  • The one-two punch that Joelle van Dyne is not only Madame Psychosis, but also related to the Incandenzas in a major way (once-muse to Himself and ex-lover to Orin) that brings so many seemingly disparate threads together. If anything, the textual and paratextual (I’m looking at you, Footnote 80) sections focusing on Joelle are what really seem to tighten up the narrative while offering some more insight on the increasingly dysfunctional Incandenzas.
  • The telephone conversation between Hal and Orin on pages 242-58 that fills the reader in on some of the graphic details of JOI’s suicide and the ways in which it has traumatized Hal (emphasis on ‘traumatized’). I felt as if their dialogue also fleshed out the strain in their relationship, pointed to the origins of different tensions within the family, and integrated yet another seemingly separate subplot by making reference to the Wheelchair Assassins.

Now, it is very possible that these connections were hinted at before now and that this first-time reader simply didn’t pick up on them; however, even if that is the case, I wanted to mark this week down as the one where I first felt a shift. Since IJ is a whopping 1079 pages (including the footnotes), perhaps it is only fitting that it takes nearly 300 of them to move from exposition to rising action.

Either way, this week’s reading left me with that same anticipation I always get at the end of Hamlet‘s second act when I know we’re about to move into the third one, which is my favourite because it’s when the plot really gets moving.

(If you’re drawing a blank on what exactly makes up act three of Hamlet, allow me to refresh your memory.

This act has everything.*


Dramatic break-ups. Guilt-trip plays. Teenage angst. Almost-murders. And… actual-murders!

Oh. There’s also Hamlet’s most iconic soliloquy, but I digress.)

Now, Phil talked about heroes in his post on Monday and how Wallace appears to critique the emergence of this new kind of hero that Hal describes in his essay as “the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus” (142, original emphasis). In his bleak depiction of all the characters who have dulled their ability to react and willed themselves into a state of non-action, DFW seems to hold up those who are brave enough to react as the real heroes of the narrative.

I’ve seen a few references to Hamlet thus far within Infinite Jest (most glaringly the title) and I sense it will continue to emerge as an important – if not the most important – intertext. I’m already seeing so many parallels between Hal and Hamlet, but that’s a bigger post for another time. What I will say to wrap up this post, though, is that, while Hamlet is famous for his inability to act and may seem at first glance to be the kind of prototypical hero of non-action described by Hal, he is actually one of the purest examples of a reactive hero. Despite being paralyzed time and again by indecision – weighed down by his brilliant mind that can’t seem to slow down – Hamlet is always reacting, always talking, always feeling. Almost all of his monologues and soliloquies are long laundry lists of his pain, of his anger, of his reactions to everything.

And even though it takes him a long time to do anything about it, Hamlet never stops reacting (and, in some cases, overreacting). But he’s a hero because of it – a tragic one – and his painfully human reactions still resonate with audiences even now.

What I see as I progress through IJ is an encouraging abundance of Hamlet-like heroes who continue to react even when they don’t want to. And, if this last section truly did signal the beginning of the rising action, I’m happy to be heading into this third act with heroes like Hal and Joelle (who I very much look forward to getting to know better and perhaps discuss next week).

Until then, goodnight, sweet princes and princesses! (Or good morning, or good afternoon depending on wherever you are in the world and whenever you choose to read this, of course.)



* I sincerely hope that you read that in Stefon’s voice. If not, please do me a favour and go back to read it again in your best mental approximation of it – I feel like it will make for a far funnier experience.

Your Lips Are Moving, But You Aren’t Saying Anything…


Meat Loaf in his prime

First off, just let me say this: Ineluctable modality of the visible. (know what I’m saying?…note: I still don’t know what this line means)

(one of the guests of M. Notkin’s party is cut off mid-sentence saying “ineluctable”, which immediately reminded me of the ridiculously technical and erudite narrative voice of one, Stephen Dedalus, of James Joyce’s device)

And then…

Schmi schmilloli bolli pibbidy-doo-wop-pop!

Scibboli, mmm, walla balla bang dang sha lala-lala gop!

(and so on)

*this is what the voices from M. Notkin’s party sounded like to me—pretentious academese as far as the eye can see—snobbery—hoity-toity-ness at it’s finest—“It’s good cheese, but I’ve had better cheese.”

Hipster party, y’all!

Who hasn’t been to one? Who hasn’t participated vigorously in one?


Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are here to stay: Punks. Emos. Hippies. Hipsters (call them what you will). These are all incarnations of the same sort of idea: groups composed of a few people that start out caring passionately about something whose signifiers are eventually reduced to a set of fashionable poses for conspicuous consumption for a broader population. Money in the bank for corporations. Basically, substance reduced to surface: a cool looking mask.

I’ve always struggled with what it means to be a “hipster”, because often, I find myself identifying with and enjoying many of pieces of art that hipsters find cool. Is my penchant for David Bowie, or Hall and Oates, or (dare I associate him here) DFW (!), or the filmography of David Lynch, or the music of Meatloaf, or the growing of the occasional scruffy beard/moustache, (or, etc. etc., you name it) enough evidence to classify me as a bonafide hipster? Do I want to be associated with such a group anyway? Do I even get a say in this trial?

