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The Good Word — Halation

July 13, 2009

So. This word has appeared several times in Infinite Jest thusfar:

p. 97
‘The Halster.’
‘Halorama.’
Halation.’
Halation,’ Rader says. “A halo-shaped exposure-pattern around light sources seen on chemical film at low speed.’
‘That most angelic of distortions.’

p. 104
‘Peemster and Hal.’
Halation and Pemurama.’

p. 218
‘… after a night of involved hallucinogens Hal said the dawn seemed to confer on his psyche a kind of pale, sweet aura, a luminescence.[fn. 76*] Halation, Axford observed.
* The relevant portion of footnote 76 talks about Hal winning “spelling-beeish” competitions as a child: “when he’d extracted what was desired from memory and faultlessly pronounced it before certain persons, he’d felt almost that same pale sweet aura that an LSD afterglow conferred, some milky corona, like almost a halo of approved grace, made all the milkier by the faultless nonchalance of a Moms who made it clear that his value was not contingent on winning first or even second prize, ever.”

p. 221
‘[Joelle] likes the wet walk for this, everything milky and halated through her veil’s damp linen…

I had a sense that certain other variants on the word have popped up elsewhere, but I couldn’t find anything using Amazon’s booksearch feature. Although it’s probably safe to say that anything halo-related falls under this meme as well. Before we dig in, let’s see what OED II has to say.

halation

[irreg. f. HALO + -ATION]
a. Photogr. The term used to denote the spreading of light beyond its proper boundary in the negative image upon the plate, producing local fog around the highlights, or those portions of the picture which are brighter than the rest of the image.
b. A similar effect in television.

I’m not going to go into all the quotes here, but the last quote under def. b. is particularly instructive: “Chambers’s Techn. Dict. Suppl. 983/2 Halation, bright annular area around the cathode-ray tube phosphor spot, arising from internal reflection within the glass support.” [bold emphasis mine]

I think the sense of something spreading beyond its proper boundary, which produces a “local fog” that blurs the boundary, is germane here. In Elegant Complexity†, a study of Infinite Jest, Greg Carlisle lists the idea of boundaries, including “physical, mental, spiritual, geographic, or philosophical barriers or limits” as one of the main themes of the book. This sense is pretty clear in the p.221 use of halated.

But how does it apply to Hal? Halation is explicitly linked to Hal from it’s first use — note also that every time it appears it’s capitalized. The p. 218 use of the word, along with the accompanying footnote, provides a nice juxtaposition of depravity (the afterglow of an LSD high) with innocence (the afterglow of a job well done at the local spelling bee). I’m suspecting the transgressive sense of going beyond a “proper boundary” has some resonance with Hal’s character — whatever the reason for his state in the Year of Glad, could it be due to some sort of transgression on his part? I don’t know. And well I guess — the unattributed respondent to Rader’s definition of the word on p. 97 calls it “that most angelic of distortions,” bringing us back to halos and angels and innocence again. Any thoughts?

The link with annular is something I’ll need to dig into in a future post.

And finally — welcome, Infinite Summerers. Thanks for stopping by and checking the place out.

† Elegant Complexity is published by the good folks at Sideshow Media Group, who did an absolutely bang-up job of procuring an extra copy of the book for me when it was out of print and used-book scalpers were charging upwards of 200 bucks for it.

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