Notes on reading Infinite Jest

Rory Kennett-Lister


NOTES ON READING INFINITE JEST WRITTEN IN THE STYLE OF INFINITE JEST PAGES 200-205¹,  IN WHICH DFW² HAS AN UNNAMED NARRATOR EXPLICATE THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL MINUTIAE OF LIFE IN A DRUG AND ALCOHOL REHABILITATION HOUSE³

If, through a desire to satiate some misplaced sense of intellectual obligation, to test the limits of your literary acumen, to be able drawl in the gauzed light of an inner city dive bar, ‘I read that. I took a while but I read it,’ you happen to pick up Infinite Jest, you will acquire many new facts. 

You will find out that with the book on your lap you’ll begin to feel as though you’re a way less extreme Aron Ralston4, trapped under the physical weight of the text, pinned by heavily inked pages. You’ll come to realise that this doesn’t feel as pathetic as it sounds.

You’ll also learn that on cursory analysis the internet has no satisfactory answer to how much weight ink adds to paper. That you can, on reading such a wildly adjectival and lexiconic text, find in the frequent diversions, the blurring detail, overwhelming beauty like that in the sum of the individual marks in a Monet, who even if you’re not partial to, you have to admit actually knew how to paint. 

That comparing Infinite Jest to a Monet is grossly inadequate on nearly every level, but still has some unexplainable subliminal resonance. 

That in reading about the subconscious aspects of addiction and having ideas to write about the novel you are reading you can identify in your own thought patterns an aspect of self-obsession that hints at the beginnings of addiction, and that in identifying this, realise that you have fallen into the over-thought self-analysis that the author identifies as a hallmark of addictive thought.

That short sentences can be very effective. 

That not understanding something doesn’t necessarily ruin it. That it might make you feel like an idiot. That no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that.5

That you can read page after page, get to the end of a meandering chapter, dog-ear the microscopically dimpled page, close the book and realise that for the last fifteen minutes you’ve been lost in a purposeless haze of half-finished thoughts and that the movement of your eyes scanning the pages has seemingly done nothing to pull any narrative from the book but has maybe acted as some kind of physical mantra like the deep breathing and slow movements of a Tai Chi adherent and allowed the thoughts in question to ramble unhindered through your skull.
 
That this can be addictive.
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  1Back Bay 10th anniversary paperback edition, November 2006.
  2David Foster Wallace, February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008 AD. As celebrated American writer, DFW, occasionally under the none-too-subtle pen name, David Foster, published two complete novels, The Broom of the System, and the aforementioned Shakespearean monikered tome, in addition to short fiction and essays, before taking his own life. The longer works he left, for better or worse, remain for many, books you know you should read, profess to want to, but when you see it in the bookshop and feel the sheer weight of it, can’t (understandably, given the detail with which lives are already filled) be given the full degree of commitment required.
  3Although perversely, the title of said notes shares more in common with other sections of the novel cf. pages 138, 140, 142, 144-45, 172, 176, 223, 563, 876 but not pages 398-407, 438, which deal with headings from newspaper articles, which can thus be considered part of the narrative proper if there is such a thing, rather than headings delineating specific breaks in the text.
  4Widely known for severing his own arm with a blunt multi tool in order to free himself from under a boulder, having been trapped during a cayoneering accident. In a bizarre intersection of his locality and his accident, he is a resident of Boulder, Colorado.

  5Quote from Infinite Jest. Page 201.


When not working as a copywriter, Rory writes essays, fiction, nonfiction, and nonsense.

(12/09/13 #30)