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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book review: INFINITE JEST

INFINITE JEST
David Foster Wallace
Rating: 3 of 10


If nothing else, I now understand why David Foster Wallace killed himself. Despite being built up as the literary wunderkind of his generation, despite having been widely acclaimed as the author of one of greatest novels of the 20th century, he could not escape the realization that, at least as a novelist, he was a poser and a literary charlatan. Thanks to a tireless campaign by the New York literati and the fact that so few people who claim to admire the book actually bothered to read his magnum opus, he dodged one bullet following the publication of Infinite Jest.  But he couldn't count on doing that twice, and he must have known that he would be left exposed to all and sundry upon publication of The Pale King.

Now, I'm not the least bit intimidated by large books nor do I find their girth intrinsically impressive.  I very much enjoyed War and Peace as well as Cryptonomicon. My own most recent novel runs more than 850 pages. But I will admit that it was hard and brutal slogging through the overly self-conscious, over-educated banality of Wallace's Infinite Jest; the only literary experience to which I can reasonably compare it is reading two of the later Robert Jordan novels in The Wheel of Time series, back to back, after both novels have been translated into German and back again into English by Google Translate.  There is considerably less pulling of braids and considerably more in the way of physical and mental abnormalities in Infinite Jest, but that's a fair approximation of the literary pleasure one can expect to find in Wallace's so-called masterpiece.

It doesn't take long to recognize Wallace's High American Lit style. If you are familiar with Tom Robbins or John Irving, then you've read the distillation of David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest is little more than an oversized, incoherent, less amusing version of The World According to Garp. It takes five times longer to say less than Still Life with Woodpecker. Take a few quirky and improbably intelligent characters with exaggerated vocabularies.  Go into excruciating detail concerning the minute-by-minute existence of their quotidian routines, especially regarding the sexual or toilet aspects, then throw in some highly implausible gonzo drama produced by their relationships with their cartoonishly dysfunctional families, inexplicably deformed lovers, or hopelessly deviant housemates.  Be sure to include a strong amateur sporting element, be it wrestling or tennis.  At all times, be careful to utilize the high-low technique of an unfamiliar and elevated vocabulary taken straight from the OED alternating with the crudest vulgar slang.  The perspective, at all times, is one of vaguely bemused detachment; the narrative only observes, it never acts.

When I finished Infinite Jest, a review of Paul Auster's New York Trilogy by Ferdinand Bardamu came to mind: "[T]his neutered New York has produced a literati that spends all day sniffing its own farts. Jonathan Safran Foer, Colson Whitehead, Nicole Krauss, Gary Shteyngart, Jhumpa Lahiri, David Foster Wallace (actually wait, he’s dead — I’ve never derived so much joy from a suicide in my life), and all the rest: worthless hacks devoid of curiosity, humanity or talent."

There is very little genuine humanity in Infinite Jest. It is a curiously autistic novel, as if the emotions of the characters described in such extensive detail are being cataloged by someone who has never actually felt them. It is a decrepit bordello of freaks and wrecks, whose fictional realities are as alien as they are unconvincing to the sane and sober reader. After finishing the book, I was curious to read its various reviews in order to see who had been courageous enough to openly declare that the American literary prince was strutting about in the buff.  There were a few who weren't afraid to point out that DFW wore no clothes, but to my surprise, easily the best review was by a writer who happens to know more than a little about inflated vocabularies and literary pretensions himself, our old friend Wängsty, known to the rest of the world as R. Scott Bakker.  In his excellent review of Infinite Jest, he writes:
Like lovers and assholes (and reviews), books sort readers. I would argue that books like Infinite Jest identify you–your affiliations, your beliefs and values, your politics–with the same degree of accuracy as monster truck rallies....

This is the whole reason why publishers are keen to plaster testimonials on the cover of their books: to milk our authority and social proof biases. Infinite Jest is literally festooned with blurbs from a galaxy of authoritative sources: It arrives literally armoured in literary authority. We are told by a variety of serious people (who are taken very seriously by other serious people) that this is a seriously serious book. There can be little doubt that as far as the 1996 literary ingroup was concerned, Infinite Jest was a smashing communicative success.

Which should be no surprise. “I come to writing from a pretty hard-core, abstract place,” Wallace explains in The Boston Phoenix interview. “It comes out of technical philosophy and continental European theory, and extreme avante-garde shit.” Given who he was, and given he saw this as a conversation with good friends, and given that the seriously serious readers likely shared, as good friends often do, the bulk of his attitudes and aesthetic sensibilities, it’s easy to see how this book became as successful as it did. Infinite Jest is the product of a ingroup sender communicating to other ingroup receivers: insofar as those other receivers loved it, you can say that as a communication Infinite Jest was a tremendous ingroup success.

The problem is that one can say the same about The Turner Diaries or Mein Kampf.

I don’t pretend to know what literature is any metaphysical sense, but I do think that it has to have something to do with transcendence. What distinguishes literature from fiction in general is its ability to push beyond, beyond received dogmas, beyond comfort zones, and most importantly (because it indexes the possibility of the former two), beyond social ingroups. This is why communicative success and literary success are not one and the same thing. And this is also why outgroup readers generally find ingroup estimations of literary merit so unconvincing.

Make no mistake, Infinite Jest is a piece of genre fiction: something expressly written for a dedicated groups of readers possessing a relatively fixed set of expectations. It just so happens that this particular group of readers happen to command the cultural high ground when it comes to things linguistic and narrative. 
In the immortal words of Public Enemy, don't believe the hype. Avante-garde shit, however extreme, is still, in the end, shit, and it tends to be more noxious than the more pedestrian varieties.  Infinite Jest is what might have been a decent 250-page novel stricken with a terminal elephantiasian cancer. Wallace's excess verbosity and endless, pointless, pretentious, indefatigable digressions hang off and over the story like giant slabs of flesh swollen with fatty tumors; if this book were to come to life and take the shape of a man, it would resemble Mohammad Latif Khatana.

The most impressive thing about Infinite Jest, or as I found myself thinking of it, Tedious Waste, is the sheer magnitude of the deceit in the Foreword written by David Eggers.  There has seldom been a less honest paragraph written in the English language than this one:

"The book is 1,079 pages long and there is not one lazy sentence. The book is drum-tight and relentlessly smart, and though it does not wear its heart on its sleeve, it's deeply felt and incredibly moving. That it was written in three years by a writer under thirty-five is very painful to think about. So let's not think about that. The point is that it's for all these reasons — acclaimed, daunting, not-lazy, drum-tight, very funny (we didn't mention that yet but yes) — that you picked up this book. Now the question is this: Will you actually read it?"

