Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Infinite Jest

Rate this book
A gargantuan, mind-altering tragi-comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America.

Set in an addicts' halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, Infinite Jest explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are.

Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human—and one of those rare books that renew the idea of what a novel can do.

1088 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 1996

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

David Foster Wallace

118 books10.8k followers
David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything: novels, journalism, vacation. His life was an information hunt, collecting hows and whys. "I received 500,000 discrete bits of information today," he once said, "of which maybe 25 are important. My job is to make some sense of it." He wanted to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live." Readers curled up in the nooks and clearings of his style: his comedy, his brilliance, his humaneness.

His life was a map that ends at the wrong destination. Wallace was an A student through high school, he played football, he played tennis, he wrote a philosophy thesis and a novel before he graduated from Amherst, he went to writing school, published the novel, made a city of squalling, bruising, kneecapping editors and writers fall moony-eyed in love with him. He published a thousand-page novel, received the only award you get in the nation for being a genius, wrote essays providing the best feel anywhere of what it means to be alive in the contemporary world, accepted a special chair at California's Pomona College to teach writing, married, published another book and, last month [Sept. 2008], hanged himself at age 46.

-excerpt from The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky in Rolling Stone Magazine October 30, 2008.

Among Wallace's honors were a Whiting Writers Award (1987), a Lannan Literary Award (1996), a Paris Review Aga Khan Prize for Fiction (1997), a National Magazine Award (2001), three O. Henry Awards (1988, 1999, 2002), and a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

More:
http://www.thehowlingfantods.com/dfw

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
50,175 (58%)
4 stars
19,288 (22%)
3 stars
8,597 (10%)
2 stars
4,291 (4%)
1 star
3,580 (4%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,373 reviews
Profile Image for Warwick.
809 reviews14.4k followers
August 26, 2022
USHER: Goodreads court is now in session, the Honourable Judge Chandler presiding. All rise.

JUDGE: Mr Wise, you appear before the court today on the charge of failing to adore Infinite Jest, an act in gross and flagrant violation of basic Goodreads standards of decency. How do you plead?

WARWICK: Well...I mean presumably this kind of thing is all subjective opinion, so—

PROSECUTOR: Let the record show that the defendant utterly fails to deny his foul sin.

WARWICK: Hang on—

JUDGE: So noted. If found guilty, the maximum sentence I can hand down is...DEATH.

GOODREADS MEMBERS (from gallery): Hooray! Kill him! Burn the heretic!

WARWICK: Whoa, wait a minute there, don’t you have to assign me some kind of lawyer or something, so I can defend myself? Like in Perry Mason?

PROSECUTOR: Your honour, in view of the gravity of his crimes, we believe the defendant should be compelled to represent himself.

JUDGE: I agree. Do you have any evidence to present in your defence, worm?

WARWICK: I’m glad you asked, m’lud, and thank you for showing such admirable neutrality.

VOICES FROM CROWD: Get on with it, scum!

WARWICK: All right! Well, to be completely honest, my heart began to sink from the very first page. This was my first exposure to Wallace’s fiction, so I was paying quite close attention to the opening paragraphs to try and soak up this style that so many people have fallen in love with. Defence Exhibit A – the opening:

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair [...]. My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X.


WARWICK. I submit I was justified in feeling immediate concern that the prose is awkward, unlovely, and try-hard, with outbreaks of horrendous juvenile alliteration.

PROSECUTOR: Objection! The opening section is clearly narrated by a precocious child genius, making the tone entirely appropriate.

JUDGE: Sustained.

WARWICK: That’s true. And I was definitely willing to go along with that. The problem is that as the book goes on, you start to realise that basically all his narrators sound pretty much the same – they’re all variants on the same depressive, overeducated outsider, speaking in these jagged, straining, uncomfortable sentences. On the few occasions when he attempts social dialects beyond his own – including a few passages of extremely ill-advised colloquial Ebonics – it sounds more like a grotesque parody than any serious attempt at a socially inclusive writing style. Besides, is it really an excuse for a writer to say ‘My characters all happen to talk like malfunctioning robots, so you’re just going to have to put up with it’?

PROSECUTOR: ‘Overeducated’? Really? That may apply to the Incandenza family, but it’s hardly something you could accuse the residents of Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center of. Isn’t it, in fact, the case that Wallace’s daring new amalgam of contemporary patois and technical jargon simply went over your head?

WARWICK: Objection. Beyond the scope.

JUDGE: How is that beyond the scope?

WARWICK: I don’t know, it’s just one of those things they always say on The Good Wife.

JUDGE: Overruled. Answer the question.

WARWICK: All right, I don’t think it’s going over my head, no. The writing style is certainly innovative, but mainly in the sense that he sounds stilted and infelicitous in ways that no one has come up with before. His pile-ups of noun-phrases are particularly awkward, the nouns’ plurals’ genitives’ apostrophes so aggressively correct that they actually manage to look wrong. I hate the sloppy attempt in general to use exaggerated colloquialisms as a deliberate style – this habit he has of rambling vaguely around a topic for several paragraphs in the hope that one of his phrases will hit home. I like writers who craft and refine their thoughts before typing them out, not during. Overall I just felt there was a horrible uncertainty of tone, the narrative voice channel-hopping compulsively from slangy to highly mannered to jargonistic, often within the same sentence. It doesn’t cohere, but more to the point it doesn’t feel like DFW is in any control.

PROSECUTOR: Does it not occur to you that this might be done for deliberate effect? Or were you perhaps just put off by all the long words? (laughter from the jury)

WARWICK: Well...I’m reasonably sure it’s not that. I love complicated books with gigantic, exuberant vocabularies. It’s just that here, because of the general sense of bloated free-fall, it all just seems so purposeless, so gratuitous. To me he comes across less as an artist with a fat vocabulary than a hack with a fat thesaurus.

(Woman in gallery faints)

MAN IN GALLERY: You monster!

WARWICK: Defence Exhibit B, m’lud – a description of a character’s smile, which is said to be ‘empty of all affect’:

as if someone had contracted her circumorals with a thigmotactic electrode.


PROSECUTOR: Of course, one of those smiles. I can picture it perfectly.

WARWICK: You bloody can’t! It’s complete bollocks! ‘Circumoral’ isn’t even a noun, is it? And a lot of the time this kind of thing is stretched into full paragraphs – have a look at this single sentence, Exhibit C, which is in no way unrepresentative:

And as InterLace’s eventual outright purchase of the Networks’ production talent and facilities, of two major home-computer conglomerates, of the cutting-edge Foxx 2100 CD-ROM licenses of Aapps Inc., of RCA’s D.S.S. orbiters and hardware-patents, and of the digital-compatible patents to the still-needing-to-come-down-in-price-a-little technology of HDTV’s visually enhanced color monitor with microprocessed circuitry and 2(√area)! more lines of optical resolution – as these acquisitions allowed Noreen Lace-Forché’s cartridge-dissemination network to achieve vertical integration and economies of scale, viewers’ pulse-reception- and cartridge-fees went down markedly; and then the further increased revenues from consequent increases in order- and rental-volume were plowed presciently back into more fiber-optic-InterGrid-cable-laying, into outright purchase of three of the five Baby Bells InterNet’d started with, into extremely attractive rebate-offers on special new InterLace-designed R.I.S.C.-grade High-Def-screen PCs with mimetic-resolution cartridge-view motherboards (recognizably renamed by Veals’s boys in Recognition ‘Teleputers’ or ‘TPs’), into fiber-only modems, and, of course, into exrtemely high-quality entertainments that viewers would freely desire to choose even more.


WARWICK: This passage also contains three endnotes, which I will not go into for the sake of all our sanity. And don’t even get me started on Wallace’s Latin, which he persistently misunderstands. One footnote reads ‘Q.v. note 304 sub’, which is borderline illiterate – ‘q.v.’ is used after the thing you want to reference, and ‘sub’ is a preposition, not an adverb. What he apparently means is ‘Cf. note 304 infra.’ I couldn’t normally care less about this sort of thing, except that in this book it coexists with a laboured subplot about militant ‘prescriptive grammarians’, for whom DFW clearly has much misguided sympathy.

PROSECUTOR: Your honour, surely it’s now clear that the defendant is trying to build a case based on trivial inconsequentialities of personal style.

WARWICK: I know it seems like nit-picking, but the thing is these little mis-steps here and there all contribute to a general sense that you are not in safe hands. It’s like his proliferation of initialisms – why are E.T.A. and A.F.R. and U.S.A. written with dots but MDMA and WETA and AA without them? There’s no answer except general inconsistency, which fans will no doubt tell me is intentional but which is no less annoying for that. The same goes for Wallace’s pseudo-encyclopaedic knowledge base. Hal Incandenza is supposed to be an etymology expert who grew up memorising the OED. But every time we see this put into practice, it’s hopelessly wrong. E.g.: “There are, by the O.E.D. VI’s count, nineteen nonarchaic synonyms for unresponsive” – which makes no sense, because OED 3 won’t be completed for another 25 years or so so there’s no chance of getting to “VI” by the near-future of the novel’s setting; and anyway the OED doesn’t even list synonyms because it’s a dictionary, not a thesaurus. He traces the word anonymous back to Greek but the Greek is horribly misspelled; he traces acceptance back to “14th-century langue-d’oc French” but this phrase is both oxymoronic and flat-out wrong. Where is the research here? All through the book there is a profound feeling that David Foster Wallace did not really understand the things he was looking up in order to seem clever.

PROSECUTOR: Need we remind you that this is a work of fiction and not an academic thesis?

WARWICK: Again, it’s about confidence in your author. Mine quickly evaporated. I’m concentrating on language stuff only because it’s an area where I have an admittedly very dilettantish but somewhat active interest. People who know more about these things than me tell me his maths is equally dodgy. Now contrast all this with a writer like Nabokov or Pynchon, to whom Wallace is sometimes cavalierly compared. When I read Pynchon I can spend hours chasing up throwaway references to some obscure language, some astronomical phenomenon, a paragraph of Argentine politics or an obsolete scientific theory – it’s part of the fun of these big encyclopedic books that you can research all the related knowledge that lies just outside the margins. The references hold up and they enrich the reading experience. When I try and do the same thing with DFW, I always seem to come away with the conviction that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about.

PROSECUTOR (with heavy sarcasm): How unfortunate that so many people overlooked this and mistakenly found his writing moving and powerful.

WARWICK: Oh come on, don’t be like that. I am delighted that some people love his style, it’s just not for me. I totally admit that this is personal preference. I, personally, like writers who craft beautiful sentences. In my opinion, Wallace is just not very good at the level of the sentence, or even of the paragraph. But he can be great over longer distances – at the level of the chapter or long passage. There are several extended sequences of Infinite Jest that have a kind of cumulative power and excitement to them that I admired very much indeed. They were just padded out with far too many passages of inexcusable tedium.

VOICES FROM CROWD: Boo! Hanging’s too good for him!

JUDGE (banging gavel): Order! Order! (to the prosecution) Cross-examination?

PROSECUTOR: Extremely cross, your honour!

JUDGE: No, I mean do you want to cross-examine the witness.

PROSECUTOR: Oh. Yes! Or rather – (consulting papers) prosecution chooses to call a new witness, your honour – the defendant’s wife.

WARWICK: What?! You can’t—

Enter HANNAH, looking emotional.

PROSECUTOR: You are the defendant’s wife, are you not?

HANNAH (biting lip): I am.

PROSECUTOR: And isn’t it the case, ma’am, that on more than one occasion over the past few weeks, you witnessed the defendant audibly chuckling over what he was reading?

HANNAH: I...I might have done.

PROSECUTOR: Moreover on several occasions did you not see him underlining passages he thought particularly admirable?

HANNAH (fighting back emotion): I...yes. Yes, I did.

PROSECUTOR: And is it not true that those passages included, but were not limited to, the description of Poor Tony Krause having a seizure; the fight outside Ennet House; and Don Gately’s fever-dream sequences?

HANNAH (bursting into tears): It’s true! He said one of them was the...the best thing he’d read all year. He recited bits of it out to me in bed and everything.

PROSECUTOR: And can you see the man who said these things anywhere in this courtroom?

HANNAH (pointing at defendant): There! That’s him! That’s the man! Gaargh!

PROSECUTOR: No further questions, your honour.

HANNAH is led out in tears.

WARWICK: I – what?! This is ridiculous! Objection!

JUDGE: What is the nature of your objection?

WARWICK: The nature of it? Um...what’s that one about badgers, again?

Pause.

JUDGE: …Badgering the witness?

WARWICK: That’s it! He was badgering her! She just got totally badgered!

JUDGE: Overruled.

WARWICK: Look, this is an eleven-hundred-page book. If a monkey throws a thousand darts at a dartboard, he’s going to score a couple of bullseyes. He’s also probably going to hit you in the eye a few times. And in the context of this metaphor, a monkey-inflicted dart-wound to the face can be taken as the equivalent of, say, an unforgivably tedious description of a geopolitical tennis game.

PROSECUTOR: The point remains, however, that you found yourself moved by parts of this book, didn’t you? Affected by the characters’ story?

WARWICK: Sure. Some characters worked better than others. I thought Don Gately in particular was a wonderful creation and I only wish he’d been in a tighter and better-controlled novel.

PROSECUTOR: You were moved, gripped, excited – even aroused at times.

WARWICK: Well, I wouldn’t go that far.

PROSECUTOR: Oh really? Isn’t it the case that, on one occasion last week, you found your mind, in an idle moment of alone time, returning to a certain cheerleader-based episode of mass knickerlessness...?

WARWICK (leaping out of seat): Ob-jection, your honour!! Surely this line of questioning can’t be appropriate!

JUDGE: Oh...go on then, sustained. I really don’t want to hear about it.

Sighs of relief from public gallery.

WARWICK: Although, thinking about it, the query does serve to highlight a certain strain of misogyny that bothered me about the book – where the narrator gives Avril Incandenza extra value by repeatedly telling us that she is particularly gorgeous ‘for a woman her age’, while the nearest thing we have to a female lead is known as ‘PGOAT’ – sorry, ‘P.G.O.A.T.’ – the ‘Prettiest Girl Of All Time’ – and is also defined by her physical attractiveness, or the possible marring thereof.

PROSECUTOR (rolling his eyes at jury): Oh that’s right, play the sexism card now. And I suppose you were equally unmoved by the gripping descriptions of social deprivation – an insight into a world that doubtless a middle-class bourgeois reader like you couldn’t hope to evaluate?

WARWICK: First of all, you should probably be careful what you assume about my background. Second of all, yes some of it worked really well. But again, there is a lack of authorial control. A lot of the violence and stories of drugged-out atrocities start off being genuinely disturbing, but end up going so far that they take on a Grand-Guignol aspect and become too ludicrous to take seriously. When one woman at an addiction meeting mentions her father’s late-night visits to the bedroom of her severely disabled sister, it’s very creepy and upsetting. But Wallace can’t stop himself going on to give us three full, unnecessary pages of detailed “incestuous diddling” (his phrase) which turns the whole thing from disturbing into cartoonish and silly.

PROSECUTOR: So there’s something ‘silly’ about sexual abuse, is there?

WARWICK: I’ll ignore that. Look, I agree that there were parts of this book that I enjoyed very much, of course there were. But I would draw your attention to the fact that during these moments of narrative brilliance, the footnotes and speech tics and other po-mo devices suddenly dry up: he doesn’t need them. This leads me to conclude that they really serve no purpose except to distract from the turgid flabbiness of other sections of the novel. Whose plot, by the way, goes absolutely nowhere – nothing is resolved and no questions are answered.

PROSECUTOR: Again, we would argue that this is deliberate, your honour – forcing the reader back to the text so that the book itself becomes an ‘infinite’ form of Entertainment like the one it describes.

WARWICK: Oh come on. This argument stretches ‘generosity to the author’ beyond the bounds of credibility.

PROSECUTOR: And yet somehow, reviewers who are actually paid to review books – unlike you – have described this novel as ‘profound’ and ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘brilliant and witty’ – refer to prosecution exhibits A through W.

WARWICK: Let’s not forget the London Review of Books review, Defence Exhibit D – and I quote:

[I]t is, in a word, terrible.... I would, in fact, go so far as to say that Infinite Jest is one of the very few novels for which the phrase ‘not worth the paper it’s written on’ has real meaning in at least an ecological sense.


Shouts of anger from public gallery.

JUDGE: You disgust me. Are we ready for sentencing?

WARWICK: Wait! Wait! I have one more witness to call!

JUDGE: Very well. Who?

WARWICK: I call... (dramatic pause) … David Foster Wallace!

