El's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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Nov 25, 10

bookshelves: 1001-books-list, 20th-centurylit-late, society-went-boom, big-effing-books, cuckoos
Read from August 02 to November 25, 2010

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln decided that the fourth Thursday of each November would be recognized nationally as Thanksgiving. Today happens to be the fourth Thursday in November. Happy Thanksgiving.

I would like to give thanks to the fact that I finished this mother-effing book today.

It's now 9:40 EST as I start to write this review. I finished reading approximately five hours ago. Since then I have polished off almost an entire bottle of Chardonnay. It's taken me this long to a) get a nice enough buzz on, and b) have any desire to update my review to this book. My desire to review this book is equal to the desire I had to read this book - both seem like a really good idea, but in the process of either I sort of feel like I'd probably be better off wrangling a squirrel with my bare hands. But, okay, to be fair, there were times while I read this that I really enjoyed it. My wrists never actually enjoyed holding the book, but my mind was amused once in a while at the mental gymnastics which were required to get through some of the passages. Other times my mind told my eyeballs they were really effing dumb to keep looking at the page. Those were the times in which the book was set off to the side and wasn't picked up again for sometimes weeks at a time. It sat next my bed for the most part. I hated this book during those times. It was there when I went to sleep at night and it was there when I woke up in the morning. It might as well have had eyes because I felt it constantly looking at me. I think one morning it even handed me my glasses.

Infinite Jest became a third roommate. One that wasn't even paying rent, but it gives okay head so I kept it around.

I read 37 other books in the time that I spent also reading Infinite Jest. Another GR friend read only 24 other books during her reading of this book. No, I'm not judging myself. Okay, maybe I am a little bit. Excuse me, I need another glass of wine.

I know, I know. This whole review is completely unstable. Why rate a book so high if the review itself sounds so low? I never take almost four months to read a book that I love, so that fact alone must mean I really hated this, right?

Oh, if only it were that easy.

I don't love Infinite Jest. I think a part of me hates it. Actually, a large part of me hates it. I hate that it took me almost four months to read it, and I hate that it consumed so much of my time and energy. I hate that I so very much wanted to know how it ended, preventing me from abandoning it entirely. I hate that there were so many endnotes, and sometimes those footnotes went on for a really long time and may as well have been whole chapters in and of themselves. The different story lines? Hated them. I can't tell you how many times I swore at the book, how many times I swore at the memory of David Foster Wallace himself for writing such a book, how many times I argued with myself, "Summabitch, this is like postmodernist fiction - no, it's worse than postmodern literature... this is like... post-postmodern literature..." At times I thought that maybe I should give Ulysses another read because in comparison it's like reading those Dick and Jane books. (BTW, reading Joyce is nothing like reading Dick and Jane books, and Infinite Jest is really no more difficult than reading Ulysses. I'm just waxing hyperbolic here.)

But there were some really incredible aspects to Infinite Jest, and I would be wrong not to give some shout-outs to those things as well. The story lines that I hated? I also sort of loved them. There's really no good way of giving the story line any sort of true justice here. There's a reason the book is over a thousand pages - you're crazy if you think I'm going to even try to sum it up here. Don't be lazy, read it yourself. Anyway, I loved the stories, which only makes me hate the book even more. Hi, I'm a woman, get over it.

Incidentally, at the same time I've been reading this I've also been reading some crazy modern French philosophy dudes, and secretly I've been making comparisons between the two books. Which is why when I reached this passage (highly edited to hurry along my point for this purpose, bold fonts are mine for emphasis) on page 792 I sort of vomited a little in my mouth before screaming and passing out a bit:
...the entire perfect-entertainment-as- Liebestod myth surrounding the purportedly lethal final cartridge was nothing more than a classic illustration of the antinomically schizoid function of the post-industrial capitalist mechanism, whose logic presented commodity as the escape-from-anxieties-of-mortality-which-escape-is-itself-psychologically-fatal, as detailed in perspicuous detail in M. Gilles Deleuze's posthumous Incest and the Life of Death in Capitalist Entertainment...

On page 838-9:
To concoct something the gifted boy couldn't simply master and move on from to a new plateau.

In case you were wondering, the other book I am reading at this time is A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and his buddy, Guattari. Hello! Coincidence!? That's pretty crazy. That requires another glass of wine to process.