There may not be one lazy sentence, whatever that might be, but there are thousands of totally unnecessary ones. The book is not drum-tight; it doesn't even have an ending, or, for that matter, a coherent plot — and before any literati groupies attempt to protest, I will note that Wallace himself openly admitted as much — and it cannot possibly, by any reasonable metric, be described as "very funny".  There are the occasional moments where Infinite Jest generates mild amusement, to be sure, but I never once on any of the 1,079 pages found myself provoked to laughter. It is not deeply felt; the descriptions of the game of tennis are far more loving than those of any of the human relationships, and I have to sincerely question the sanity of anyone who found it "incredibly moving". It does not wear its heart on its sleeve because it does not have one; it is heartless.

Eggrers's Foreword is pure PR puffery on a scale to make the inveterate circle-jerkers known as the FourThree Horsemen of the New Atheism roll their eyes.

It is telling that the reader has to be challenged to actually read it the book they are, by virtue of reading the forward, presently reading.  And yet, there is no point to actually reading the novel, even if one wishes to claim the literary cred for doing so. Given the observed behavior of the sort of people who desperately want to be seen as the sort of person who adores this sort of thing, the sort of individual who very much wants to consider himself part of the in-group for whom Wallace was writing, one can be sure that very, very few of them will have actually read more than a few chapters.  A few casual references to "wheelchair terrorists", "that amazing game that combined geopolitics with tennis", and "lethally enstupidating Entertainment", plus throwing in a knowing joke about this being "The Year of The Taco Bell Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco", should inspire sufficient panic in any other individual who pretends to have read Infinite Jest to convince him to enthusiastically nod, vociferously agree, and immediately change the subject.

I can't say that I derived any pleasure, let alone joy, from David Foster Wallace's suicide. But it doesn't surprise me terribly to learn that a man whose whole essence and identity were derived from the supposedly exceptional quality of his writing would elect to kill himself after producing such a overrated work of unmitigated fraudulence. 

Infinite Jest is a joke, but it isn't one that is intended at the reader's expense. It is the author's bitter view of himself and the small, shallow make-believe world in which he lived.

Story: 1 of 5.  I won't even bother attempting to describe the plot, such as it is.  Suffice it to say that it is ludicrous, unconvincing, incoherent, unfinished, weirdly remniscent of the 1970s, and despite Wallace's attempt to involve the reader's imagination in its completion, leaves him absolutely devoid of any curiosity concerning "what really happened".  The insufficiently well-read might be surprised, even angered, to find their arduous effort in finishing the book so poorly rewarded. Those more familiar with the eminently predictable tricks of the neutered New York literati will simply smile wryly and close the book with a dismissive "yeah, I expected as much."

Style: 3 of 5. Harold Bloom was a little too harsh when he said: "Infinite Jest is just awful. It seems ridiculous to have to say it. He can’t think, he can’t write. There’s no discernible talent."  There is talent there, there is intelligence, the problem is that it is not put to effective use.  Wallace can write, but apparently his editor can't edit. I enjoyed the occasional adroit turn of phrase, but they were far too few and far between to make up for the run-on sentences. I've translated Umberto Eco sentences from Italian that required five separate English sentences to make proper sense, and they were still shorter than some of Wallace's unnecessarily extended monstrosities.

Characters: 0 of 5. I don't think it is controversial to say that you not only will find it hard to keep the vast cast of characters straight, but you won't give a damn about what happens to any of them.  It's almost a remarkable achievement of sorts that Wallace can provide so much detail about so many characters without making any of them feel even remotely credible or breathing life into any of them.  It takes a certain amount of inadvertent skill to render a healthy young NFL punter who seduces every woman he comes across almost completely indistinguishable from a hospitalized former drug addict who is the whitest knight in the history of American literature. And Wallace's characters aren't merely cardboard, they are cut out from a John Irving novel.

Creativity: 3.5 of 5. I didn't really know how to fairly consider this. Infinite Jest is certainly creative in certain senses, such as its structure and in some of the details of the idiotic plot. Its delving into the experience of addiction is actually fairly good. In other ways, there is a rigid adherence to exactly what one would expect from an author writing in this genre, complete with all the politically correct prejudices and myopic sensitivities. But in sum, it is different than the average novel, so I'm choosing to err on the side of mild generosity here.

Text sample:  YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT

On a White Flag Group Commitment to the Tough Shit But You Still Can’t Drink Group down in Braintree this past July, Don G., up at the podium, revealed publicly about how he was ashamed that he still as yet had no real solid understanding of a Higher Power. It’s suggested in the 3rd of Boston AA’s 12 Steps that you to turn your Diseased will over to the direction and love of ‘God as you understand Him.’ It’s supposed to be one of AA’s major selling points that you get to choose your own God. You get to make up your own understanding of God or a Higher Power or Whom-/Whatever. But Gately, at like ten months clean, at the TSBYSCD podium in Braintree, opines that at this juncture he’s so totally clueless and lost he’s thinking that he’d maybe rather have the White Flag Crocodiles just grab him by the lapels and just tell him what AA God to have an understanding of, and give him totally blunt and dogmatic orders about how to turn over his Diseased will to whatever this Higher Power is. He notes how he’s observed already that some Catholics and Fundamentalists now in AA had a childhood understanding of a Stern and Punishing–type God, and Gately’s heard them express incredible Gratitude that AA let them at long last let go and change over to an understanding of a Loving, Forgiving, Nurturing–type God. But at least these folks started out with some idea of Him/Her/It, whether fucked up or no. You might think it’d be easier if you Came In with 0 in the way of denominational background or preconceptions, you might think it’d be easier to sort of invent a Higher-Powerish God from scratch and then like erect an understanding, but Don Gately complains that this has not been his experience thus far. His sole experience so far is that he takes one of AA’s very rare specific suggestions and hits the knees in the A.M. and asks for Help and then hits the knees again at bedtime and says Thank You, whether he believes he’s talking to Anything/-body or not, and he somehow gets through that day clean. This, after ten months of ear-smoking concentration and reflection, is still all he feels like he ‘understands’ about the ‘God angle.’ Publicly, in front of a very tough and hard-ass-looking AA crowd, he sort of simultaneously confesses and complains that he feels like a rat that’s learned one route in the maze to the cheese and travels that route in a ratty-type fashion and whatnot. W/ the God thing being the cheese in the metaphor. Gately still feels like he has no access to the Big spiritual Picture. He feels about the ritualistic daily Please and Thank You prayers rather like like a hitter that’s on a hitting streak and doesn’t change his jock or socks or pre-game routine for as long as he’s on the streak. W/ sobriety being the hitting streak and whatnot, he explains. The whole church basement is literally blue with smoke. Gately says he feels like this is a pretty limp and lame understanding of a Higher Power: a cheese-easement or unwashed athletic supporter. He says but when he tries to go beyond the very basic rote automatic get-me-through-this-day-please stuff, when he kneels at other times and prays or meditates or tries to achieve a Big-Picture spiritual understanding of a God as he can understand Him, he feels Nothing — not nothing but Nothing, an edgeless blankness that somehow feels worse than the sort of unconsidered atheism he Came In with. He says he doesn’t know if any of this is coming through or making any sense or if it’s all just still symptomatic of a thoroughgoingly Diseased will and quote ‘spirit.’ He finds himself telling the Tough Shit But You Still Can’t Drink audience dark doubtful thoughts he wouldn’t have fucking ever dared tell Ferocious Francis man to man. He can’t even look at F.F. in the Crocodile’s row as he says that at this point the God-understanding stuff kind of makes him want to puke, from fear. Something you can’t see or hear or touch or smell: OK. All right. But something you can’t even feel? Because that’s what he feels when he tries to understand something to really sincerely pray to. Nothingness. He says when he tries to pray he gets this like image in his mind’s eye of the brainwaves or whatever of his prayers going out and out, with nothing to stop them, going, going, radiating out into like space and outliving him and still going and never hitting Anything out there, much less Something with an ear. Much much less Something with an ear that could possibly give a rat’s ass. He’s both pissed off and ashamed to be talking about this instead of how just completely good it is to just be getting through the day without ingesting a Substance, but there it is. This is what’s going on. He’s no closer to carrying out the suggestion of the 3rd Step than the day the Probie drove him over to his halfway house from Peabody Holding. The idea of this whole God thing makes him puke, still. And he is afraid. 


