Matt Evans's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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's review
Jul 09, 2008

it was amazing

07/07/09: Finished my second reading of IJ, in conjunction with

February 2007:

From the book "Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest," page 20: "In a 1996 radio interview, Wallace said that the structure of the unedited first draft of Infinite Jest was based on a fractal object called a Sierpinski Gasket, generated geometrically by an iterative process of cutting smaller triangle-sized holes out of larger triangles. In the first iteration, on large triangle becomes three smaller triangles and one smaller-triangle-sized hole. In the second iteration, the smaller-triangle-sized hole remains, and the three smaller triangles each become three even smaller triangles and one even-smaller-triangle-sized hole. In analogy to viewing a Sierpinski Gasket, readers of Infinite Jest construct narrative interpretations "as much out of what's missing as what's there."

A more elegant way to state the foregoing is to say that the Sierpinski Gasket is a triangle version of a "mise-en-abyme"; i.e., one of those pictures that contains another, tinier duplication of itself, which tiny duplication contains an even tinier duplication of the two foregoing, etc. unto infinity. You can view a Sierpinski Gasket here:

Add my introduction to the fact that the novel is 1,076 pages (including its 349 footnotes), and you'd think the book was boring and egg-heady as hell. But it's not. It's frequently laugh-out-loud funny, highly interesting, and counts among its many eccentric and unique characters a massively-handicapped, homodontic (look it up, porpoise fans), green-skinned, forward-leaning boy named Mario Incandenza, who has the sweetest disposition in the whole world, and who serves (nobly) as the novel's warm, red, thrumming heart. I'm also quite fond of Hal, the novel's principal narrator, and Madame Psychosis (= metempsychosis), Joelle, the P.G.O.A.T. (Prettiest Girl of All Time).

"Infinite Jest" is about love and loss, the inability to love and lose, the mistaken love of drugs or sex or gambling or any other habit-forming substance or behavior that eventually leads you down a road where you lose everything that ever meant anything to you at all; "Infinite Jest" is about lost innocence, which counts among its casualties the inability to experience a cliche in its original, red-blooded iteration, which lost innocence if left unchecked can devolve into anomie and anhedonia and general all-around "lostness"; and, finally, "Infinite Jest" is about how a person, with the help of loved ones or even well-meaning friends or even one very special brother named Mario, about how a person can find himself again. That is to say, find himself in a way that means everything to him, the him inside, even if he can't express that to anyone else. Even if his attempts to express this sound like horrific, screeching nonsense to those strangers in the room with him, strangers who subdue him and call an ambulance and have him taken away to a mental hospital. Which is how "Infinite Jest" Chapter One begins.

"Infinite Jest" reminds me most of Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire."
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