(click to enlarge panorama)
The astute reader expects a few references to Hamlet in a novel titled Infinite Jest and, indeed, fans of the Bard will not be disappointed. Hal Incandenza corresponds to Prince Hamlet in some interesting ways: he is introspective, passionate, considered insane by some, and has to watch out for his uncle (see the first chapter of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity for more examples than you might think). One of the late James Incandenza’s production companies was called Poor Yorick Entertainment. There might even be ghosts and grave-digging. Listing too many more would not only require not only a spoiler warning, but an unnecessary tangent; the synchronicities make for some good “aha” moments, but they’re not necessary to understand the work.
One imperfect but fun example may be the Enfield Tennis Academy custodians E.J. Kenkle and Otto Brandt, “inseparable and essentially unemployable,” whose occasional appearances—typically heard coming or going, just off-stage—may remind one of Hamlet’s old pals, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Others have suggested Steeply and Marathe for the characters, and Carlisle briefly compares them to Elsinore’s gravedigger, but hear me out.
The similarities are apparent: they come as a pair; they’re not to be taken entirely seriously (they ride “the T at night, recreationally”); and crucially, they are in the employ of Hal’s uncle. In the one late scene Hal shares with Kenkle and Brandt, they each once refer to him, in a slightly different manner, as “Good prince Hal.” Not that it’s a perfect match: they don’t have any particular relationship with Hal; they are not quite interchangeable (Brandt’s IQ is said to be “Submoronic-to-Moronic” while Kenkle once earned a Ph.D. in “low-temperature physics”); and (again) crucially, they are not killed by pirates.
The reason I thought of them during my visit to Boston last summer was the description of their apartment:
[Brandt] lived with Kenkle in an attic apartment in Roxbury Crossing overlooking Madison Park High School’s locked and cordoned playground … His major attraction for Kenkle seemed to consist in the fact that he neither walked away nor interrupted when Kenkle was speaking.
The neighborhood is called Roxbury; Roxbury Crossing is a T-stop, but this is easily accounted for. The apartment itself is said to be on New Dudley Street, although so far as I could tell there is only a Dudley Street—and it happens to be a block away from Madison Park High School. I made a point of directing my cab driver to this area, expecting to find nothing too interesting.
I was surprised: directly across the street to the south was a hill tall enough to overlook the school, and a block from Dudley Street I came across the building pictured above, which certainly has an attic accessible from the outside. And while the high school has no playground of which I am aware, there is one right next door to this building, as you can see at far left in the panorama.
There were many locations along this journey that I knew David Foster Wallace had eyes laid upon, especially those easily recognizable and / or commercial: the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square, the Father & Son Market, or Cheapo Records. But this was the lone occasion during my travels through Boston where I was struck by the notion that—just maybe? almost certainly?—no one since DFW had stood where I stood and recognized what I saw.