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J.A.A. Purves

Infinite Jest (1996)

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(A&F threads Part One and Part Two on Wallace.)
 
I finally obtained a copy of this book.  Looking over our threads here, it seems that a large enough group of us either have already read this or are right in the middle of reading it, which I think merits a thread devoted to discussing the book itself.  Comments here on the book so far seem scattered, so I've tried to collect them all into one place.  Thus:

His best known work is probably his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, which is utterly uncategorizable, but which the Wikipedia article bravely attempts to summarize as follows:

The book's plot centers on a lost film cartridge, titled Infinite Jest by its creator James Incandenza, and referred to in the novel as "the Entertainment" or "the samizdat". The film is so "entertaining" to its unwitting viewers that they become lifeless, losing all interest in anything other than endless viewings of the film. In the novel's future world, North America is one unified state composed of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, known as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.). Corporations purchase naming rights to each calendar year, eliminating traditional numerical designations; e.g., "The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment," "The Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland." Much of what used to be the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada has become a massive hazardous waste dumping site known as "The Great Concavity"/"The Great Convexity."

Infinite Jest is the best novel I've read in the past twenty years.

And Infinite Jest, in addition to being, in my mind, the best novel written in the past 20 years, is also the best and most honest portrayal of addiction I've ever read. As someone who has struggled with addictions most of my life, I was amazed that someone could capture the complexity and the horror and the appeal so perfectly. David Foster Wallace ministered real hope to me, and probably to many others, although I'm sure he did it unwittingly.

I started Infinite Jest last week. I'm almost frightened to say that, though, since the novel itself is so big. I'm reading on the kindle (so--psyching myself up by not seeing the mammoth of the book in front of me, and also experimenting to see how well DFW's footnote-heavy style translates to the ebook format). I'm reading an hour or so a night and seeing if I can't slowly work my way through it over the next couple of months. So far (at 12% in) so good. I'm finding it less obscure than Oblivion, though being less obscure than Oblivion isn't exactly hard.

Currently reading:
-Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Currently reading:
Infinite Jest (D.F. Wallace)

...and I just finished Infinite Jest, having read it over the course of about three months (30min-1hr a night). It's pretty fantastic; I don't know that I have anything coherent or cogent to say on it right now, but there's a lot of meat to this book and very little fat. I loved the characters here--loved especially the dialogue between the boys at the academy. And Don Gately, of course, is a beautiful creation.

Yep, yep, yep. Don Gately is wonderful. I loved how the novel begins focused on Hal but slowly moves the focus over to Don. The final 150 pages on Don are just amazing.

I confess that while reading it I felt like there was lots of unnecessary diversions and characters that should've been cut down, but once I finished the book and looked back on it I really couldn't decide what else could've been cut. Even the smallest detail seemed valuable to the whole.

In response to Paul Elie's essay on the death of religious fiction, Noah Millman proposes Infinite Jest as an example of a contemporary%5Bish%5D religious novel:

Infinite Jest is a complex book, with a baffling (I would argue failed) narrative structure. But the clearest narrative thread in the book is the story of Don Gately, thief and addict, who is saved by the twelve-step culture. Moreover, that culture – and the question of recovery, understood in spiritual terms – saturates the novel, and is central to its most fundamental questions. This is not a nostalgic or elegiac story about recollecting a time when faith “worked.” It’s about now, and what faith means now. And what it means is deeply wedded to the narrative of recovery.
[snip]
Wallace, of course, did not experience that kind of salvation from the inside. He wasn’t testifying. But I think we should distinguish the novel of belief from the pious novel. A novel of belief should concern itself with the lived experience of belief, with showing that experience to us, making us understand it from the inside. A pious novel testifies to said belief. That doesn’t mean it has to be a weak novel – Tolstoy wrote any number of magnificent pious novellas - The Death of Ivan Ilych, Father Sergius, etc. – so it’s clearly possible to write great fiction in the modern age from a pious position. But I don’t think that’s a requirement to meet Elie’s criteria.

I too finally started reading DFW. I'm trying to get through about 10 pages of Infinite Jest a day. Maybe I'll be done by Christmas! ... I can't help but wonder how much Neal Stephenson was influenced by DFW (or, maybe, DFW was influenced somewhat by NS?). There is a lot of overlap stylistically.

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I know I've seen this sketch referenced somewhere w/r/t Infinite Jest, but  I had forgotten how close the resemblances really are:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gpjk_MaCGM

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Now translated into Portuguese.

 

Glenn H. Shepard: You seem to prefer translating works and authors that are not only essentially “untranslatable,” but also notoriously verbose: Joyce, Pynchon, now Wallace. Are you a masochist, or do you just enjoy intense mental activity?

B0084V787A.01.MZZZZZZZ.jpgCaetano W. Galindo: Well, apart from Ulysses, all I’ve done is translate what my editors give me to do. Ergo, I cannot be considered a masochist: they’re the sadists! But yes, this is the kind of literature I like, and thus what I read — and “write” — best. I think my publishers have found this to their liking. And yes, I really do enjoy the acrobatics. It’s kind of like chess: it’s much more fun to play against someone who’s better than you are, even though you may end up losing. I like being forced to reach, to face problems I would not have conceived myself. I enjoy trying to recreate puns, acronyms, styles-within-styles, multiple voices: you know, all the hard stuff. What can I say? Back to the masochism hypothesis…

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biblioklept: Some notes from 299 pages into a rereading of Infinite Jest

 

So far, like any rereading of a big encyclopedic novelInfinite Jest seems much, much easier than my initial go through (although coming off [Gravity's Rainbow] almost anything would probably seem much, much easier). With the contours of the “big plot” in place (and the rhetorical dazzle of some of Wallace’s embedded-essays not as blinding as before), focusing on details, patterns, and motifs becomes simply more possible. (I don’t think I connected Hal’s clipping his toenails in Ch. 18 to the toenails Gately finds in Ennet House in Ch. 19 before, f’r’instance). 

[snip]


 I think that Wallace’s heteroglossia signals a will toward inclusion, multicultural perspective, diversity, etc., terms that I hope you will forgive the buzzwordiness of here, terms that I take to be very much at the center of this decade’s discussion of literature. Wallace’s predictive scope is to attempt, in language, a polyglossic/heteroglossic America, and he does this by trying to get out of his own (white male academic) head. The description of his own time is what he ends up with though—his heteroglossic attempt is strained, encyclopedic but ultimately feels monoglossic.
Edited by NBooth

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