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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I read it.

October 22, 2010

It begins with the monologueing Hal Incandenza, taking stock of the room he’s in, in the Year of Glad. It begins where it’s supposed to end, where the eventual, you-could-totally-see-coming result of the day-to-day, presumably mind-numbing, substance addiction-causing routine of his being a tennis player, in a tennis school, would drive him to.

This book is about many things and but though I highly doubt that tennis is one of those things, tennis the sport plays an important character. It is a sport that resembles life, at least according to a signage in the Headmaster’s House or some place I won’t anymore bother to check, ie that life is a sport usually won by those who serve best. The tennis thing, it’s tough pointing out it’s significance in this except for maybe that it’s vital since DFW himself was a tennis player, but it looks to me like it’s somehow used as a comparison for life, which I know is such a trite and maybe moronic observation, but that’s my take, because it’s the kind of sport that seems to reward excellence and in nature, more random than most sports, but which if you think about it, it is like every other game which sole aim it is to win as much matches as possible and some of that life-sport metaphor things, but that like life too, tennis is mechanical, it’s a sport whose eventual winner is preordained and that some just happen to be so good at it, some have the body, mind and heart for it, but that every move you make in it, in tennis, is going to lead to something that is premeditated, and that if you’re not good now, you’re not going to be much good at it later, even if you try hard enough as to go crazy. Or something.

Infinite Jest is either one of the most rewarding reading experiences of my life or one of the most dreadful. It’s probably both. If a 6-8-month-long slogging can be called rewarding then consider me satiated. Slobbering over it aside, it’s also one of the most challenging, most make-you-feel-stupid, most self-satisfied work of literature I have ever had to commit to. It’s a cock-tease of a book. Some parts of it makes your eyes googly with adoration, some parts you dread having to go back to get through to. Some days I spend reading any random 2 pages of it twice. But I chalk this up to my comprehension limitations than to DFW’s deranged but ostensibly brilliant idea of how drug addicts’ and depressives’, well, people’s story should be told. No one does depressive fiction better than DFW, I think.

It’s one of the heaviest books I’ve ever had to carry around and my desire to finish the fucking thing hurt not only my brain but also my back. Content and weight-wise, Infinite Jest is heavy. Aware as I am of its pretentious perception tendencies, ie reading it in public not only makes you look foolish (because of the insistence) but more obviously, it makes you look like pretentious person who doesn’t know better than to read a David Foster Wallace book in public, casually, and not think of the back or shoulders’ welfare, not to mention, the brain’s. It’s the kind of book most likely to draw ‘It’s one of the most _____ books ever’  conclusions because of its enormity, both in scope and ambition and it mostly deserves it.

I hadn’t thought of romanticizing the reading experience since there were days when getting through just 2 pages of it is painful to the head but I got sad when it ended. I forgot how much end notes it has that when I got to the last few pages, I was, well, I was sort of glad that I can move on with other things.

Notice how I’m more inclined to talk about reading it than what’s actually in it. You are probably thinking, why read something you can’t really get? But maybe I’m being stupid about this kind of perception because it could be that there really are people who read stuff that they won’t be able to digest totally, and flip about it. But if you’re dying to know, I read it because I was morbidly intrigued by the author’s suicide. That and because I can. Because I like to spend on things, on books and I can say with total conviction that that 700 Pesos was one of the most well-spent 700- Pesos I ever used my credit card on.

Notice too how I’ve become more self-contained though I’ve always been. Because you know what, I feel like it spoke to me, when Molly Notkin said something about what I’ve been obsessing about work for some time, this idea:

…a classic illustration of the antinomically schizoid function of the post-industrial capitalist mechanism, whose logic presented commodity as the escape-from-anxieties-of-mortality-which-escape-is-itself-psychologically-fatal

exactly at a time when I was thinking, what is the point of all of this consuming and working and consuming and collecting and working, and thinking having and consuming things is going to be the cause of my happiness/contentment, when in fact I am only becoming more unsatisfied with what I can’t have than with what I already have. Which is kind of the point of The Entertainment, the piece of entertainment that’s so entertaining it causes its consumer to literally die of amusement.

