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Is Hal Just Having a Blackout?

August 4, 2009

Everyone wants to know what’s wrong with Hal in the beginning of Infinite Jest, right? On p. 464, in the midst of a Don. G. section, Wallace taunts us with yet another possibility:

Pat said a blackout was where you continued to function — sometimes disastrously — but weren’t aware later of what you did. It’s like your mind wasn’t in possession of your body, and it was usually brought on by alcohol but could also be brought on by chronic use of other Substances. [emphasis mine — i.d.]

Obviously, Hal’s mind is not in control of his body at the beginning of the book. And it’s interesting that Pat links it with long-term (“chronic”) substance use — I’ve always understand a blackout to be caused by excessive use of a substance over a short period of time.

It just struck me as weird that Wallace took the time to define what a blackout is, when presumably this isn’t news for most readers of IJ, and but then to go and define it in terms that are slightly different than what you’d expect. Maybe’s Hal’s having the mother of all blackouts, brought on by DMZ consumption? The good news for Hal is that the thing about blackouts is — they end. Usually, anyway.

Not saying that this is like the answer or anything — just another example of Wallace gettin’ all polyvalent on us [thanks, InfiniteTasks, for the fancy word!].

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 5, 2009 2:56 am

    I’ve been thinking its the DMZ for most of the book, but recently I’ve been thinking that perhaps it is the Entertainment (though who knows how he could survive it). I’ve got a post coming out soon on “Hal revenant Incandenza” that will recall some of the foreshadowing on p.17, but it is very inconclusive, unfortunately. Revenant is a fancy word, but it ain’t mine, it’s Schtitt’s.

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