Books, Thoughts

Stray Thoughts: Tosca & Infinite Jest

Usually when I file or clean or do some busy work that keeps my hands busy but my mind on autopilot, my thoughts tend to hop about.  So, yesterday while I was straightening for company, I thought on the ties between Tosca & Infinite Jest again.

There’s something about David Foster Wallace’s use of the opera in his book that I keep coming back to.  On the surface, Tosca seems to be another of Hal’s brainy obsessions, like his fixations on Byzantine porn or the Oxford English Dictionary.  Anything that could have an inkling of fun, like wordplay, foreplay or net play is cataloged, pinned down & deconstructed.  But Tosca is something different.  Hal doesn’t debate which recording of the opera is superior or observe the singers’ technical precision.  He listens to the arias repeatedly to feel something.

While it’s easy to treat the opera’s presence in Infinite Jest as just an interesting background detail, like I said before, there’s something I keep coming back to.  Maybe it’s the fact that one of the brothers Incandenza is named Mario, just like the love interest in Tosca.  Could be a coincidence, but given that fathers & brothers often share names in this novel, I find that similarity pretty significant.  Counting just the Incandenza men, you have James Orin Incandenza Sr. & Jr., Orin J.(ames?) Incandenza & Hal James Incandenza.

(This is pretty typical in IJ-world.  There are also the Pemulis brothers: Matty (for Matthew) & Michael Mathew.)

Anyway, my point being, that in the litany of mirrored names, Mario’s jumps out, especially given Hal’s professed love & need for him, as well as Mario’s straightforward affirmation of ideals like faith & charity.  But, Hal is in no way, shape or form a parallel for Tosca.  Tosca is an artist driven by emotion, by love, by holy belief even.  “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore,” she sings.  She will do anything for her Mario.  She blesses the body of the man she murders to save him.

Hal is none of these things.  He is formed by an institution of restraint & control, he crumbles without those routines, he’s a life-long virgin (pg. 627), someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts but doesn’t believe much in people either. The fact that the story is possibly taking place in his own head is one of the few indications that there really is some spark of uniqueness in there.

So, what is Tosca doing in IJ?  Does it just serve as an emotional release for Hal?  Is the diva someone he could aspire to be like?  More stray thoughts for another post after I’ve had more time to work it out. . .

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