I’m not sure that I’m going to be able to write anything particularly coherent this week (but then again, is any of it, really?) after just reading Shazia’s post/thread regarding the truth of what (mostly) Hal says in his conversation about his grief therapy sessions.
That one there’s a brain-buster, y’all. How does Hal really feel after the bullshit apparatus/structure of the interface is removed? Did Hal just figure out the “trick” to the grief therapy sessions just before he was about to make a real breakthrough, or is the entire thing a complete fabrication start to finish? I guess we might find out if we tune in next week: same bat time, same bat channel.
It does make sense that Hal simply discovered the “trick”, given his ability to learn what is expected of him and find a way to deliver the goods through sheer effort. It seems like it all goes back to Mario secretly procuring the copies of the O.E.D for Hal during the time when he was being assessed for damage as described on page 317: “It was Mario, not Avril, who obtained Hal his first copies of the unabridged O.E.D at a time when Hal was still being shunted around for the assessment of possible damage […] months before Hal tested out at Whatever’s Beyond Eidetic on the Mnemonic Verbal Inventory designed by a dear and trusted colleague of the Moms at Brandeis.” I honestly never thought that it might be possible that so much of who Hal thinks he is might have something to do with a fear of being somehow damaged or being found out as some kind of fraud by others, but now, so it seems to be! It seems like I keep seeing stuff from “This is Water” at almost every turn: “if you worship intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” I don’t know, I just feel like that speech gives such a clear summary of so many of the big ideas that have been fictionalized in Infinite Jest.
Oh man, now I don’t know what to think about the characters…what is real? What is the truth? Oh, God, where art thou?!
It’s a crisis (Arnold voice)! An existential crisis! (Oh no…not again! *no celebrity emphasis)
And here we have Mario (seemingly) tied up with Hal’s fears. But what is it about Mario that freaks Hal out exactly? It certainly isn’t his appearance.
More pointedly, why does Hal “fear Mario’s opinion more than probably anybody except the Moms”? Is it simply because Mario knows the truth about how Hal came to be identified as “Beyond Eidetic” and Hal fears being found out? It’s probably part of it, but somehow, I think it’s more than just that. It’s not like Hal hates him for it, and there seems to be a genuine brotherly tenderness between the two brothers that is sorely lacking between Orin and the others.
I think it’s pretty clear that Mario loves his brother. Take for example the instance where he participates in a whole bunch of shit that doesn’t make any sense, simply for the sake of being near his brother: “Hal remembers the unending hours of blocks and balls […] tangrams and See ‘N Spell, huge headed Mario hanging in there, [again, AA language mysteriously popping up in something that is seemingly unrelated…why?] for make-believe in which he had no interest other than proximity to his brother.” It’s like Mario is acting out how the ideal convert to AA should act: he wishes to simply just be present in the moment, toughing it out so that he can just get close to his brother. He may well never understand on an intellectual level, (probably like Gately, Ferocious Francis, and most of those that adhere to the AA program, day in and day out) but he tries simply because it affords him an opportunity to be with his brother, who he loves.
And then, several sentences later, we hear of “Hal, brandishing his Dunlop stick, [at the representative from the UHID rep] who told the guy to peddle his linen someplace else.” This part made me smile. I think it’s pretty clear that Hal is protective of Mario. I would probably say tenderly so, even. But still, I’m not completely sure if Hal’s love for his brother is totally “agendaless”, as the narrator tells us that “Hal fears that Avril sees Mario as the family’s real prodigy, as an in-bent savant-type genius of unclassifiable type, a very rare and shining thing[…]” . Maybe on some level Hal in a way sees Mario as another logic puzzle to crack or another skill to master to gain the complete approval of his Moms, and this is why he keeps him close? Like grief counseling, might there be a “trick” to this “unclassifiable genius” that he sees in Mario?
It’s interesting when the narrator mentions that even at age thirteen, Mario still wanted help with bathing and dressing from Hal, “and wanting the help for Hal’s sake, and not his own.” Mario is acting with selflessness here, but why? What is wrong with Hal, and how does he know?
It’s like even then, Mario just senses something in Hal that is missing and wants to help him by enlisting his help in these basic activities of daily living. Mario is born helper/listener (carrying the lenses, and etc.), and seems to recognize and appreciate the basic, child-like glee in being able to be of assistance to somebody in need. It’s another pure type of pleasure that costs nothing: or as mentioned earlier, a type of “raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness.” NO THOUGHT REQUIRED (*tentatively*…right?…). It seems like this impulse goes on in Hal (as in the scene in which he delivers advice to his little buddies).
Unlike Hal’s intelligence, Mario’s style of intuition cannot be reduced to studying, or reading a manual, or effort, or will, and etc. (or can it?…jeez, I don’t know…maybe it can?). Just contrast the type of empathy/intuition practiced by the resident doctor on Kate Gompert earlier in the book, with Mario’s unaffected intuition. Every gesture that the doctor makes is meant to convey empathy and intuition, but is clearly measured and artificial—he must have read it in some medical student textbook about interpersonal doctor/patient relationships: proxemics and kinesics, and all that jazz.
I guess my point here is that (at least ideally) Mario’s intuitive approach to things has to be freer of thought than Hal’s rampant intellectualizing of every thought and emotion, and these different approaches produce very different results when interacting with others. It’s not to say that one is good, or one is bad—it’s just that they are different. Somebody (Mario) who is intuitive just knows something on a gut level and acts accordingly—while someone (Hal) that thinks with just their head may never act at all for fear of being wrong, or misunderstood, or whatever—teen angst and beyond (Hamlet, anybody?). Maybe Hal’s afraid of Mario’s intuition because it can’t really be rehearsed and mastered. It’s not perfect. There will sometimes be mistakes. But that’s kind of the point, right? Sometimes acting on intuition can open up a conversation with another person by exposing the cracks in your own thinking that you never would have realized were there had you not had the courage to ask or engage in the first place.
I’ve always kind of thought that each of the Incandenza boys end up being hyper-developed (or radically skewed) in one particular way. Orin is all sex and body, Hal is (mostly) intellect or brain, and Mario is all heart (I’m sure there’s a Freudian analysis in here, as per Hamlet, etc.). It’s like they could be one reasonably well-functioning child if they could somehow combine their powers by raising their rings to the sky and summoning captain planet (who is [presumably] here, a well-functioning child taking pollution of the soul down to the zero). Or like how the power rangers combine their Dinozords (sp?) into a Megazord (again, sp?), or something, I don’t know.