And the same fucking thing happens again. The tough chain-smoking TSBYSCD Group all stands and applauds and the men give two-finger whistles, and people come up at the raffle-break to pump his big hand and even sometimes try and hug on him.

It seems like every time he forgets himself and publicizes how he’s fucking up in sobriety Boston AAs fall all over themselves to tell him how good it was to hear him and to for God’s sake Keep Coming, for them if not for himself, whatever the fuck that means.

Labels:

125 Comments:

Anonymous DrTorch April 25, 2013 8:40 AM  

So you did or didn't like it? Apparently, a long book necessitates a long review.

Just kidding.

In all seriousness, this is a well-structured review. And if you're accurate in comparisons w/ Garp (and presumably Hotel New Hampshire) then I'm happy that I'll never be bothered with Wallace's works.

Anonymous RL April 25, 2013 8:53 AM  

I read your review and then tried to read the sample of the novel's text you provided. Vox, how do you read this stuff? I can't get pass the first five sentences. It hurts too much.

Anonymous bluto April 25, 2013 9:00 AM  

I enjoyed the discussions of addiction/treatment.
I'm surprised you didn't laugh at least a few of Incadenza's film summaries.

Anonymous Salt April 25, 2013 9:00 AM  

@RL

That's the benefit of blue drinks and umbrellas.

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 9:05 AM  

I'm surprised you didn't laugh at least a few of Incadenza's film summaries.

I find what passes for gonzo humor to be entirely unamusing. The more incredible it gets, the more tedious I find it.

Anonymous Mtl April 25, 2013 9:05 AM  

Now do Gravity's Rainbow

Anonymous dh April 25, 2013 9:11 AM  

Is there a stylistic purpose to extremely long paragraphs? Or is it simply a weapon to use against readers?

Anonymous bluto April 25, 2013 9:12 AM  

I find what passes for gonzo humor to be entirely unamusing. The more incredible it gets, the more tedious I find it.

Aha, well then there wouldn't be much payoff for you in the book, he was pretty much entirely absurd or gonzo. It says quite a bit about your determination to have read enough to review it.

Anonymous bluto April 25, 2013 9:16 AM  

dh,
The whole book is a weapon against readers (that's the joke). It's probably good detective training, as there are many clues scattered through the book, but it's intended that there be so many unreliable witnesses, and so much BS in the book that they're basically impossible to catch on a single reading.

That said, I enjoyed it (because a good amount of the distracting stuff I found thought provoking).

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 9:17 AM  

It says quite a bit about your determination to have read enough to review it.

I don't review a book without having read the entire thing. In fact, I don't even put a book on my Reading List without having completed it. I think it is unfair to both the author and the person reading the review to pretend that a review is relevant if one hasn't read the whole book.

It didn't improve from the time I previously posted about it, in fact, it got even worse. But I wouldn't be able to opine with as much confidence about the book as a whole if I didn't actually know that.

There is nothing wrong with saying "I didn't like X, I couldn't finish it." That is informative in its own right. But it should not be confused with an actual review.

Anonymous Vidad April 25, 2013 9:20 AM  

It figures that I would laugh out loud while reading parts of IJ and you would not.

However, I came to the same conclusion as you. This is emptiness in literary form. I got 2/3 of the way through and decided there were better things I could read.

I was not at all surprised to later learn of the author's suicide. It's a major theme of the book.

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 9:22 AM  

It figures that I would laugh out loud while reading parts of IJ and you would not.

That's because you have an incredibly obvious and dorky sense of humor, whereas mine is subtle, refined, and ever so slightly inclined to the black.

Anonymous bluto April 25, 2013 9:23 AM  

I don't review a book without having read the entire thing.

I'm sorry, I see how that could be taken, I didn't mean to imply that you hadn't. I was assuming you did read it in its entirety for the review and am impressed as there are few payoffs if one doesn't enjoy gonzo humor.

Anonymous scoobius dubious April 25, 2013 9:23 AM  

Some of his essays are funny and insightful in a way that this turgid stuff is not. The essay about the sea cruise is pretty damn funny. I always thought he was really an essayist at heart: he had a knack for observing and analyzing other people and situations, but apparently not a knack for inventing them. I've only lightly skimmed a bit of his fiction, but it was enough for me to say, "Sorry, no, life's too short."

Curious what you'd say about William T. Vollmann.

Anonymous Stephen J. April 25, 2013 9:27 AM  

Humour is so subjective, as the emperor noted while washing the jester's blood off his hands.

Blogger Nate April 25, 2013 9:28 AM  

"I don't review a book without having read the entire thing. "

You have my pity. I couldn't tolerate more than the first few sentences of the text sample.

Faulkner would kicked this little shit's ass on general principle.

Blogger IM2L844 April 25, 2013 9:30 AM  

Well, that review should serve to drive up sales of the book just out of spite. That'll teach you!

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 9:30 AM  

Some of his essays are funny and insightful in a way that this turgid stuff is not. The essay about the sea cruise is pretty damn funny. I always thought he was really an essayist at heart: he had a knack for observing and analyzing other people and situations, but apparently not a knack for inventing them.

I'm actually interested in reading his essays now. It wouldn't surprise me if they were quite good; he clearly didn't make his reputation on the basis of the novel. There are no shortage of very good non-fiction writers who simply can't make the transition to fiction.

The problem is the storytelling aspect. Wallace wasn't a storyteller; you can always tell because non-storytellers draw too heavily upon their own lives and experiences. Eggers has the same problem. For novelists, it doesn't really matter how pretty you can write if you don't have a story to tell... and a good story can make up for an awful lot of stylistic shortcomings.