Seriously, Deleuze and Guattari are written all over this Wallace guy. I know very little about Wallace. I know he wrote books like Infinite Jest, had a rough life, died way too young at his own hand, and... well, that's pretty much it. I haven't read anything else by him, though I might. The point is I don't know how much he was into those crazy Frenchies, but I would say he had to have read them, studied them, or maybe, like myself, was a part of a really pretentious book club in which they spend almost five hours dissecting three chapters of A Thousand Plateaus at a time. The thought actually made me feel a little closer to Wallace.

But then I remembered how angry I've been at Deleuze and Guattari as well over the past few months and decided they're all back on the bus. (The Bus, btw, is just a pretend bus inside my head where I imagine putting people that I don't like onto said bus and then eventually driving them all off a cliff. A really high cliff.)

At the same time, it's genius. Wallace was genius for writing this book, a non-traditional dystopia which, I might add, also sort of gets me all hot and bothered because I do like a well-written dystopia. He was genius for making all these connections to things like Deleuze and Guattari, things that a lot of people don't really read; it made me wonder what other references he made that I'm not familiar with and therefore I missed completely. I was happy to at least catch that one.

It seems this is the sort of book that people either love or hate - there's very little middle-ground on this one. It seems people read this more than once, though for the life of me I can't imagine ever wanting to read it again. I'm glad I read it once, for sure. And when I say "glad" I mean it in the same way that I mean it when I say I'm "glad" my mom made me eat really nasty vegetables when I was a kid. I didn't like them but they were good for me. That's sort of what Infinite Jest is. A giant, thousand-+-page vegetable that you know is good for you but it doesn't really taste that great, and putting ketchup on it doesn't help. I'm just a healthier reader because I was able to stomach it.

But it didn't change my life. I refuse to say that it did. It will, however, stick with me. And there again is that stupid genius of Wallace. He wrote a big spanking book that manages to really stick with a reader. But, like I ask constantly, especially when it comes to Deleuze and Guattari - was it necessary??

I sort of feel like that Rip Van Winkle guy in that Washington Irving story. Like I've been asleep for a really long time (in this case, it's been since August 2nd when I started reading Infinite Jest) and now I'm awake and holy crap, things have changed with the rest of the world. I would read Infinite Jest before going to bed at night, and then wake up suddenly only to realize I had been dreaming about reading Infinite Jest. There was no break between putting the book down, turning off the light and falling asleep. It all just continued in my head. And it seems this is the kind of book that people remember where they were while they were reading this more than they can actually remember what it's about. I remember where I was when I heard Kurt Cobain had died. I remember where I was in my life while I was reading Infinite Jest. The finer details of my life are actually a little blurry during this reading though because it consumes so much energy to read it that it sort of overshadows everything else.

So that was my Thanksgiving. I knew part of my plan for the day was to get totally trashed on wine and finish Infinite Jest, which is mostly why I didn't invite my brother over to celebrate the day with us. (Sorry bro!) Now I've been sitting here giving two big middle fingers to the copy of Infinite Jest beside me. Eventually maybe we'll make up, but for now it's time for bed because, alas, I have to work in the morning and I have to sleep this Wallace-Jest-Chardonnay-buzz off. If you read all the way down to this sentence then you're awesome and you are probably worthy and capable of reading Infinite Jest on your own. I wish you well. Tip: Read all of the endnotes.
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Quotes El Liked

David Foster Wallace
“Be a Student of the Game. Like most cliches of sport, this is profound. You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard. Peers who fizzle or blow up or fall down, run away, disappear from the monthly rankings, drop off the circuit.”
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Reading Progress

08/02/2010 page 17
08/02/2010 page 17
2.0% "Ohhhh, yeah, 1% complete. Booyah!"
08/03/2010 page 49
5.0% "4% complete!"
08/27/2010 page 320
30.0% "I THINK I'm on page 320. My wrists are sore from holding it, so I can't be bothered with looking to see where I am right now. The book, however, continues to haunt me. I will either kill it or it will kill me." 1 comment
09/27/2010 page 443
41.0% "Yes. Yes, I am still reading this, thanks."
11/14/2010 page 711
66.0% "Spending a little quality (?) time with DFW before bed tonight."
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Comments (showing 1-34 of 34) (34 new)

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message 1: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El I'm reading it and it's still taunting me. :) Hope you do try reading it one day - I look at it like it's a personal challenge. Which only works about 75% of the time. :)

Heather I hope you don't mind that I am commenting on your status, El. I am still reading this one, too. I finally made it to page 418. At this rate, it may take me a year to get through the whole thing!

message 3: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El I don't mind you commenting at all, Heather! At this point I've made it a goal to myself that I will at least finish this by the time the New Year rolls around. I think I can do it... :)

Heather Hey, look at you go! I spent some time reading this over the weekend, too. I made it to page 600, and then I hit the DFW wall.

