Tuesday, April 11, 2017

David Foster Wallace - Part 1

Well, it's happening -- I'm finally reading Infinite Jest, Dave Foster Wallace's gargantuan novel of addiction. This is a book unlike any other: huge and hulking, challenging and opaque, it's a novel that takes on tennis at the same time as quaaludes. It's a book brimming with pain, but peppered with levity. It's a book, in short, written by a contemporary giant, one who approached that gilded thing we call genius. 

Infinite Jest pushes one thousand pages, so my plan is to write three blog posts -- each after about three hundred pages. This is the first of my posts and I'll structure it around a series of observations: 
  • I'm not sure Jest is a book to enjoy; it's a book to marvel at, certainly, but it's not a book to love: it's simply too challenging for that. Reading it requires unusual concentration. 
  • Foster Wallace had a mind that stretched in all directions: from the arcane and technical, to the athletic and comedic. He writes about junior tennis, for instance, with as much detail and intensity as he does Quebec separatism. It's that obsessive quality that fuels the novel. 
  • No doubt, this is a book about addiction -- in all its forms: from drugs and drinking to the pursuit of athletic excellence. On some level, Foster Wallace's point seems to be that it's all the same: that we can become addicted by anything, at any moment; that addiction is about more than substance alone. 
  • For me, the most enjoyable parts of the book touch on the Incandenza family. (This is probably also because they're the most accessible sections, too.) When Foster Wallace get going, and when the absurdity of Incandenza family is exposed, there's a transcendent quality: it's as if Foster Wallace had touched something true. 
  • One final note: while this is a sorrowful novel, it's also a funny one. Foster Wallace generates youthful characters who are both aspiring athletes and uncommon intellectuals. The result is a book overflowing with language. Each page, each paragraph charts that divide: between the physical and the intellectual, between the precision of sport and the rigor of academic pursuit. That linguistic interplay -- which is mirrored in sections about substance abuse as well -- is at least part of the jest.
OK -- that's it for now. I'll be back with my second post after another three hundred pages or so. Wish me luck!

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