Well, I guess the short answer to that question is that I really don’t care what cultural group I will be associated with due to my taste in any particular music/literature/film, or whatever. The plain fact of it is that I like what I like, and that’s all I have to say about that (Forrest Gump voice here).

The reason that I like Meatloaf, or Hall and Oates, or the occasional facial hair growing session really has nothing to do with affected irony, or liking something because it’s “bad”, or seeming clever because of it. The reason I like these things really has nothing to do with irony or image, but is actually because I genuinely enjoy them. I simply enjoy these things for what they are, plain and simple. That is to say that when people observe me enjoying these things, I’m not glancing from side to side like a young Mike Pemulis, as if to suggest I’m in on the “joke” (though, admittedly, I am certain that at one time in my life, I may have done just that).

Which, from swerve of shore, to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Infinite Jest.

So, that part with the party at M. Notkin’s: just a great little bit, amiriteguys? How sad is it that Joelle is attempting to have Too Much Fun in “the co-operative Back Bay-edge brownstone she had lived in once with Orin and performed in with his father and then passed on to Molly Notkin”? There’s a “stab you in the soul™” (A. Fournier, 2016, page whatever) moment if ever I did see one.

What really hit me about the party scene was just how disconnected everyone was from one another. It was reminiscent of many parties that I attended during my University days (and prior). Have you ever been to a party where everyone was talking to each other, but nobody really seemed to be talking to one another? I have. I can recall times when I have been at parties and have been suddenly overcome with this heartbreaking feeling of utter disconnection. It’s hard to explain, but it felt like I was missing some golden opportunity for connection, and I was hopeless to communicate my thoughts in that moment.

Similarly in IJ, all of the party people are disconnected from eachother: “this absence of shame at the self-obsession.” The party goers seem to be completely focused on their own thoughts, and are oblivious to outside perspectives. This is a party that represents a complete lack of empathy: an inability to think about or experience the feelings of another human. A communication breakdown. A squandered opportunity to talk about anything that really matters. Instead, guests retreat into abstract nonsense, preferring to talk about (this is my favourite) a “more interesting issue from a Heideggerian perspective is a priori whether space as a concept is enframed by technology as a concept.”

Like, come ON, guys. Really?

And heartbreakingly, all of this is going on while Joelle is suffering in a personal hell. Nobody asks. Nobody cares. Again, how sad!

Further, take Molly Notkin (a friend, supposedly) who “has no idea that Joelle’s been in a cage since Y.T.S.D.B, has no idea what she and Jim Incandenza were even about for twenty-one months, whether they were lovers or what, whether Orin left because they were lovers or what.” How sad is this? Did Molly ever make an effort to ask? Are they even friends? On the whole, doesn’t the way Molly thinks about Joelle seem judgmental as all hell, OR WHAT? Yet still, she greets Joelle “with the sort of delighted mock surprise U.S hostesses use for greetings.” Here, again more surface bullshittery.

The whole exchange comes across as completely fake and contrived, as do the rest of the human interactions between party guests in this scene. Take for example the group of party-goers “almost dancing” the “Minimal Mambo” while on drugs. It’s as if these party-goers cannot simply just enjoy dancing for what it is, they have to find a way to be clever about it, or to find some way of getting around looking too earnest. God forbid people actually enjoy something for what it is.

Again, what a waste of an opportunity!

As Joelle prepares to shoot up, like Hal, still, “no one out there knows she is in here”: in her cage, inside her head, suffering. And no one really seems interested in making an effort to meet her halfway.

How to bridge the gap? How to engage with each other meaningfully? I think this is one of the big questions that the book grapples with from start to finish.

Capitulation, W-18, DMZ, and Patricia Highsmith

Mmmyelllow comrades in Jest,

I have capitulated: I am behind on my IJ reading for this week!

Here are a couple of IJ links I keep stashed w/r/t this week’s readings:

– Subsidized time.

– A little bit on the academic-y side, but Deleuze and the Three Syntheses of Time is right up there with Phil’s awesome post this wk about heroes and non-action.

And don’t tell me you haven’t thought about what DFW was thinking about when he was thinking about DMZ… I was in Calgary a couple of months ago, and W-18 was all over the news. I remember thinking, “could this be DMZ?! Omggg where are my internet IJ friends rn welp WELP!” I won’t let any anachronisms stop me from speculating…

On another tangent: the first time I read about Pemulis and his yachting cap, I immediately thought about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in the movie, The Talented Mr. Ripley, based on a book by Patricia Highsmith. HMM. Wasn’t this book on a DFW syllabus?

Sorry this is short today, IJ friends! I hope you’ll go on an internet journey with W-18 and share what you find.




No More Heroes

Every now and then my old iPod Touch, cracked and chipped in the upper right corner (but still working!), reminds me of someone’s birthday, although I’m not sure what kind of calendar this iPod is using because some of the names sound like good ol’ MSN names. Yesterday, I received an alert that it was Madame Blue’s birthday. I don’t know who that is/was, but it sure was appropriate for this week, considering the bulk of this weekend’s pages were devoted to Joelle and her Too Much Fun in the bathroom. Not to be confused with this kind of Too Much Fun in the bathroom:

Continue reading “No More Heroes”