Matt Evans's Reviews > Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

Elegant Complexity by Greg Carlisle
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Sep 21, 08


Great companion to "Infinite Jest" -- really helps one get a handle on the scope, themes and layout of the book. Of course, given that DFW hanged himself almost exactly a week ago today, I'm feeling a little subdued/depressed on all matters DFW.

Infinite Jest, which I read last year, is for me one of those "life-changing" books. Elegant Complexity helps elucidate the book's goings-on, most of which registered for me on an emotional level as opposed to intellectual-. IJ is about a tennis academy, drug-rehab house, multi-international terrorist cabal known as the "A.F.R." (an acronym of the French words for "Wheelchair Assassins"), the mass corporate subsidization of western-calender time (following the collapse of network television), avant-garde film theory, societal waste disposal, and hyper-sized, feral babies who roam certain parts of this land, to name its (i.e., IJ's) central themes.

More importantly, IJ is hauntingly human. That's really the service Elegant Complexity performs best, in giving the reader a guide to the utterly astounding interdependencies in the story.

"Infinite Jest" is divided into "chapters marked by 28 centered, shadowed circles [they appear to be phases of the moon] that appear in the main text of the novel (pp. 3-981). Another centered, shadowed circle is placed before the notes and errata (pp. 983-1079).....Within each chapter of the novel, a triple line-space designates division of the text into "subchapters" or "sections," of which there are 192, frequently introduced by a heading." ("Elegant Complexity," pg 17)

To make matters more confusing, "Infinite Jest," which was published in 1996, purports to take place in a future where time isn't kept numerically but is instead "sponsored" by a corporation that pays to have its name serve as the marker for that year. Thus, Chapter One opens in "Year of Glad" (yes, that "Glad" corp, the "flaccid receptacle" company whose shill, Tom Bosley, was the same actor who Dad on "Happy Days" [Get it? Glad = Happy Days? Who said corporate ad people don't have a sense of humor?]), but most of the novel's action takes place in November of "Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment."

There is also Year of the Whopper (2002), Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar (2004), Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken (2005), and I could go on but I won't.

Let me just say that "Elegant Complexity" did a fine job of helping this reader organize the hilarious and hilariously sad scenes of "Infinite Jest," and now that of its author, too (I'm very sad to report), into something like a story, with a beginning, a middle and (now) an end.
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