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 9:31 AM  

You have my pity. I couldn't tolerate more than the first few sentences of the text sample.

Greater love hath no man....

Anonymous Josh April 25, 2013 9:35 AM  

People should stop trying to write like Tom Wolfe.

Blogger Nate April 25, 2013 9:35 AM  

"That's because you have an incredibly obvious and dorky sense of humor, whereas mine is subtle, refined, and ever so slightly inclined to the black."

Hey... puns can be dark.

Anonymous Matt April 25, 2013 9:38 AM  

Wallace wrote a pop-math book called Everything and More. If you're a fan of the "scathing review" genre, this review by a professional mathematician is priceless:

http://www.ams.org/notices/200406/rev-harris.pdf

He actually covers a lot of the same thematic territory as Vox, though he professes to thinking Infinite Jest is good.

Blogger jaericho April 25, 2013 9:40 AM  

Is that sample text really from the book? It reads more like 950+ words from a random word generator.

Anonymous Josh April 25, 2013 9:43 AM  

I'm pretty sure that text sample is what happens when a writer just masturbates onto a page.

It's the literary equivalent of a toddler coming up and saying, "daddy, I make poopy in the toilet!"

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 9:45 AM  

It reads more like 950+ words from a random word generator.

No, Dave Eggers assures you, not one sentence is lazy. That is some HELLATIGHT prose!

Anonymous Rantor April 25, 2013 9:49 AM  

Thanks for the warning... not that I was ever tempted.

Anonymous Outlaw X April 25, 2013 9:49 AM  

Damn that sample text had a long paragraph. I barely got through it. If the whole book is like that, no way I could read it unless I was on speed. And I read Tragedy and Hope.

Anonymous Ioweenie April 25, 2013 9:55 AM  

"This is Water" is an oft-cited commencement speech delivered by DWF in 2005, almost a decade after IJ. It's a tragic reality that some can get close to Truth and not see it or turn away (which is not to say Christians don't commit suicide). It's just a frightening, frustrating reality. Some minds overwork to analyze the absurdity of existence - based on one version of reality - then, not considering that they do not really understand reality, surrender to it. What one believes, choses to believe, really does matter. Apparently DWF "battled" depression most of his post-adolescent life and lamented when the medication that had been "working" quit working. Change the input, change the output.

Anonymous bluto April 25, 2013 9:55 AM  

I'm actually interested in reading his essays now.
This is the famous one (it's a pdf).
I found it humourous but Consider the Lobster is less absurd.

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 9:59 AM  

"This is Water" is an oft-cited commencement speech delivered by DWF in 2005, almost a decade after IJ.

How typical of today's educated youth, to find inspiration in the life lessons provided by a drugged-up suicide. See, now that's funnier than anything in Infinite Jest.

It appears he was a better performance artist than novelist.

Anonymous Skinny Dan April 25, 2013 10:04 AM  

I have not read IJ and do not intend to. A friend of mine read it and said that the infinite jest is on the unfortunate reader who makes it all the way through.

Anonymous Ioweenie April 25, 2013 10:04 AM  

Indeed, and he reveals much of what you observed regarding his fear of being found out as not being what he was touted to be. It's crazy talk, capital t, with nice turns of phrase, that sounds pretty good but leaves the audience with nothing.

Anonymous Josh April 25, 2013 10:06 AM  

Not that we needed another reason to ban English departments and MFA in creative writing programs...but this is a pretty good one...

Anonymous Peter Garstig April 25, 2013 10:08 AM  

As if reading books was never about joy.

Who dares to be entertained?

Anonymous Josh April 25, 2013 10:15 AM  

Who dares to be entertained?

Peasants. The literary elite are too busy playing at being the emperor's court.

Anonymous Outlaw X April 25, 2013 10:18 AM  

I think we all have our Ecclesiastes chapter 1, momements.

Anonymous Noah B. April 25, 2013 10:18 AM  

Truly horrible writing, mostly redundant, stream-of-consciousness garbage that probably made some degree of sense only to its author. If that passage is representative of the whole book, I have no idea how you forced yourself to read the whole thing.

Anonymous Mudz April 25, 2013 10:23 AM  

I think I've actually heard of this guy. Did he write a story that had bunches of people randomly sitting in rooms watching TVs with random programs or something for no real reason? If so, I heard about this guy ages ago, when he committed suicide, and his latest finished/unfinished novel was published. Article had lots of praise for his style of writing, and the sheer prodigous effort that went into it.

What interested me most at the time, I remember, was basically anything else.

Anonymous JartStar April 25, 2013 10:24 AM  

I'm new to High American Lit so what's with all of the capitalization throughout?

I can see how this sort of wit could do well in pointing out absurdities in life in shorter works, but an entire novel like this would be tedious.

Blogger Rex April 25, 2013 10:26 AM  

If that text sample is what the whole book is like then you are made of stronger stuff than I could have imagined. Or more masochistic. I couldn't even get past the first few sentences without wanting to gouge my eyes out.

Blogger Latigo3 April 25, 2013 10:28 AM  

Vox,
How could you even bring yourself to read the entire book. I stopped after the first five lines.

Anonymous Kgaard April 25, 2013 10:37 AM  

Utter garbage book. Couldn't get through half a paragraph of the excerpt about the guy's stint in AA.

Anonymous Randy M April 25, 2013 10:39 AM  

I read a review recently that made it sound interesting though challenging. I think I'll heed your warning though.
http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/03/23/book-review-infinite-jest-alternate-title-look-at-me-i-read-infinite-jest/

Blogger Justus Hommes April 25, 2013 10:39 AM  

VD, before you settle on you assumptions/conclusions related to his suicide, I beg that you listen to or read "This is Water," a commencement speech DFW gave that was turned into his shortest book. It is quite the opposite of what you posit in you snarky comment above. This speech, plus his infrequent but intensely interesting interviews, and to a great extent his essays, reveal a person with not only clinical depression from chemical imbalances, but someone who struggled greatly to reconcile the world as taught to him by his "cultural elite" social peers against a deep, I believe intrinsically Christian, inner beliefs and convictions. He did battle with his own soul and the world as he knew it, and this makes him someone I admired, if not agreed with. Let me be clear, none of this means I enjoyed reading IJ much more than you, although I saw it more as a thought-experiment a la a John Cage "composition" than an actual story-based novel. I would generally agree with most of your review, particularly as DFW being a hyper-modern John Irving, and I would probably henceforth describe IJ as being a Hotel New Hampshire on steroids and/or with cancer. Still, I still consider DFW the person and the thinker a much more interesting person than DFW the novelist, and I think his interviews and speeches make clear why most who knew him tended to admire him, and perhaps over-value his work in IJ.

Anonymous Azimus April 25, 2013 10:40 AM  

Thank you VD for shouldering this pain for us, so we don't have to.

