Hi all, I’m Jacob, subbing for Chris this week. (The new goalpost for this week is probably p. 720 or so.) First, from this week’s chunk:

“One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.” (695)

Hip, empty masks get satirized throughout IJ. Before Joelle reaches Molly Notkin’s bathroom to do cocaine, she has to endure the people alluding to a cha-cha at the “theoretical party” on 231. I do think people should get to have an ironic mask now and again—I remember making stupid jokes to my older brother that when I was his age I had to learn to avoid pretending to be older than you really are because that game tires quickly—but Hal knows as much as you need an ironic mask to avoid being emotionally arrested like Mario, you also need a vulnerable self. The so-called American thing about Hal is that he picks one side to hate. (Remember American consumers and their videophone masks?)

But maybe that’s to be expected at ETA. The vulnerable self will lose you a match. As far as deLint can tell, John Wayne is total-roboto, whereas Hal, unlike the other boys, will let a match get to him emotionally (682). Whatever emotion Hal has, though, he doesn’t think it amounts to much: he admits there’s “pretty much nothing at all” inside him on 694, and suddenly it doesn’t seem so odd for his Dad to be posing as a therapist to find a pulse, back in the opening.

In fact, back in the prologue, Hal’s the kid pleading with the university suits, saying “please don’t think I don’t care” as he alludes to Rousseau and Hegel. Yeah, bookish probably only scratches the surface for Hal, but he doesn’t talk that way to other people at ETA. It can be fun to bother the dictionary freak, but everybody has to spend so much time on normative grammar and annular physics that surely nobody wants to hear from Hal on Hegel. That stuff’s for personal consumption only. When he’s at ETA he’s something else:

 “I’m a student at a tennis academy that sees itself as a prophylactic. … I am just about as apolitical as someone can be. I am out of all loops but one, by design. I’m sitting here naked with my foot in a bucket.” (note 110, p. 1016). Hal has his worldy wit, but he’s limited to his bubble.

So let’s talk about Williams. Class starts up again next week, and the whole point is the opposite of protecting us from things. Heavy stuff will come up here and there in casual conversation, but I fear sometimes for all the interesting things we all work on, it looks like I’m sitting around with my foot in a bucket. Does this happen to you? Last spring a friend wondered aloud whether she was getting more boring. It was a total crap notion, but running through my head was me too. This vague worry, I think, owes something to living too much in mastery-mode, delivering the goods. I don’t blame Hal for making an end-run around the grief counselor by delivering fake emotion, but with so many young people delivering goods to authority figures, DFW invents Lyle. The “more paradoxical Schtitt/Lyle/Incandenza school” makes the point that “achievement doesn’t automatically confer interior worth” (693). Here I think of DFW’s Kenyon speech, where he asserts that whatever you worship—beauty, intellect, power—you can never have enough. It will be real interesting to see Hal go through a tough task-mastering season of the Whataburger and his college boards without feeding his numbing addiction. Could we see a not so boring Hal? What are your thoughts on being boring?

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