So the problem with reading Infinite Jest, a 1000+ page stab at the great American novel by David Foster Wallace, is that when you finish reading it you feel like you’re finally ready to actually read it… and thus want to start over.
It is a wickedly cruel joke on the part of DFW, and on par for a book that features many of these kinds cyclical meta truths both within the reality/plot of the characters and also for you, the reader. There’s a logical reason for this desire, mostly being that the beginning of the book is rather cryptic and features some of the characters at the end of their journeys and the end of the book is where you get much of the no-nonsense factual realities that much of the book is just HINTING at… so yeah… you want to go back.
I’m also not really sure where to even begin with this monster. So this will only be PART I of my take on the book. PART II will come when I’ve had more time to ruminate. So let’s go stream of consciousness counting:
I loved it for one. Two, it’s dense. Three, the language is beyond anyone but my mom, who knows the meaning of pretty much every word. So I was looking up lots of words, and sometimes too lazy to do so. Four, there’s a lot of Pynchon influence, particularly Gravity’s Rainbow. Five, it’s at times deeply funny. Six, it takes place in Boston, so that’s neat. Seven, it’s odd that for a novel written between 93-95, he accurately predicts the entire future of television, movies, and video gaming that is going on today, including HDTV and digital equipment (the only mistake he makes in these “predictions” is format, saying that digital media would be on cartridges instead of the discs). Seven, it is often profoundly sad. Eight, not to get into literary semantics, but it’s interesting to see him try to break out of the malaise of late modern conceits of both overtly-fractured form and irony. He doesn’t REALLY do it. Part of him can’t do it maybe, but you get the sense he wants to transcend it. Nine, it is important to transcend it because it is slightly bullshitty after all. Nine, but he understands the problems with culture wanting this kind of bullshitty detachment because they feel anything with real values is in itself, bullshit.
Okay, time out. I have to explain that shit better.
DFW once wrote in an article about television and modern culture where he explained, to paraphrase [We have gone from a culture that upheld the sanctity of good values to a culture that instead appreciates the rejection of bogus values] Which in my mind, is highly problematic. Sure the reasons, were perhaps valid. It was meant to undermine legitimately corrupt authority. To stem the tide of conformity. To make those outside of conventionality, acceptable. Heck, even Ayn Rand’s philosophy started off as a principled opposition to the dangers of communism. Point being, there was a point to the rejection of the bogus values.
But the problem is our society eventually came to uphold this behavior/pathology as THE great truth. Believing in anything traditional is considered passe. Hell, I’d go one more and say our society considers believing in things as not only naive, but harmful. They’re idiots who have flocked up to join the masses. And lo and behold, this creates a negative society (well duh). As a result, we can’t really do anything. It amounts to great minds, or even mediocre minds sitting around being self-assured in their own superiority rather than actually doing anything. Sure any system has its deep, inherent flaws, but the absence of a system IS NOT a system. And yet we have a whole part of society, often our best and brightest minds, who abstain from systemic input because that means they would be going against “the rejection of bogus values.” DFW saw this as a big problem and wanted to do something about it.
Then again, Infinite Jest isn’t really about this subject. If you had to be literal, it’s about addictions, film, family, and tennis. But it is also certainly about the modern emotional numbness we can develop in a world that values negativity. A culture who has lived in this cherishing of bogus values for far too long, and renders the big things in life: love, joy, delirium, hate, anger, lust, and desire, all the more difficult to attain… or honor properly… or even just deal with. And the characters of the novel don’t really have an answer. There’s some stuff there one supposes (perhaps with what happens to Gately and Joelle). DFW talked at length about how he wanted to find an answer to the deadly malaise. To deconstruct and reconstruct the big truths, love, etc. To somehow take love, and build it logically so that those who adore the rejection of the bogus can actually take heed. And be happy. I dunno.
Guess we have to wait until The Pale King to see if he had an idea of what to do… But knowing what happened during the writing of that piece… one imagines not.