Monday, August 22, 2016

Infinite Jest

Watched 'The End of the Tour' (written by Donald Margulies, directed by James Ponsoldt) last month and realized I haven't read David Foster Wallace's 1996 'Infinite Jest'. The movie kinda summarizes the author's life. He committed suicide in 2008; apparently he couldn't get over his depression in spite of getting help and medication. (Reviews here, here, here and here.)

Found a digital edition of the book in the Kindle cloud that included a new Foreword by Tom Bissell. Wow. Let's see, 'Infinite Jest' is a story of dystopia written in 1996 which is still relevant today! Humans haven't evolved much huh. What is happiness? Why does the entertainment industry dominate our lives? North America, a junior tennis academy, substance-abuse recovery center, suicide, entertainment and advertising, US-Canada relationship, and oh, Quebec separatism. Perhaps we could add in reality shows.

Dunno what my problem is, but I just can't get into the story. Took two sittings to finish it. Was left bemused after flipping through a thousand pages. The sentences and the phrasing; the rhetorical statements, circumstances and pauses. The thoughts run helter-skelter. They drove me nuts. Either I'm too tired this week to chew on it, or it's just one of those 'not my kind of books'.

In Tom Bissell's Foreword written in November 2015, he opined four theories about why the book "still feels so transcendently, electrically alive". The Foreword helped loads for me to figure out different perspectives about the book. In the first theory, he views it as "a novel about an “entertainment” weaponized to enslave and destroy all who look upon it..... the first great Internet novel" warning against being enslaved by popular entertainment long before social media took over our lives.

And here, really, is the enigma of David Foster Wallace’s work generally and Infinite Jest specifically: an endlessly, compulsively entertaining book that stingily withholds from readers the core pleasures of mainstream novelistic entertainment, among them a graspable central narrative line, identifiable movement through time, and any resolution of its quadrumvirate plotlines. Infinite Jest, in other words, can be exceedingly frustrating. To fully understand what Wallace was up to, the book bears being read, and reread, with Talmudic focus and devotion.

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