Jasmine's Reviews > Infinite Jest
When I started thinking about this book yesterday after I finished it. I mostly thought about it in my own head, my experience of the book and my understanding of the book. I don’t think this was wrong. I don’t think it was wrong when it was recommended that I quit reading the book in a status update I declined the invitation. I don’t think that It is reasonable to assume for any reason that everyone will like this book, or that there is even something fundamentally wrong with some or some’s reading style who didn’t enjoy this book as much as you did. My favorite book, yeah I just actively have one (and it has been since I was 15 about I think), is the stranger by albert camus. Sometimes I get this wrong, but if I say another book I made a mistake, my favorite book hasn’t changed. I bring this up because I know plenty of people who fundamentally dislike this book, I don’t understand exactly why they didn’t like this book, but I do as a general rule assume that their dislike is justified. I am not at this moment feeling like my opinions on this book are being respected in the same way that I would prefer all opinions are respected. Yeah I’m being a bit stupid pointing this out, but it has been bothering me since even just a couple hundred pages into the book. Whatever, moving on. I’d like to actually look through, outline a review and well if people are still angry there is nothing more that can be done after that, and I won’t have the energy to care if you are pissed at me anymore I’m expending it all here in an attempt to make people less angry. [On finishing the rewrite if you were angry with the first one do us both a favor and don’t read this one, while I think it is clearer for future readers I have never met, I think it is more negative than the last one and will be more upsetting for people I know who are already angry, but feel free to rescind any and all votes]
So I guess the best way to talk about the book is to talk about what DFW actually says are his goals with the book and how he thinks the book should work. I watched some interviews while thinking about this book and what I found was Wallace says in regard to this book that the avant-garde has a responsibility to make a reader want to read the book. Great he and I agree here, you can’t just do something weird and new you have to do it in a way that makes the reader enjoy it and want to be involved in it. Now I read the new foer book and that is avant-garde and for me that really met this criterion. I read the book and I immediately wanted to sit down and read it again. Now maybe you think foer is stupid, maybe you think that isn’t at all the same, maybe you think foer stole the idea and it doesn’t even really count, but this is my review and my rules. I learned something really important from this book. I learned that even after hundreds of pages a book can surprise you, I learned that even in the darkest moment of reading a book there can be moments of beauty and light. And you know, I learned that I actually want to go back and see if maybe Gaddis and I just needed a break. I mean after all I liked so much of that book before I got frustrated and annoyed, maybe he could pull it back. On the other hand I learned from this review that I don’t know that I want to tell anyone that I’m reading it again. In the case of infinite jest, well there are these things in psychology called reinforcement schedules. There are a bunch of types. The most effective type is something called intermittent reinforcement. This means that an animal is reinforced periodically but not on any kind of a set schedule. This book felt like that for me. There were these scenes that I loved, the first eredy scene, the first Kate scene, the first real explanation of Mario’s place in the family, the explanation of avril’s manipulation of her children (almost every time this became a topic). Every time this happened, even when 40 pages from the end of the book I had one of these moments I thought, yes, Wallace is bringing it all together I’m going to enjoy the rest of this book, whatever it was that was causing the distance we’ve bridged it, we’ve fixed it, thank god. Then it would fall apart again, the book would move back into these long sequences of things that weren’t quite interesting to me and I would read huge numbers of pages, waiting hoping, maybe next time I can sustain it, maybe next time I can figure out how to keep loving the book after those 10 pages. And I guess Wallace succeeded sort of I kept reading the book. He also says he wanted people to want to reread the book, at least in my case I don’t think that was a rousing success.
For me personally the experience of reading this book had super intense ups and downs. It was like when you are on a roller coaster and you go down one of those straight hills and your stomach drops out from under you. Connor has been trying to convince me this is important to the novel, it is suppose to be like this, it needs to be like this. I actually do buy the first half of that. Wallace definitely did it on purpose the man isn’t stupid. I don’t think it’s necessary. So the argument I was given for why this happens is that the highs wouldn’t be so high without the lows. Okay this is not something that is good enough for me. The fact is that the highs aren’t going to be in relation to the lows in the book in an overall perspective they are going to be in relation to my overall lows and the fact is whether or not Wallace included his lows I would have read torn and the highs would have seemed awesome compared to that. Maybe there is something about the non-existence of all outside reality in the perspective of the novel, but I buy that as much as I buy the death of the author, so I’m just going to go ahead and walk away from that one. I think a reasonable argument for what’s happening in the book is that the book is on some level making an attempt to mimic life. Life has highs and lows, and life has ups and downs, so the book does. Of course the books has ups and downs like a rapid cycling bipolar not like a normal person, if you intend to mimic life I think you have to include the slide from low to high. I suppose there could be some kind of argument that the book is actually shooting up and maybe the book is gately and when I find it boring is when he’s on Demerol. I’m trying to remember if in any of the main scenes of this book anyone was on anything to explain the highs in this book, Lenz does cocaine, there is at least mention of mdma. I’m not really sure, I might be hanging out with the wrong drug addicts but the highs still feel way more manic than drug addled to me. I’m just not really sure even trying to imagine a scenario where a person would cycle the way this book cycles hurts my head. Maybe this is the problem maybe I’m not enough of an addict to understand why the book insists on doing this. I kind of want to insert this entire thing about hans fallada and the drinker and writing the hungover mind and that open library book, but I don’t know that I should actually bother you with that, so I’m not going to at this point.