Alex This is...maybe not the best review ever, because I feel like saying that would be hyperbolic. But the best review of Infinite Jest ever. That feels solid.

Cindy Fantastic, El! Just amazing. :)

message 7: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink Awesome review. Truly.

Love this
"(The Bus, btw, is just a pretend bus inside my head where I imagine putting people that I don't like onto said bus and then eventually driving them all off a cliff. A really high cliff.) "

Don't know why I've never thought of that, mine just stand around in a huddle and I've been wondering what to do with them. I have the perfect cliff in mind too.

Manny Nice catch on the Deleuze references! That passed me by, I just vaguely registered "some European philosophy shit".

Given that Wallace was heavily into the Anglo-American analytical tradition, I now wonder to what extent he was being ironic at Deleuze's expense? I may have to re-read this damn thing...

message 9: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Thanks, Alex and Cindy. I thought of like twenty million other things I wanted to say after I went to bed, but now that I'm awake again (and have sobered up) I can't remember any of those things.

Thanks, Velvetink! Sometimes when I'm tired of thinking about The Bus, I mix it up a bit where I put all those same people on an island and let them work it out on their own, Lord of the Flies-like.

Manny, that's a very good question, and kudos to you if you re-read Infinite Jest in order to answer it. I will say, however, that the posthumous Deleuze book referenced in that first passage (Incest and the Life of Death in Capitalist Entertainment) is not a real Deleuze text. I did wonder if Wallace was paying Deleuze homage by that or punching him in the proverbial neck. Or just being a real ass to the readers, like, "Here's the red rubber ball, see? Now GO GET IT!" and then he throws it down the garbage disposal. The reader can either follow it down into the blades where it's likely to really hurt, or the reader can just take his word for it. Stupid Wallace. (And Deleuze and Guattari too for that matter because they do the same thing.) They're all just a bunch of jerks. Really smart jerks that make me sad that I'll never be as smart as them.

Manny They're all just a bunch of jerks. Really smart jerks that make me sad that I'll never be as smart as them.

See, that's just what they want you to think. Don't fall for their bluff! Tell yourself that, if you just put your mind to it, you can outbabble them any day.

Of course, that does raise the question of whether it's smart to try...

Manny But seriously, the fact that the Deleuze text doesn't exist and has a rather provocative title (even by Continental Philosophy standards) does make me think that DFW was yanking their chain. Though maybe you need to have read a fair amount of their stuff to get the nastier jokes.

message 12: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Tell yourself that, if you just put your mind to it, you can outbabble them any day.

That's true. I'm pretty good at babble-speak when the shit really hits the fan. Lately when I've been backed into a metaphorical corner by my boyfriend during a discussion I just throw some Deleuze/Guattari at him: "Whatever, it's all completely rhizomatic!" It disarms him and we wind up making out for a bit.

That probably won't get me far in the real world though.

So back to this Wallace guy... should I read more by him or was this truly his masterpiece and everything else pales in comparison? Did he blow his entire wad on Infinite Jest?

Manny Lately when I've been backed into a metaphorical corner by my boyfriend during a discussion I just throw some Deleuze/Guattari at him: "Whatever, it's all completely rhizomatic!" It disarms him and we wind up making out for a bit.

So you hint that your relationship could contain multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation... I can see why he might find that a turn-on! A really classy way to make that particular suggestion. I think I'll start using the word as well.

So back to this Wallace guy... should I read more by him or was this truly his masterpiece and everything else pales in comparison?

I've only read IJ and his dissertation. People say his short pieces are very good.

message 14: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike Puma I may have to reconsider giving IJ the month of December and dedicate my effort instead to 2011. Great review.

message 15: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Thanks, Mike. I've been thinking long and hard about whether or not I would recommend this to people if they asked me directly - I don't think I would dissuade anyone from reading it. But yeah, give yourself plenty of time. I started it in the beginning of August and wanted to be able to finish it within the month. That didn't happen.