[For reasons of space, the trial concludes here.]
Profile Image for karen.
3,968 reviews170k followers
June 14, 2018
this book...

i think it is time to write a proper review for this book, as it is one of my all-time favorites and deserves way more than two words. back when i was a junior in college, i was at the nyu bookstore, trying to sell back some textbooks before going away for winter break. the person in line in front of me was trying to sell back infinite jest (where was i when this class was being offered?? ) and of course, they weren't taking it back because nyu is a stingy fucking school. she turned around to me and said "you want this??" and i said "yes,"cuz i don't say no to free, and she said "merry christmas,"and kinda just thrust it at me. and it was the best present i ever got. a true christmas miracle. i was on my way to see my then-boyfriend in italy for the start of a european jaunt, and i missed out on a lot of european cities because i could not put this book down. i read it on planes and trains and a gondola, in restaurants and bars, by canals and in a cafe on top of the alps. fuck cathedrals, i had this book. i am a truly bad traveler, but i am a committed reader. as soon as i finished the book, i started right over. and since then i have read it a total of seven times. it is the most glorious collection of words that has ever been published. it is everything - it is funny and sad and creepy and disturbing and completely absorbing and brilliant. and he was just a gem of a man. the first time i got to meet him, i dropped this book in front of him - by now all tattered and smooshed, and he seem surprised that "someone has actually read their copy." and then i gave him a card that had been a thank you card, but i crossed out "thank" and wrote "fuck" in its place and said "fuck you for writing the great american novel before i got the chance to." this is the kind of thing i think is charming because i am deeply flawed. but it worked, and he called me and it was really nice - he was a great man who was truly kind and courteous to his fans. i ended up getting a proper thank you card from him because he is more traditionally charming. and now i am sad just thinking about this. so the review ends here because it has served its cathartic purpose for me and i guess if anyone is reading this you just got a free glimpse into the softer side of karen. it happens.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Herbie.
198 reviews69 followers
Read
January 10, 2008
It's my habit to write on the inside sleeve of a book the words from the text that I can't define or don't understand. Here is the resulting list from the back inside sleeve of Infinite Jest:

apocopes
bolections
reglets
dipsomania
quincunx
varicoceles
simpatico
aleatory
experialist
agnate
pedalferrous
fulvous
louvered
sangfroid
gibbons
apercu
eidetic
murated
tumescent
recidivism
erumpent
rutilant
hale
purled
nacelle
sulcus
imprecated
tumbrel
comportment
scopophobic
asperity
rapacious
afflatus
bathetic
brachiform
strabismic
ascapartic
avuncular
adit
factota
chuffing
neuralgiac
tumid
eustacian
xerophagy
gynecopia
suborning
solecistic
lissome
ascapartic
anapestic
bradyauxetic
lordosis
corticate
mucronate
codicil
lume
nacreous
puerile
thanatoptic
spansules
hasp
prognathous
nonuremic
apothegm
apicals
selvaged
caparison
cunctations
aphasiac
etiology
prolix
chyme
amanuentic
falcate
jejune
catastatic
eschatology
declivity
mafficking
cuirass
vig
miasma
cordite
cirrhotic
reveille
tektitic
crepuscular
threnody
emery
mysticetously
anechoic
anorak
erumpent (again - apparently I didn't remember it from the first time)
aphasiac
reseau
diverticulitis
cathexis
skirling
dun
exaculates
aphasia
anodized
picayune
caprolaliac
verdigrised
coruscant
anaclitic
catexic
sybaritically
restenotic
malentendu
peripatetic
lordotic
rictal
thanatopic
olla podida
inguinal
sudoriferous
swart
emetic
parotitic
alacrity
sinciput
kyphotic
ciquatoxic

I didn't realize until later in the book that DFW often makes up words.

I will post a full review at my blog, meekadjustments.blogspot.com.
Profile Image for Joshua Nomen-Mutatio.
333 reviews871 followers
July 24, 2016
While I don't actually have A Favorite Book (or Song, or Album, or Band, or Film, or Painting, or Sexual Position, or any other category of things that contain more than one equally great contender) Infinite Jest is the first book that immediately comes to mind when the idea of My Favorite Book arises.

As I've already alluded to and partially instantiated in a few scattered places around GoodReads, I feel that I read this book at the right time. The contingent particulars which culminated as the temporal whole that was My Life converged with my reading of this book rather beautifully.

First of all, I had zero knowledge of the book and author before and throughout my reading. I came upon it as a babe in the woods in these regards. I was completely unaware of its popular and largely positive critical reception seven years prior in 1996. For this I am grateful. It's all too easy to hop on the backlash bandwagon when "critical darlings" and "it-people" of the moment emerge on your radar. I take great pains to try to avoid this kind of thing, but it's not easy.

I also was juggling a variety of ongoing, confused trains of thought about the basic subjects that the book focuses on—to boil them down as far as relevantly and reasonably possible: Addiction, Entertainment, and Western Culture, specifically that of the modern US of A. I was also deep in the trenches of "stomach-level sadness."{1}
____________________________________________

{1} What were you intending to do when you started this book?

I wanted to do something sad. I'd done some funny stuff and some heavy, intellectual stuff, but I'd never done anything sad. And I wanted it not to have a single main character. The other banality would be: I wanted to do something real American, about what it's like to live in America around the millennium.

And what is that like?

There's something particularly sad about it, something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it's unique to our generation I really don't know. (Interview)
____________________________________________

I had borrowed the copy that I read the first time around from my best friend at the time, who I'd been close with since early childhood. I'd been confiding some existential angst to him about depression and the exacerbation of said depression with miscellaneous self-medicating behavioral patterns. He responded by solemnly handing me a thick book wrapped in the image of white cumulus clouds imposed upon a bright blue sky.

Cut to the summer of 2004: I'd just finished my first year of real (not community) college and was working on the buildings and grounds crew around the campus in exchange for eight dollars an hour and a free room. I spent the days doing all manner of maintenance and grunt work and my nights poring over this book and dramatically rediscovered the joys of falling head first into a fictional world and the redemptive value of communing with the consciousness of another person through reading and writing. I also found another artist to feel a deep kinship with and solely through the type of communion that is mediated by pulped trees and ink. Wallace was rather quickly inducted into the ever-expanding (and occasionally contracting) roster that is my pantheon of personal heroes, and as such also rapidly ascended through the ranks to sit somewhere vaguely near the zenith point (again, the trouble with ranking).

I was hooked in a big way by the time I hit upon the scene describing the torturously self-conscious, self-doubting thoughts of a cannabis addict named Ken Erdedy. This was well before the hundredth page mark. It perfectly captured the mind of a hyper-analytic depressive and compulsive THC ingestor. From the sorrowfully resigned glee (that all minutely self-aware addicts feel at various points along the path of Addiction) of planning a two week long "marijuana vacation"{2} to the descriptions of how depressing having sex with someone would be in such an excessively stoned and self-loathing state.{3}
____________________________________________

{2} Consisting mainly of drawing the blinds, shutting off the phone, being perpetually intoxicated with pot smoke, watching films, vigorously masturbating, and loads of fractally expanding and contracting shame and despair lurking beneath it all and frequently bursting through the surface for greedy gulps of oxygen and one-on-one time with the vacationer’s psyche. This planning is all being done in the context of desperately attempting to find a way to finally pluck the compulsive behavior (getting high) from his life—excessive use of the demonized substance is rationalized as the savior, the one thing that will finally make him disgusted enough to quit forever.

{3} "He had never once had actual intercourse on marijuana. Frankly, the idea repelled him. Two dry mouths bumping at each other, trying to kiss, his self-conscious thoughts twisting around on themselves like a snake on a stick while he bucked and snorted dryly above her, his swollen eyes red and his face sagging so that its slack folds maybe touch, limply, the folds of her own loose sagging face as it sloshed back and forth on his pillow, its mouth working dryly." (pp. 22-23)
____________________________________________

There's simply too much—too many amazing scenes and characters—to even begin the process of surgically removing them, holding them up to the light of the review, and rendering them vague enough to maintain some requisite mystery and yet contextualized enough to give each pinned down specimen some mouth-watering OOMPF! for the Dear Reader. It simply cannot be done. (People can cast their gaze in the direction of the myriad collegiate dissertations already written about this book and/or a book called Elegant Complexity if they want in-depth analysis.) Luckily, many of the people I know who will read this review have already read the novel.

So there's a terrible type of rumor that roams around about this book, and Wallace more generally, and these sentiments can be rounded up and boiled down to "It's all PoMo trickery and no heart." Wrong. So very, very wrong. I’ve always seen this book as the emergent property/locus of a web-like arrangement of profoundly emotionally compelling portraits of people, places and things. This is its core, its essence, its fundamental organizing principle. Yes, there are some gags, like footnotes and some funny names, but what the naysayers seem to overlook are the hundreds of seismically moving descriptions of human struggles and triumphs; from the head-clutchingly/jaw-gapingly dramatic to the very recognizably monotonous (which can be very edifying, this process of recognition); from the painfully, inherently private and singular to the monumentally universal and public.

Wallace's desire to write a sorrowful book is fully realized here. I think it’s safe to say that this a tragedy—in the Shakespearean{4} sense of the term—and that it, like the greatest tragedies, does not simply pummel you with darkness but pokes holes of humor and joy through the opaque veil to allow for some breathing room. Indeed, there are some extremely funny things going on in this book and it’s mostly a darker shade of humor that is employing them. Not at all like putting a clown nose on a prisoner being executed or anything—DFW is much more naturally funny than that—but a beautiful balance of the genuinely sad, the genuinely funny and the instances of absurdity where both overlap.
____________________________________________

{4} FYI: The title comes from a line in Hamlet, "Alas, poor Yorick!—I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy."
____________________________________________

I also think of this book as mostly embodying a style of realism, though there are occasionally some rather extraordinary things taking place as well. What I'm trying to stress is that it’s not some non-stop ride of wacky gimmicks and metafiction (which is strangely—and mistakenly—the impression some blurbs give of this book). Beneath the hilarious absurdity of things like business corporations annually purchasing the names of the year (which is a brilliant gag, by the way) there is a massive foundation of stark realism and humanism perched stoically beneath, and it's all just slightly, artfully tweaked in ways that makes you wonder how this or that instance of absurdity is really much different from the absurdity faced in your slice of the non-fictional world that you inhabit. I’ll go ahead and just state it plainly: referring to our units of measurement, like our neat bundles of 365 days, as things like "Year of the Adult Depends Undergarment" or "Year of the Trial-Sized Dove Bar" is less insane than the very real concept of corporate personhood.

As far as self-referentiality and the use of metafictional techniques are concerned, I simply see none of it. Nowhere are we "cleverly" "reminded" that we're reading a book—at least not explicitly. Nowhere is that little wink and nudge of "This is a book/I am an author writing a book" ever inserted into the prose. This was something Wallace very consciously avoided along with a species of irony that he’s referred to as being representative of "the song of a bird who’s come to love its cage."

I've discussed this with Bram before and he makes some mention of DFW’s self-consciousness seeping through the pages of Infinite Jest in his wonderful, if slightly less religiously devoted review. Bram’s point seems to be more so that Wallace’s voice throughout the novel is very much his voice (the same type of charge gets launched at DeLillo, as I briefly covered elsewhere). This is indisputable. The thing is this: it doesn’t bother me in the least because, as Bram writes on the subject of DFW’s voice, "Whatever his reason for writing this way, it works because this voice is such a joy to read." Amen, brother Bram.

Indeed, I found it to be such a joy that I didn’t even notice this fact about the prose-style in either my first or second reading. I don’t mind that the thoughts of a physically deformed and mentally challenged teenager are narrated with the same voice as the thoughts of a clinically depressed thirtysomething woman, or a wheelchair-bound Québécoise assassin, or the prettiest (veiled) girl of all time, or an alcoholic experimental filmmaker and his childhood self, et cetera.

The book is written from a completely third-person perspective, too. This is an important fact to note. Had Wallace tried to cram his voice into first-person perspectives of the characters it would’ve been an unpublishable disaster. But he didn’t, it wasn't, so let's get over it and just come to grips with what it means to write from the third-person perspective. In sum, this book is proof positive, by my lights, that characters don’t have to take on wildly different tones of voice and manners of thought and speech in order to be rendered deeply sympathetic and compelling.

For most of the book the prose is so pitch-perfect and the on-page action so arresting that I simply didn’t make a note of this just-now-mentioned technical stuff about perspective, tonal-shifts, and so on. There are some relative lulls, like some of the extended descriptions of tennis matches, but on the vastly larger slice of the pie chart the book remains extremely entertaining, thought-provoking, tear-duct-lubing, belly-tickling, soul-massaging, etc. The scenes at Ennett Recovery House and the AA meetings are flawless and much of it struck me quite strongly as being amazingly insightful and emotionally jarring. Upon my second reading of the novel I discovered where the cover image of the sky might possibly have come from:

"You are at a fork in the road that Boston AA calls your Bottom, though the term is misleading, because everybody here agrees it’s more like someplace very high and unsupported: you’re on the edge of something tall and leaning way out forward...." (p. 347)

Everything involving the Incandenza family is superb. Same with Joelle Van Dyne (aka Madame Psychosis, aka P.G.O.A.T {Prettiest Girl of All Time}). Same with Gately. Same with the entire conceptual-metaphorical apparatus behind the notorious film mostly known as "The Entertainment" (officially titled Infinite Jest) as well as the actual socio-political entanglements that surround it. Same with the brilliant conversational back 'n' forths between Marathe and Steeply, where some of the greatest insights into the three major themes of the novel occur. Same with Wallace's sheer talent with language, including the coining of highly memorable terms and idioms. There are now two phrases I use around fellow fans of this book when the moment is appropriate: "the howling fantods" (in reference to feelings of extreme nervousness and high-strung emotional strain) and "to eliminate one's map" (in reference to suicide). I could gush on and on and on and on...

This all just makes me want to settle into Round Three right this very second and read it all over again—and I just might. Infinite Jest has the quality of slowly unfurling in your memory, which makes sense considering the sheer length, the descriptive depth, and the broad spectrum of content. Each re-exposed detail symbiotically attaches itself into the larger, self-organizing, cumulative memory of how fucking amazing the book was and indeed still is.

When I met the tome's final sentence and finished it off I was left with an amazing set of feelings that's very difficult to describe satisfactorily. Basically, I felt a deep abiding sadness at the fact that it was now finished. I found myself somewhat frantically flipping between the final page and the "Notes & Errata" section, irrationally seeking more words—I may as well have been tearing the room apart looking for meth money. I felt a physiological craving confined and radiating within. I wanted more! More entertainment! More communion. More redemption. More identification. And then as I sat stunned and staring at the final paragraph it hit me: David Foster Wallace wanted the reader to feel this way.{5}
____________________________________________

{5} On some level all writers and artists and anyone trying to "sell" anything (ideas, feelings, books, etc) to other people all want those people to keep coming back for more, but there was more than that standard set of intentions going on in Infinite Jest. He was trying to show people something about themselves, namely that sad, funny, and strange spectacle of continually seeking pleasure and relief.
____________________________________________

He wanted the reader to acknowledge Craving. He turned the mirror of the Ennett House upon the reader and captured their reflection and left them with things to think deeply about outside of the book. My eyes widened and my jaw literally dropped open and the word "Genius" popped into my head, scattering the cognitive noise and bringing me one more brief moment of Thoughtless Bliss.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,416 followers
April 22, 2022
Admittedly, Infinite Jest is a tough book. You start the book having no clue when it is happening and who the various characters are. There is stuff that happens in the opening pages that explains events at the end of the book, albeit over 1000 pages and hundreds of footnotes away. I'd say it is quite elliptical. That being said, it is an amazing piece of literature. I forced myself through the first 300 and then 400 pages and at about 500 pages I finally hit my stride and was able to follow through to 1071 (yes this was the British printing not the American one). I loved the characters and the high comedy that is here as well as all the wacky situations in the drug rehab centre and the tennis academy. The president reminded me a lot of the current American regime (I could almost see the Statue of Liberty carrying a Trump Tower logo across her forehead or maybe a Chick-Fil-A sign) and the text was occasionally of incredible beauty and insight.

Take this passage from the Marathe/Steeply dialog:
“Someone who had authority, or should have had authority and did not exercise authority. I do not know. But someone sometime let you forget how to choose, and what.Someone let your peoples forget it was the only thing of importance, choosing. So completely forgetting that when I say choose to you you make expressions with your face such as “Herrrrrre we are going.” Someone taught that temples are for fanatics only and took away the temples and promised there was no need for temples. And now there is no shelter. And no map for finding the shelter of a temple. And you all stumble about in the dark, this confusion of permissions.”

This is such a perceptive description of why Drumpf was elected. A vast swath of Americans are driven by short attention soans, knee-jerk reactionism based on their inability to choose and their reliance of "alternative facts." President J. Gently is eerily similar to Drumpf - the coming destruction of Standing Rock by the pipeline (from which Drumpf himself - oh, sorry his son - will profit), how is that different from the Concavity? DFW's book can be read as much of a warning againsy Drumpf as Roth's The Plot Against America or Lewis' It Can't Happen Here. And I digress...An important book for the 21st C! And oh, so relevant!

