Friday, October 26, 2012

Thoughts on Infinite Jest

My friend, the redoubtable Massey, has asked me to share some of my erstwhile thoughts about Infinite Jest, the David Foster Wallace behemoth that I started last month.  I'm only halfway done right now, and I'm afraid I have nothing of real substance to contribute, but I am due for a blog post.  Anyway, it's always useful for my own mental processes to have to make explicit some of what I have burbling inside my head.  Hopefully, too, this will start a literary discussion to rival our recent political blow-out.

So, what about it?

Well, first off, I find the book, in general, pleasantly accessible.  I guess I had expected it would be more difficult--difficult in the way of Ulysses, I mean, where you almost can't read it, the first time through, without a guide.  Infinite Jest is actually quite readable; though a lot of the vocabulary is (needlessly) obscure, the story itself--such it is--is more or less right there in front of you.  I started reading it because a friend, a fellow-writer, suggested he found the book 'generative,' a useful source of inspiration and motivation toward writing.  I think he was right: I've been reading Infinite Jest in the morning every day before I start to work and it does seem to be useful in dislodging ideas from my often clogged and refractory mind.  For that alone, it's worth reading.  (Interesting topic for future post: generative fiction/art vs 'great' art.  Always the same?  Probably not.)

At this point, I'd say the novel does not succeed as a narrative.  It's not really a forward-moving story, so much as an interrelated series of riffs and tableaux.  He's interested in two major subjects--addiction (drug, alcohol, and, in a way, tennis) and America's relationship to pleasure (where that pleasure manifests itself in both drugs and popular entertainment--television in particular).  The latter subject especially is one I find engaging, and so I'm generally happy enough to read Wallace musing on the subject.  But musings is really a lot of what the book consists of--or rather, it's what the book, at its best consists of.  I don't have much interest in what happens to the characters (nor, do I think, did Wallace while writing it) and the book's complex relationship to time--the way it cuts constantly back and forth between many different time periods in the life of its characters--give the whole reading experience a static, motionless feel.  Time is not a thing that moves forward; we rather experience people frozen in various attitude at various moment in their life.  The snapshot moments are interesting enough, but the relationship between the characters' pasts and presents rarely feels significant.

The part I find least compelling, at least thus far, is the ersatz history of the United States, President Gently, and the Quebecois resistance.  (The sequences with Maranthe and Stately sitting on top of a butte in Arizona arguing about the nature of America are especially tedious.)  With any other writer, a book like this couldn't work, but Wallace is smart enough to be able to stitch together a series of riffs on whatever topic he feels drawn to and make it readable.  A book of great moments, but not, in its entirety a great book.  That's the verdict for now.

Two people I've thought about frequently while reading it--and to whom I've been intending to write emails recommending they read it--are 1) Seb and 2) "Subliminal Gary."  For entirely different reasons, each of you would respond to this in a big way (Seb maybe most of all?).

Also--this is a GREAT book to read on Kindle/Ipad.  It makes it easy to look up all the esoteric medical vocabuarly, and going back and forth between the endnotes and the main body of the novel takes only the touch of a screen.  Also, makes it easy to transport.  For whatever that's worth.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Random Prediction

So I woke up today convinced that in the next week or so, Norv Turner would be fired.  I'm setting this down in writing in a semi-public place in the event that it happens, so you can all marvel at my prescience.  If it doesn't happen, then, well it should.

My other football predictions are so far looking pretty good.  Maybe it's time to just start a sports blog?  There are so few of those around, right?

Not much else to report around here.  The Wife and I are going on a fall vacation to Boston starting on Thursday.  I bought a Kindle, thinking it would make it easier to read and travel (and because Infinite Jest, the current project, is a bit of a monster, luggage-wise.)  An unexpected benefit: reading on a Kindle allows you to instantly look up the meaning of any word you don't know (just hold your finger on the world in question--no need to both with getting up and going to the dictionary).  I generally think I have a pretty good vocabulary, but David Foster Wallace seems to take an obscure joy in using words that, well, I imagine few people would know.  So that has come in very useful.  Also nifty is the ability to read his footnotes instantly--you just touch the footnote number, and you are transported there.  When you're done, you touch the number again.  There's no need to flip back and forth.  It's really the perfect book for a Kindle.

All right.  As you were.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Crucial Status Update

At some point, recently, in the hearing of others, I believe that I suggested that Station to Station, and not Low, was, in fact, the greatest masterpiece produced by the great producer of masterpieces, the Thin White Chameleon, Mr David B, Esq. That, I now retract. Utterly and irrevocably. It's Low, my friends. Low upon Low upon Low. Set it down in the records, in the stony syllables of history, from now until the end of recorded time.