The text sample reminds me of a combination of a chatty Allen Ginsburg and a sneering James Joyce...

Anonymous Orion April 25, 2013 10:43 AM  

I found Egger's forward to be enough reason not to read it. Being told that you have to read it to be one of the hip seemed to be the subtext. After reading that actual passage I am convinced that I shouldn't read anything from Egger either. I found it all to be too tedious.

Anonymous Josh April 25, 2013 10:44 AM  

I'm new to High American Lit so what's with all of the capitalization throughout?

Because it's gonzo, and Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe wrote stuff like that way back when and it was totally cool.

Anonymous Orion April 25, 2013 10:45 AM  

Basically, neither Wallace or Eggers got any chili.

Anonymous The other skeptic April 25, 2013 10:46 AM  

These folks should organize a Take Back The Night March in PNG.

Anonymous Peter Garstig April 25, 2013 10:47 AM  

OT: We seem to have a vaccine against autism (symptoms) soon.

Maybe not so OT.

Blogger Nate April 25, 2013 10:47 AM  

please don't associate this with american literature. Just pretend the 90s didn't happen and stick with Faulkner and Hemmingways

Anonymous Outlaw X April 25, 2013 10:57 AM  

stick with Faulkner and Hemmingways

Hey Nate, what is your opinion of Henry D. Thoreau since we are talking literature?

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 10:57 AM  

Did he write a story that had bunches of people randomly sitting in rooms watching TVs with random programs or something for no real reason?

That's him.

This speech, plus his infrequent but intensely interesting interviews, and to a great extent his essays, reveal a person with not only clinical depression from chemical imbalances, but someone who struggled greatly to reconcile the world as taught to him by his "cultural elite" social peers against a deep, I believe intrinsically Christian, inner beliefs and convictions.

I don't think Wallace was a terrible guy at heart. But the insane, pompous world in which he chose to inhabit was his choice. He didn't have to dwell there, he didn't have to seek its plaudit. His cultural arrogance is palpable; notice how the incestuous father is a Southern preacher rather than, as we actually know was the case in real life, an Ivy League professor. Perhaps that sort of nastiness was learned rather than natural to him, but it is still right there in his fiction.

But sure, I'll read it. And I am entirely aware that while one can learn something of an author from his novels, it is far from the whole truth about him.

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 10:59 AM  

After reading that actual passage I am convinced that I shouldn't read anything from Egger either.

You shouldn't. He wrote one very funny Acknowledgement once. And that's about all you'll ever want to read of him. He has no stories to tell beyond himself either.

Anonymous Anonymous April 25, 2013 11:09 AM  

joetexx here...

Vox really is a cruelty arist.

Since I wasn't actually in restraint I didn't finish reading the 12 step meeting passage.
Wallace here demonstrates that has actually attended such meetings and listened just long enough to weave the jargon into his own stream of consciousness.

Thanks for the review. It will save the time and money I might have wasted on Wallace.

Anonymous Noah B. April 25, 2013 11:09 AM  

If that's a 3 of 10, what ranks lower?

Blogger Nate April 25, 2013 11:16 AM  

vogon poetry ranks lower. probably.

Blogger Nate April 25, 2013 11:16 AM  

"Hey Nate, what is your opinion of Henry D. Thoreau since we are talking literature?"

I've always thought Henry was a giant coward... and he wrote like one.

Anonymous Outlaw X April 25, 2013 11:38 AM  

I've always thought Henry was a giant coward... and he wrote like one.

Thanks

That is interesting I had the opposite opinion of him. Never figured him a coward.

Blogger Joshua_D April 25, 2013 11:45 AM  

I tried to read the sample text, but then my brain decided a better idea would be to throw my laptop across the room. So, I told my brain that I would stop reading that garbage and would watch a video of that Aussie hurdler chick. Thankfully, my laptop is still intact.

Anonymous Jack Amok April 25, 2013 11:46 AM  

Thoreau? You mean the protean hero of Environmentalists and Hippies? You mean the guy who accidentally burned down the woods he was living in?

I suspect part of the decline in readership is due to kids being forced to read his stuff in school.

Anonymous Daniel April 25, 2013 11:46 AM  

There was a kid's novel written back in the 60s called The Programmed Man. I'd guess it was about 200 pages. It was a galaxy spanning plot with a bunch of characters and competing spy networks pulling all sorts of gigs for a kind of peacekeeping doomsday bomb.

It was told almost entirely in dialog or inner monologue and after reports. It lacked a bit of style (at least, I remember it lacking some) and could have survived a little more description.

It is a mystery and an exploration story with one of the most satisfying multi-layered conclusions in science fiction (yes, better than Ender's Game - at least, I thought so when I read it, and I like Ender's Game's conclusion).

It is one of the several very well done novels of less than 200 convention pages that I measure literary fiction by. A kid's book writer like Jeff Sutton (author of the Programmed Man, with editing by his wife, Jean) eviscerates the likes of Milan Kundera, John Updike and all the blatherers that someone in New York thinks we are supposed to endure on faith.

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 11:49 AM  

There was a kid's novel written back in the 60s called The Programmed Man. I'd guess it was about 200 pages. It was a galaxy spanning plot with a bunch of characters and competing spy networks pulling all sorts of gigs for a kind of peacekeeping doomsday bomb.

THE PROGRAMMED MAN absolutely rules. I love that book. Best ending ever. It's hilarious, reading it again as an adult, to realize that it took me by such surprise then.

Anonymous Jack Amok April 25, 2013 11:54 AM  

Vox,

First, thanks for the review and sample text. I'll pass on DFW. Like others, I couldn't finish the sample text. If I had to read a thousand pages of that crap, I might be a suicide too.

Second, I'd be curious to read a comparison between Wallace and P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse certainly had his share of characters involved in "drama produced by their relationships with their cartoonishly dysfunctional families", but I think his writing holds up better.

Blogger Positive Dennis April 25, 2013 11:54 AM  

I will rush out and buy it. I am having enough problems finishing the Great deformation

Anonymous ivvenalis April 25, 2013 12:02 PM  

Regarding my own experience with an obscurantist High American Lit novel, I actually kind of liked Gravity's Rainbow--although I can't recommend reading it--but its characters were similarly numerous and poorly drawn (though not as absurd). The writer seemed to have some sort of fixation with sexual deviance and excretory functions, and having read the novel I'm pretty confident Pynchon is a homosexual. I'd actually be pretty impressed if he wasn't. There were still some interesting passages, and I did like the way he handled the overarching "plot" even though ultimately I think he tried and failed to create something transcendent.

I wonder to what degree modern authors resort to "shock value" because they know they can't exceed the true great works. I've definitely suspected this of artists in other fields for a long time.

Anonymous Outlaw X April 25, 2013 12:06 PM  

I've definitely suspected this of artists in other fields for a long time.

Good observation, in music it is sucide, or cop killing rap.