I talked for a few hours to fellow Goodreads reading addict Nocturnalux and tried to get her convinced that this should be on her reading list. It remains for me a landmark work requiring infinite patience to get the reveal of the infinite joke at the end.
Profile Image for Fabian.
935 reviews1,527 followers
August 16, 2020
Anybody who completes THE "Infinite Jest" automatically receives a medal! Really. Just read every single (fuh-cking!) word from beginning til the end, you get an award. & that's what THIS IS, basically. A badge of honor. Bragging rights. A Privilege. The experience which is so much like ogling the Mona Lisa live at the Louvre for the first time: you can already envision her in your mind. & you know what it is, even before you get to stand before it.

The literary equivalent of chasing the magic dragon. Just keeping at something--this being a very complex and cranial novel--like some zombie to get you absolutely nowhere. This is like a more insufferable Beckett in that at least Beckett's implaus-o-ramas have an ending. But here, get ready to get nowhere. Nowhere, not fast, but slowwwly. (Moments of "Eureka! I've found something concrete at last... Finally, a location upon which to hang"--it's all very brief [ha!] and ethereal to grasp. Like some interesting but fleeting aroma.) The main driving force for the reader is to traverse the plot like some intrepid trekker--here, that motivation is eradicated & what we are left with is one fat big juicy "?".

The premise? That we live in a systematic place where components are controlled (by family, substances, life). The back and forth between the school and the rehab embody a game of tennis (emblematic "system" used to symbolize coming-of-age as well as the myriad needlepoint philosophies that go with it). No patterns arise! Yet the reader has (always) his wants. That you don't matter in the enterprise is what ultimately spoils this experience for me. The writer has very consciously tried to build a sturdy monolithic castle from individual grains of dry sand. An impossible endeavor, but it must be witnessed. The things that stick out are the sordid details: the head in the microwave, the shot in the face; the molestation of little boys, of invalids; a hanging fetus.

If you say I.J. is the future of the novel, you definitely haven't read 1936's "Gone with the Wind." Almost a full century old, that tome really justifies its girth (like "Lonesome Dove" & "The Stand" do, like "Don Quixote" & "Les Miserables" eons ago). I understand the allure of this, really, I do, but HOW MANY DIFFERENT WAYS CAN YOU SAY THE EXACT SAME THING? Definitely not in 1088 pages! But maybe eighty-eight.

Bottom line: this novel really gave me a serious case of the "howling fantods."
Profile Image for David Beavers.
11 reviews15 followers
June 8, 2012
I've been waiting, panther-like, for the right combination of caffeine and personal gumption to strike, to attack writing about this, since it really is one of my favorite books ever-ever, and one of the most fascinating things I've ever read. I've read this book twice and I could care less what people say about it, because when I *do* care, I tend to grit my teeth over the ridiculous comments & reviews that tend to come up in discussing David Foster Wallace's work. People like to levy the criticism that the book is "sloppy" or "digressive". Really? You think? An 1100 page book with 200 pages of small-print footnotes might be a little digressive or indulgent or maddening? It might stray a wee bit into uncharted, dark-woods territory? Jeez.

There is, in art, what I like to call the "crazy project". Once you go to work on the Crazy Project -- C.P. for short -- you don't leave the Crazy Project. You don't FINISH the crazy project. You can -- when you are really involved in it, I mean really involved -- scarcely even talk about it; you may not even realize you're involved in it. The C.P. involves being given a hammer (the only real tool of the artist), a mouthful of nails, and being sent "over yonder hill" and told to do AS MUCH DAMAGE AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN with the hammer you have been given. When working on the C.P., the creative force is one in the same as the destructive force, and your hammer is a useful tool regardless of which way you are swinging it.

I think DFW is one of the most fascinating authors alive -- he's doing work with the English language in the tradition of Kathy Acker, Bill Burroughs, or James Joyce. The marketplace demands "novels" and so people oblige, but there is a difference between a "novel" and a BOOK, and I would consider a book to be more interesting -- if more difficult and less "composed"-- and Infinite Jest is definitely a BOOK, and shouldn't be treated as a "novel" in the same way, say, "Life of Pi" is a novel (and I do think Life of Pi is terrific, don't get me wrong). But, if you want immaculately written works of fiction by Wallace, check out his short stories -- especially the ones in Girl w/ Curious Hair -- because these conform more to what you would expect from traditional notions of "reading fiction". If you want a beautiful, wildly ambitious, insanely indulgent, uncompromising mind-bending skull-violating MESS, one that comprises an entire Victorian manor of the Crazy Project, then Infinite Jest may well be worth your while.

The book is, definitely, a mess, let's not mince words. It is also obsessively-compulsively mathematical in the way that DFW seems to enjoy; there is an order to the chaos, and it did take reading it a second time to pull out some of the exquisitely crafted crystalline plot strands he was working at. Linearity & coherence of disparate plot elements is not what the book is interested in, be warned.

But before I make the case of this being some academic project with no soul, let me say that reading this, I was genuinely surprised and moved by how deep & real the characters in it become. The characters in here are terribly tragic, in a real Shakespearian sense (the book's title is after all a reference to Hamlet), and their tapestry in this book's pages is as intimate and heartrending as it is vast; this book is a language project but one that remains absolutely invested in the lives of the people involved in that "project".

The book is about a lot of things: American culture & the nature of desire, fathers and sons, art, addiction, institutions, drugs, consciousness, film & the nature of narrative . . . too much to go into. More than anything, I think, the book is about addiction, and how our desires are moderated and mediated by culture, and how desire & addiction are entwined, and how Westerners approach these things.

Infinite Jest is wildly funny and, like I mentioned above, almost unexpectedly moving: there is a kind of veneer between the reader and the characters; they are guarded and stoic people, for the most part, and "getting to know" them can be as frustrating as trying to "get to know" someone in your own life who is guarded and careful with their emotions. But over the course of hundreds of pages you learn the inner-workings of IJ's huge cast, and their emotional motivations and subtleties begin to resonate with you in ways that dig so deep I think they're almost frightening.

This book is dense enough -- to say the least -- that I think you can get out of it whatever you are willing to put into it. Isn't this true of most good art? But the depth here is incredible. To say I'm "biased" and a bit blinded to criticisms about this book is hardly the point -- I think its a marvel, I think its a mess, I think it taught me what the difference is between a book & a novel, and why I think BOOKS are what the front-line artists working on the Crazy Project are really hammering out.

update/addendum: I wrote this when DFW was still alive. It pains me to even go back and read this review -- "one of the most fascinating authors alive". I can reliably drop the last word of that now. DFW's suicide still stings like no other artist for me. I do know I'm not alone there, a lot of people who admire his work feel it. We were robbed -- it's selfish, incredibly so, but so is suicide.

Objectively, I still think Girl With Curious Hair is probably the best place to start, but I didn't start there, I started here, and it worked out okay. Just know this is a glorious mess, be patient with it, the book wants to be your daddy, but you have to be its daddy, let it teach you as you guide it it -- it's a living thing, this book, all the more precious now.
Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,755 followers
August 6, 2014

Know what they say about novels such as Infinite Jest: Don’t seek Perfection or Pleasure but rather seek the Infinite Possibilities.

I have a lot to say about this book but before that there’s a little I don’t want to say about it. Here it is:

☽This book is never ending.

☽It bored me at times too.

☽Some of the end notes were annoying.

☽I read many other books when I was supposed to read this book.

☽Whenever somebody asked me what IJ was all about, I was unable to come up with a clear-cut answer.

☽I skipped few lines here and there.

☽I think those who haven’t read this book or won’t read it, would have more or less incomplete existence as a reader.

☽I think those who have read the whole book and still think it’s no good are..well…just normal I guess.

☽No reason is good enough for not reading this book.

☽In spite of best of my efforts my mind diverted to DFW’s suicide.

☽I had thoughts of trying marijuana (it’s not really a big deal in India).

☽After reading few reviews here, I got panic attacks due to their awesomeness.

☽This review went out of hand and got a ‘bit’ long, so oops.

☽I don’t want to say cheesy lines like:
-If IJ was a country, I’d applied for a permanent residency; or
-If IJ was a drug, I’d get high forever; or
-If IJ was a guy, I’d marry him; or
-I’m already missing reading it.

☽I laughed when I said to myself after finishing it, “let me get my thoughts in order.”

☽The good news is you can read IJ again and again. The bad news is, you Have to read it again.

Here’s what I want to say

An Unexamined Life

E.M. Forster said, “One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it.”

Though I’m sure he didn’t have a book like IJ in mind, but I agree with him to some extent. Reading a long book means devoting a substantial time of your life, a time which you value and there’s no way one would like to declare that he/she/it spent that time on something unworthy. But when the book is Infinite Jest, then it deserves every iota of praise bestowed upon it. Its reading experience is something like the author takes your hand, makes you sit in front of a mirror and whisper in your ear, “now see the magic” and lo, you’re sucked in by the mirror and the next moment you find yourself in a strange yet surprisingly familiar land and slowly the images, the scenery, the words starts unfolding themselves and you need to look out at each direction, else you’ll be lost. You need to examine a life, which was left unexamined for a long time.

Day of finishing Infinite Jest

Jan 25, 2013 at around 2200hrs, I finished reading this book, closed it and put it aside. I stared at it for a while, then logged on to goodreads, gave it 5 stars, put it under my favorites shelf and asked myself, “Well what was that all about?” There was no answer in response but just an echo of words:

to write something that stabs you in the heart. That pierces you, makes you think you're going to die.

Day of starting reading Infinite jest

There was a sudden knock on the door. I woke up with a start and reluctantly went to open the door. An adolescent boy promptly asked, "Do you want to get entertained?" "Huh.. what the .. ?" I slammed the door shut and went back to sleep. Few hours passed but again my sleep broke on hearing some loud cheering. I went out and much to my surprise there was a whole tennis court in front of me and two players were busy playing. There was a group of boys snorting coke sitting round the corner and on the opposite stands, some kind of class was going on. I recognized that it was Arthur Ashe stadium, but couldn’t place the players. I looked at the score board: Wal and Fed. Wal was apparently leading with 6-3, 7-6, 5-3. Somebody tapped on my shoulder. He was the same boy. This time he handed me a book. I took it and immediately lost my balance. The alarm of my cell phone went off at that precise moment and welcomed me back to reality. Once the feeling of vertigo subsided, I checked the date. December 1, 2012. I said to myself, Of course!

The days in between

Over the period of almost two months, I read IJ every day. Having read Girl with curious hair and A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again I experienced both fiction and non-fiction writing by Wallace and loved it. It proved to be a boon because if nothing else, the disjointed stories in IJ were something like short stories from Girl... (although a lot more developed and maturely handled) and the long ramblings on different topics reminded me of essays in a Supposedly fun…so Yes! Reading Wallace’s other works before attempting this book did help a lot more than I expected. There was something that made him work for me, which not only provided enjoyment but became a great source of knowledge and it won't be an exaggeration to say that I have found a book that shall remain with me both physically and emotionally throughout this modest and unexciting life of mine.

Infinite Jest is not a work of a genius. It’s the work of someone who was all set to change the definition of word genius as we know it. He created a world that was consistently dark, desolate and most of the times demented but also witty, ingenious and oh so funny. This magnum opus is incredibly challenging but at the same time surprisingly accessible. It won’t let the reader sit back, relax and enjoy it. It’s no beach read but want its readers to sit up and take notice about what is going on. You can’t afford to lose focus and track but the probability is that you’ll lose both anyway. It’s that kind of book, a literary equivalent of mobiusism, a never ending quest, a once in a lifetime experience. By expressing all this, I’m in no way glorifying its completion by me, but simply stating the facts. It’s not possible to overestimate this book.

Wallace took the most wretched situations and characters and created such amazing backdrops, that in spite of everything so seemingly hopeless, he would still be able to present you with a glimpse of hope. In face of lot of desperate moves, he would teach you a lesson or two in patience. With so many impossibilities going on one after the other, he would tell what all is possible if one try to do just one thing: Realize.

His prose is exuberant with less scope of comfort. He won’t surround you with the sea of beautiful flowing writing to make you feel that he has stated something profound but rather something relentless and contemporary that you’re in a position to relate in both subjective and objective way, no matter how insane that way is. You’ll lose count of neologism, solecism, colloquialism, malapropism, and many other –isms DFW employed within IJ, which not only proves fascinating but gives you an idea about the extent to which he allowed himself to experiment in order to say whatever he wanted to and you’ll see how effortless it all looks as if DFW was telling something that’s always been there and getting our attention by a simple psst-look-here expression. Dave Eggers in his wonderful foreword rightly stated: A Wallace reader gets the impression of being in a room with a very talkative and brilliant uncle or cousin, who, just when he’s about to push it too far, to try our patience with too much detail, has the good sense to throw in a good low-brow joke.He has employed an allegorical structure to this novel and develops it to an extraordinary proportion taking cues from many of his influences namely Joyce, Pynchon, Shakespeare and Dante to name a few.

I don’t want to indulge much into plot(s), but just a brief and my practice in brevity, if I’m allowed. IJ primarily takes place in futuristic USA circa 2009-10 in Boston city. The setting for majority of the narration is based at Enfield Tennis Academy (ETA) and Ennet House, a drug and alcohol recovery house, where majority of the interesting characters reside, situating nearby ETA. ETA was founded by James. O. Incandenza, an avant-garde film maker, whose wife, Avril Incandenza heads the academy with their 2 sons, Mario and Hal being the current attendees of the ETA while their eldest brother, Orin being a previous attendee, now a punter in the NFL. Orin is a jerk, Mario is great and Hal is lonely. Avril is beautiful, very tall and delusional about her kids; James was taller, committed suicide and knew his kids just too well. He created a film known as The Entertainment, titled "Infinite Jest", which rumored to have ’qualities’ such that whoever saw it wanted nothing else ever in life but to see it again, then again and so on, rendering its audience fatally addicted to it. The quest of finding the master copy of this entertainment marks the entry of a group of Quebecois separatists in the book, known as Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents a.k.a Wheelchair Assassins or simply A.F.R, who wants to obtain a copy, which they called Samizdat , because of its lethal qualities that would make them dangerously powerful to meet their extremist goals. This group gave me creeps.

The book is mostly covered with Wallace commentary about drug addiction through myriad eccentric and bizarre characters at the Ennet House. Wallace presents the intake of drugs, its effects and substance withdrawal i.e. cold turkey in such merciless detail that one can’t help to actually empathize with those involved in substance abuse. Apart from drugs, there’s some wonderful description about depression, clinical depression to be precise. Here’s one of my favorite passage which I’ve tagged as spoiler . At this point one can’t help feeling for David’s own struggle with depression and the justification of the eventual step he took.

With drugs and depression, there are AA meetings and telling of stories, some of which are so despicably ugly and dismal that it would make you think that you were better off without reading them. Then of course there is tennis and the pressure this competitive game induces on young minds but also tells how a thin line exists that separates Tennis with real life: Tennis's beauty's infinite roots are self-competitive. You compete with your own limits to transcend the self in imagination and execution. Disappear inside the game: break through limits: transcend: improve: win.

At ETA, through characters like Hal and Michael Pemulis, one gets the picture of how youngsters so easily resort to wrong paths, which could adversely affect their coming lives a sample of which could be witnessed through Ennet House residents. So in my opinion it won’t be wrong to say that Wallace, in a masterful way presented a connection between past, present and future of different promising lives, which got destroyed because of the few choices wrongly made. At Ennet House, characters like Don Gately convey that despite being wrongdoers, they are good human beings at heart and are just a product of godforsaken circumstances amidst which they were born and at the same house there are people like Randy Lenz who are nothing less than a personification of devil.

From IJ, one gets a fitting impression of David's capability and scope as a writer. There could be nothing more challenging in picking the most undesired and ugly elements of the universe and weave them together and creating characters and situations of such unbelievable contrast that the end product dwelling them makes even a stone heart to wail in sympathy or reach a point of such profound epiphany that brings a huge turn around in your life. He won’t present you with anything normal but something lovable nevertheless. What’s the most important thing that can happen after reading IJ? The world around you changes for better or for worse. One tends to acquire a whole new point of view of looking at people and can’t help thinking, Well, what could be their story?

The most incredible example of David’s talent can be seen through James O. Incandenza’s filmography that is dripping with excruciatingly weird but magnificently witty ideas. I admit that there was not much I could relate with in great depth but there was a benign captivation about the whole text. My love for tennis and movies (especially Lynchian) wasn’t the biggest support system and well, I’m not even American or Québécois, so all the more less relief nevertheless my motivation mainly rest with David’s writing and the thought of reading a work of literature which is unique in a daunting yet immensely fulfilling manner. It’s true that this novel is full of extraneous ramblings but they are not invasive to the main text. If you learn to like his writing, you will love everything written by him, well almost everything. I had my small issues with few things but I’m ready to overlook them. Moreover a clever move by Wallace can be identifiable in the manner of his use of so many ‘errors’ in different context. I know they were mainly attributed to various characters, but again, in a book so huge, the margin of error automatically increases, which could easily be neglect during editing too. So instead of sifting such errors out, Wallace made them the part of his work. If I’ll give it a metaphoric angle as a result of some cogitation on my part, then it could also be seen as life, which can’t be led without its due share of some big errors. After all that’s what being human is all about.

