First impressions of Infinite Jest

(c) NYT.

Last I checked, I’ve read about 380 pages of Infinite Jest. And I am enjoying it, making myself move slowly. Overall, it’s far funnier than I thought it was going to be. Funny in that perhaps predictably dark, self-referential way. (Thanks to friends, notably Elizabeth P. and Nick, who were encouraging and helpful in allaying my fears.)

First thoughts and impressions:

  • Since starting Infinite Jest, I have experienced a strange conflation of topics with those in IJ and those in the other books I’m reading, including: characters named Avril, life with alcoholic parents, frequent use of the verb “whinge,” and characters praying at the foot of an image of a grotesque female saint. I find this fascinating, especially since coming across such specific similarities in such different works strikes me as unusual.
  • I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was written in the 1990s. (OK, this is probably not true, but really. No one talks about literature from the 1990s. I can’t even say what might define art from that phase of my early life, except to make some passing comments on primary-color sitcoms and patterned pop music.)
  • I have been thinking about the mental effects of reading a heavily annotated novel. Flipping back and forth from the text to the endnotes produces a curious state in the reader, or at least in this reader; it makes me hesitant, almost shy, because I am constantly waiting for the next interruption. I haven’t thought deeply on the purpose of this stylistic choice, except to say that, a.) David Foster Wallace (DFW) has an abundance of information that he’d like to share, and b.) endnotes give him greater comic license.
  • Other things I don’t know about, deeper meaning-wise: DFW’s love of sharing the proper chemical names of drugs and DFW’s love of acronyms.
  • Resisting the impulse to read too much into these characters and subjects as commentary on DFW’s own life.
  • James O. Incandenza” is really fun to say out loud; so melodic!

And here is a shortened list of the words I have learned in these mere 380 pages:

aegis
aleatory
analects
anfractuous
apical
apocope
argot
attar
augend
calenture
deliquesce
dipsomania
elision
ephebe
estival
flange
fulgurant
incunabular
nonpareil
phylogenic
prandial
priapistic
quincux
quondam
recondite
strabismic
tympana
wen

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4 thoughts on “First impressions of Infinite Jest

    1. No definitions provided; I’m looking all of these up the old-fashioned way, with a physical dictionary. It feels purer that way, somehow. :-p

  1. […] loving fiction again, after being rather immune to its powers for months and months (thanks a lot, David Foster Wallace; you broke me). I have also learned the secret to Faulkner: SLOW DOWN. To a snail’s pace. And […]

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