Cindy El wrote: "So back to this Wallace guy... should I read more by him or was this truly his masterpiece and everything else pales in comparison? Did he blow his entire wad on Infinite Jest?"

Word on the street is that his shorter non-fiction pieces are really excellent. I keep looking at Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

message 17: by K.D. (new) - added it

K.D. Absolutely Great review, El!

Jennifer D This is an awesome review, El. I should try your method sometime! Drinking and reviewing make for interesting outcomes!

Cindy Jennifer wrote: "This is an awesome review, El. I should try your method sometime! Drinking and reviewing make for interesting outcomes!"

Do it! And you will need to empirically confirm if there's a stylistic difference between mixed drinks, wine and beer.

message 20: by Marieke (new)

Marieke i drank half a bottle of chianti while reading your review and everyone's comments and all i could think about was how i watched Kung Fu Panda today with my nephews so when you think you are not as smart as Wallace, et. al., well all i have to say to you is "there is no secret ingredient."

message 21: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Thanks everyone - though now I'm feeling like I'm a bad influence on potential younger readers. Uh, don't drink and read, kids.

message 22: by Wendy (new)

Wendy I'm so glad I read your review El. I keep feeling like I should want to read IJ, and yet, I know I would not enjoy it. In all honesty I just don't think I have the intellectual chops to get through it. I'd much rather read your entertaining review and then feel smug for not getting suckered into reading it by all the hype :-)

message 23: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Thank you, Wendy, I'm glad I could entertain. :) Of course you could always start it - you'll figure out pretty quickly if it's not something of interest, and then you can at least say you gave it the ol' college try. I know it's on the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die list, but I think it more appropriately belongs on the non-existent 1,001 Books to Start to Read Before You Realize It Makes You Want to Die list. :)

message 24: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Heh.

message 25: by Amy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amy I'm living with Infinite Jest right now. It glares at me from whatever table I leave it on, annoyed I'm not glued to my seat, reading furiously. It's been months now, I've abandoned it a few times but it always calls me back. Today might be one of those days. If it is, I blame your review for making me do it. In the nicest, most polite of ways, of course.

message 26: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Hah, thanks, Amy! I hope you do go back to it, and eventually finish it. It likes to glare, yes, but it's such an incredible thousand+ pages. :)

Christopher El wrote: "It seems this is the sort of book that people either love or hate - there's very little middle-ground on this one."

I fall into the camp of loved and hated it... and I think people are crazy if they can read IJ and not love at least some of it and hate at least some of it. I don't believe the people who say they enjoyed every word. I think you're completely right that (at least at times) this feels like vegetables your mom forces you to eat, that you're glad later she did. But it's part of Wallace's schtick that you don't have to be entertained all of the time, right?

message 28: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El I will say I have a better appreciation of this now. I finished it in November 2010, and looking back I like it better than I did when I first read it. If that makes sense.

Jennifer D OMHELL!!! i am cracking up so hard right now because i just posted a rocky photo w/ link to the triumphant run/theme song...then see your review. HAHAHA!! i totally forgot you did this. :/ sorry!!!

message 30: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Hah! Great minds think alike. :) and really, is there a more apt feeling after finishing this behemoth? I think Rocky sums it up so well. :)

message 31: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex BTW El, when I wrote my review of Infinite Jest I was quietly, anxiously thinking about yours. This is pretty much a high-water mark in terms of drunken book reviews posted on the internet, and I felt enormous pressure to...well, not to match it, but to be drunk. Which I totally accomplished, so fuck yeah! But I just re-read yours and...man, it's so good. You are an artist, amigo.

message 32: by El (new) - rated it 4 stars

El Wow, thanks, Alex! This was certainly one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories. I only remember writing parts of this review.

message 33: by Julia (new) - added it

Julia I've been kicking around the idea of reading this book, and, while I'm not much closer to deciding to read it or not, I thouroughly enjoyed reading this review. I felt much the same way after slogging my way through "The Faerie Queen" when I first started college.

message 34: by Meg (new)

Meg Thanks for the belly laugh - I loved your review and can only imagine I would love it more with a glass of wine!

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