One thing I can confidently say about his writing is that in this book, his prose though seemingly reckless at times, is an intentional move on his part. You’ll see the range and depth of his skills throughout. Agreed that most of the topics covered had some deep connection with David personal life but that's exactly it makes it all the more brilliant as we get to read someone who had a lucid and precise view of what he had to say. Though I have read that this thing doesn’t sit well with many, but that’s what reading DFW means. A blogger rightly commented: So many of his critics never realized the writer's relentless and extravagant prose was a deliberate and incredibly risky attempt to present reality as he experienced it, which was so vast and multi-layered as to make sharing it with another person who was experiencing a similar influx, an astonishing feat.

Infinite Jest, among many things is homage to sobriety, happiness, loneliness, sadness and truth. For some, staying sober is happiness and for some feeling is happiness. Some will be happy in knowing the truth and some, in telling of the truth.

The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.

He brilliantly captured the fatuous nature of residents of a country in this era of pop culture in a flamboyant yet amazingly restrained manner that one can’t help but feel the pain of the injury the text inflict upon the minds of its readers. It's like watching a reality sit-com over a surveillance camera, is one concise description I particularly like. A work of literature that was born to become immortal and shall teach you what all can be done with words and what power lies within the realm of writing.

My reading experience was more or less steady and enriching. Gradually through the main contents, I noticed the book weight shifting from my right hand to the left (though it happened a lot many times considering the endnotes) and reaching the last page and with that last page I realized, there’s plenty to come yet. Denouement and IJ doesn’t go together in the most conventional sense. There was a lot more left to ‘figure out’. Before referring to external sources, I wanted to put together as many pieces of this bizarre puzzle at their right places. It was getting unbearable somehow. I was getting afraid what if I would fail or what if after ‘getting the jest’ I won’t laugh. And it was then it dawned upon me that every reader of this book becomes a part of it in such a way, that it won’t let you fail. ‘A Failed Entertainment’ was the working title for David Foster Wallace's “Infinite Jest”; and I’m glad he didn’t go for that, because I think he produced an entertainment so painfully addictive that It won’t be easy to withdraw from it and consequently can't be regarded as a failure. One would carry one thing or the other out of it. There are many loose ends that are not being tied, may be because they are meant to be honored in isolation. The whole thing would turn up as fogged mirror, which only you can clean to see an image, either unbearably beautiful or unbearably ugly. Till that time, live accordingly to the image you want to see at the end. And here’s me hoping that one day I’ll ‘get the jest’ in toto. I'm so glad that this book exists.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
531 reviews137 followers
January 22, 2023
I was going to make a cheeky post about how the best way to enjoy Infinite Jest is to be a white cishet American male born between maybe 1969 and 1989 with one or more diagnosable mental disorders plus personal experience with substance abuse and who remembers when VHS tape rewinders were peak technology. But in fact the best way to enjoy Infinite Jest is right there in the title: just read it over, and over, and over again...

(all that other stuff helps plenty, though)

SEVENTH READTHROUGH REVIEW:



Around halfway through endnote 90 (which itself is 4 pages long) Don Gately says: "It makes me feel good you think I'm decent to talk to. That's supposed to be why I'm here. I sure needed to talk, at the start. Can you remember where you were headed before I broke i— interrupted?" (1001)

This is arguably what passes for a joke in Infinite Jest.

See, Gately is a reformed thief who used to burglarize houses to support his drug habit. So when he starts to say "before I broke in" he catches himself and corrects it to "interrupted."

This quote-unquote joke I did not catch until my fifth reading of the monster that is Infinite Jest.

It's the kind of thing that could well polarize your readers.

5 stars out of 5. I'll talk your ear off about this one if given half a chance.


MY FIRST REVIEW, JANUARY 2016:

SECOND READTHROUGH REVIEW:

FOURTH READTHROUGH REVIEW

SIXTH READTHROUGH REVIEW
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,388 reviews6,650 followers
August 15, 2009
I should have hated this book. 1079 pages of small text with loooooonnnnggggg paragraphs and little white space so it feels like you’re reading a newspaper from 1881. Plus, 96 goddamn pages of endnotes. *1 The plot, such as it is, doesn’t really come into focus until several hundred pages into it, and even though it’s set in the near future where something very strange has happened in North America, this doesn’t get explained until about mid-way through the book so you’re left feeling confused and bewildered a lot of the time.

There’s an almost endless cast of characters. Long sections of the book have detailed descriptions of things that don’t seem crucial to the plot. *2 And then there’s the fact you have to use two bookmarks because you’re constantly going back to the endnotes. *3 Some of the endnotes contain long wandering passages that also don’t seem relevant to anything. *4

The ending isn’t very satisfying. *5 The main plot point about the search for a cartridge of ‘entertainment’ so good that it will literally make anyone who sees it immediately stop living their live and stay in front of the television until they die because they’ll refuse to do anything but watch it, including eating, drinking, using the toilet, etc. *6, isn’t given much resolution, either.
The book just kind of stops, and you have the distinct impression that DFW could have done another 1000 pages or so without breaking a sweat if he hadn’t eventually eliminated his own map. *7

So after all that, why was my first instinct after finishing it to go back and immediately start re-reading it? *8

I was completely engrossed when I was reading this book. No matter what weird detours it took, I was more than happy to just keep turning pages like one of those poor suckers who got snared by The Entertainment. If this book was endless *9, I probably would have spent my life cheerfully reading it and then asked for a copy on my deathbed just to try and squeeze a few more pages in.

I’m not sure why I liked it so much. In fact, the way this book got into my head gives me a slight case of the howling fantods *10 Considering it’s a book that deals a lot with obsession, this is more than a little unsettling.

I’m sure someone with an English degree could spend the rest of their life trying to deconstruct this book, but I don’t have the intelligence, skill or patience to even try. Wallace did something unique and crazy with this, and he had the talent to make it work. I don’t know how, and I think that figuring it out might be like when you learn how a magic trick was done so I’m just going to shelve it, always be glad that I took it on and managed to finish it, and re-read it someday once the memory of the endless pages of endnotes has faded. * 11

Oh, and I would have given it 5 stars, but you know, the endnote thing… *12

*1 - Yes, 96 goddamn pages.

*2 - I now know way more about tennis drills and Alcoholics Anonymous than I ever really wanted to learn.

*3 - Seriously, there are 388 endnotes in this freaking thing.

*4 - There’s an 8 page filmography listing all the movies that were supposed to have been made by one of the characters.

*5 - Somebody email me and explain what the hell happened.

*6 - The closest comparison would probably be a really kick-ass episode of The Wire or Battlestar Galactica.

*7 - ‘Eliminating maps’ is a slang phrase from the book meaning to either kill someone or kill yourself.

*8 - I didn’t. Mainly because I couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with the endnotes again.

*9 - And DFW did his best to make it that way…

*10 - ‘Howling fantods’ is another slang term from the book that means to get creeped out. E.g. Seeing Michael Jackson’s horrifically surgically altered face on magazine covers after his death gave me the howling fantods.

*11 - Some of the endnotes are so long that they have their own endnotes. That’s just messed up.

*12 - I’m not kidding. They are completely out of control.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
850 reviews2,087 followers
August 13, 2016
DJ Ian's Sunday Evening "Tell Me What You Really Think"

You're listening to Radio KCRCR, "Tell Me What You Really Think", where we listen to the critics and you talk back. That's if there's any time left after I finish my rant. Hehe.

A lot of listeners ask me about my namesake. What about that other Ian Graye, you say. The one on GoodReads. What do you think of him? And what did you think of his recent review of David Foster Wallace's magnum opus?

Well, let me reassure you: that other Ian Graye is a wanker. Don’t trust his five star review of “Infinite Jest” (“IJ” for short, but not for long).

He is a classic pseudo-intellectual, who occasionally comes under the sway of people like Nathan, MJ and a few female Good Readers with brains and/or ambition, and tries unconvincingly to run with their small herd, while simultaneously feigning the impression of reading, appreciating and reviewing the big books that appeal to them. He is a post-capitalist lapdog of the tamest and most ineffectual kind.

This is what he would say, if he had the guts. Actually, it’s not what he would say, it’s what I'm saying.

He can wallow in pretension.

IJ is a dogs breakfast. Nobody has actually read it from cover to cover. Nobody has understood it on its own terms. Anybody who reckons they’ve read it or understood it is lying and needs to be exposed for the fibbers they are.

The sooner there is something that is post-postmodernism that we can get our hands and minds and kindles and iPatches on the better. No wait, it doesn’t matter.

Postmodernism was invented so that nerds could take money off other nerds.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world can eat, drink, snort, smoke, dance, party and have sex regardless and in spite of the postmodernist nerdfest going down, down, down in the library.

Length

Surely, it is enough to state the length of this book to condemn it.

If an author has 1,100 pages in them, then write four novels of 275 pages each.

Can Sting possibly be any better on the fourth day of his tantric sex than he is on the first?

What is the point? To achieve a target for the Guinness Book of Records? For as soon as you break the record, somebody else will want to beat you and your record will last for, how long, one year, at most?

Repetition

In a book that long, there must surely be a lot of repetition of themes and subject matter, if not dialogue and actual words.

As for a book whose ending simply takes you back to the beginning? That's not what I call recycling. Recycling is the yellow bin. Or, wishful thinking for charities, two copies sitting side by side in a second hand book store.

Self-Indulgence

See my comment about Sting. Beyond that, I risk being guilty of the post-modern crime of repetition. In fact, I might already be guilty. Damn. How ironic.

Irony

Show me somebody who really knows what irony means and I’ll show you a bullshit artist.

I mean, what does “an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning” mean?

Is there any literal meaning that is not implied? Surely, DFW meant everything his words implied.

Therefore, they are not incongruous, they are deliberate and congruous.

This is starting to sound like that other Ian Graye, so I will stop.

Playfulness

OK, so they play tennis in this book. So what?

And so what if he plays with our minds? Writing this bloody book probably played with DFW’s own mind. How can you control something as gargantuan and prolix as this?

It plays with our minds, because it played with his. If he had won the game, it would have been a shorter, sharper, better book and a more pleasant experience for us.

There is a reason tennis has a tie-breaker. IJ needed a tie-breaker. Around 300 pages.

Black Humor

I like black humor, white humor and Jewish humor. I haven’t heard any other types yet. But I hope I do eventually.

However, I can’t remember any good jokes in IJ, nor can I remember LOL’ing.

Even if I could remember one, there’s no way I would ever tell a mate in a pub or print it on a t-shirt, which is my ultimate test of a good joke, well, an aphorism, anyway.

Intertextuality

I mean, are you serious? Who would invent a word like “intertextuality”, but a postmodernist wanker?

Did the English language really need this word? Did it have to be imported from France or Italy, or wherever?

Intertextuality…”the relationship between one text (a novel for example) and another or one text within the interwoven fabric of literary history…an indication of postmodernism’s lack of originality and reliance on clichés”.

Put two things next to each other, juxtapose them, as the other Ian Graye would say, and you have a relationship (a “juxtaposition”). So what?

If you want to refer to another book in your book, it’s a quote if it’s acknowledged or plagiarism if it’s not.

So what? Any graduate student can do this. We used to call it cheating.

As for cliches, we were taught to eschew them in my day. DFW uses truckloads of cliches, mostly old ones, but many new ones of his own creation. How pathetic. There are nearly as many cliches in IJ as there are in Hamlet. I mean, "To be, or not to be", if Shakespeare was half the writer he's supposed to be (or not to be), he would have steered clear of that old chestnut.

Pastiche

Once again, write your own bloody book. Don’t copy somebody else’s. Sampling is cheating. If I want to read the other book or listen to the other song, I’ll find it on iTunes.

Metafiction

Another word created by postmodernists for postmodernists. It’s like a secret handshake. A club for us and not for you. Because you won’t let us into your club, and your club is blockbuster, best-selling fiction with a home and a boat in the Bahamas.

Anybody who can write should strive for a home and a boat, better still, a houseboat. If you haven’t got it in you, don’t waste trees or cyberspace. Write a blog. Do your pathetic little reviews on GoodReads. Or pathetically long reviews, in the case of my namesake.

Fabulation

I mean, honest, we’re talking fiction here, and some critic has to introduce a synonym and pretend it means something different. A distinction without a difference. A high distinction without a job prospect. This is today’s academia for you.

Poioumena

This word makes me want to vomit.

I mean I love Maoris and their language, but words weren’t meant to consist of four consecutive vowels. It's inconsonant.

Historiographic Metafiction

Another one. What, aren’t the old words good enough for postmodernists? This would have been edited out of the wiki article if anybody knew what it meant or had the guts.

Instead, it’s left in, and college students in my wake will struggle to apply it correctly in a sentence for another 20 years.

If this term was a dog, it would be put down. In fact, this term is a dog. Bang.

Temporal Distortion

It gets worse. “Fragmentation and non-linear narratives”. In a word, drugs. Nobody used this language when the poison of choice was alcohol.

In the old days, the bell would ring, and you’d say, “Oh, is that the time?” Not temporal distortion.

Magic Realism

All the best drugs come from South America. Say no more. But put a frat boy in a broad brimmed hat and sit him on a horse and it doesn’t make him a gaucho or a magic realist.

Technoculture and Hyperreality

Doof doof. I can’t remember one computer in IJ. Unless you count microwaves and whatever they played the cartridges on. And, I mean, who remembers cartridges?

Paranoia

The only source of paranoia for me in IJ is the sense that DFW might have known what he was talking about and I didn’t get it. But if he did and I didn’t, then I’ve read all the other IJ reviews on Good Reads, and no two of them are the same, so quit the bullshit and admit it, nobody gets it. It’s time we fessed up, it can’t be got, we weren’t supposed to get it, DFW didn’t design it to be got, leave it alone.

IJ is a conspiracy by the paper manufacturing industry to consume paper, put it inside a hard cover and never let it see the light of day.

Yes, a paranoid conspiracy, I know, but guess what, it worked.

Maximalism

A big word for “long”.

Minimalism

A big word for a little idea. Incongruous, if not ironic, I know.

Encyclopaedic

Yes, IJ is long, but credit where credit is due, it contains a lot of words and meanings, about a lot of things, but let's face it, nobody ever reads an encyclopaedia from beginning to end, we all dip in one entry at a time, if not randomly, and we wouldn’t know shit about all the other bits that we didn’t read.

Let’s hope there's not a question about them in the exam.

Well, that's about it from me. Let me leave you with one more serious thought.

Party at my place. Come on.

KCRCR. Whatever will be will be. And whatever will not be will not be. That is the answer and there's the rub. Thanks, Bill. Can I have my bottle back now, please?

Oh, is that the time? Let's cross to Rupert for the news.



CHOOSE YOUR REVIEW:

"Infinite Jest" elicits diverse reactions. I thought I might try to express some of them, both negative and positive.

The above review is my attempt at a negative review.

My positive reviews are mentioned below.



TAME AND INEFFECTUAL POST-CAPITALIST LAPDOG FIVE STAR REVIEW

This is a positive capsule review with a few add-ons:

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...



NERDS ONLY PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL FIVE STAR REVIEW

This review is my attempt at a more analytical, but positive, review:

http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/2...



THE "TELL ME WHAT YOU REALLY THINK" VOTE COUNT (AUDITED BY CHARTERED ACCOUNTANTS NICE WATERCLOSET)

DJ Ian:

February 17, 2013

41 likes

Post-Capitalist Lapdog Review

February 17, 2013

38 likes

Nerd's Only Pseudo-Intellectual Review

February 17, 2013

27 likes

DJ Ian's one star review jennifer garnered more "likes" in 12 hours than either of the other five star reviews did in 10 months (they were posted in April 2012).
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,685 followers
July 13, 2015
Three things in my life that have been my greatest achievements that have required the most energy and dedication:

1. Getting my MBA
2. Raising two kids
3. Reading Infinite Jest

The writing is amazing and well researched. The story is complex and troubling. So complex, in fact, I am still not quite sure what happened!

I am going to be doing a lot of talking to my friends who finished it and lots of searching around on the internet to figure this one out!

But, I didn't dislike it - but, if I were to recommend it to someone, I am not sure yet what criteria I would base the recommendation on. My brain is still puzzling and I may take awhile to recuperate!
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book809 followers
October 16, 2020
Reading Infinite Jest feels a bit like when you’ve had some friends over for dinner, you’ve all had a jolly good time, it’s getting a bit late though, the guests are leaving one after the other, and but there is this one guy, a brilliant guy, a bit of a show-off, to be honest, a kind of beefy guy you wouldn’t want to mess up with too much, and, above all, a horrifyingly garrulous guy. And he is lying there on your couch, slowly but steadily draining your liquor cabinet, and droning on and on, and oh! but it’s already 4 a.m., and everyone else is long gone, and he is still there telling all sorts of rambling anecdotes you can’t make head nor tail of, so but then at some point your eyes start itching like real bad and he’s babbling and pouring himself another glass of Wild Turkey, and at length, you accidentally drift off and, as you suddenly jump back and open your eyes, the guy is still relentlessly talking, the tide in your drink cabinet is “way out”, and meanwhile, you realise rosy-fingered Dawn is rising across your dead-bottles-littered living room... And but then, right at that moment, out of the blue, in the middle of his sentence, that conversationalist from hell glances at his watch, mumbles something about it being already 1079h or some such, gets up, grabs his coat and leaves. And so but so you realise you really need a fucking shower.