I remember reading this and being too aware of how corny I was being when I stood up from my seat and made connections to this idea and went to the nearest set of ears and said something like, I’m amazed wow this is terrific book, like that.

There are plenty of things in this book that I wish I could re-post somewhere but I will trouble you some other time with them.

I’ve never been more self-aware with my choice of reading than with this. Sadly I have no great realizations or analysis, and all I have are memories of smelling it, of trying to understand it, remembrances of smiling through passages that seem tailored for me (me me me), people like me, of laughing through the fart jokes, its gore and other tragedies (Orin Incandenza, for example, gets his testicles done something to by roaches through the genius of that Swiss hand model, a character I only have a vague recollection of, significance-wise – the memory is still so fresh), the times when I felt like smashing or punching it not out of love and moment of great understanding though I love it, sort of, but because it hurt to think that I may not be able to finish it in this lifetime, not unless I resign from my job, not unless I put an end to all connections with fellow human beings, friends, lover and foes.

I know it’s a little annoying when some fanatical book nerd attaches himself to a work of fiction just because he thinks he understands it, gets what the characters feel, and makes plans to name children after these characters, but some books, they deserve being the causer of people’s annoying tendencies.

Towards the end, Hal Incandenza gets finicky about the big deal tennis event as is the rest of the ETAers, Gately is stuck in the coma ward still delirious, Joelle van Dyne is not getting her lethally beautiful face back which was damaged to a devastating extent because of a deranged set of parents, it remains unknowable what is in the The Entertainment, and Mario Incandenza is still a retard. I have no fucking idea what these elements were supposed to be about or if they were supposed to tie each other up but I loved most of them because they’re either funny or real-like or they’re written so sharply and I’ve been with them for 8 months!

(Thank you, reading buddy, for indulging me in this. I hate to imply that we’ve been such phonies trying to do recaps of this mammoth book, making comments at this blog’s trying-to-be-purposeful recaps because you may not agree, you might say you were simply looking for a really good, serviceable piece of literature to consume you which might be only slightly true for me, and you did not go into this thinking ‘I’m great and good’ just for doing this, but just the same, thank you that you did not leave me to be the only one who seems phony and pretentious, etc, supposing we ever did for a moment seemed like those, for having the nuts to Read Infinite Jest. High five!)

Infinite Jest reads like a huge book about a lot of nothings but it is not trashy and I think it’s saying something to me? I do not know. What I do know is that it gave me the howling fantods, whatever that might ever mean.

Infinite Jest sounds like every other book written by and about sad people. In the world of these fuck-ups, there are no resolutions, only more fuck-ups. But if there’s one book about human sadness you think you could afford to read, devote not just spend huge chunks of your time and life for, even if you don’t care to know what is rooted in really depressed people’s sadness, I would humbly suggest this marvelous book. I would hate to have to call this book marvelous, terrific, excellent or anything that’s supposed to suggest it as great, but like those who did before me, about the subject of this book’s actual greatness, I just have no words, obviously.

I think Infinite Jest is about the futility of human exertion to look for and obtain happiness, but that’s just me. But thank you, David Foster Wallace, for saying, because I would not have believed it myself.

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9 Responses to “Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I read it.”

  1. [G} Says:

    I haven’t read it but I heard bits and pieces of it from somebody who has been reading it before we go to bed 🙂 He was raving about it. Char.

    I should start reading it– addiction, consumption and entertainment, my kind of book. But I need to build muscles muna so I can carry the book around.

    I’m happy you are done reading it 🙂

  2. Momel Says:

    Whoa. I’ll just copy paste what I wrote as a comment in your reading buddy’s post. Same subject, same infinite word count.

    Momel said…

    First off — whoa. There wasn’t a particle of kidding in your being when you said epic. Long posts are kind of a personal turn off, so don’t get your panties in a bunch if I say I didn’t read through this recent brainchild. And it had the makings of a very interesting read because it was about a book, and I love books, and I love to read, but very long posts are just a drag when you have to rub these other egos in your blogroll. This was so long it prompted a new metric system.

    A thousand page book. What’s with you guys?

    Cheers you!

