a runaway american dream
Now I would like to move on to something that is equally badass, but for a much different reason.
For once, I have actually arrived at the suggested reading quota for Infinite Summer on time. I made it to page 210 yesterday and am cruising right along. Reading Infinite Jest is finally starting to payoff: I’m invested in (some of) the characters, I can see something resembling a plot starting to develop, and if nothing else, the writing is (for the most part) overwhelming me with appreciation and respect for David Foster Wallace (or, as I’ve taken to referring to him privately, D-F-Dub).
A colleague of mine ordered a copy when the mass company email went out last month, alerting us all to Infinite Summer’s quest. I saw it sitting on her desk Thursday and was thrilled to finally have someone to talk to about it—especially since Katrina has officially dropped out. But it turns out, she hasn’t started it yet, and from the look on her face when I tried to explain what it was about, I don’t know if she’ll actually attempt it. (Though I really hope she does!) Another colleague of mine who was around when Micheal Pietsch acquired IJ and who was responsible for selling it when it first came out, told me yesterday that she’s still very sad about DFW’s death last year.
Reading IJ makes me feel like I’m retaking my senior year as an English major: it was a time of immense happiness for me, but also immense frustration, as the final semester was spent deconstructing Joyce’s Ulysses. Admittedly, I only half-assed reading that book, but as I recall, it was a feat of endurance getting from one page to the next. Infinite Jest is similar in some ways, vastly different in others: pages 140-151 were positively interminable; pages 157-169 flew by. Pages 181-193 were pretty awful, too.
I find myself having to literally come up for air from time to time: the writing can be so tiresome and tedious, but somehow rhythmic at the same time, that it necessitates stopping when I finally reach the end of a sentence, collecting my thoughts, and taking a deep breath. It occasionally feels like I am drowning in the English language.
Most of the time, though, I love the words spewing from the pages. They’re frenetic and funny, and frequently so subtly genius that I’ll read and reread sentences in order to soak in as much meaning as possible. I’m underlining the good lines and dog-earing the really good pages, which you’ll remember from this post, is not something I do to books, ever.
I’m still so uncertain as to where this book is going, but I am, at least, enjoying the journey. So much and yet so little seems to be happening, it’s hard to keep track of what’s worth remembering and what needs to be remembered. Infinite Summer has been helpful with the weekly recaps, but for the most part, I’m just letting DFW take me where he will. And so far I’m having a blast on the ride.
I think I’m going to start doing a recap of the week’s best lines and passages. That way, even if you’re not brave enough to read the whole book, maybe you’ll at least develop a sense of appreciation for the author.
Here’s one that could be justification for why I dropped out of grad school (and which I think Katrina will appreciate): “Here is how to sit…surrounded by…conversations so pretentious you literally cannot believe them, you’re sure you have misheard them.” From page 174, and one of the many reasons I’m developing a literary crush on Hal.
From page 180: “I have to tell you, I have never heard of anyone being told to pray for relief from cancer. Outside maybe certain very rural parts of the American South, that is…Am I in a sociohistorical era I don’t know about?”
Pages 200-210 have, by far, had the best collection of lines yet. Page 203: “That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness.” Also from page 203: “…it is simply more pleasant to be happy than to be pissed off.”
From 204, “That a clean room feels better to be in than a dirty room.” (I may only like this line because I am obsessively-compulsed and usually can’t sleep if my bedroom is dirty.)
Also on page 204 and one of the only lines I’ve found in any novel I’ve ever read that I would consider as an idea for a tattoo (which is so ironic for reasons I’ll explain in a moment): “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.”
This is ironic because what follows on the next six pages is an exploration and examination of the tattoo as something that “cannot ever be erased or amended” and which is “vividly, chillingly permanent.” (Dad, if you’re reading, I may photocopy these pages for you because you would appreciate the sentiment. And if you plan on discussing your dislike of tattoos with me in the future, I’d enjoy the conversation a lot more if your argument came from what is quickly becoming one of my favorite books.)
If David Foster Wallace, the man was anything like David Foster Wallace, the writer, and I have to assume he was, his death truly was a tragedy.
That’s all for this week, kids. I’ve heard things start to pick up pretty rapidly over the course of the next few chapters, so look forward (or don’t) to more commentary next week.
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Tags: David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, Infinite Summer, literary crushes, literature