I’ve just finished Infinite Jest

Posted December 5, 2017 in books  |  No Comments so far

David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” is a mammoth of a novel. I started reading it in August and only just finished it last night.

Spoilers now follow!

Its conclusion felt abrupt, unexpected, like an ambush. This was mainly caused by the way Infinite Jest is constructed, with a lot of events subsequent to the conclusion having been hinted at in earlier chapters, leaving the actual endpoint serving as more of a midpoint. But the ambush effect was exacerbated by the Kindle: when you aren’t holding the physical substance of the remaining novel between your fingers, it can be hard to know just how close you are to its end.

Infinite Jest sets itself up as a satirical novel. Many aspects of its characters, and of the world it’s set in, are introduced with an air of comedic ridiculousness, from the names of the years in “Subsidised Time” to the physical deformity of Mario Incandenza. But the book very often moves in on these characters or situations and gives them another treatment, slower, honest and human, moving beyond its surface tone of satirical irreverence and adopting one that is often painful or even heartbreaking to read. Many of the passages that deal with drug and alcohol addiction, in particular, have a hyperreal aspect to them.

I did find myself becoming more and more irritated by James Incandenza’s work as a respected avant-garde filmmaker. I didn’t know if we were meant to be cringing at the pretentiousness of his films or not, or to be more precise, if we were meant to cringe at the idea of a world in which films like his are seen as high art. I found myself cringing at a lot of the described films anyway, regardless of DFW’s intent. They sounded like attempts to make rather basic statements but giving them a spurious profundity by wrapping them up in a few layers of artistic obfuscation. Towards the end of the book those were the passages (descriptions of academics building their careers on interpretations of Incandenza’s films, etc) I felt most tempted to skip through.

The complex and involuted nature of Infinite Jest invites a second reading but its sheer size makes it unlikely that I’ll do that any time soon. So I’ve been reading a few discussions and analyses online. One thing I found is this website, Infinite Summer, which divides the book up into sections that should be readable in a week  and then provides articles and comment threads for each of those sections. It’s a bit like an asynchronous book club, and I wish I’d been aware of it when I started out.

I’m a big fan of websites like Infinite Summer. It’s both anachronistic and refreshing to see online discussions taking place away from the Borg cube of Twitter/Facebook, conversations you can discover via a search engine and just read through without having to be logged into anything.


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