The Bookshelf: Reading Infinite Jest, Part 3

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Avast:  There be spoilers ahead…

Welcome again to my third installment of ‘Reading Infinite Jest‘… where I am commenting on the very experience of reading this modern masterpiece of literature. 

I am approximately 42% of the way through the novel, give or take a percent or two… hard to calculate because of the substantial footnotes.  Never before has it taken me over a month to get through 400 pages… and never before have I felt so invested in finishing something.

For much of what I have been reading, it has been a strange time jumping, tense twisting jumble of information meant to introduce you to settings, characters and foreground as well as background information made more difficult by David Foster Wallace’s (DFW) habit of either withholding information or giving a ton of info in a context free manner.  As I am now entering the meat of the novel… the story that is being painted and the convergence of characters and situations is completely and totally mind bendingly abso-fucking-lutely fantastic.

I am riveted.  I am curious… and with each new frustration of desire for some insight, I am suddenly and unexpectedly given that information.  It’s as if DFW knows precisely when to dole out what.  As if the pacing is intended to bring you to a particular point of frustration simply to relieve that frustration in a flurry of exposition that is somehow not exposition.  Truly remarkable.

I’ve mentioned before about how much of the story takes place either in the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.) or Ennet House, a halfway home for recovering addicts… these are the locations for present time… roughly November of the Year of Depends Adult Undergarments (YDAU).  Back in late April of YDAU some action occurs in Tucson, AZ and as we are given glimpses into the more distant and near past, the story takes place over roughly seven years or so… roughly.  That is the time aspect of the story.

As for the character aspect, you have the Incandenza family (Jim, Avril, Orin, Mario and Hal); a drug addict in recovery (and AA), Don Gately; a wonderfully mysterious woman connected to all of the above in many different ways, Joelle VanDyne (aka. Madame Psychosis); various residents of both Ennet and E.T.A.; and a twisted tale of geopolitical gamesmanship and ecological disaster set in what would most closely resemble the future in what is now… yet has almost nothing to do with the reality of our existence today.  Have I mentioned the U.S. government agent in undercover drag and the Quebecois terrorist in a wheelchair?  They are searching for “The Entertainment”… a movie so entertaining, whoever watches it loses the desire to do anything else and will fall into a catatonic stupor.  (Dr. James Orin Incandenza, Jr., the family’s deceased patriarch was also an experimental filmmaker… make of that what you will)

I am realizing the near impossibility of being able to convey the experience of reading this novel.  It’s like attempting to describe the feeling of a lucid acid trip to someone who has never done any drugs.  Like trying to describe ice to a person who has only lived in a rain forest.  It is a remarkable thing to say the least.  Complex in every way, yet strangely accessible in a very inaccessible way.  Contradictory in every fashion, yet able to be understood.

So yes, I’m working through this and if not totally enjoying every moment… coming to respect and appreciate where the more difficult moments are taking me.  For each slog there is reward… and I am finding this experience more rewarding then I could have hoped for.

Happy Interdependence Day,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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