The Definitive Guide to Metafilter's Infinite Favorite
October 29, 2018 9:01 AM   Subscribe

 
1. Quickly
2. Slowly
3. Slower
4. Stop
posted by dng at 9:04 AM on October 29, 2018 [17 favorites]


The book just sort of ends so it's like it just stops reading you instead.
posted by Alison at 9:09 AM on October 29, 2018 [17 favorites]


Is the only winning move not to play?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:12 AM on October 29, 2018 [26 favorites]


The book just sort of ends so it's like it just stops reading you instead.

Nah. It ends right on time, and the next section picks up right where it should--at the beginning of the book. The narrative is ~CiRcuLaR~*

*It's been 10 years since someone told me that and I still don't know how I feel about it. It's kind of neat, but (like everything else about IJ) also kind of gimmicky.
posted by witchen at 9:12 AM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Infinite Jest.. is long, as HELL!!! catch up with more of my timely observations at my day job writing for SNL
posted by Greg Nog at 9:13 AM on October 29, 2018 [24 favorites]




1. Buy hardcover copy of “Infinite Jest” at brick-and-mortar bookstore. Touch paper and feel connected to hundreds of years of printed language. Flash cashier knowing, learned smile. Commend self for protecting bookstores from onslaught of crass digital commercialism.

2. Walk home and experience heft of text as bag handles dig into palm. Embrace heaviness as evidence

You've read your last complimentary article this month. To read the full article, subscribe now.
LOL
posted by gwint at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2018 [48 favorites]


1. Go to library.
2. Check out Infinite Jest.
3. Go home. If you don't have comfy chairs, you can stay at the library, but you should be aware that the after school program will be starting just as you get to eschaton and it can be a little difficult to concentrate on reading when you can hear the little scholars bullying the underpaid college student who is supposed to help them log on to Khan Academy.
4. Open book and read.

This simple process works well with many books, for example, My Brilliant Friend or any of the books called Girl on a Train, but I would advise against trying it with The Winds of Winter. Speaking from personal experience, this will only make the librarians laugh.
posted by betweenthebars at 9:19 AM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


The narrative is ~CiRcuLaR~*

Not annular?
posted by aubilenon at 9:20 AM on October 29, 2018 [14 favorites]


My method was:

1. Buy Infinite Jest
2. Read Infinite Jest
3. Like Infinite Jest
4. Sigh at subsequent years of irritating internet comments informing me that no one ever finishes or likes Infinite Jest, but also anyone who does finish and like it must be a jerk for some reason
posted by kyrademon at 9:23 AM on October 29, 2018 [106 favorites]


Oooo... the book is a circle.... how original.... just like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake....

I kind of liked Broom of the System. His book on Inifinty was ok. But all the brouhaha here on MeFi about this book makes me feel that there are other hard reads out there far more valuable to spend time with than this one.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:24 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Metafilter's Infinite Favorite

Not sure I agree 100% with your police work, there
posted by thelonius at 9:27 AM on October 29, 2018 [17 favorites]


Yeah, I really loved Infinite Jest--enough that I went back and reread my favorite parts. I'll probably never pick it up again now that I know Wallace was a terrible human being, but it still bums me out that it's become such a signifier of pretentious douche-bro-ness.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 9:29 AM on October 29, 2018 [11 favorites]


And just in general it's shitty to assume people who claim to like something you don't must be pretending.
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 9:32 AM on October 29, 2018 [15 favorites]


Don't. Just read some Pratchett instead.
posted by Pendragon at 9:33 AM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


Infinite Jest is no longer Metafilter's favorite. I read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I even recommended it to a woman. Of course, this was all before Wallace's failings as a person were known to me. I have always been of a mind to separate the art from the artist, but it is getting much harder for me these days. It is still one of my all time favorites, but I hesitate to recommend it anymore.
posted by incster at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Not annular?
nope
posted by thelonius at 9:36 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


How is this book, 22 years after being published, still the punchline of jokes? Are there no other books to make fun of? I know that “Wallace-loving white man” is an archetypal person, but there’s gotta be some other people we can make fun of. I’m a huge fan of House of Leaves, knowing that it’s a Borges rip-off, and I feel like House of Leaves/Mark Z. Danielewski fans are the art-school version of Infinite Jest/DFW fans.
posted by gucci mane at 9:45 AM on October 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


I have never read Infinite Jest or anything by Wallace, but it seems like there are two kinds of white people in the world: the ones who like Infinite Jest/Wallace+won't stop talking about how good it is and the ones who hate Infinite Jest/Wallace+won't stop talking about how bad it is.

As far as I can tell, the book is some form of Caucasian media jobs program for 20-something gentrifiers in Brooklyn.
posted by Ouverture at 9:47 AM on October 29, 2018 [11 favorites]


Just a note: perhaps one to skip on the Ereader. The footnotes seem intrinsic to the narrative and that's one thing that is not well supported on most readers. Could not get into the book at all.
posted by sammyo at 9:54 AM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


The narrative is ~CiRcuLaR~*

Yeah that's wrong.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:54 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah that's wrong.

Or what if it was...an opinion, or a thought experiment?
posted by witchen at 10:01 AM on October 29, 2018


Oooo... the book is a circle.... how original.... just like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake....