  3. aris Says:

    From some of your comments on my post:

    I was rooting for Joelle van Dyne to recover or maybe get back at Orin somehow though Orin got his comeuppance in the end, Im fine with that.

    I wanted Gately to recover.

    I’ve actually forgotten what happened to Orin (I had to quickly Google the cockroach/tumbler scene); I was so intent on finding out what’s gonna happen to Don Gately. He came the closest to some sort of redemption yet as you said it was left hanging. I’d like to think that he did succeed. Those descriptions of pain were exquisite and I think that his insistence that he be not given any painkillers bodes well for his eventual recovery. But as I also said, it’s a cycle. There’s an equal chance that he fell into his old habits that could have ended in his death. We’ll never know. And that’s the beauty of it.
    He also represents hope, in a way, for those who have already been fucked by life yet still trying to hold out for something else.

    Re van Dyne/Madame P: She’s too fucked up in my opinion for any form of salvation. But I still love her. Others would say that she’s the very epitome of cowardice and withdrawal from life but I salute her courage to admit that she wants to hide. It reeks of misery but also, of unvarnished truth.

    …thank you that you did not leave me to be the only one who seems phony and pretentious…

    We are phony and pretentious, no arguments there. :p
    We’ll do your (our) beloved Holden proud. Besides, I do not have that much to occupy me so I was/am more than happy to have been reading buddies with you. Thanks, Pat.

    Now I need to stop fawning over it so I can get on with my reading. Hehe. 😀

    @Momel
    One word (at least for me): BOREDOM. 🙂

  4. pat Says:

    G, glad to finish this because i can finally move on with the hoarded books. if you’re serious, just command me to lend it. 🙂

    momel, because we’re pretentious phonies? heh. i read atlas shrugged in college with little to no fanfare. it’s 1000+ pages long.

    aris, you’re right about gately. of all the characters, he along with maybe mario, signify hope, though i didn’t think any of them would have to or will be redeemed like get out of their addictions, illness or retardation (mario).

    i’m now scouring for dfw/ij fansites and i’m relieved to know that most of ij readers were just as baffled. i think kate gompert got a little ok in the end, yes? i loved the dialogue between joelle and the annoying elfish guy.

    i liked your analysis of this. IJ is depressing book but this has been fun. hehe!

  5. aris Says:

    The last thing I remember about Gompert was that Poor Tony (the tranny with the boa) snatched her bag while she was on her way back to Ennett. When I Googled it, I landed on a scene-by-scene guide to IJ and it listed Gompert’s last scene at the bar with Marathe (the Wheelchair Assassin) so I’m guessing… I can’t exactly remember the dialogue but it doesn’t really look good. Hehe. (Could not stop myself looking for it in the book; leafed through it a bit, she contemplates suicide then just decides that a drink can’t really be that bad.)

    I’m not sure who this elfish guy is you’re referring to. Hehe.

    I have a used, dirt-cheap Atlas Shrugged languishing in my shelf for quite a while now. I’ve also read 2666 by Roberto Bolaño and Jonathan Strange… by Susana Clarke. And I have The Kindly Ones (the controversial Nazi novel by Jonathan Littell) that I have not read. I guess a have a thing for backbreaking doorstops. Advances a certain impression of myself, as you put it in one of your posts. 😀

  6. Jayclops Says:

    I finally got see the hugeness of Infinite Jest in a bookstore in GenSan last month. I carried it, hand-measured its weight, put it back on the top shelf where I found it, and just looked at it. I think I’ll be reading that instead of the downloaded e-book I got.

  7. pat Says:

    i tried reading it in e-book too but it didn’t have the footnotes. what would help is an e-book version of the footnotes so u don’t have to turn to the footnote section of the book. i hope u ‘enjoy’ it. 🙂


  8. […] Winehouse one. This is truly the last. That might sound sad but honestly, don’t be greedy. Infinite Jest alone is a mouthful. This may be the last book but if you’re the type who get his morals, […]


  9. […] Winehouse one. This is truly the last. That might sound sad but honestly, don’t be greedy. Infinite Jest alone is a mouthful. This may be the last book but if you’re the type who gets his morals, […]


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