Finite Jest

Literature

I might have to take a break from the old Wallace masterpiece. I just reached the chapter where the game Eschaton is explained. In this chapter is a long footnote that forces the reader to jump back into Calculus, particularly in recalling the use of the Mean Value Theorem, or dive into it for the first time if that’s your experience. Though I’ve been meaning to do that very thing for a while, so that I can become a better programmer, I should probably pan out space in my free time for such a thing, which will mean setting down this gigantic project Infinite Jest for the moment.

Much of that story is immediately relevant to one’s own daily life, especially if you live in the US and are bombarded by compelling reasons to self-indulge and create something of a spectacle of yourself. If you’ve ever suffered from any kind of obsession or addiction, you will find your thoughts eerily echoed in this book. You will certainly walk step by step (day by day) with several characters, while others will have issues that are either totally foreign or seem like non-issues. It’s difficult to follow along Madame Psychosis’s experiences and her supposed physical affliction, though her overdoing it with cocaine and then getting high off the materials used to freebase speaks for itself as far as affliction.

Structurally, it flies in the face of more fundamentalist creative writing teachers who preach the importance of sticking your narrator to one POV, whether it be omniscient or limited. Plenty of confusion derives from this and it’s often amusing. Sometimes it can hit you squarely in the face leaving you simply stunned. When language that is clearly derogatory of certain groups is present in this story, there are times when you don’t know if certain sentiments are coming from certain characters or from the narrator. Whenever the narrator reveals their viewpoints and they are not a character, it’s just plain odd. I’m reminded of the jarring approach of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables towards judging characters.

Reading my version’s introduction, written by a man named David Eggers who has written books I’ve heard of, makes me a little reluctant to really put the book down as I found points of his that describe this book (so far) completely and some that don’t accurately or honestly characterize the story. For instance, at one point, he says,

As verbose as it is, and as long as it is, it never wants to punish you for some knowledge you lack, nor does it want to send you to the dictionary every few pages. (Back Bay Books 2006, xii)

Well, it may not want to send you to the dictionary so frequently, but it definitely ends up doing that, unless you came to this book as a walking encyclopedia of illicit and legal drugs commonly abused, or with an intricate knowledge of human anatomy (especially how the brain is designed), or with comprehensive knowledge of all the media video is recorded on. If you don’t come to this book with any of these prerequisites, then expect to visit various resources frequently. In fact, have the Internet on hand as you parse through this one. There are many helpful guides, by the way, with this one as an example. I agree with Eggers when he says it never wants to punish you for some knowledge you lack. There is not pretention in that way in this book so far, but you might not be able to help feeling a little regret for subjects he delves into that you’re not so up on any more, or that you’ve been meaning to dive into but just haven’t yet. There’s plenty of reason to feel guilty about plenty, I suppose.

Some of his descriptions strongly compel me to see this whole thing out:

And yet the time spent in this book, in this world of language, is absolutely rewarded. When you exit these pages after that month of reading, you are a better person. (xiv)

I already feel like I’m learning plenty just reading this huge block of a book. Frequent re-reading is essential if the goal is to actually retain anything. As far as it taking a month to swallow this thing, I whole-heartedly disagree. I’m sure that the readers of Infinite Summer could lap me twice before I finish this book. I am by no means a fast reader.

On a hilarious, yet disappointing note, Eggers finds it necessary to mention Sufjan Stevens:

If we are drawn to Infinite Jest, we’re also drawn to the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Songs, for which Stephin Merrit wrote that many songs, all of them about love, in about two years… Or the work of Sufjan Stevens, who is on a mission to create an album about each state in the union. He’s currently at State No. 2, but if he reaches his goal, it will approach what Wallace did with the book in your hands. (xv)

I was surprised to see that musician mentioned at all in this book, even in the Forward. The man certainly writes beautiful music, and I was hoping to see this 50 State Project come to completion, but it appears that it was abandoned. I may not want to abandon this single project after all…

What say you?