segunda-feira, fevereiro 20, 2006

Whip-fucking Smart: "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace

I'm about a hundred pages off finishing it for the second time, and I didn't even realise that Feb was the 10th anniversary. Either way, the second reading has been infinitely better than the first. There has been no grappling with the semantic and syntactical difficulties of the first read and, though I knew what was going to happen, I found I had no real idea of how we were going to get there. It's been almost like reading a different book. Almost. Also, it's suddenly occurred to me that I have found it so much funnier this second time around. Maybe this was because the 1st time was the first Wallace I'd read and now, having read everything else, I'm more adept at reading his unique voice and 'getting' more of the jokes. I remember when I first read it how it seemed to apply to literally every situation I found myself in. I would always be saying to those around me 'this is like this bit in Infinite Jest where...'. For a book in which so much absurd stuff happens to be this universal is quite monumental, I think.

This book became my bible. It still is. I don't think it was THAT hard. Just pay attention and listen to the best and smartest brother and friend you will ever have. I'm glad I got it in the end.. which is to start again.. and after that you can do the same and have the experience get better. It is a kind and funny and sad book and whip-fucking smart. It's all in all you will ever need. Just pick it up and fall in love, and it’s not even particularly difficult: it's just long and structurally convoluted, thanks to the 'Russian Doll' structure consequent on the nested footnotes and separate narratives. A more serious criticism is that this structural complexity never has any obvious payoff. Wallace is on record for believing that all good literature should challenge the reader, but most critics really make a meal out of the complexity of Infinite Jest. It does require focus and patience, but is there a great book that doesn’t? Any reasonably capable reader can get through it with a little faith and perseverance.
Bottom-line (minor quibble): I hated the end-notes. You need the learning and the languages behind you to grasp what's going on in the text's depths, its echoes. Infinite Jest wears its learning in a more superficial and materialist way – in fact it hasn't aged that well in the age of Wikipedia. Throwing a bunch of differential calculus or post-Gödelian logic in the end-notes of a book may have still been impressive when it was limited to the academic wunderkinds of the 90s: today, not so much. Now it seems almost redundant to trot out all the long names of chemical compounds and the constant reference to specialised knowledge. We can all pointlessly quip that stuff now.