Holy Schtitt, a Revenant!
When I first read (p. 260) that Schtitt calls Hal his revenant, a French word for specter or spirit, that which returns to haunt or otherwise horrify the living, I was confused. From the Hamlet-referencing lines DFW penned to begin IJ, we knew that some ghost or other would play a role, and of course the plethora of addictions throughout the text so far are full of hauntings – for what else is recovery from an Addiction but a kind of Haunting? Still, the typical appearance of a revenant is to indicate something along the lines of “see how the past dominates the future,” which is not an apparent fixation of IJ, and in any case young, talented Hal is not the candidate we would expect to make a ghostly appearance.
Nonetheless, Schtitt calls Hal by this pet name again in this week’s reading (specifically, pp. 450-61 passim.), this time in the context of an interesting lecture to the ETA players on how to “occur.” [Update: my discussion of this lecture is now posted as .] The significance of the revenant remains murky at this point in the novel, but it is worth thinking about it to help prime our expectations for further “appearances.”
Let’s read this the way I did . The first mention of revenant is here:
Hal’s delicate and spinny, rather cerebral game hasn’t altered, but this year it seems to have grown a beak. … He’ll probe, pecking, until some angle opens up […]. Schtitt calls Hal Incandenza his ‘revenant,’ now. (p. 260)
This made no sense to me; in some folk traditions, a revenant returns in the form of a bird, but the connection is not terribly strong. So I pretty much forgot about this until the scene in which Schtitt calls out Hal on 9 November Y.D.A.U. for his laziness in a.m. drills, Hal not backpedaling quickly enough while working the overhead (an excruciating drill requiring him to run forward, touch the net, backpedal for a leaping overhead, sprint forward again, repeat until collapse):
Overhead, Schtitt uses an unamplified bullhorn and careful enunciation to call out for everyone to hear that Mr. revenant Hal Incandenza was letting the ball get the little much behind him on overheads, fears of the ankle maybe. (p. 454)
Hal’s ankle, we know, is a bit “out of joint” (do I go too far?), and he is unable to move as adeptly as he would like. So, perhaps Schtitt is calling him out as revenant ironically, for his inability to return (backcourt) from where he has been sent (the net). Still, this feels like a stretch. The word comes up once more in Schtitt’s fascinating discourse on Conditions, Occuring, and Two Worlds . Here’s the quote:
‘Where is where you apply for citizenship in second world Mr. consciousness of ankle Incandenza, our revenant?’
Hal can lean out and spit in a way that isn’t insolent. ‘Head, sir.’
‘The human head, sir, if I got your thrust. Where I’m going to occur as a player. The game’s two heads one world. One world, sir.’ (p. 461)
Where is it, Schtitt queries, that one finds the secret of how to play? It is in the head. Of course, we know that tennis is a “mental” game, and that, for example, the Clipperton saga is among other things a metaphor for the inability to deal with succeeding in what one has sought for all along (and thus one can even refer to the Clipperton “syndrome” (see p. 436), the failure to “keep the fires stoked” when a top ranking is achieved). For these problems, ETA has its very own Dr. Delores Rusk, M.S. Ph.D., though anyone with any sense goes to see Lyle (p. 437). But when Hal says “The human head, sir,” there is something deeply eerie and unsettling. Flip back, flip back… oh yes, there:
I think of John N.R. Wayne, who would have won this year’s WhataBurger, standing watch in a mask as Don Gately and I dig up my father’s head. (p. 17f.)
While I’m sure others have written on the Hamlet parallel in detail, here’s my untutored explanation. In Hamlet, the Ghost or revenant claims to be Hamlet’s father, inducing him to revenge on his uncle Claudius. The skull dug up late in the play is that of Yorick, “a fellow of infinite jest.” In IJ, C.T. takes over the headmaster role after J.O.I.’s untimely microwave event, and “Prince” Hal ultimately digs up the head (which, from Hal’s description of the suicide (see, e.g., p. 256), cannot be expected to be a pretty sight). The revenant, then, should technically be J.O.I.’s ghost, and not Hal himself, according to any strict analogy.
But we need not be compelled by the analogy, and instead focus on the meaning of the revenant. For the appearance of the word ‘revenant‘ is a means of creating anticipation for what is “to come.” In 1994, Jacques Derrida wrote one of his more interesting texts, in which he looks closely at Hamlet in the context of his coming to terms with what he titled Specters of Marx. For Karl Marx, too, was deeply engaged by the revenant, by the overdetermination of the present by the past, and by the possibility of a return from beyond. His famous line, “A specter is haunting Europe,” is complemented throughout his work by the idea that money is “but a shadow” and an “apparition,” that the State is a “magical” entity that can transmute paper into gold, that the appearance of capital is “veiled.” Derrida writes:
As in Hamlet, the Prince of a rotten State, everything [for Marx] begins by the apparition of a specter. More precisely, by the waiting for this apparition. The anticipation is at once impatient, anxious, and fascinated: this, the thing (“this thing”) will end up coming. The revenant is going to come. 
At minimum, this describes our readerly experience of Infinite Jest: we are anxiously awaiting the return of some “thing” (and Derrida further explains that the difference between a revenant and a spirit/Geist is the phenomenality of the revenant: it is a “thing,” though what thing it is cannot be known in advance). Perhaps it is J.O.I., perhaps it is the Entertainment (which was supposed to have been buried in the tomb of Himself – see n.#80, p. 999), perhaps it is even some purloined bit of Hal, since as I’ve indicated we don’t know for sure what it is that has stolen his voice. I’m betting DMZ. But we are still waiting.
I’ll conclude this inconclusive and promissory rumination with a brief comment on the messianic component of the revenant. Whatever is “to come” in the form of the revenant comes out of the past but more immediately it comes from the future. The revenant, whether in the form of a non-alienated, post-capitalist society or some other edenic pastures – or, conversely, the horror of, say, the Spider that is out there for each of us – is both “to come” and “not yet.” The messianic revenant “to come” is thereby an embedding of both the holy and the profane. As we profane what has become holy to us (and in our society, what is more holy than Entertainment?), as DFW profanes Entertainment by exposing its centrality to addiction, to despair, loss, death, Bottoming, and c., we are nonetheless and precisely for that reason exposed to something, some “thing,” that is more holy, that shows our present-day worships as misguided and replaces them with the truly holy. Holy Schtitt.