Now in all earnestness, Infinite Jest is a pretty beefy beast. And it’s not just a matter of length (just about one thousand densely-laid-out pages + another thick, even tighter cushion of endnotes). The material, the style, the composition are a challenge to the reader as well. It is quite clear that David Foster Wallace is insanely talented and capable of pulling out all the stops literary-wise: a variety of styles and speech patterns and dialects, unearthly situations, deeply layered characters, several-pages-long sentences that still manage to make sense and remain grammatically sound, a blend of casual phrasing and hyper-scholarly pedantic jargon and neologisms, bits and bobs of French (in fact, French-sounding but laced with blunders and mostly borderline gibberish), sudden left turns from hilarious to grotesque to horrifying, and the list goes on.

On the other hand, Infinite Jest is in toto and quite literally a puzzling novel — a giant 1,000 piece jigsaw with missing bits. It seems as if DWF had been writing this monster haphazardly, throwing one scene after the next on paper, all over the map, introducing one character after another, without much consideration for any form of consistency or reason or storytelling technique or quite knowing what he was doing. As if he had been throwing stuff against the wall to see what would stick, and in the end, just left everything in (allegedly, he removed some 600 pages from the initial manuscript before publication, but still!). As a result, the book is rhapsodic, bloated, and seems to display a disjointed and sometimes irritating and gratuitous series of vignettes, anecdotes, dreams, hallucinations, esoteric digressions, silly acronyms and endnotes, winks to Homer and Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky and Joyce and Nabokov and Pynchon and Bazin and Deleuze and Scorsese and Lynch. In other words, a jumble of bits and pieces of attempts that, in some cases, would and, in others, wouldn’t adhere so much to the rest of the picture. In essence, perhaps, a “stupefyingly turgid-sounding shit” (p. 911)? This holds even to the very end, which doesn’t provide any sense of closure or resolution or Gestalt. The novel ends in medias res, as abruptly and randomly as it started. In other words, it doesn’t end.

So, for the most part, the readers of this sprawling and baroque novel are expected to hone their understanding and piece all this material together into something that might make some sense. As the narrator puts it at some point (talking about something else), Infinite Jest sometimes feels to have “no narrative movement toward a real story; no emotional movement toward an audience” (p. 740). But in the end, and as a result of the sheer length and complicated, disorderly structure, they might find that, although their patience has been tried to the nth degree, there is still a sort of power of accretion which, for want of producing a proper story, does indeed paint the picture of a whole epoch: our time.

Infinite Jest is an insane form of speculative fiction. The story takes place in some trippy dystopian alternate reality, where North America has become one single country, governed by a halfwitted show-business-celebrity president (rings a bell?), where mindless consumerism is rampant — even the Gregorian calendar and the Statue of Liberty have become ad spaces — and massive amounts of toxic rubbish and radioactive pollution are catapulted into a large chunk of territory to the N-E Appalachian Mountains, turned into a giant Chernobyl-like landfill. It is also a book featuring (among other things): the daily life of a bunch of kids at an upscale Tennis Academy, a multi-generational family saga (the Incandenzas — compare to, say, the Buendías in One Hundred Years of Solitude), a series of wrecks at a drug and alcohol rehab centre, and a group of French-Canadian terrorists.

Most characters in Infinite Jest seem utterly miserable, suicidal, damaged, depressed, obsessed, lonely, lost. The book is also, in a way, an existential study about the struggle of being human in our postmodern reality. But in my view, at the core, Infinite Jest is a book about addiction and its devastating effects. That is addiction in all imaginable forms and shapes: drugs, alcohol, sex, success, mindless entertainment, so on. One of the central and most fascinating threads in this novel is about a movie that is so very entertaining and compelling that anyone who starts watching it won’t be able to stop watching it again, on a loop, to death — the wild dream of any media and entertainment tycoon, no doubt. Incidentally, that movie is titled Infinite Jest.

In a way, Infinite Jest (the movie within the novel) illustrates the most extreme version of addiction. Infinite Jest (the book), on the other hand, is a stark satire of a society that has become the slave of cheap and mind-numbing, soul-destroying pleasures, force-fed to everyone by a capitalist system that pretends to bring happiness to humankind but is in actuality driven to endless consumerism only.

And so, Infinite Jest is ultimately a book about literature as a form of art and as an industry. Infinite Jest (the novel) is radically, obsessively antiformulaic, “anticonfluential” (to use one of the narrator’s terms); it doesn’t pretend, doesn’t try to provide, even denies the reader any form of low-grade, profit-oriented, passivity-inducing, addiction-inducing literary pleasure. In short, Infinite Jest (the novel) is the direct opposite of Infinite Jest (the movie within the novel).

Ironically though, the book’s publication was intensely marketed and hyped in the US (as a comedy, mind you, which cannot be further from the truth!); it has become, in most English-speaking countries, especially since DFW sadly “eliminated his own map”, a cult bestseller of sorts.

NB: I want to extend a big thank you to the lovely Michelle Curie, I have read this book along with, for spurring me throughout! Please, go check out her review.
Profile Image for Jaidee .
560 reviews1,024 followers
May 22, 2019
2015 Book I was Most Afraid to Hate

I read 11%. I can't do this....

Emotionally I feel

10 % amused.
90% frustrated bored and irritated.

Sorry to my buds that love it but time is toooooo short to struggle through a very long book that I'm starting to resent !

onwards and upwards :-)
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,162 reviews9,033 followers
Read
September 9, 2016
That's it, I'm demoting this one back to the TO-READ shelf - my pal Nick recently said he's changed the status of some intended time-consuming jobs from "when I retire" to "when I'm reincarnated" - maybe I'll read IJ in the next life, although as I intend to be a mighty elm tree in my next life that may prove difficult, but maybe you don't get to choose what you are, you just line up like at the bank or the post office and you go to a middle aged woman behind a wire mesh and she says "Okay honey here's the Form 27B, fill it all in, front AND back, and take it to the Next Life section over there - you've been assigned to CRUSTACEA - how do you like that! Enjoy! Wiggle wiggle!"

Anyway, I wasn't really reading this, I was just picking it up and sighing and putting it down. So it was slightly useful because otherwise I do very little physical exercise.

By the way, what's with the Beatle quote on page 32? (Hah, see how far I got?)

"I want to tell you" the voice on the phone said, "my head is filled with things to say"

"I don't mind," Hal said softly, "I could wait forever."

I hope you all spotted that one!


********

There's a whole essay on the literature of endurance to be written, maybe someone has considered this somewhere, all about those famously-difficult-but-brilliant books and their readers. How we love and loathe them. Or maybe just loathe them because we have this obligation laid on us by ... who? ... the Illuminati of Deliberate Unpunctuation? the Knights Templar of the Ten-Page Paragraph? Which are these books, aside from IJ?

- all of Samuel Beckett
- Finnegans Wake (some would say Ulysses too)
- Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage sequence (does anyone anywhere EVER read that one?)
- the three late great brainkilling Henry James novels (Wings of the Dove, Ambassadors & Golden Bowl)
- Marcel Proust and his 40 page sentences (although some on this site clearly find him easy peasy lemon squeezy and they present their arguments with vim and panache)
- all of Thomas Bernhard, that's a personal choice
- Marquis de Sade, 120 Days of Sodom

And this is also very true of movies too - there's a whole raft of films which I'd class as the Cinema of Endurance too such as

- Irreversible
- Funny Games
- Passion of Christ
- Cannibal Holocaust
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre (at the time anyway)
- Exorcist (I'd say still up there)
- Antichrist
- Pasolini's Salo (film version of 120 days of Sodom)
- Martyrs
- I Spit on your Grave
- Fellini Satyricon and others because of the extreme boredom levels

and you could extend the idea into the Music of Endurance with stuff like

- Metal Machine Music, Lou Reed
- Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart (personally I like it, but I can see some wouldn't)
- The Ring Cycle
- anything by Big Black
- anything by Celine Dion - no, seriously, I think the Music of Endurance is a much harder concept because very clearly one woman's wild salmon over young leeks softened in oil, garlic and basil with grilled zuccini garnished with fresh pear, pickled daikon and cucumber broth is another man's turkey twizzler.

What say you? Do you resent being obliged to endure?
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 28 books13.4k followers
March 28, 2013
I've finally reached the end of this amazing book. It's not an easy read, but after a while you discover that there are good reasons why it has to be the way it is.

The review is the mini-blog I kept while I was reading it. It sort of contains spoilers: I don't give away very much about the plot, but I do spend a lot of time speculating about what the overall point of the book is. So if that kind of thing bothers you, you probably shouldn't read on. Read Infinite Jest instead, then come back and see if you agree with me :)

The rest of this review is in my book What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations

Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
398 reviews2,167 followers
May 17, 2017
5/17/17 edit: I'm upgrading this one to 5 stars, because I still cannot stop thinking about it a year after finishing it.

There are 2 kinds of difficult novels: those that you don't enjoy while reading, but you genuinely enjoying having read, and those that you only enjoy while reading because the small picture stuff is infinitely better than the novel as a whole. Infinite Jest is one of the latter, and I think that's why people never really stop reading it; it's only good while you're reading it. You finish and then start right over again, trying to piece things together until you create something in your mind that slightly makes sense of it all.

This thing is a real love/hate affair. There are moments of true brilliance that are exceptional achievements, and the characters are fantastic, the world-building absolute top-notch, but if you have to leave the "ending" up to your audience to imagine in their collective heads instead of – I don't know – WRITING IT, you wrote yourself into a corner and didn't/couldn't write your way out.

Yes, I've gone back and read the first chapter after finishing it. Yes, I understand the chronology. Yes, I've read all the theories online. I get what probably happened, but how did it happen? Why did it happen? How did those strings and threads of story and plot actually come together? The answer is: they didn't. If I have to construct a way for all of this brilliant stuff to come together myself, it means that the author never did. It's just a hand-wavy sort of "oh and then stuff happened and then the end" cop-out.

There are threads in this book that insinuate all kinds of things, meaning that you can find evidence to setup any sort of ending that your heart desires, and it's just as valid as anyone else's theories, because there is no actual ending. Think Hal in that first chapter is actually Mario pretending to be Hal? They're both described as fire hydrant shaped, maybe he was. Think John Wayne was an AFR plant all along, AFR agents and John Wayne are both described by the same quotes from The Terminator, maybe he was. Or maybe none of that, because there isn't an ending, so we do not and will not ever know what actually happened. DFW created a piece of entertainment that once read, leaves the reader only wanting to read it again and again and again and again. It is an Infinite Jest.

Again, the brilliant stuff is so brilliant that I still enjoyed it immensely, and have to give this 5 stars, and I get that postmodernism is all about ontological vs. epistemological approaches to fiction, but good lord at least have it slightly wrap up just a tiny bit!
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,372 followers
March 13, 2017
It's now been more than two years since I began Infinite Jest and about 10 months since I finished it. In all that time, the scene that has stuck with me the most is one where a character, attempting to go to a 12-step meeting for a drug addiction, goes astray and ends up at what is actually a "men's movement" meeting. A relic of the 1990s, the men's movement was a chance for men to get together and show their sensitive sides to one another, or allow their inner warriors or their inner children to commune with each other, or some such thing—it was short-lived and I can't quite remember what its exact aim was. The joke is that it takes a while for the main character to figure out where he's ended up, but as the men take turns speaking, eventually the horror of the situation slowly dawns on him. Why this scene has stuck with me, I don't know—it's dated, it's trying way too hard to be funny, and it's got nothing to do with much of anything.

On the other hand, perhaps it's a perfect encapsulation of Infinite Jest itself, which, by and large, is dated, trying way too hard to be funny, and has nothing to do with much of anything.

As you may know, Infinite Jest has three storylines. One concerns a videotape (or "cartridge") that so addicts viewers that they can't stop watching it and, unable to do any of the things people normally do to stay alive, eventually perish. The master of this videotape is being sought by both U.S. government agencies and terrorist organizations. The second storyline concerns some kids at a tennis academy; the father of two of these kids, a famous filmmaker, is the creator of the aforementioned addictive cartridge. The third concerns a residential drug-rehab center near the tennis academy, one resident of which, Don Gately, could be considered the heart and soul of the book.

These three storylines do connect in some ways, and all of them have the potential to be interesting. But unfortunately, very little of the book lives up to this potential. Most of the scenes concerning the cartridge are tedious and repetitive. Most of the scenes concerning the tennis academy are tedious, although not quite as repetitive. Generally the only interesting scenes are the ones that involve Don Gately and the rehab center. Interspersed among all of these storylines are many, many tangents involving other minor characters; some of these scenes are interesting, most aren't, and all of them slow down the main stories. Also slowing down the main stories are the copious endnotes, which frequently force the narrative to come to a screeching halt, often for no good reason. In a way, it's a perfect book for people with no attention span, so perhaps DFW actually foresaw how the internet would lead to most of our reading being done in interruptive fragments. Unfortunately, this particular insight, if accurate, absolutely did not make the book any less exasperating to read.

The odd structure of Infinite Jest made me very curious about its editing process, so after I was finally done I picked up the DFW biography Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, where I learned that there was essentially no editing process for this book. DFW seemed to throw in every idea and bit of writing he'd ever had, adding up to hundreds and hundreds of pages, and his editor simply did his best to keep the book to a manageable length. Given that Infinite Jest is nearly 1100 pages including endnotes, I'd say the editor barely succeeded at that goal. What's more, the storylines don't really cohere and eventually—again, after many, many pages—just kind of fizzle out. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story attempted to explain the book's structure, such as it is, and I'm going to try to paraphrase as well as I can: Picture a map of a state with all the counties marked. One county is a particular scene in the book. The book next travels to an adjacent county/scene, which has some connection to the first but is its own separate thing. Then the book travels to another adjacent county/scene, and so on. So all the counties/scenes are connected to at least one additional county/scene, but obviously there's not only no linearity here; there's no cohesive narrative in any way. Most themes, characters, and situations don't go back and make any of the connections you might hope for. Which might be OK if every county was a worthwhile place to be in, but that's not the case. Out of nearly 1100 pages, I would say maybe 300 or 400 are worth reading. Do the math and figure out if you've got that kind of time.

As I mentioned, the best parts of the book, for me and, it seems, for many other readers, are the scenes with Don Gately in the rehab center. There is a lot of wisdom about addictions dispensed here, and it's mostly riveting stuff. I assumed this was DFW sharing what he'd learned when he himself was in a similar rehab, but I turned out to be wrong—per Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, Don Gately was actually based on someone DFW knew in rehab, and Gately's wisdom comes courtesy of this real person, who was none too pleased to learn that DFW had used him in this way. So some of the best parts of the book didn't really come from its author's own imagination or thought process, but rather from a powerless, disenfranchised, working-class person DFW cribbed off of. As you might imagine, learning this did little to increase my esteem for Infinite Jest.

This book is ambitious, for sure, but not ambitious enough. As other reviewers have noted, all of the characters, regardless of age, education, or background, sound pretty much the same. They sometimes use the same language, even when they've never met each other before—for a while everyone was saying "diddled," for example, and then later on everyone was saying "dickied," then, if I recall correctly, "kertwang." I have no idea if this was intentional or just lazy, but it certainly read as the latter to me. The language is also often exceedingly juvenile (the acronym "ONAN," for example, or a Japanese manufacturer called "Yushitu"). DFW also has a fondness for tweaking well-known expressions, so, for instance, "under the table" becomes "sub-table" and "upwardly mobile" becomes "mobilely upward." It's entirely possible this sort of thing seemed more clever back in the 1990s.

The upshot is that instead of a really good 400-page book that the author had worked hard on revising and improving, we have a behemoth that can't stay focused on anything long enough to make a true impact. Oddly, DFW seems to realize this: Several times he includes a telling line or two. When considering the famous filmmaker's oeuvre, one character muses, "Technically gorgeous.... But oddly hollow, empty, no sense of dramatic towardness—no narrative movement toward a real story.... like a very smart person conversing with himself." Or this line, regarding a random character who appears for a moment: "the girl had a terrible time ever separating details from what was really important to a story." Or this one, about the filmmaker's work again: "is the puzzlement and then boredom and then impatience and then excruciation and then near-rage aroused in the film's audience... aroused for some theoretical aesthetic end, or is Himself [the filmmaker] simply an amazingly shitty editor of his own stuff?"

