Monday, April 4, 2016

Infinite Jest (again, and always)

Tom Bissell's article on David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest says things I've never been able to express. I have loved Infinite Jest and written about it before (1, 2), and the past few years I find myself rereading it once a year. Bissell's article prompted me to begin rereading again, in that infinite cycle that Infinite Jest describes and invokes.
  • "We return to Wallace sentences now like medieval monks to Scripture, tremblingly aware of their finite preciousness"
    Yes, absolutely. I have a copy of The Pale King that I am waiting to read, saving it for a chance to enjoy, for the last time, new DFW sentences. I want to savor every one.
  • "he wrote so often, and so well, in a microscopically close third person. "
    I've never considered the scope of the third person writing style, but "microscopically" is such a fantastic way to describe the way DFW manages to capture every single detail, in obsessively constructed sentences, to describe the sensation of involuntary mental obsession.
  • "... how completely the book had rewired me. Here is one of the great Wallace innovations: the revelatory power of freakishly thorough noticing, of corralling and controlling detail. ... The Wallaceian is not a description of something external; it describes something that happens ecstatically within, a state of apprehension (in both senses) and understanding. He didn’t name a condition, in other words. He created one."
    I hear you, Mr. Bissell. I hear you.

Rereading Infinite Jest is calming: every character runs on its prescribed arc, enacts its prescribed compulsions, suffers its prescribed mental agony, and the whole book swirls together in its intricate and jumbled details. This time through I recognize that almost every film of Incandenza's filmography --- which seems at first reading like a nonsensical list of overly-artsy non-sequiturs --- is actually a reference to an event in his life, and altogether the filmography describes his descent into madness and spiraling circular obsessions.

It's great. Go read it, then also go read everything written by and about DFW about DFW. I shamelessly prescribe more reading than is feasible, I know: but read it anyway. Just try. It's perfect for spring.

This post's theme word is birdlime, "to ensnare" or "something that ensnares." That birdlime book describes a fatally birdlime film.

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