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Words, Words, Words: A Liveblog

July 5, 2011

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
So much fun you can’t stop
When I’m done you can pick it up, but I’m not mailing this thing.

The Infinite Jest Liveblog has moved to its own page.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

“INFINITE JEST” IS A BIG BOOK in so many more ways than just the one. Of the last few decades, it is the one piece of literature regarded as unimpeachably genius, a game changer, a generation-definer, an Urtext of whatever they’re calling fiction after post-modernism, an event, a whatever else you can think of. The almost universal response, whether you love or hate the book, is awe.

Awe at its length, awe at Wallace’s skill, awe at the pages and pages and pages of endnotes, awe that any single human brain — especially such a young one (Wallace was just 34 when the book was published) — could produce such a thing. What’s interesting is that these are only the outward impressions, the understanding of the book that you can get from just looking at it on the shelf, or flipping through the 388 endnotes, or biting off just one sentence, much less the entire book. What’s even more interesting is how these impressions branch and flower when you dive truly in.

Since Wallace’s suicide in 2008, the standard Kurt Cobain/Jimi Hendrix/Jeff Buckley Death of a Promising Young Artist dynamic has been at work, but magnified by the differences between the music and literature worlds. Where the former is constantly rewarding and celebrating the new and experimental, the latter tends to sniff with distrust around anything different. There is plenty of justification in the fear that technical experimentation or unrealism or fragmented narratives or other innovations are just bait to leave us with an indulgent, gimmicky, poorly structured piece of fiction snapped painfully around our wrists. Wallace managed to use experimentation and other weird stuff to get a genuine emotional response (though he may be held accountable for inspiring many terrible graduate writing workshop pieces that did not), and the fact that he had a certain rock star celebrity among American literature’s tweedy dweebs is not insignificant. His untimely and genuinely heart-wrenching death accelerated his stature to something a bit more messianic. Wallace has become a mythology, and because — now that we have “The Pale King” in hand — we know that he never wrote another work of the caliber and quality of “Infinite Jest,” the book itself orders his magnitude.

And so I repeat: it’s a big book. Which is why we’re trying something new here at Trade Paperbacks. Rather than spending the next month or two in hiding trying to read the 1k-plus-pages-plus-endnotes and then spending who knows how long trying to come up with some kind of coherent response, I’m just going to post as I go along. A live blog, or as close to live as I can get. So strap in, check back often, and read along if you like — and don’t hesitate to add your thoughts in the comments.

Finally, cross your fingers and hope that this won’t be as challenging as actually getting through the novel itself.

Read the full Infinite Jest Liveblog or jump to the latest entry.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 1:12 pm

    As a music teacher, I like to emphasize to my students an idea that I got from Kenny Werner’s book “Effortless Mastery”. The idea is that things shouldn’t be viewed as being difficult or easy, but rather as being familiar or unfamiliar. Seeing something as being difficult can make it daunting from the get-go, and can install permanent fears in your approach that lead to stumbles, slip-ups, and the ever-present idea that maybe you should just give up. (On the flip-flop, seeing something as easy can over-simplify your approach causing you to gloss over details and develop an over-confidence that hides the beauty of simplicity, and less of an appreciation for that beauty and simplicity.) If something is viewed as unfamiliar, the possibilities are endless because you can’t lump this new experience in with your previous ones. You are then on a journey of discovery and acceptance of the previously-unknown, instead of a struggle against your expectations of yourself while you try to cram new things (which are circular) into all your old brain boxes (which are rectangular). In other words, you create your own difficulties.

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