Sunday, June 04, 2017

David Foster Wallace - Part 3

Well, I did it: I finished Infinite Jest. Which is something I can't quite believe, because this beast of a book is absolutely enormous, and there were a few times I thought it'd defeated me. But I've lived to tell the tale, and this will be my third and final post about the novel. 

Over the past three hundred pages, one question has emerged: namely, is Jest an effective book? Does it hold together? Does it work? 

The answer: I'm just not sure. No doubt, this is a novel imagined by an obsessive mind, by an author unable at times to curb, to control his creative impulse. And for that, I think, we should celebrate Foster Wallace: in many ways, Jest is the modern novel, it is a near-perfect representation of our collective conscious. 

But whether that makes it accessible, or readable, or ultimately worthwhile is a different question. I struggled through Moby Dick in much the same way that I did Jest: there are long sections of both books that border on impenetrable, and I find that, frankly, frustrating. 

And true, those sections might represent something new: maybe those sections of Jest that are so far gone are actually the ones in which Foster Wallace carved a new fictional space. I don't know. Certainly they represent some sort of amalgam: some hybrid of Pynchon, DeLillo, and Burroughs mixed into modern rendering of youth tennis.  

What I'll take away most, I suppose, from Jest is its focus on addiction. This is a novel very much about obsession and dependence, about the thin line between an addiction to drugs and an addiction to athletic excellence. But more than that: it's about an author's addictive pursuit of story telling, of Foster Wallace's inability to stop, to declare his book complete. Infinite Jest could have gone on forever, and in some sense, it does: its stories beget stories, and those in turn beget others. 

Given all the words, and all the pages, and all the characters, I'll reserve the final bit here for Foster Wallace:

"Up until the last phase of his career, [X] had apparently thought the stilted, wooden quality of nonprofessionals helped to strip away the pernicious illusion of realism and to remind the audience that they were in reality watching actors acting and not people behaving." 

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