Indeed. That DFW seems to recognize these shortcomings in his own work, and actually include them in the narrative, is kind of cute and clever, I guess. But what would have been really great is if he'd actually addressed those shortcomings and come up with a book that was worthy of both his own obvious talents AND the reader's time and investment. Instead what we have is a novelist who insists on getting in his own way over and over again, and a missed opportunity as gargantuan as is the novel itself.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,271 reviews697 followers
September 17, 2014
And Lo, for the Earth was empty of form, and void.
And Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep.
And We said:
Look at that fucker Dance
Real life is a pain. Real life is a bitch. Real life slumps you together from a squiggly mess and shoots you out to a cold and unfeeling world, empty in mind and soul. So you scrounge around for meaning, whatever fulfills your personal definition of said meaning, eyes gaping for that next slice of indomitable thrills and chills, mouth pincering over a statue in repose, your next served up fresh and toasty piece of Entertainment ready and waiting to fulfill your infinitesimal spout of pure pleasure.

And always you forget the trap, that whatever may keep your brain in thrall doesn't necessarily do anything for your heart, and you fill that deceivingly compact skull of yours with a weave of disappointed memories of the past and existential dread concerning the future. You don't even need to know what 'existential' means, it'll latch on to your cranium and enjoy itself in your spent neurons just as well. Knowing the word just makes your coping mechanisms developed in response to living seem a little more validated.

DFW knew this. Not only did he know this, he was courageous enough to proclaim that he knew this from the highest rooftop, spilling out a novel that scoffs, declaims, and drowns the old conventions of making life this easy whore that only requires adherence to paper to make itself completely tangible and understandable in every way. Newsflash: That is Entertainment, Entertainment with a capital E, followed by the Infinite Jest, long lines of seconds bleeding themselves dry with gags, jokes, puns, witty remarks, comedic outbursts, impressive logistical maneuverings of physical feats, "I got that reference!", grasping in the dark after a fleeting feeling of actually being able to feel. It is not Life.

We live in a country in continuous denial, this United States of ours, where the words "depression" and "suicide" are met with brief uneasy titters and a quick skittering to the nearest source of short stem happiness. I mean, really. Who could possibly be unsatisfied in this First World conglomerate of ours, where the water is cheap and the food cheaper, everything clean and crisp and catered and tailored and custom built for even the most persnickety of personalities? Oh, you say you're not feeling well? Well, your temperature's drawn up at the right line, your lungs are clear of fluid, no physical aches to be registered on any limb or crevice. No need for a tox screen, it's obvious that since you are athletic and intelligent and your family is well adjusted, it's impossible that you would even consider recreational drugs. It just wouldn't make sense.

And when these people are forced up close to those with intimate knowledge of the difference between hip-ennui and 'It'; the obvious mismatch of an unsatisfactory sex life and a rabid Spider masquerading as your own Personal Nightmare that has somehow escaped the sewers and lodged itself in your frontal lobe. A hawk in the sky and a handsaw on the nightstand. These people, they shame the "psychotically depressed", they box the sufferers up in a cynical outlook that doesn't allow them to treat their condition seriously, and the barest glimpse of a true outburst of "feeling" is quickly carted away and shut up in the walls of their own imagined loony bin. You call attempted suicides "Cries for Attention", after refusing to listen to anything else. And don't blame this on the availability of therapy. That's another bucket of worms entirely.

So what does the average, normal, not "psychotically depressed" individual do? Well, they have been blessed with a stable brain chemistry that is sufficiently satisfied with their addictions, enough to never entertain any ideas of going off the deep end, physically or otherwise. Course, they may feel the niggle of something not being right in their daily scheme, one that is vaguely persistent but easily squashed with another movie, another book, another morning run, another sandwich, another drink, another shot, another shooting up, another beating, another brown out, another black out, another spree of giving linear time the finger. It's hardly fair to complain about nonlinear narratives when you seem so desperate to avoid the concept yourself.

Life is a mess of half remembered instances and disjointed narratives, stream of conscious not being very concerned for its very few spectators. What good is a writing a novel portraying Life, if its main goal is to make sense?

Give me a ride compromised by emotion, drugs, unreliable narrators spilling their guts to a psychedelic riddle that crosses consciousness and space-time continuum. Give me unrelenting displays of cruelty and abuse and subsequent coping mechanisms whose effects are just as vicious as their causes, and sprinkle them with laugh out loud moments clouded by the memories of the aforementioned atrocities. Give me recognition that the brain is an organ just as unwieldy and unreliable as the heart or the kidney, and thinking your way out of something is sometimes the worst possible decision you could ever make. Give me the paragon of masculinity breaking down into snotty sobs in front of an openly weeping crowd of fellow human beings, in a system that cannot possibly work until it does. Give me the revival of hope in mankind, embodied in the briefest touch between one masquerading as the dregs of society, and one unaware of their hopeless plight to a heartrending degree. Give me miscommunication on a truly horrendous scale, conversers following their own narratives with minuscule attention paid to their conversees, many pairs of these circling in a room with no clear and singular "plot". Give me an apocalyptic attempt at righting this miscommunication. Give me a Truth that will have its way with me that I didn't realize I desperately craved until I am lying on the floor, breathless and aching with tears flowing freely down my cheeks, stunned in the realization that I am not the only one.

Keep your "Hipster Lit Flow Chart". It has no place here.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews504 followers
November 26, 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.
Profile Image for Tara.
205 reviews267 followers
March 20, 2017
**Note: This review was written almost 10 years ago. I would gladly delete it, but it appears some people have engaged in fruitful back-and-forth in the comment thread. I let it stand for the sake of their discussion, but since every once in a while I wake up to an email informing me of how some stranger on the internet thinks I'm an asshole (and as I'm also a person who can't stand the heat and would gladly get out of the kitchen if I could), I'd like to add a few disclaimers.

This review was written by a young woman who never dreamed more than 2 or 3 people would read it. Hence, I was not attempting to be Northrop Frye. I was being silly. I entirely agree the review would be better if it attempted real, concrete criticism rather than aggressive shrugging. To write that review, though, I would have to really care about Infinite Jest, and I just don't. God knows I've tried, but I don't.

That doesn't mean I think DFW had nothing to say. He certainly did, and I'm sympathetic to lots of it. But postmodernism is not my genre. I have no patience with it.

Finally, this review was the product of an incarnate, imperfect person with background associations and moods trickling into their work. I had a chip on my shoulder when I wrote this and my AHWOSG review; you could say I was sneering at someone(s) in the review because I hadn't the guts to do so face-to-face (of course, sneering is bad and one shouldn't do it on the internet or face-to-face). As I wrote above, a good and meaningful review would be far more impartial, specific, and clear. But this isn't a good and meaningful review. It's a hasty sneer with perhaps some basis for its attitude but certainly not in the review as written, and the author would gladly delete it save for the fact that it hosts a comment thread other people find productive.

So enjoy discussing the works of DFW with my blessing, but if you are awaiting a response from me on the merits of the book or to further explode in fireworks of snark, I'm afraid you'll be waiting in vain. The thread stays; please, be polite to one another. Even if snark has some ground in the truth, it only encourages snark in others, and no one feels good or changes their mind when they feel attacked.**
END NOTE, ORIGINAL REVIEW BEGINS


Infinite Jest is a symptom of something wrong in the literary world: is there nothing else out there with meaning people can find to adore? It's neither a work of genius, nor is it insightful. There are serious things wrong with this book. I think the bigger problem here is why anyone, anywhere, thinks this is brilliant. Somehow the advent of smarmy advertisement and sterile, banal corporate living over the past one hundred and fifty years has invaded our literature, and we think it's wonderful and genius and metaphorical... why? Because it is self-referential, because it's mocking us on a deep level? I thought good literature was something people could access (or at least should be able to), that ideas should be understandable, and should have real content. As many a wiser human being has pointed out, if it's not even mildly coherent, it's probably bogus. Critics rave about this novel for many reasons, one of which I suppose is so they don't have to talk about the concrete and tremendous problems we are actually facing... God forbid literature should be anything more than a ridiculous competition between whose work is the most ground-breaking and incoherent. It shouldn't be a surprise, I guess, but it's depressing anyway. It was only a matter of time before our publishing companies started thinking something like this was a good idea.

(*second note: since i wrote this review i've found myself looking at other works of foster wallace and thinking these may actually be interesting. my dislike of this particular novel is not meant to be an attack on the author, or any of the people who love it. but i'll let my over-the-top comments stand, and acknowledge here that yes, they are a bit much)
Profile Image for Greg.
1,106 reviews1,805 followers
December 7, 2010
I have written a more substantial but no more real review than the little blurb that used to sit here. The original blurb written on the day I heard DFW died follows this lengthy and self-indulgent exercise.

Within a year of each other two works of entertainment were released that have been pretty darn influential to me. One is this book, and the other was Jawbreaker's album Dear You. Both are relatively polarizing works, people either seem to love it or hate it*.

Jawbreaker's album was a momentous failure. It alienated just about everyone who had any expectations for the band. Their penultimate album, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy had been vehemently anti-corporate. For a time, Jawbreaker were seen as the poster-children for DIY punk second only to Fugazi. They were producing great music and doing it on their own terms. After the release of 24 Hour Revenge Therapy Jawbreaker would open for Nirvana on the In Utero tour. Accusations of sell-out flew, and people began looking at the band with the beady little suspicious eyes that the punk world loves peering at the world through. Rumors started flying that in no time the band would be signed to DGC the label that Nirvana was on, that this was the first step to their own rockstardom, and of course the chorus of sell-out grew louder. One defender of the band, Ben Weasel who still hasn't been excommunicated from Maximum RocknRoll for the heretical charges of allowing a song of his to appear on a major label produced soundtrack stood by the band and wrote in his column that he'd eat his hat if Jawbreaker signed to a major label. He ended up eating the hat. The band signed to DGC and released their most polished album. The album was a spectacular flop. The punk world turned their collective back on the band and the mainstream world didn't give a shit. It didn't help that the video and single the band released was for one of the two weakest songs on the album. The band ended up succumbing lackluster sales, criticism and infighting. Eventually one member of the band spat gum at another in the middle of an argument and that spat gum ended the band (I'm only adding this fact to show the evils of gum. Bad Blake!).

I'm slowly going somewhere with all of this. If Jawbreaker had released this song instead of "Fireman" I think they would have been huge. It would have been the anthem that songs like "Smells like Teen Spirit" and "Cherub Rock" were. The reason for all of this preamble is to share these couple of lines that come towards the end of "Save Your Generation":

You have to learn
to learn from your mistakes.
You can afford
to lose a little face.
The things you break,
some can't be replaced.
A simple rule:
every day be sure you wake.


One of the things DFW liked to point out in interviews is that we are bombarded with a massive amount of information and part of our goal is to make sense of all that information. The problem isn't how to absorb all of the information, because that is an impossible feat, it's how to choose what information we choose to filter in and out of our consciousness and what we choose to do with that information. I'm not talking about what kind of use value we can take from the information bombarding us, what the pragmatic value of the information is. That is an easy way to solve the problem, but it's not necessarily an option for everyone. It also leads to an alienation and objectification of the entire world. Everything is turned into a tool. This is a fine way to live, many people do it. Some people can't do this though, people who see the world in this way would never like this book, but that's ok because they probably will one day own really nice things. Another way out of the problem is to bombard oneself with something so endlessly diverting that no other information is necessary. Both solutions are putting tremendous limits on the uptake of information, and either deliberately or unconsciously limiting the world around us into super-easily manageable nuggets. At the other extreme is to be affected by everything and be so overwhelmed by the world that everything becomes white noise. Unfiltered receptions. Instead there has to be some kind of middle ground. And one could add, the middle ground needs to be made with awareness. One needs to remind oneself to wake up everyday.

I'd suggest that the structure of the book is designed to make the reader conscious of not necessarily the fact that s/he is reading a book, but to think about what the reader is reading. An easier book could be read in the way that the boys at the tennis academy squeeze the tennis balls constantly. There is no thought to the exercise. They are developing exaggerated muscles but it is through a mindlessness and it is a very localized improvement. One of my favorite passages (of which there are many) is the second person (ok, I could be wrong about this, maybe it's not in the second person, my memory of it is, but my memory is also very fallible) description of what it takes to succeed at tennis. The pain and repetition involved. The filtering out of everything aside from the focus at succeeding. Someone in this position reduces the world to a very manageable number of bytes a day, the success at tennis bytes. Just like the obsessive pothead reduces the world to a very manageable, things I need to do to smoke a shit ton of pot this weekend bytes. Just like the person watching The Entertainment reduces everything to the this is fucking entertaining (whatever It is) bytes.

This book is massive and overwhelming. It's a total onslaught of information. And the information is presented in a jarring manner. There is the non-sequential order of the narrative, there is the long sentences, the difficult language and of course the endnotes. A lot is put in front of the reader, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, thinking about when a scene is taking place in relation to other scenes in the books and this is made even more difficult by the use of corporate names to designate years. It's information overload.

And then the information the reader is presented with is hammered with the details DFW chooses to give. As expansive as the novel is it is also incredibly claustrophobic at times in it's interiority.

This novel isn't for everyone. I'd never recommend it to someone. I'm fairly certain I've never recommended it to anyone**. I think it takes a particular type of person to enjoy this book, and I think that this type of person is defined by how they experience the world and by what goes on in their head. Most importantly by what happens inside a person's head. I'm probably just projecting here, and I know that there are other types of people than myself that love this book too, but I don't think it's necessarily a happy and healthy person who is the type that this book is written for. I don't think happy and healthy people experience or want to slog through a barrage of reflexiveness. I'm not putting into words really what I'm thinking here. I'm missing the words right now. But this comes back to my ongoing repetition of the question why does one read?

For me, reading is work. Rarely, do I read for pure enjoyment, or to just kill some time or to escape. I don't find reading a sort of punishment and I enjoy it more than I enjoy anything else in this stupid world. I think of reading as an active activity, it's not something to narcotize to, and maybe that is a reason why I am baffled whenever I hear that someone reads when they are drunk or fucked up in someway. For me, being in a state like that would be to be too unaware. It might be really pathetic but my real experience with the world I live in is through books, they are frankly more interesting than most people, and the inner conversations and thoughts I have with the books I read are much more interesting than the ones I have with other flesh and blood people. This is my own failing, I'm a generally uninteresting person to talk to, I don't hold up my own weight in conversations, I stammer and I mispronounce words that I can hear correctly in my head but which my tongue wants nothing to do with, I pull verbal punches, my shitty hearing does a shitty job at making sense of everything other people say, my sentences stop abruptly mid-way through a thought as if I expect that whomever is talking to me will be able to fill in the gaps, I fail to say what I'm thinking and end up feeling like an idiot when I speak***. In a way of thinking reading is escapism for me, but it's an escape from the difficulties of dealing with real live people and having the kinds of dialogs I'll rarely have in real life (with maybe the exception of some of these reviews, but those aren't dialogs, those are rants and one-sided diatribes, but where the idea of votes are important not because I want to be popular but because they are the only way to know if some other person (possibly, it's always a possibility that all the votes are just clicked on without anyone having read a word of the review)) has read them, that the thoughts have been heard by another.

To leave my self-deprecating blabbering aside, or to use it for uses of good instead of just wallowing, it's partially because of the reasons I read that I find Infinite Jest to be so fucking good. It's a thousand plus pages of small details, of forcing myself to be even more aware than I usually am when reading, it's unanswered questions and openness in the text and clues. It's a self-contained world that can be read without having to bring any of the outside world necessarily into it (yes it helps to have say Hamlet in the back of your mind when reading certain scenes, but I was a shitty student in my English classes in High School so I totally missed the glaring Shakespeare reference in the title, or in Hal's name or in the graveyard scene. Facts like this just add some more richness to the book, but it's not necessary knowledge to enjoying the book), everything you need for the book is inside it. Unlike say Ulysses you don't need to have a firm background in Irish History to know what the hell is even going some of the time, everything and more is constructed and presented to the reader. Presented might be the wrong word. Presented makes it sound like everything is handed to the reader on a silver platter, which it's not, everything needed for the book is given to the reader but the reader has to meet the book at least half-way in putting it all together.

We, as a society, don't generally like things that put a demand on us to do that much of the work. There is no reason that anyone should feel they have to do that kind of work just to read a book. Even for the literary minded there is no reason that one should feel like they have to do that kind of work. It's a matter of wanting to read books that demand something of the reader of wanting to read something that demands our attention. There are plenty of excellent books out there that don't put these kinds of demand on us. Even personally I don't always want to be put through the rigmarole that a writer like DFW is asking for. Probably, almost every book of literature can be read with the demands that DFW is asking of the reader, but not every book is explicitly asking the reader to do so. Like, I'm sure The Corrections can be read really actively and a bunch of things can be pulled out of the text that a casual perusal of the book would miss, but it's also a book that can be read relatively passively. It's not a book asking much from us.

As a society, we like things to be given to us already in their manageably sized bytes.

In my parents downstairs, 'guest', bathroom there is a framed advertisement from the early 1960's for some Volvo (ignore the fact that there is a picture of a car in the bathroom for a moment). This ad isn't necessarily remarkable in anyway, but it is standing in for any advertisement from that era. The thing about the advertisement that stands out is the wordiness, there are paragraphs!!! of text to get the point across about the high level of safety concerns about Sweden and how those carry over into their automobiles. Paragraphs!!!. The advertisement takes a little bit of time to read. This is unheard of now. This advertisement is demanding a very low level of work from the viewer but still much more work to get to the message it's trying to convey than a modern ad in a magazine.

