Literary Mixtape: Hal Incandenza


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Hal Incandenza, David Foster Wallace’s legendary kid genius.

Hal Incandenza, the (arguable) protagonist of David Foster Wallace’s epic masterpiece Infinite Jest, is a teen genius with a famous family and a pot addiction. He’s also a socially alienated tennis prodigy suffering an extended adolescent existential crisis that often manifests in psychological dissociation from his own body. Though that could all be the drugs. Or the stress. At the end of the novel (the chronological end, which in this case is actually the beginning), Hal’s mental state has deteriorated and he’s suddenly developed a condition that leaves him trapped in his own body, probably due to something that tool Pemulis gave him. Hal’s smarter than everyone, but he’s still a screwed up teenager. And then he goes insane. Well, maybe. Here’s what we think he’d perfect his serve, talk to BooBoo, and light up his one-hitter to.

Luciano Pavarotti — “Vesti la Giubba”

Though Hal’s friends probably wouldn’t get Pavarotti, we think he’d respond to the unbridled emotionality of the famous tenor, even if he had to hide it. This particular aria, which translates to ‘put on the costume,’ would appeal to him for exactly this reason. If anyone’s insides are different from their outsides in countless ways, it’s Hal.

OOIOO –- “Umo”

Music to fuel Hal’s hyper-intellectual insanity. Also appropriate music for someone for whom “lifetime virginity is a conscious goal.” Just saying.

Sigur Ros — “Gobbledigook”

Hal might play this track to feel a little bit better about being completely unintelligible to the world around him and perhaps even find solace in that “familiar panic of feeling misperceived.”

Arcade Fire — “My Body Is A Cage”

A little literal perhaps, even though Hal’s condition is significantly more dire than Win Butler’s.

Radiohead — “Subterranean Homesick Alien”

We’re going to go even further and say that OK Computer would be Hal’s favorite album of all time. There may be a few seventeen year old boys who didn’t love that album, but we’re pretty confident there are zero seventeen year old boys who read the Oxford English Dictionary for fun who didn’t love that album.

CocoRosie — “Rainbowarriors”

The psychedelic absurdity of CocoRosie would definitely appeal to Hal. Maybe while he’s, you know, indulging his habit.

Mozart — “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Minor, K. 457: II. Adagio”

For chasing the demons away. Even Hal’s gotta relax, man.

The Books — “S is For Evrysing”

We think Hal would delight in dissecting the Books’ complex, collaged sound landscapes, especially the bizarrely menacing ones, like this track.

Mastodon — “Aqua Dementia”

The kid’s a world-class athlete, after all. He needs some workout music to keep up that serve.

Pavement –“Fight This Generation”

Hal would enjoy the simultaneous strangeness and gentleness of Pavement — kind of like his brother Mario.

Tennis — “Marathon”

Oh, you know, just for wordplay’s sake. Both for us and for Hal. How’s that for intertextual?