Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Psychological bloodletting and endnote 24

I am crazy about David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Obsessive, even. And although it is encyclopedic, with extended scenes from different time periods imbricated (which juxtaposition serves narrative/explanatory purposes as often as it serves arbitrary/obfuscatory purposes), and contains a scene* beyond which I always decide that I am addicted to reading the book (in the terminology and categorization provided by the book itself!), I keep returning to it. As a mental palate-cleanser. It is not bland or neutral, but rather, it forcibly pushes the mental "aftertaste" of other reading from my mind, through its sheer volume, verbosity, and compelling structure. The challenges of the book (and esp. of interpreting the book, something it begs and also impedes) are the enduring attraction.

Timestamped annotations left from earlier readings indicate that I reread Infinite Jest once a year, very consistently in March. I have no hypothesis to explain this. Habit?

Reading the book is relaxing. It is massively complicated, a twisted anti-chronological structure with endnotes, and sub-endnotes, and sub-cross-endnotes forming a tangle of contextual connections and free-wheeling dissociations, interchangeably and with little warning. Everyone in the book is tense and anxious, balancing carefully their internal monologue with their external appearance. I find that this creates a calming reading experience. It is psychological bloodletting --- it draws out all anxieties and tops them with such extremity that they seem minuscule and paltry in comparison.  (Some rereaders have the diametrically opposite theory.)

Endnote 24 occurs only 7% of the way into this gigantic tome. It is easily my favorite part, though far from a climax or even a narratively important fact. It's not even a scene; it is simply an annotated filmography. The subversion of such a formulaic, structured text adds to its humor. The entire lengthy endnote is a wry grin, an extended wink, a game of authorial self-one-upsmanship which makes me laugh out loud. I love the academic-ese writing, forced to describe academia-subverting nonsense.

This time around, I started taking notes, then abandoned the project as too large and a probable duplication of earlier fan work. So I turned to the internet to find a chronological version of the story. And to find out what happened, although a lot of that seems to be hypotheses from close-reading fans.

If my twisted sentences and phrases above have not given it away, and their very content has not given it away, let me make it clear: I have been reading Infinite Jest for the past several weeks, and it permeates my idle thoughts.


This post's theme word is otiose, "serving no practical purpose." The novel is lengthy and abstruse, but far from otiose. Unlike this otiosest blog post.

*the Canuck/Lenz showdown, whose radical violence and dissociation spurs me to read faster, faster, through everything that follows. Perhaps to overwrite in my mind the violence, or perhaps because I am impatient to see that the heroes survive and cope with the physical and psychological and logistical fallout.

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