As a society, we like things to be given to us in very manageably sized bytes. Just think of the theory behind Twitter marketing where information is given to us in tiny little tweets****. When there is so much already half-digested bits of information already floating around just waiting for our retinas to pass over them and absorb the message without even having to break our stride why would someone stop to tackle something difficult and that demands we help out in the conveying of the information?


Infinite Jest is not a pragmatic book. It's not going to make you a better person for reading it. It won't answer life's questions, and it will possibly leave you with more questions coming out of it than going in. It's not an easy and light fun read. It probably wouldn't be the book you want to bring on the beach. It's tough to read on the subway and it's heavy so traveling with it can be a problem. You can't even easily say what the book is about when a curious person asks you "Whatcha reading?"

I'm going to wrap up this failure of a review. I wanted to write a positive review of Infinite Jest, I had actually been challenged to write a review of why I loved the book but I don't think I did that. I don't know exactly what this review is, maybe a long rambling something or other about the importance of paying attention to the world around you, to look at the details, to try to remember to wake up everyday even though it is easier to sleep off five year chunks at a time, and that there are loads of ways to do this seemingly simple task and in a way this book is a giant exercise in telling us to be more aware, to engage, to see the details even if sometimes the details just are the what the chemical compounds are in some commonly taken drug, it's the act of having to see there is something more than the commonly known, easily overlooked and empty-ish words to the world around us. And sometimes what we find there isn't that important but it's the act that is, not the guaranteed pragmatic results.

*In the case of Jawbreaker the love/hate relationship is generally only seen in the bands fans. In the case of DFW his fans generally love Infinite Jest and it is other works that are held in different opinions. While I acknowledge someone can be a big DFW fan and only like his non-fiction I personally think an enjoyment of Infinite Jest is essential to saying you like DFW.

**I could easily be wrong about this fact though.

*** FYI, I'm not fishing for compliments or for someone to say, no you aren't like that at all.

**** I was under the idea that a tweet was 256 characters of less, but I'm sure everyone knows that it is actually 140 characters or less. I was going to make a point about this being the reduction of manageable bytes down to one byte, where a byte is made up of 8 bits, and in the binary system this leads to there being 256 permutations of ones and zeros in a byte. Based on this metaphor though the manageable number of bytes in a tweet is less than a byte.


-------------------------------------
This is my original 'review'
I just read a comment on the LA Times story about his suicide, and it said, "the world's a shittier place now." I couldn't agree more. One of our true geniuses kills himself and some asshole douche bag like James Patterson or Nora Roberts will continue pumping out three or four novels a year. Fuck. The world is a shittier place.

Profile Image for Mary.
418 reviews771 followers
January 30, 2015
Goodness, this is a polarizing piece of work.

I started IJ with much anticipation and high expectations, fueled by the praises of many, many, people I know and respect. I’m thrilled that so many enjoy IJ – what’s better than a book that makes you squeal with joy? Not much.

Obviously I didn’t click with IJ. Or with Wallace’s writing style. Or both.

It just was not for me.

For the first 100-200 pages or so I believed I was going to enjoy this much more than I did. The set up was intriguing. The topics really spoke to me and the characters were promising. But as I read on and the pages wore on, I began to lose interest and worse, every time a character or scene would capture me it was either too fleeting or it talked itself out of being interesting by dragging on for three or four times longer than it should have been.

It became a chore to read.

I am a character over plot person any day of the week. Easily. And my biggest frustration (yes, even more than the footnotes. Yes, even more than the overwriting), was the lack of character development. Wallace had some very creative character bios but they never blossomed into anything more than sterile, soulless beings. None of them felt real and none of them got into my gut like those unforgettable characters inevitably do. And as such I was not granted entry into their heads, which is one of my favorite things about a really great book. The ability to not be merely a fly on the wall, but to be inside the anxiety and the hurt and the uncertainty of the people I’m reading about.

Perhaps this was Wallace’s intention. I hope it was and if so he succeeded.

Another point of contention was that every now and then a character would emerge that would strike a chord with me only to disappear without a trace. One example was Kate Gompert who appears at around p.100 with a beautifully pained portrait of debilitating depression. I spent the rest of the book wanting more of her and others like her and when I finally got them back their stories never materialized to very much. I didn’t feel as endeared with Hal or Orin or Steeply, for instance, as I did with these background extras.

Again, maybe this was the point. Have you ever had a single conversation with somebody, never seen them again, yet can remember them vividly years later? Have you ever met someone who struck you on some level but was unattainable? People come, people go.

But I wanted more.

It wasn’t all bad. No, no. Buried deep within the prose there were some pretty funny scenes. Not hilarious. Not clutch your belly ‘cause it hurts. Not remember ‘til the day I die. But amusing, sure. And Wallace’s wisdom about the human condition and how much it hurts was captivating and true.

IJ has some interesting ideas and compelling themes. Alas, I felt they were almost always overshadowed by sloppy writing. Scenes that could’ve been extremely poignant lost their impact when stretched to 20-30 pages. Characters that started out with promise either didn’t evolve or disappeared altogether.

Over the past few years I've noticed that Pomo is very hit or miss with me. You win some, you lose some.

Tennis, anyone?
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,375 reviews3,192 followers
December 31, 2018
“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy…” Who was David Foster Wallace? Was he Yorick?
The tissue of Infinite Jest is the stuff paranoia is made of… No contents are left in the entire world anymore… Everything is just a hollow form…
Tuesday, 3 November, Enfield Tennis Academy: A.M. drills, shower, eat, class, lab, class, class, eat, prescriptive-grammar exam, lab/class, conditioning run, P.M. drills, play challenge match, play challenge match, upper-body circuits in weight room, sauna, shower, slump to locker-room floor w/ other players.

That’s what now stands for education.
There is no authenticity – just substitutes and surrogates, ersatz and fraud…
He’d let her give him one of her smaller paintings, which covered half the wall over his bed and was of a famous film actress whose name he always had a hard time recalling and a less famous film actor, the two of them entwined in a scene from a well-known old film, a romantic scene, an embrace, copied from a film history textbook and much enlarged and made stilted, and with obscenities scrawled all over it in bright red letters.

That’s what now stands for art.
Everyone is chemically dependent and alchemically oriented… This is a modern life style…
…C jonesing and with the Shivers cooking up tryng to keep his lighter lit in the hot airs’ wind and snow of nite, and I admit it yrstruly I get a wicked cold inside feeling even with all this hot air from the blowergrate blowing up from under us and making our hair blow around and Tonys’ feather snake pernt upword I yrstruly get a cold feeling of super station once more, you get wicked super stations in this fucked up kindof shit life because its’ a never ending chase and you get too tired to go by much more than never ending habit and super station and everything like that so but I dont’ say any thing but yrstruly I have a cold super station about Poor Tony not wining while he makes like he has to cusually piss and takes a piss and the piss steams up around the lower ares of the bush with his back turned away and isnt’ looking around with interst or anything like that you never turn your back on the skeet when its’ partly your skeet which is wicked unusal which C is so eggerly dopesick he doesnt’ notice any thing past keeping the lighter lit.

And this is an ultimate purpose in life…
If you are an adolescent, here is the trick to being neither quite a nerd nor quite a jock: be no one.

There’s no need to be afraid of dystopia, dystopia is already here...
Profile Image for B0nnie.
136 reviews49 followers
May 8, 2012
Mulholland Drive (M.D.) is the movie that made me a David Lynch fan. Infinite Jest (I.J.) is the book that has made me a DFW fan. I mention this because the first time I saw M.D., I immediately rewatched it. Likewise for I.J. - as soon as I finished it, I flipped to the beginning and started again. This is a book so fractured in structure that it needs serious re-examination and puzzling over. M.D. and I.J. break up the story rather than direct telling, dropping clues and hints along the way. They both are confusing and strange, and sometimes deeply chilling, but heartbreaking sadness is the ultimate effect.

Big Important Books (B.I.B.) always have many resources available to help us sort things out. But in the end there is no help - what the book is about is more than what the book is about - it is the experience. The jest is there to 'get', not explained. Be prepared for dissatisfaction, and be ready to search for answers - and not just within the text - but within yourself: life gone wrong, addiction, flesh and blood not put together in the right order, pain (psychic and physical), fears and phobias. Your spine rushes with pain synesthesia (the pain felt by the observer of another's pain) as DFW forces you to witness strange and cruel deaths. We get the howling fantods.

This dystopian-lite world is a messed up version of our own, slightly in the future. I can't overstate what a depressing effect subsidized time has: YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT. Y.D.A.U. Order and logic replaced by Kafkaesque commercial nonsense. And, O.N.A.N.!

I loved the long, leisurely scenes, detail after detail piled on. I loved the seemingly endless cast of characters.

There are three brothers, and a dead father. The Brothers Karamazov comes to mind. There are references to Hamlet, and obviously the title insists that we hold that as a constant. We cheer for Don Gately, a drug addicted killer with a ferocious and jolly elan, who finds redemption through the crime and punishment method.

This is a funny book. There is something hysterical on nearly every page. It is also a book of horrors.

There is an especially horrific moment where the cruel Wallace has primed us TO LAUGH when Hal screams "...something smelled delicious!".

Poor Hal: 'This boy is damaged.' 'Like a stick of butter being hit with a mallet.' 'A writhing animal with a knife in its eye.'

I.J. is lengthy. I cannot reread the whole book again right now...my hale and hearty nondelusional God-fearing Albertan's brain fears the danger of getting caught in a loop with no desire to read anything else. This is a book that could do that. Still, I can dip into it anywhere, browse the endnotes, read all about the Enfield Tennis Academy (E.T.A.), study the rules of Eschaton, the Boston AA meetings, Gately's memories of Mrs. Waite or his musings on figurants, read the outline for Blood Sister: One Tough Nun, or The Medusa vs. the Odalisque. The history of Video telephony, Eric Clipperton and his Glock 17. Examine the truth about Canadian-terrorism, the Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents - the fanatically patriotic Wheelchair Assassins of southern Quebec. The radical Edmonton Jesuits. A Jarvik IX Exterior Artificial Heart kept in an Etienne Aigner purse. Yrstruly and everything like that.

There are riches to mine, so many perfect little jewels to examine more closely: urban legends, displacement-launch into the Great Concavity/Convexity, feral hamsters, Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House - and the hellish municipal deal where only one side of any street is legal for parking, and the legal side switches abruptly at 0000h. Stice's bed, the Wraith, DMZ, the lovely piece of mold, the black sail, nucks, tattoos and HOW DO YOU LIK YOUR BLUEYED BOY NOW MR DETH...
news
Tuesday, November 15, Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment


calamity song





Profile Image for Jen.
247 reviews146 followers
August 9, 2016
So, so far....


I know what I weigh. I brush my teeth, paint my toes, wash my hair. I dress up my tote of skin as best I can. I do all this, spend all this time on my outside because I care about what other people think and see and smell and hear about me. But the real me, the unique substance that resides inside my skin and bones and fluids, that many call a soul, doesn’t get the same treatment. And it should. It really should.
It is so much more important than my freckled flesh. But I don’t know what my soul weighs. I’m not as attentive to its image. But if it covered me, if it was the first thing someone saw when they met me, perhaps I would pay more attention to it and less to my physical being. And a part of me trembles to think of what would happen if, instead of placing a best foot forward, it was requirement that a side of your soul took a promenade. What would the watermark of myself look like? It worries me what would be on display. I have rotten spots, neglected areas. Dark desires. Places where I’ve stuffed bad memories, hoping that no one, not even myself, would ever remember them.

And maybe I’m wrong, maybe not everyone is scared of living in their soul’s shadow. Perhaps this
isn’t an everyman type of problem; it’s a me-because-I’m-fucked-up-problem, and it is an indicator
of how bad off I am that I imagine that everyone feels this way.

And then in walks David Foster Wallace and I start to think that maybe if not everyone worries
“Am I fucked up, and if so, how bad?” certainly he or his characters by extension do. And now,
Thanks to DFW, I have also started theorizing instead that if people don’t ask themselves how fucked up they
are then they are really and truly fucked.
Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews2,895 followers
August 31, 2015
the world of ideas as they blow through the buttons of our coats, through the letters in our rooms, through the flowers in our tombs, blowing every time we move our teeth.

Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,464 reviews928 followers
October 20, 2016

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

Attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti, this quote I believe sums up nicely the experience of reading "Infinite Jest". Among hundreds of characters trying to cope with a dystopian near future society, I believe there's not a single one that could be called sane or healthy. (Arguably, Mario Incandenza has a beautiful mind inside a severely handicapped body). An impressive gallery of misfits, addicts, loners and clinically depressive people are offered to the reader in lieu of Entertainment, challenging us to inspect, analyze and eventually redefine our positions in regard to the modern way of life. The words that first come to mind after finishing the novel are 'monumental' and 'exhaustive' and deeply, deeply disturbing.

Insane is just like a catch-term, it doesn't describe anything, it isn't a reason for anything.

Is the whole Incandenza family crazy? Are any of the people inside Ennet House balanced and dependable? Am I, the reader, free of addictions and self-deceptions? Or are we all fallible human beings, confused and frightened, lonely and perpetually sad? Is the O.N.A.N.-ite future society a dystopian nightmare or a documentary of the way we live now, something along the lines of that scary "Idiocracy" flick or, even more appropriate, the couch potatoes of the future seen in "WALL-E"? Is the novel truly a post-modern masterpiece or a grandiose, self-indulgent and cynical 'jest' aimed at a pretentious and shallow readership? James Incandenza, the avantgarde director of the novel has numerous examples of pretend entertainments that can be interpreted as both practical jokes and profound psychological essays. One of them is even called "The Joke" and could very well serve as a synposis of this 1000+ page novel:

... video cameras in the theater record the 'film's audience and project the resultant raster onto screen - the theater audience watching itself watch itself get the obvious 'joke' and become increasingly self-conscious and uncomfortable and hostile supposedly comprises the film's involuted 'antinarrative' flow.

This 'antinarrative' atitude from the author gave me a lot of trouble as a reader more familiar with traditional plot and character developments. But if the intent of the joke is to push me out of my comfort zone and make me reasses my 'certainties' then Wallace's broken, time twisted and hallucinogenic style is eminently effective.

"Infinite Jest" is both story and commentary on the story, with the salient points explored in lengthy internal monologues, art-film critique and philosophical dialogue (such a conversation between two spies on a mountain top in Arizona goes on for several hundred pages). This should make the reviewer's job easier, but to do the novel justice said reviewer would probably need twice the number of pages in the book to make sure he didn't miss any nuance or causal relationship. I have read online that there are universities in the U.S. offering courses in interpretation of David Foster Wallace literary opus, and I can actually see myself signing up and taking such a course, in order to be able to discuss and share my feelings about the people encountered in the novel.

With the limited time at my disposal and with the word count limit here on Goodreads I believe it will be more useful that, instead of an exhaustive study of the novel, I make an attempt to simplify the equations and present them to potential readers in a way that makes this metafictional monster accesible and even desirable.

What if in fact there were ever only two really distinct individual people walking around back there in history's mist? That all difference descends from this difference? The whole and the partial. The damaged and the intact. The deformed and the paralyzingly beautiful. The insane and the attendant. The hidden and the blindingly open. The performer and the audience. No Zen-type One, always rather Two, one upside-down in a convex lens.

Instead of trackind several hundred people we can focus on two : Hal Incandenza and Don Gately. The rest of the cast are just gravitating around these two focus points, offering variations on any given theme or exercising outside influence on the inner mental landscapes of Hal and Don G. Hal is a 16 y.o. prodigy in tennis, with eidetic memory and a passion for grammar and encyclopedias. Don is a twenty-seven y.o. drug addict, burglar and connvict trying to put his life back together in a half-way house, attending daily A.A. meetings. Both of them come from disfunctional families, experiment with mind-altering Substances and have a hard time communicating with their peers.

The opening chapter in the novel is emblematic of the disconnect between the private and the public personality of the hero. Hal Incandenza earnestly tries to reach out and asks to be understood, while the audience shrinks back in horror and throws him directly into the loony ward.

I am not just a boy who plays tennis. I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I'm complex. I read. I study and read. I bet I've read everything you've read. Don't think I haven't. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it." [...] I'm not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you'd let me, talk and talk. Let's talk about anything.

The rest of the novel is actually this attempt of Hal / Wallace to talk about anything under the sun. Professional sports, drugs and addiction, movie making, terrorism, pollution, atomic energy, game theory, geopolitics, self-help groups, inner city violence, family disintegration, mental illness, physical deformity, sexuality, radio programs, art criticism, conspiracy theories, consummerism, grammar, probability theories, nuclear warfare, astral projection, suicide, etc. I promised I will make it simple, so I will put all these eggs in one basket named : Entertainment . I believe the reduction is made possible by two observations from Wallace : addiction is not only about drugs, and everything we do is motivated by trying to get release from loneliness. Entertainment is the way we either seek self-escaping (oblivion) or self-confronting (knowledge and redemption).