I am sure 100 years from now (insert rappers name) will be forgotten.

Blogger Amy April 25, 2013 12:16 PM  

Despite being built up as the literary wunderkind of his generation, despite having been widely acclaimed as the author of one of greatest novels of the 20th century, he could not escape the realization that, at least as a novelist, he was a poser and a literary charlatan.

Oh, thank Heaven, I'm glad you said this. He's not quite the genius he was made out to be.

Anonymous Daniel April 25, 2013 12:21 PM  

THE PROGRAMMED MAN absolutely rules. I love that book. Best ending ever. It's hilarious, reading it again as an adult, to realize that it took me by such surprise then.

I don't know any people who even remember it - I had one friend who read it way back when, but he greatly preferred Apollo at Go. I tracked down one of the Suttons' children (both Jeff and Jean have passed) to find out if they would be reprinting the books any time soon, and she said that they made the decision to pass them into the public domain, and don't have anything to do with the books anymore.

I occasionally toy with the idea of re-typing the book out and printing it, just so it would be readily available for e-readers and in new bindings. Then I remember I have kids to feed.

Anonymous VD April 25, 2013 12:24 PM  

I tracked down one of the Suttons' children (both Jeff and Jean have passed) to find out if they would be reprinting the books any time soon, and she said that they made the decision to pass them into the public domain, and don't have anything to do with the books anymore.

Is it in the public domain? Already? How is that possible?

Anonymous Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story April 25, 2013 12:30 PM  

Cannot disagree a bit with your review of IJ but I wish that wasn't your first foray into DFW. His essays, short stories, and philosophical writing is all excellent. Oddly, or maybe just interestingly, reading/watching interviews with DFW is actually much more thought-provoking and entertaining than any of his writing. He was a much more interesting person than novelist. And don't hold the admiration from the hipster literati against him, his biography and his interviews make clear that he never felt comfortable among them or took their esteem seriously. Read "This Is Water" and short pieces like "Old Neon" as well as any of his essays.

Anonymous dh April 25, 2013 12:34 PM  

Is it in the public domain? Already? How is that possible?

Any copyright holder can waive his or her rights. Fairly well established that it is possible and enforceable.

http://cr.yp.to/publicdomain.html

It would nice if the copyright holders, or their inheritors, would make a public statement.

Anonymous YIH April 25, 2013 12:35 PM  

I don't know about ESPN but the local fishwrap has projected Manti Te'o as the Vikes first-round pick.
Girlfriend not included.

Anonymous Daniel April 25, 2013 12:35 PM  

Is it in the public domain? Already? How is that possible?

I believe the two children (to whom, I believe, The Programmed Man is dedicated to, IIRC, which is how I tracked one of them down in the first place - either that or Apollo at Go.) must have done some paperwork with a lawyer. They really didn't want to babysit the copyrights and were busy with their own work. That is how I recall it, but you would want to confirm it with them, definitely. I suppose it is possible that I misunderstood the explanation that they were going to let them fall into public domain, but had not actually done so, but what I recall was that they were now in the public domain, and they had enacted it through the estate somehow.

Anonymous Other Josh April 25, 2013 12:40 PM  

You read it here, first. Vox is not impressed by large girth.

Blogger Joshua_D April 25, 2013 1:48 PM  

I found an .rtf version for download. Here's the link.

http://chomikuj.pl/widez2/Books/Books+eng/((((+not+sorted/SFFEbook+150+Remaster/Jean+Sutton+*26+Jeff+Sutton/Jean+Sutton+*26+Jeff+Sutton+-+The+Programmed+Man,1851724659.rtf

I'm not sure what language this is, Polish? But the download button (Pobierz) works. I downloaded and opened the file without any problems. The file is in English.

Anonymous Anonagain April 25, 2013 1:52 PM  

That excerpt paragraph could be titled, The Inner Yammerings of an Obnoxious and Petty Little Man Frankly, if all his characters are this pathetic, one would actually wish them just to commit suicide and get it over with already, if only to stop wasting one's time.

Hell, I'd want to commit suicide myself after filling my head with that monstrosity of utter negativity and endless minutia of twisted, tortured thoughts concerning the merely mundane. Get the fuck over yourself. Apparently, DFW could not.

Anonymous Vidad April 25, 2013 1:52 PM  

"That's because you have an incredibly obvious and dorky sense of humor, whereas mine is subtle, refined, and ever so slightly inclined to the black."

HA! I got insulted by VD. I need to post that to my blog!!!1!1!

Anonymous Ryan ATL April 25, 2013 2:00 PM  

Your opinion of IJ is shared by Bret Easton Ellis

Anonymous Worker Bee April 25, 2013 2:02 PM  

HA! I got insulted by VD. I need to post that to my blog!!!1!1! - Vidad

What is your blog, Vidad?

Anonymous Ioweenie April 25, 2013 2:04 PM  

re: This is Water (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZXljbi57Hg). Listen to it; interesting to hear DWF's intonations and the students' - at times - confused, uncomfortable, or obligatory laughter. Maybe I missed The Point, I often do, but it seemed to me the point (little p) was choose something mystical to worship as worship of the concrete/material will end up owning/destroying the worshipper. He almost seems like he gets The Point (the snow storm story), but then his disdain for those who openly express their religious convictions is palpable and contradictory (I get that many of us struggle with the beliefs of our upbringing/native culture - esp. liberals - but the knee-jerk rejection is a fool's gamble).

The other point, no really, The Point (The Truth) seemed to be stay Aware, understand why you believe what you think you believe, how you form your thoughts: how you think. Nothing in the least problematic with that, which is why I say he turns a nice phrase and delivers a decent story (not a bad gig; dog's gotten eat). More entertaining than other commencement speeches, but I'd hardly call it inspirational or uplifting. If fact, I might be kinda pissed if I was a parent of a graduate. But then, that might be the Greatest Point of all: the waste of liberal arts education in America.

Blogger Doom April 25, 2013 2:06 PM  

The digs on the book remind me of the digs one could easily conjure for many neo-modern people, architecture, and really what passes for science.

Remind me... should I ever write a book? To send you a copy before print. I don't like feedbac sugar coated.

Anonymous To be ignored at your risk April 25, 2013 2:07 PM  

Wallace qua person is not someone to be ignored, and in fact is someone to mourn, despite the fact that his literary merits are-- ahem-- overrated. I highly recommend his nonfiction as it is very amusing, informative, and occasionally even edifying. As to his literary output, I would say that for the most part whatever enjoyment it provides originates from abstract theoretical contemplation; however, this is not what we read novels for. Some of his short stories (e.g., 'The Depressed Person' and especially 'Good Old Neon') excellently depict certain sorts of depressed/suicidal interior lives, but this is not surprising.

