The Bookshelf: Reading Infinite Jest, Part 2

Infinite JestInfinite Jest again...

I’m not sure what sort of metric I can use in describing my experience of reading this book.  I will do my best not to spoil anything, but I’m beginning to believe there is no way to spoil this work of art. 

I am about one hundred and eighty pages into it and I would say I am just now beginning to see a thread of a story.  Or rather… seeing the thread of a very large story where up until now I have been getting bits and pieces of seemingly random characters whose role in the whole story is so far unknown.

I believe I mentioned in my first post about this that David Foster Wallace appears to be highly keen on withholding information.  He never seems to spare a single word on exposition and instead allows the reader to figure it out… eventually if ever.  He seems to understand that perhaps we are more intelligent than most would have us believe.  That we can read something complex if not confusing and actually get to what it is he is trying to tell us.

So what have I learned?  (potential spoilers ahead)  This is ultimately about a family… the Incandenzas.  Hal (an apparent stand in for DFW), his brothers Orin and Mario, his mother and his now deceased father, Dr. James Orin Incandenza Jr.  Dr. J.O.I, Jr. who, although dead, figures prominently.  One thread of the story revolves around a film he may have made known only as “the Entertainment” and causing people who watch it to enter into a catatonic state.  Another thread takes place at the Enfield Tennis Academy where Hal and Mario both attend, and Dr. J.O.I. Jr. was once the head of.  Also a halfway house down the hill… I’m just now getting introduced to that.

But the story and the plot are almost secondary to the actual experience of reading this 1079 page monster.  I have already come across some sections that were quite difficult to get through.  Either due to the changing perspectives or voices throughout or the obsessive nature of some verses, it becomes easy to read and reread the same paragraph and not understand what is going on.  I know there are tiny bits of info I should be paying attention to… it’s trying to understand which bits are important that is the hard part.

His writing is amazing.  The ability to write in so many different styles and have it read as one narrative is breath taking.  I have already had to look up various words he employs just to understand.  Often when this happens when I’m reading something I can glean the meaning from context… not so with this.  Context?  How can you put something in context when you feel like a crazy person who has no clue which way is down and which is up?

Mrs. Blahg loves to give me a hard time about reading slowly.  I like to give her a hard time for skimming and having no love of the narrative.  I readily admit this will take me months.  I have already found myself looking at the book as a bit of a chore, yet love reading it when I start.  I can maybe take in fifteen to twenty pages in a day.  Too much to soak in… too much information to process. 

It’s quite a thing to read something truly new… something original and non derivative… something that I now can see has influenced many movies, books and ideas since it’s arrival in 1996.  The worst aspect of this is I already know I am going to read it again when I am done….

To Blahg or not to Blahg…
Cornelius J. Blahg

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