The Resolution Project Book Forty-Seven: Infinite Jest (1996) – Part Two

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books / the resolution project

This is the second part of my review of Infinite JestHere‘s the first part, and here‘s the third part.

“The man tended to look up at him like people with legs look up at buildings and planes. ‘You can of course view entertainments again and again without surcease on TelEntertainment disks of storage and retrieval.’

Orin’s way of looking up as he remembered was nothing like the seated guy’s way of looking up. ‘But not the same. The choice, see. It ruins it somehow. With television you were subjected to repetition. The familiarity was inflicted. Different now.'” (p. 600)

The Resolution Project: For my New Year’s resolution this year (that being 2011), I decided to try and read all one hundred of the novels picked by Time Magazine as the best since their inception in 1923 to the list’s publication in 2005. I exempted myself from reading ones I’ve already read, leaving some eighty-six or so to read before the end of this year. Some spoilers may lie ahead, so be warned if you’re the type to be bothered by that.

Yes, It's Long

This is my second quasi-review of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The first can be found here, and an entertaining and completely unexpected detour incurred while reading can be found here. If you want a brief synopsis of the book and what it’s about, check out my first article, although as you may have heard, Infinite Jest is not something to be taken lightly (literally: my shoulder is sort of sore now from carting it around in my bag for the last two weeks). I can only imagine what the book would have been like to interact with in hardcover…

– One of the truly tragic things about David Foster Wallace’s suicide, which is really impossible to keep out of your mind when reading the book sometimes, I’m sorry, is how well I think he’d have fit in with the technology we have at our disposal today. Infinite Jest is pretty much a hypertext book already, what with the extensive use of footnotes, so I can’t help but imagine what he could have done with something like a wiki. One of the only things I’ve ever read that approaches this use of the actual physical form of the text (i.e. that the footnotes/endnotes are actually an integral part of the page/book as a whole) would be Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books, which even do Wallace one further by having characters escape the main text and take refuge in a footnote. I can see why people are disenchanted by the continual turning to the back page, though. If Infinite Jest is ever converted into a digital form, not just put on e-readers but actually converted, you could avoid this problem somewhat by having mouseover tooltips replace some of the endnotes, but that takes away some of the comic timing the book possesses, which is equivalent to waiting a beat after an action occurs, and then telling you the punchline.

One Of Our Thursdays is Missing Cover

– Part of what makes the book so engrossing, yet difficult to read is the amazing amount of world-building Wallace did when constructing the O.N.A.N. As I mentioned last time, the really great books are all to be read in their own way, and Infinite Jest is no exception. As like A Clockwork Orange where I didn’t really have any trouble following the use of nadsat speech, here I can still follow most of the idioms and different names for drugs and things like that. Unlike Clockwork, which used words from other languages mostly to form a pidgin speech, the way people speak in Infinite Jest is rich with symbolism and metaphor, and somewhat addictive. I’ve been thinking of the word “map” with regards to one’s face/life a lot more recently, and while it’d be nice, I’m pretty sure that Bob Hope, Bing Crosby et al. probably aren’t slang words for drugs in my area. One can still dream though.

– Check this out!

The Joke movie poster

This is a movie poster done up for one of James O. Incandenza’s art films. The guy’s website is http://pooryorickentertainment.tumblr.com/, and he’s done a whole bunch of other ones. They’re one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, equally as cool as the Decemberists music video I posted about last time. Go check out the site, there’s some excellent stuff on there. What is it about this book that brings so much out of people? I feel like it is, like I noted above, a combination of the amazing work Wallace put into the world of the book, along with the amount of time and effort you need to put in to read it. I’ve only ever had this sort of relationship with a text a few times, most notably when I read Gravity’s Rainbow a few years ago. Infinite Jest is a lot easier of a read than Rainbow, though, with the possible exception of Wallace’s intense use of ten-dollar words. This must be akin to the feeling religious people get when they read the Bible? I’m normally a very quick reader, so spending more than a week or two on a book is a little different for me, combined with the fact that it is actually a bit difficult to take this book anywhere due to its size.

– One thing I’m really hoping for/dreading at this point in my reading (I’m on page 682 as of today) is whether or not we end up going to see the Concavity/Convexity. Maybe it’s the horror fan/sci-fi nerd in me (go look at the name of this blog again), but I really want to see giant babies wreaking havoc over a blasted hell-scape. I want to see the bugs that have grown to human size and have since become responsible house owners in formerly human communities like Troy, NY. During the sequence in which Poor Tony is forced into heroin withdrawal and lives in a dumpster, you know I really felt for the guy and all, but deep down I wanted to see him launched through the air on a garbage catapult into the Concavity, just so we could see what that place was actually like. Sort of like an event that happens in Gravity’s Rainbow, not to give any spoilers away. It might still happen, but I’m increasingly worried that Wallace is going to pull a Stephenson and end the book inconclusively.

“TINE: Absolutely not, Mart. No way a downer-association-rife term like refugee is going to be applicable here. I cannot overstress this too assertively. Eminent nondomain: yes. Renewal-grade brand of sacrifice: you bet. Heroes, new era’s breed of new pioneers, striking in bravely for already-settled good old settled but unfoul American territory: bien sûr.” (p. 404)

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The Author

Matt Bowes is a self-proclaimed cultural commentator/arbiter of good taste from Edmonton, Alberta. He enjoys movies and books, and writes about them sometimes at thisnerdinglife.com.

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