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James Incandenza

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James Orin Incandenza is the founder of E.T.A., and the film auteur who created Infinite Jest (film). He was an alcoholic, and killed himself by putting his head inside of a microwave. He is the biological father of Hal Incandenza and Orin Incandenza, step-father of Mario Incandenza, and widower of Avril Incandenza. He used Joelle van Dyne in several of his films, including Infinite Jest. Late in the novel, the wraith of James Incandenza visits the hospitalized Don Gately.

Cognomens: Himself, The Mad Stork, The Sad Stork (via his eldest Son Orin's Freudian slip)

There is some evidence that James believes that he may be falsely perceiving Hal as unable to talk, as his silent film "Insubstantial Country" from Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar features "an unpopular apres-garde filmmaker (Watt) either suffers a temporal lobe seizure and becomes mute or else is the victim of everyone else's delusion that his (Watt's) temporal lobe seizure has left him mute."

A Marxist reading of James

Joelle Van Dyne refers to James as the "world's best hailer of Boston cabs" (223). The notion of Himself as the best hailer relates to Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser's notion of interpellation. Althusser believed that "all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, making him or her a subject," and furthermore, that all individuals are born into ideology and are always-already interpellated. In this sense, James becomes the best interpellator. As the novel Infinite Jest centers around James' film "Infinite Jest", it can be argued that the entire book is interpellated by Himself's ideology. The name Himself lends further credence to the concept of James as master interpellator or Author(ity).

Althusser relates interpellation to family structures: "it is certain in advance that [a child] will bear its Father’s Name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable. Before its birth, the child is therefore always-already a subject, appointed as a subject in and by the specific familial ideological configuration in which it is ‘expected’ once it has been conceived." James' children (Hal and Orin) are always-already interpellated by Himself's ideology, especially vis-á-vis Avril Incandenza. Mary K. Holland notes that "Orin learns to mimic the self-absorption he has been taught, becoming what one of his closest friends describes as 'the least open man I know' (1048 n. 269, emphasis in original)-a charge that could easily be extended to his father Jim. Meanwhile, his sexual penchant for young mothers-going so far as to ask them to scatter photos of their children around the room during sex reveals both the roots of this need to validate himself by pretending to love others and his desperate striving to gain the mother's love he never received." Orin mimics Himself's habits because he inherits them; he has been conceived in a family (which is one of Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses, although he acknowledges the family unit has other functions as well), born into self-absorption, much the way Wallace argues that Americans are born into an aura of narcissism and irony.

According the Molly Notkin (significantly not-kin and therefore possibly outside the realm of Himself's range of interpellation), "Infinite Jest" consists of Joelle van Dyne playing the great Mother/Death archetype, representing both birth and the infantile stage people long to get back to as well as death, which people necessarily move towards. Hal and Orin both have terribly conflicted relationships with their own mother, strange combinations of wanting to please her and wanting to get as far away as possible. Furthermore, neither Orin nor Hal are particularly comfortable with Himself, perhaps because of their Oedipal, unconscious view of Himself as an enemy in a competition for Avril's attention. Only Mario has a positive relationship with James, because he is almost certainly not-kin (and Charles Tavis's son). Therefore, Mario was not born always-already interpellated by the patriarch Himself's familial ideology.

Partial Filmography

A complete, online, searchable filmography

External Sources