The other thing that Wallace says I find interesting is that art is about loneliness and conversation between human beings. I am totally onboard here. I mean I really think I feel this in books like the jenn ashworth. I mean what is it really like to connect to really be there with a person who is maybe just a little bit wrong, a little bit off. This is totally it, I read books to connect to human beings, just like I listen to music to connect to human beings. I think I haven’t been this onboard with a theory of fiction in quite some time. Stephen Pinker, yeah I’m quoting him even if I’m not really a fan, says "Fiction is empathy technology." We connect to human beings through fiction because we are confronted with the raw humanity of another person and we are asked to accept that person maybe even to love that person. We somehow have to find a way to relate to that person, probably on a level that we don’t walk around relating to people on a daily basis, to forgive them for flaws we wouldn’t usually forgive to tell them things we wouldn’t tell our closest friends. A book is a better thing to chat with than anything else on the planet. But what happens when you read a book and you find that you can’t have empathy for a character for whatever reason. The book ends up failing you, or perhaps you fail it, if you can’t be there with the character well you can’t converse with the book. But what if you can be there experiencing the overwhelming horizontality with Hal, if you can experience the intense craving with Eredy, if you can understand the choice between principles and pain with Don Gately, if you understand the fear Joelle has of revealing herself to gately, but then you just fall out of the relationship. Well can you maintain? I think that this probably differs on a person to person basis, but I know for myself that I had to constantly reestablish that relationship with every character in the book except eredy, probably because he was in the book so little, and here is the thing in the real world after you try to empathize with someone and you get slapped enough times you stop trying, or at least I stop trying, and when you have the opportunity to empathize you have to put in so much effort that you resent the person you are trying to empathize with, and then you feel like a terrible person. Yeah there that’s one of the fundamental problems, reading this book makes me feel like a horrible awful terrible person. Maybe this is the point maybe Wallace wants me to feel the way a drug addict feels (drug addicts have trouble recognizing any facial expression besides contempt because it is the only one they tend to see). So do I congratulate him for making me hate myself, and I’m not fucking around he really did I have been more depressed in the two weeks I spent reading this book than I have been since I was in high school, I don’t blame him directly but it was book related. Okay, that isn’t an experience I like, maybe if I had been given this at 15 I would have liked that about it, maybe it would have made me feel justified in self hatred and I would have loved the book. In this circumstance, that didn’t occur. Instead the book and I have developed a beautiful cycle of mutual hatred, this is not a conversation. On the other hand, as he says his goal was to write a sad book, job well done. This is what I was talking about in the last review when I said the book leaked sadness.
Okay now what I actually thought I was going to talk about when it comes to the conversations this book attempts is that as far as the ones I am interested in they felt extremely one sided. Now when I actually sit down with my friends and engage about a topic, not like fucking around over beers like actually talking, I tend to sort of fall into a more motivational interviewing approach to the world. I don’t like to just look at the world from my side no matter what it looks like to people. I do know people see me that way. But I brought up in my last attempt that the papers I’ve written on AA have all been about the positive aspects of AA, when I write about disorders I writing about how to define and treat disorders, I don’t actually fundamentally agree with either of these positions I just think it is so important to unpack positions to really think about them and understand them. I didn’t just flippantly dislike this book without thinking about it and I didn’t do that to gaddis either and it kind of bothers me that people would assume that I had done that. But that isn’t the point. The fact is that there were so many really great issues that came up in this book AA was just one of them, an example, there was the metaphor of the cartridge for drug abuse, there was the sense of defining identity of any single human being outside their personal actions, etc. Now I get that maybe my last review misrepresented, maybe it seemed like I was saying my problem was that I disagreed with Wallace and it is true on most of these issues I do. But that isn’t my problem, my problem is if I am going to sit down and really compose myself and commit to a thousand pages about these types of issues, I want to really unpack these issues I want to really look at them from all angles. I want to pick up the carpet and see what’s under there. I didn’t feel like I got that here. I felt like what I got was at best a Nietzschesque aphorism. Like hey look suicide, and then I was left to sit down and think through suicide myself. Hey look AA. And yeah I did get a really solid one sided view on some of these issues but I really think there was enough room in this book for both sides. This is the problem for me not “dude likes X” it’s “dude didn’t thoroughly consider the issues associated with all positions on X.” And you know I might be being picky cause I’ve read his essays, but the DFW that wrote host, I just didn’t feel like I was interfacing with the same person at all. I felt like at best I was being lectured to and at worst I was being given discussion topics for a speed dating session where the date never showed up.