It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or a pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are all dying to givew our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately - the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into.

Entertainment as an addiction is the engine of the plot, as much as we can talk about plot in this antinarrative novel. Hal's father James is both the founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy where his son studies and where most of the action of the novel takes place, and the pioneer optical wizard and experimental film maker who tried (and apparently succeeded) in making the perfect Entertainment : a movie so addictive it turns its viewers into closed chapters / drooling, catatonic, empty shells.

The choice for death of the head by pleasure now exists.

and,
A device for extending O.N.A.N.'s self-destructing logic to its final conclusion

U.S. (allied with Canada and Mexico to become the Organization of North American Nations in the novel, a transparent reference to onanism) secret agents and Quebec terrorists both try to get their hands on the master copy of this movie, apparently titled "The Joke", by studying the Incandenza family history. A history marked by at least three generations of parent to child traumatic experiences, betrayals, adictions and phobias that culminate in the auteur's (James) gruesome suicide immediately after the production of this ultimate movie. I think I have at least four possible solutions to the puzzle of the Final Solution film, and the genius of Wallace is that probably every reader will discover a couple more than me, once he or she starts to ponder on their own addictions and phobias. (for example what I call hobbies my friends might call trivial pursuits; in my case it applies to reading, eating, watching five movies in one day, rock collection, computer games, etc). In James Incandenza's case, an unsympathetic critic might remark on his self-absorbtion, another reference to onanism:

Joelle thought them more like a very smart person conversing with himself.

a socialite / academic professor trying to impress her peers with her erudition and coolness :

... there was little question that 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 ...

For the students of Shakespeare, and the often mentioned reference to Hamlet from the title, a monologue on Death as the ultimate motivator, taken from another of the auteur's movies:

We thus become, in the absence of death as teleologic end, ourselves desiccated, deprived of some essential fluid, aridly cerebral, abstract, conceptual, little more than hallucinations of God.

For Himself, as James is called by his children, the movie is a final attempt to break the vicious circle of transferring the sins of the fathers onto the next generation:

Make something so bloody compelling it would reverse thrust on a young self's fall into the womb of solypsism, anhedonia, death in life. A magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy, to make its eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh. To bring him 'out of himself', as they say. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was : to entertain.

>><<>><<>><<>><<

With the last quote I believe I can make the transition to anoter of my pet theories - that the novel is not so much autobiographical as self-referencing. James and Hal Incandenza, even Orin in his compulsive pursuit of sex, Don Gately, Kate Gompert and the other addicts trying to work their way through A.A., all of them are alter egos of the author, who used the form of entertainment (a novel) as an attempt to exorcise his personal demons his decades long fight with clinical depression. The encyclopedic nature of the study of mental illness, addiction recovery programs, suicide and communication breakdown points to the author's own struggle and ultimate defeat in this infinite battle against oblivion.

Sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them. ( Katherine Ann Gompert)

and,
It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling. (on suicide)

and,
"Ramy, I don't think I'm like thinking this is a feel-better story at all" (Kate Gompert)

and,
'I could use a quality laugh right now, Dark.' (Hal Incandenza)

and,
'Help! I'm screaming for help and everybody's acting as if I'm singing Ethel Merman covers! It's me, screaming for help!' (Hal, again)

and, finally:
'Touch me, just touch me, please!' (Barry Loach, outside a Boston metro exit)

>><<>><<>><<

Ahh, look at all the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?


Here comes Erdedy in the second chapter of the novel, sitting alone in his apartment, waiting for his drug dealer to bring him a bag of pot, right out of an alternate version of the Beatles song. Even his name reminds one of Eleanor Rigby:

He thought very broadly of desires and ideas being watched but not acted upon, he thought of impulses being starved of expression and drying out and floating dryly away.

Erdedy is just the first (if you don't count Hal in the first chapter) in a long list of sad, lonely people that populate the pages of Wallace's masterpiece. The big question here is : are we born sad, dying little by little with every breath we take? or are we lost somewhere along the way, discarded like broken toys by the well-adapted, 'normal' people? How do we get infected with what Orin Incandenza describes in one place as a "a kind of peritonitis of the soul"? Look at Orin, in his top athletic form, the best punter in American football, young and rich and admired, wandering alone in his penthouse apartment, gazing at the desolate landscape of Arizona:

These worst mornings with cold floors and hot windows and merciless light - the soul's certainty that the day will have to be not traversed but sort of climbed, vertically, and then that going to sleep again at the end of it will be like falling, again, off something tall and sheer.

Look at his brother Hal, 16 y.o. and already a secret pot smoker:

It occured to me that without some one-hitters to be able to look forward to smoking alone in the tunnel I was waking up every day feeling as though there was nothing in the day to anticipate or lend anything any meaning.

Basically, the attack comes from four directions : (1) family (Joelle notes that the Incandenzas were the second saddest family she has ever known) , (2)school, (3) marketing creating fake desires and (4) the job market, or "The Show" as the tennis students refer to their future careers. I could go on and on here recounting the heart breaking stories of wrecked homes and abusive parents, and the hundreds of drugs referenced in the text, but one quote should suffice for now:

Hal himself hasn't had a bona fide intensity-of-interior-life-type emotion since he was tiny; he finds terms like joie and value to be like so many variables in rarified equations, and he can manipulate them well enough to satisfy everyone but himself that he's in there, inside his own skull, as a human being - but in fact he's more robotic than John Wayne. One of his troubles with his Moms is the fact that Avril Incandenza believes she knows him inside and out as a human being, and an internally worthy one at that, when in fact inside Hal there's pretty much nothing at all, he knows. His Moms Avril hears her own echoes inside him and thinks what she hears is him, and this makes Hal feel the one thing he feels to the limit, lately: he is lonely.

Another one has to stand in for all the school bullies that 'helped' us to grow up to the ways of the real world:

M.I.T. students tend to carry their own special psychic scars: nerd, geek, dweeb, wonk, fag, wienie, four-eyes, spazola, limp-dick, needle-dick, dickless, dick-nose, pencil-neck; getting your violin and your laptop TP or entomologist's kill-jar broken over your large head by thick-necked kids on the playground.

also, an explanation on why kids start taking drugs so young:

Recreational drugs are more or less traditional at any U.S. secondary school, maybe because of the unprecedented tensions: post-latency and puberty and angst and impending adulthood, etc. To help manage the intra-psychic storms, etc.

I don't have something witty and insightful about the pressures that come to bear later in life. What I have is a whole alternate review where I started collecting something like flashcards from life in Purgatory:

>>><<<>>><<<>>><<<

If, by the virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility like Enfield MA's state-funded Ennet House, you will acquire many exotic new facts:
- that the chilling Hispanic term for whatever interior disorder drives the addict back again and again to the enslaving Substance is 'tecato gusano', which apparently connotes some kind of interior psychic worm that cannot be sated or killed;
- that over 60% of all persons arrested for drug- and alcohol-related offenses report being sexually abused as children, with two-thirds of the remaining 40% reporting that they cannot remember their childhood in sufficient detail to report one way or the other on abuse.
- that certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Then that most nonaddicted adult civilians have already absorbed and accepted this fact, often rather early on.
- that over 50% of person with a Substance addiction suffer from some other recognized form of psychiatric disorder, too.
- that purposeful sleep-deprivation can also be an abusable escape. That gambling can be an abusable escape, too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and abstention, and masturbation, and food, and exercise, and meditation / prayer...
- that you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him / her / it.
- that loneliness is not a function of solitude.
- that cliquey alliance and exclusion and gossip can be forms of escape.
- that logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.
- that it is statistically easier for low-IQ people to kick an addiction than it is for high-IQ people.
- that a drug addict's second most meaningful relationship is always with his domestic entertainment unit, TV / VCR or HDTP.
- that sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, 'hurt'.
- that most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking.
- that the people to be most frightened of are the people who are most frightened.
- that it takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak.
- that no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.
- that other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid.
- that having a lot of money does not immunize people from suffering or fear.
- that there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.
- that God - unless you're Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both - speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God.
- that at the zenith of the self-help-group movement in the B.S. mid-1990s, there were estimated to be over 600 wholly distinct Step-based fellowships in the U.S.A., all modelled, however heretically or flakily, on the '12 Steps' of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- that scopophobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by a morbid fear of being seen or stared at by others. Scopophobia can also be associated with a pathological fear of drawing attention to oneself.
- that newly sober people are awfully vulnerable to the delusion that people with more sober time than them are romantic and heroic, instead of clueless and terrified and just muddling through day-by-day like everybody else in A.A.
- that if you close your eyes on a busy urban sidewalk the sound of everybody's different footwear's footsteps all put together sounds like something getting chewed by something huge and tireless and patient. (Bruce Green)
- that a German word, 'Verstiegenheit' translates as: Wandering alone in blasted disorienting territory beyond all charted limits and orienting markers


[continued in comments]
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,270 followers
April 22, 2013
There don’t appear to be enough reviews of Infinite Jest on Goodreads so I thought I’d go ahead and write another one.

Anyway, I kind of hated this book. I hated that its characters are essentially parodies of themselves which limited my ability to connect with them on any meaningful level. I hated the lack of linguistic nuance with which most of the characters speak, particularly given that the predominant speech pattern here is rife with superfluous clauses and multiple possessives, a pattern not normally attributable to prepubescent teens, especially. I hated the long, meandering passages that go nowhere and refuse to be ostensibly related to anything or be placed in any sort of clear context, much like this review. In fact, often times reading this book was like trying to follow a conversation wherein all the participants have attention deficit disorder. Infinite Jest is a book that needs like some major dose of Ritalin® stat.

But except so in spite of all that, Infinite Jest was still able to pretty much blow me away. Set in the over-commercialized, not-too-distant future, Infinite Jest is primarily about anhedonia and the psychological pathway that leads from it to its secondary effects: loneliness, depression, social detachment, obsession with whatever’s available to fill the void, and finally to addiction and dependency. There’s a passage in IJ about a M*A*S*H addict (yeah, you heard that right) who becomes slowly but increasingly reliant on his M*A*S*H episodes to displace the anhedonia from which he suffers until the point at which the M*A*S*H episodes actually become the sole focal point of his day rather than its mere highlight, and eventually his need to see M*A*S*H supplants all his other basic needs to the extent that his entire survival practically hinges upon his capacity to sit down and watch M*A*S*H. Along with the rest of the narrative, this passage is written with an underlying sense of humor that rounds off its depressing edge and makes the whole thing almost life-affirming.

What I loved about the M*A*S*H story is twofold. First, it serves as a junction box for the theme of addiction and its relation, not just to drug and alcohol dependency in Infinite Jest, but also to the characters’ reactions to James Incandeza’s lethal Entertainment. And second, it provides some understanding into my own addictive nature, specifically with this fucking website. Goodreads is like crack for an Extrovert, and while I’m not equating that type of addiction to one with drugs or alcohol, the reason I want to hug David Foster Wallace as much as I do is that he is generous with his inclusion criteria. He doesn’t say, “No, you’re not as bad off as the rest of us because you only chug NyQuil® occasionally when you’re in a rut.” He says, instead, “Yes, you can somewhat relate to where we’re coming from because you can identify with this one minor trait of dependency, so please come and join us!” And so but in the interest of avoiding the inevitable fate to which that M*A*S*H guy ultimately succumbs, I’m going to just log off Goodreads for a couple of weeks.

ESFJ out!
Profile Image for Infinite Jen.
77 reviews178 followers
December 19, 2022
Have you ever, due to excessive consumption of amphetamine salts while prepping for the SATs, arrived at a piss-party only to realize, upon being cordially welcomed, that you can’t produce the fine motive forces required to roll the expected reciprocations from your tongue? That’s because it’s velcro’d to your palate by rampaging dehydration. You’ve made a mockery of this golden production. Take your academically haggard, gaunt, overstimulated ass and kick gravels. It’s clear you weren’t fit to erotically purge the contents of your engorged bladder in front of a live studio audience. And now you know how I feel about writing a review for this cinder block of recursive empathy technologies ever-collapsing in on itself at Infinite (!) levels of granularity. A device of unparalleled imagination that not only solicits your active participation in feeding sums into the function of its fractal bloom, (which even normal books can manage), but turning a lens of chaotic self-similarity upon your presence within the book/reader system, their mutual porousness exaggerated beyond normal limits until one sublimates into the other, like tantric, peyote-enhanced cunnilingus which culminates in an orgiastic phase transition from local to universal. It is the kind of literary experience which causes you to re-examine what’s possible with symbols arrayed just so.

And but, I feel like I need a cigarette.

I suppose it’s only appropriate that I disclose how I feel about David Foster Wallace. I consider DFW a genius, full-bore. I have watched/read interviews with him with the kind of enthusiasm generally reserved for cult adherents who willingly accept the lethal Hawaiian Punch and dipsomaniacally smile with cherry red lips while acquiescing to ritual oblivion. I have grown teary eyed more times than I can count, seeing the sensitivity and compassion and diffidence and fundamental brokenness of DFW in dialog with journalists and young students. I think his commencement speech to the graduating class at Kenyon College, This is Water, should make sweet love to your ear holes as many times as your acoustic refractory period will allow, this includes everyone who isn’t too hip to give a shit, or thinks that giving a shit is a good thing even if they can’t personally stop being obnoxiously, terminally, nihilistically hip. (It’s on YouTube, please lube your cochlea and pay attention to your partner.) So, no, this isn’t an objective critique of this very large, pathologically prolix, tumescently footnoted, detail obsessed, dangerously depressive, deliriously funny, pharmaceutically erudite, piece of exploded, cyclical chronology suffused with pathos, screaming meemies and howling fantods. I am one of those being Infinitely Jested upon, and I don’t much care. Jest me. An Enfilade of Jests along the meridians of my dyspeptically disposed, electrochemical wad of glial goop and myelinated fire. In short: Jest my brains out. (Infinitely)

I can’t clue you in to the anfractuous plot of this book, not only because my words will be inadequate, but because you deserve to be Jested upon unprepared, free of preconceptions and badly formulated theories. And yet, there is a universal (mis)(pre)conception about this book. That it is prohibitively difficult. That all but highly trained, literary minds will deliquesce before it like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And while I would agree that it’s a challenging read, it’s important to qualify what is meant by that. This book does not require you to be anything more than patient and attentive. (Although it will be of immense help if you’ve done a lot of drugs, maybe not enough to impair you permanently, so I’ll amend that to - an optimal amount of drugs - and have read a fair number of books in order to stretch your word-bag) It is not difficult for the sake of it, which is the insinuation bundled with the frequent appellation of “masturbatory”. It is not difficult without purpose. It is difficult because the rewards are commensurate with the effort required.

Stylistically mercurial, with modes of expression convolved like randy snakes deformed by partially digested mice packed to the whiskers with Methylenedioxymethamphetamine. By turns realistic and parodic. Reoccurring themes of anhedonia and addiction rhythmically kiss like sine waves through the ether. Absurdity explodes like magnesium filaments from the most unlikely directions, eliciting grins, guffaws and barking adenoidal laughter which may/may not echo the clattering of your marbles around the rim of cognitive incontinence, or a nasty sinus infection.

As a relatively innocuous example which won’t impact your future fun:

“Fictional ‘interactive documentary’ on Boston stage production of Weiss’s 20th-century play within play, in which the documentary’s chemically impaired director (Incandenza) repeatedly interrupts the inmates’ dumb show-capering and Marat and Sade’s dialogues to discourse incoherently on the implications of Brando’s Method Acting and Artaud’s Theatre Cruelty for North American filmed entertainment, irritating the actor who plays Marat (Leith) to such an extent that he has a cerebral hemorrhage and collapses onstage well before Marat’s scripted death, whereupon the play’s nearsighted director (Ogilvie), mistaking the actor who plays Sade (Johnson) for Incandenza, throws Sade into Marat’s medicinal bath and throttles him to death, whereupon the extra-dramatic figure oh Death (‘Psychosis’) descends deus ex machina to bear Marat (Leith) and Sade (Johnson) away, while Incandenza becomes ill all over the theater audience’s first row.”

This particular thing, for reasons that may be mysterious to you (and myself), caused me to laugh so much that it bordered on physical discomfort. Regretfully, I have not been able to properly communicate its comedic genius to others in my immediate vicinity, but I expect better from you lot.

Alfred Korzybsk is credited with the quote: “The map is not the territory.” In a paper he presented called A Non-Aristotelian System and its Necessity for Rigour in Mathematics and Physics. He also said: “the word is not the thing.” Claiming that an abstraction derived from something, or a reaction to it, is not the thing itself. It’s an admonition to not mistake the model for the actual reality. But you’d be forgiven for being duped by the verisimilitude with which DFW depicts those who suffer from being rudderless, in their myriad efforts of self effacement, through means chemical and consumerist. This is a truly unique book, by a brilliant and tortured mind, and if you give it a chance, it will seduce you away from the comforts of traditional narrative structures and show you something unforgettable.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,373 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.