Saturday, August 22, 2009

Infinite Jest (by David Foster Wallace)

Yep, I finished it! I finished it early, both because it really picked up steam for me in the last third, and because I doubt I'm going to have much time to read much of anything once school really gets underway, and I wanted to finish it!

It's a book that one has to digest, I think. I'm reading the Infinite Summer forums and will continue to read and enjoy the posts that show up on the blog. But my first reaction to the ending was... ...that I felt a little cheated. Through the whole book I'm wondering what happened to Hal? Is it the DMZ or the Entertainment or pot withdrawal or what? How does he meet Gately and why do they dig up JOI's head and do they find the Entertainment or an antidote? And so but then, you don't find out anything, it's just a big puzzle.

It's somewhat fun to go back and analyze all the clues that are scattered throughout the text, and to think about the reasons why DFW didn't necessarily want to wrap everything up in a bow. Like, will Joelle relapse? We don't know, because it's "one day at a time." Is she hideously beautiful or hideously deformed? As someone pointed out on the forums, the Medusa and the Odalisque shows that it doesn't matter, since the end result is the same. But still and all, I was really disappointed that we didn't get to see anything of that Poor Yorick graveyard scene, since I was waiting for it eagerly for, oh, almost 1000 pages.

And Gately! I mean, I love Gately, but what the hell is up with the ending? If he ends up in a Canadian cemetery with Hal, we know he makes it. But why then is the ending the way it is? It seems like a random flashback, almost, that doesn't resonate enough. Ditto the final footnote; I mean, that's how you want to end it?
Anyway, I don't know. My reactions as I read ranged from complete emotional engagement to intense annoyance--at the lack of the female POV, or the pharmaceutical footnotes with no point, or the word "like" everywhere, or the BAD THINGS HAPPENING TO ANIMALS, or the cartoonish/unbelievable nature of some of the events. But I did fall in love with a lot of the characters (Gately, Steeply, Hal, Mario, Joelle). I don't know that it moved me, because there seems to be this sheen of intellectual distance/irony over everything. But it interested and engaged me.

Ultimately, I'm glad I read it this summer, as part of the Infinite Summer project. It seems like almost everyone psychotically loves it, and some people defend any criticism against it with this like borderline condescension. But there's also been so many interesting and erudite discussions about it, it's added about 1000% to my enjoyment of the reading project.

So that's it, for now. It's done, whew. I'm going to check the #infsum Twitter feed again...

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2 Comments:

Blogger ijsbrand said...

I'm following the Infinite Summer schedule, so I am about three quarters through.

Don't like most of it, though. Too many words -- why are so many American authors so encredibly longwinded?.

"Information has become the new character", as the critic James Wood once wrote. And it was as if he was meant a book like Infinite Jest.

Still, there are gems, every now and then. And the book does get a kind of hypnotic quality.

3:17 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

You can't blame only the Americans for being longwinded, what about the Russians and Victor Hugo and James Joyce? We've also got nice, terse Hemingway. I think this Americans = longwinded thing is a lie!

I agree with your last paragraph; am interested to see what you think at the end!

9:44 PM  

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