As a writer he was exceptionally gifted in the technical sense (yes, this is true) but his theoretical obligations prevented him from achieving his true literary potential. (His Amherst professors all imagined him having a star career in academic philosophy; perhaps he chose the wrong path?) Having read the good biography of Wallace by D. T. Max, I can report that Wallace began to understand that his very-much practiced style was unsuited for the themes he wished to communicate in 'The Pale King', and his many unsuccessful attempts to develop an appropriate (read: less avant-garde) style for the book were a major factor contributing to the personal struggles preceding his suicide.

The man was brilliant, and unusually thoughtful and self-reflective, even for a writer. While (to repeat myself) his literary merits were not as high as the New Yorker would have you believe, his moral imagination, which was fervent and perspicacious, was genuinely remarkable. He saw himself and his task as directly OPPOSED to the (for lack of a better word) existentially avant-garde, ironic, postmodern, detached. Moral warfare in the name of the sincere and the concretely, traditionally human was his ethos, which is what makes his suicide tragic in the genuine sense of the term.

I recommend to anyone interested this interview with a German media outlet he gave in 2003:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5IDAnB_rns

May God have mercy on his soul.

Anonymous Worker Bee April 25, 2013 2:09 PM  

What is your blog, Vidad?

Gardens or something?

Blogger DmL April 25, 2013 2:15 PM  

I dunno, that quoted bit seemed pretty heartfelt.

Anonymous Ryan ATL April 25, 2013 2:20 PM  

http://www.salon.com/2012/09/06/bret_easton_ellis_hates_david_foster_wallace/

for more on BEE hating DFW

Anonymous To be ignored at your own risk April 25, 2013 2:26 PM  

I should also say that Wallace tried, not just once but twice, to become a Catholic! He went through the whole catechumenate and everything, but when it came down to the final step when one was to confess Christ, he had doubts and was honest enough to express as much. Wallace is truly an exemplar of a certain kind of modern existence-- ironic, hyper-self-aware, postmodern, what-have-you-- but he recognized it, recognized it as deficient and empty, and struggled to be rid of it himself and to break free into a more sincere, human, "pious" sphere. That he failed-- Lord have mercy!

Anonymous Sigyn April 25, 2013 2:37 PM  

Ooh. It might be a fun idea to transcribe it to gutenberg.org. I want to add it to my reading list now--if I ever get any reading done outside of blogs!

Anonymous Sigyn April 25, 2013 2:38 PM  

"It" being THE PROGRAMMED MAN, that is.

Oy, I'm getting scatter-brained.

Anonymous Anonagain April 25, 2013 2:42 PM  

I knew it! Looked it up and sure enough, DFW was a Pisces, born February 21, 1962. DFW is your typical Pisces male - a self-indulgent whiner who cares more about his own feelings than anything else in the universe. In fact, that is his whole universe - his feelings. Seriously fucked up males they are, generally useless and good for nothing, except in cases where their extreme self indulgence actually leads to something great, like in the case of Einstein.

The above statement may seem odd for a Christian to make, but I cannot deny pattern recognition and this is what I've observed many times over the years.

BTW, Pisces women are just as bad, but we're expected to be emotionally self-indulgent wackos. In a male, it is especially unbecoming.

Anonymous mistaben April 25, 2013 2:50 PM  

Joshua_D: thanks for the link to The Programmed Man!

Blogger Joshua_D April 25, 2013 3:21 PM  

You're welcome, mistaben.

Blogger The Original George...or OG April 25, 2013 3:27 PM  

Rarely in my life have I seen such a dark soul folding in on itself in the vain attempt to reach the vanishing point. Vox I can't thank you enough for alerting us. Just reading that excerpt made me want to go home take a shower and burn my clothes.

Anonymous Ioweenie April 25, 2013 3:57 PM  

Oops. Meant to rif "baby needs shoes" with "dogs gotta eat," not "dogs gotten eat." DWF was a dog-lover.

Anonymous Daniel April 25, 2013 4:11 PM  

Just reading that excerpt made me want to go home take a shower and burn my clothes.

My safety tip is for you to reverse the order.

Anonymous Sigyn April 25, 2013 4:21 PM  

He should burn his clothes, take a shower, and THEN go home?

That doesn't sound very safe. At least, you'd get a lot of attention from the police...

Anonymous Daniel April 25, 2013 4:34 PM  

Yes. Better than lighting himself on fire after soaking in water. That's extreme heat. Better to burn the clothes while in the shower, which you can take before scalding yourself.

And definitely, do it at someone else's place. Why would he want smoke damage in his own house?

Anonymous Jack Amok April 25, 2013 4:38 PM  

But does he play tennis before or after burning his clothes?

Blogger The Original George...or OG April 25, 2013 5:34 PM  

"Just reading that excerpt made me want to go home take a shower and burn my clothes.

My safety tip is for you to reverse the order."

Nah I had it right the first time. I don't recommend it for you though it's pretty complicated. If you want I can send you instructions but I will have to mail them to you since I can't write in crayon on the blog.

Blogger The Original George...or OG April 25, 2013 5:39 PM  

You did get my point though right Daniel? You're not related to Wallace are you...?

Blogger Tim April 25, 2013 5:47 PM  

First time poster but I've been lurking a little. DFW. Has some very good essays. IJ was a bit of a bore. Interesting ideas poorly presented.

Anonymous Donald Wright April 25, 2013 8:30 PM  

A malevolently delicious piece of writing (one that recalls the delightful and insightful *A Literary Manifesto* of B.R. Myers), but one that itself could benefit from a bit of pruning and editing; e.g.,

o "Avante-garde" (more than once!)
o "Eggrers's Forward" instead of "Eggers' Forward"
o "FourThree" Horsemen of the New Atheism
o "the reader has to be challenged to actually read it [sic] the book..."
o "such a [sic] overrated work "

But nonetheless, quite enjoyable. I will cross "Infinite Jest" off my reading list (not that it had ever been on it, mind you :).

Anonymous Sensei April 25, 2013 8:50 PM  

A bit sad, there are some interesting thoughts in there, certainly an active mind behind the composition.

It's just that the writing style makes it like trying to read through a shattered windshield...
And little bits of splintered glass are occasionally flicking off and hitting you in the face and making you lose the train of thought.

I honestly don't know how one could slog through an entire long novel of that, other than nearly maniacal stubbornness.

Blogger Duke of Earl April 25, 2013 8:53 PM  

I'm sorry Vox, I couldn't make it through that excerpt you lifted from his book. I've read things written by five year olds that were more coherent.

On characters, I think a necessary part of writing characters is to have a certain fondness for them, even the evil ones. As I've said before, in your books even the villains have admirable qualities. Even that she-devil in your Worlds in Shadow series was likeable enough, even if unmistakably evil. It suggests that you yourself had a certain sympathy for your creations.

It's hard to write a story about characters you don't care about, and still persuade your audience to care about them.

Sounds like Wallace was just writing for a pay check.