You know it’s really fine with me if people think I’m too stupid to get this book, or I’m not putting in enough effort, or I’d be happier sitting around reading sophie kinsella. I’m confident in who I am as a human being and I don’t think this is going to shake that. I’m sorry that I’ve disappointed everybody and I’m sorry you don’t like my opinions, but the fact is they are my opinions and I don’t really see them changing based on peer pressure.
Okay so on the endnotes. I still don’t like endnotes, this doesn’t mean I can’t like a book with endnotes. And yes I have considered when the endnotes where there and honestly I came up with nothing except what I said in my other review, (paraphrased as to fuck up the smoothness of my reading experience). Well I googled till I found David Foster Wallace talking about the endnotes and he says that the point is that reality is fractured and they are suppose to mess with the flow of the novel. So not only did I consider it, but I actually had the purpose of the footnotes right. Wallace says that he needed the right amount so they fractured the novel but weren’t completely disorienting. Here is my problem. I found them completely disorienting. Probably this is related to my dislike of end notes and therefore my complete lack of practice using them. And maybe there is some way that I could have read the chapter and the end notes and then reread the chapter, and then reread the chapter and the endnotes and fixed this, but considering the reading experience I was having this doesn’t seem like something that I would have been likely to do now does it? I think a lot of this could have been solved by making the definitional endnotes footnotes on the pages. I’ve said, I didn’t mind the long endnotes, I got the point and I liked them even the filmography one, but the flipping back and forth four times in a paragraph so the meanings of abbreviations, I’m sorry I can’t do it, and I’m not going to apologize for the fact that it severely disturbed my reading experience, it isn’t like Wallace didn’t know that was a possibility.
When I was probably about 16 I had been playing the clarinet for something like seven years (and the harp for 11, so I mean I was entrenched in the whole music performance thing) my band instructor, Daniel Granholm gave a lecture about how you can tell if you have played a piece of music well. The main point being if the audience starts clapping the second the music ends you have performed poorly. If you play a song well the audience should get lost in the music and it should take them a second or two to come out of that to applaud for you at the end of a song. If they applaud exactly when a song ends it means they are waiting for the song to be over (in the case of our orchestra because listening to them was painful, but that is long story about some intense mistakes in the organization of the orchestra rehearsals, and of course the retarded lack of talent of most high school string players).
How is this relevant to mr. Wallace, well I have been looking forward to the end of this book, since, well not exactly since, more like mostly during all the words in the book. Now don't get me wrong I think there is a really amazing 200-300 page book buried in there (I didn't mark he pages I thought were good, I kind of think I should have now). In between those, lets estimate high and ignore the footnotes for the moment, there were 681 pages that I read wishing they weren't there at all, or that I took long naps while reading so I wouldn't have to read them anymore (I will give this book credit, I have slept more while reading this book than I have in probably 15 years). I spent most of this book skimming ahead for stops asking myself, "how much more of this do I have to read before I can take a break?"
Okay this book was actually not recommended to me by greg and Karen, although I think greg recommended it once. This book and dfw in general were recommended to me by Connor multiple times, over a couple years, in a specific order (which I didn’t follow, but I know enough about sports so he stuff about tennis didn’t bother me). This is Connor’s favorite book.Correction this is a book connor really likes. Connor is now reading Ulysses. Ulysses is not my favorite book (which I can’t specify at the moment but he hasn’t read any of the choices) but it is seriously up there. I love Ulysses because it is not a novel of things it is a novel of thoughts. What I mean is, I read Ulysses as joyce’s personal quest to define his own identity is he bloom or is he Stephen. And the conflict of uniting these two characters, or these two aspects of his personality is impossible. No matter how many times he brings them together one insists on fundamentally rejecting the other. I could go on for days. On the other hand, dfw. Okay I don’t like most of these characters, I don’t really think they have a whole fuck of a lot going on inside their heads. I do see a bit of Wallace spread out among maybe 3 of the characters, but it seems heavily accidental and not actually imbedded in the plot line. Here is where Wallace and I differ, I love the scenes that he gives almost no importance in the book. I love the explanation of Kate’s depression, I love the description of Eredy trying to get high, I love Mario trying to figure out how to interact with other people. I don’t like pemulis. Michael specifically, I like Matt a lot. I don’t think he has a whole lot going on as a human being, if he came up to me on the street I wouldn’t talk to him, so why the fuck is he in the book so much more than all the interesting character. Right, so connor doesn’t like joyce like I do, and he doesn’t get why I like it so much. I’m in a more complicated place, I get why people like Wallace, I just don’t get why this book wasn’t edited better and why anyone would want to read a version that was less edited. Why is the game of eschaton an obsessive topic in the book. Okay, I don’t like action in books I know this is weird. I like stories, and philosophy and the whole debate about where the snow is really falling, but I don’t need to be reminded ever ten pages that someone got hit in the head with a tennis ball. I just don’t give a flying fuck alright. Punish them whatever, but I’m not terribly interested.