Anonymous Tim April 25, 2013 10:03 PM  

If you do not live in a hierarchical universe you have no tools to organize your own stream of consciousness. Then, intelligence is a curse, and at the moment you get bored with your own cleverness suicide is hard to avoid.

Anonymous Anonymous April 25, 2013 10:10 PM  

When considering the various forces it takes to achieve freedom a democracy must always stand vigilant. Jimhodgeblog.com

Anonymous Vidad April 25, 2013 10:12 PM  

My alter-ego has a blog at: www.floridasurvivalgardening.com.

My random place to post stuff is: dronesofdeath.blogspot.com.

I do a ton of radio writing for people that appreciate my incredibly obvious and masterfully dorky style... but that doesn't make it to the internet.

Sadly, unlike Vox, my writing doesn't incline to the African-American.

Anonymous Vidad April 25, 2013 10:15 PM  

The Dad's head-in-the-microwave suicide, followed by the son's hilarious fake confession to the psychologist that his first thought on finding his dead father was "something smells delicious" was the part in IJ that had me laughing out loud.

Blogger rcocean April 25, 2013 10:57 PM  

Surprised at the comments so far. I assumed Vox would get lots of snarky "you just don't get, do you???' ones. Whenever you criticize some Modern Art Icon, that's what you usually get.

Blogger rcocean April 25, 2013 11:01 PM  

For the record I've tried to read DFW's "Brilliant" non-fiction. I found myself skimming through it. He certainly could write, but had no discipline nor did he have anything truly interesting or insightful to say. I guess if you prefer style or substance, or you're pretty young/ignorant - you might like him.

Blogger rcocean April 25, 2013 11:01 PM  

should be style OVER Substance

OpenID 141onefourone April 25, 2013 11:04 PM  

Whoosh.

The book is exactly what you say it is, but Wallace did it on purpose. Let us analyze.

1. The name of the book is Infinite Jest
2. The plot is of an entertainment that is so addicting the viewer (hint: reader), cannot stop watching and eventually dies in front of the screen.
3. All the major characters are addicts.
4. The plot is never resolved with any meaning or moral.

The point it makes is that modern entertainment and our culture of entertainment (American/ Western Culture) is empty, vacuous, meaningless, and superficially addicting. It does this by itself being empty, vacuous, meaningless, and superficially addicting while describing an entertainment cartridge that if I recall correctly, was mostly just a pretty girl walking through a door.

It is a nihilistic ironical satirical parody of nihilistic ironical satirical parodies. An infinite jest.

“deeply felt and incredibly moving” LOLZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Wallace laid the perfect trap for over-educated pretentious rabbits.

Anonymous Sigyn April 26, 2013 12:01 AM  

deeply felt and incredibly moving

So's diarrhea. Doesn't mean I want to get that, either.

Anonymous rycamor April 26, 2013 12:15 AM  

I've tried on occasion keeping up with modern American literati, but it just leaves me cold. I got off that train somewhere between Updike and Norman Mailer, and it seems it has just gotten worse. It's not so much the moral decay, but the writing has just gotten so tediously banal and self-absorbed.

I think the last "modern" novel I read was "Roger's Version", by Updike. While it toyed with the disease of postmodern amorality, it really was about something more, and surprisingly interesting, even though I don't favor Updike's style usually.

Speaking of nonfiction, read something, anything by John McPhee. The man can write about literally anything and make it interesting, simply because he researches his topics with the investigative vigor of a Sherlock Holmes, and doesn't prance about trying to draw attention to his writing.

Anonymous scoobius dubious April 26, 2013 12:41 AM  

"The name of the book is Infinite Jest"

The title presumably comes from Hamlet's line,

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio:
A fellow of infinite jest...

The irony being that Yorick is of course dead, so his jesting was most certainly not infinite.

DFW, being a voracious reader, would have known that "Yorick" is also the name of a character in Tristram Shandy, another work haunted by notions of death, futility, and confusion.

Anonymous Anonymous April 26, 2013 2:29 AM  

It seems like Steven King without the brevity.

Anonymous kh123 April 26, 2013 2:34 AM  

Quoted portion reads like a spambot.

Anonymous kh123 April 26, 2013 2:44 AM  

"I assumed Vox would get lots of snarky "you just don't get, do you???' ones. Whenever you criticize some Modern Art Icon, that's what you usually get."

Means one of two things:

-This book's the utter dogsh*t bottom of the literary pile that even the drive-by Whatever fags wouldn't want to defend it.

-Tad, Luscinia, and A.Man are on comment probation. Or out getting utterly pissed on cheap wine at some Village restaurant, complementing eachother's knit scarves and newest iDrone accessories.

Anonymous VD April 26, 2013 3:26 AM  

Surprised at the comments so far. I assumed Vox would get lots of snarky "you just don't get, do you???' ones. Whenever you criticize some Modern Art Icon, that's what you usually get.

That sort of poser likely hasn't read the whole thing and they're afraid that if they try that, I'll start asking them questions about the text that will reveal their failure to do so.

Blogger Bogey April 26, 2013 5:48 AM  

"when he kneels at other times and prays or meditates or tries to achieve a Big-Picture spiritual understanding of a God as he can understand Him, he feels Nothing — not nothing but Nothing, an edgeless blankness that somehow feels worse than the sort of unconsidered atheism he Came In with."

I can see why this book would be so popular with the in-crowd. It reads like the angsty postmodern stuff that they love so much.

Anonymous JP (real one) April 26, 2013 10:04 AM  

I thought IJ was quite funny (especially some of the footnotes), but have to admit that I didn't read the entire thing.

I'd be curious if VD enjoyed the humor in A Confederacy of Dunces. I did, but it helps that I grew up close to New Orleans and could understand the context and nuances better than most. It was written by another author who committed suicide at a young age. Unlike DFW, he never lived to see his book get famous, though his mom did (which, ironically, was predicted in the book).

Blogger rcocean April 26, 2013 10:27 PM  

"The point it makes is that modern entertainment and our culture of entertainment (American/ Western Culture) is empty, vacuous, meaningless, and superficially addicting. It does this by itself being empty, vacuous, meaningless, and superficially addicting while describing an entertainment cartridge that if I recall correctly, was mostly just a pretty girl walking through a door."

If so, he gets zero points for originality. People have doing this "I'll show how meaningless life/society/culture/etc. is by being absurd/meaningless/etc." for about 100 years now. Its also a lame defense of modern art that's used constantly. "You just don't get the i-r-o-n-y... he MEANT to be boring".

Blogger Desert Cat April 27, 2013 12:08 AM  

WTF is with "Forward"? It is "Foreword", and I can't believe it gets misspelled so often.

Anonymous VD April 27, 2013 11:03 AM  

WTF is with "Forward"? It is "Foreword", and I can't believe it gets misspelled so often.

Good point. Corrected.

Blogger Allison Zoie July 04, 2013 10:12 AM  

waoooo your site is amazing. boston proper free shipping

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