No, no! Like the original Planet of the Apes movies! So just watch those again instead! Way more fun!
posted by Naberius at 10:04 AM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I read this on a kindle back in Ye Earlaye Daes of Ye Ereayder, and boy howdy was that a terrible idea. I think this was actually the first book I read on a kindle, and it was almost impossible to tell the Clever Literary Devices and Playful Use of Language from Genuine and Sincere OCR Errors, since they appear to have just slammed the book in a scanner and called it a day. Amazon's quality control has presumably gotten better since then.

Since the actual linked article could apply to any ponderous tome from Ulysses onwards, I'd recommend applying it to Gravity's Rainbow instead, which has more fun and kinky bits and doesn't demand that you empathize with people who play tennis.
posted by phooky at 10:05 AM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


Ouverture: "I have never read Infinite Jest or anything by Wallace, but it seems like there are two kinds of white people in the world: the ones who like Infinite Jest/Wallace+won't stop talking about how good it is and the ones who hate Infinite Jest/Wallace+won't stop talking about how bad it is."

FACTCHECK: This white guy has never read it, but doesn't care about it either way.

I read A Supposedly Fun Thing and Consider the Lobster, and they were fine. I feel no urge to evangelize their quality or lack thereof.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:06 AM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


People are still making jokes about Infinite Jest because no one has actually read My Struggle . Sorry, Knausgaard. Either that, or time is a circle and we are living 2010 all over again.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:16 AM on October 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


When there’s a “great book” that I’m told I must read, I’m usually disappointed by it.

When there’s a nothing little pulpy page-turner, I’m often surprised by how much I like it and how much it sticks with me.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:19 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


His commencement speech was good though.
posted by Damienmce at 10:20 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Replace IJ with Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. Repeat steps.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 10:20 AM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


I have read it three times, because I was so mad at the ending when I read it the first time and/but it also imprinted itself on me.

I know DFW is problematic, and I love that dumb giant book. I am totally cool with you hating it or never having read it or whatever.
posted by minsies at 10:23 AM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


I trained for it by reading all the Aubrey-Maturin stories first. This probably doesn't work, but entails reading all the Aubrey-Maturin stories.

Also, I skipped all the footnotes and then read them in order at the end. I am told that this is actually immoral, but it sure God is easier.

It kind of is a white-guy book, though about a very different kind of white guy from me. It is about how growing up in one kind of successful, high-functioning, loving, well-to-do family can be like living in a high-pressure vacuum, driven yet very far away from everything. He makes a good case.

About Wallace being a bad guy. The book is about being a bad guy, remember?
posted by ckridge at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I have this but about Ulysses, which I am perennially 45 pages into.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:28 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I love the book but even I can admit that it would have benefited from a more aggressive editor. You could easily trim away 20% and the book would be stronger for it. That said, the best parts are sublime and I've yet to find anything quite as good.

I disgree that it was circular. More like the ending was chopped up into a bunch of pieces and scattered throughout the book, with no clear guidance as how to put them together. It's arguably hostile to the reader, like a narrative game of 52-card pick up.

"You want an ending?" *throws cards* "There's your ending! Have fun!"
posted by dephlogisticated at 10:29 AM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


About Wallace being a bad guy. The book is about being a bad guy, remember?

As they say in writing classes, write what you know.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:30 AM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I love the book but even I can admit that it would have benefited from a more aggressive editor.

I think I read that the editor got him to cut about 20-25%
posted by thelonius at 10:32 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


My method:

1. Buy book
2. Read it drunk
3. Re-read parts of it sober, find that the parts that I like the most were the ones in rehab
4. Discover, via an accidental listen to an interview with Mary Karr on Fresh Air, that DFW used the names and stories of real people in recovery, without their permission
5. Never read it again
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:34 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I only know one person who's read IJ. He's a misogynist dickbag stalker asshole that everyone I know who knows him wishes were dead--in fact, he's probably reading this comment right now as he stalks me. I can't think of Wallace without thinking of him and I therefore do my best not to think of Wallace.

That said, when I see Wallace books in the bookstore or library, my brain instantly says, "Fuck that guy," and I don't think I'm thinking of the stalker asshole, but Wallace himself.

People are still making jokes about Infinite Jest because no one has actually read My Struggle

I've read the first volume and liked it. I have volume 2 but am busy with Rachel Cusk's trilogy at the moment. With the exception of length, Wallace and Knausgaard don't seem similar to me on the page at all.
posted by dobbs at 10:36 AM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


My2c: read it until page 256 or whenever it is that Hal and Orin have the late-night phone conversation. If you're not into it by then, quit.

My other 2c: it's a wonderful book and if you like long, weird SF books you'll probably like it once you get into it.

People are still making jokes about Infinite Jest because no one has actually read My Struggle

I read the third book first and was blown away. I read 1 and 2 next, a bit more slowly. I started to read 4 and realized I didn't care anymore.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I read the book, not as a circle, but as two intersecting narratives, one about a guy descending into Hell, and one about a guy climbing out, passing scenes of torment on the way, and beginning and ending with visions of their respective Hells. This is to read it as a variation of The Inferno, and it works pretty well.
posted by ckridge at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


oh look another dfw ij thread
im sure we will learn much and resolve any lingering qs
posted by lalochezia at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2018 [11 favorites]


Are we going to turn this into the thread about the Nordic guy who wrote a book called Mein Kampf?
posted by tobascodagama at 10:39 AM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


With the exception of length, Wallace and Knausgaard don't seem similar to me on the page at all.

They are about as different as two Anglo-Saxon males writing long books can get. I much prefer Wallace. "Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way" blew me away, as did pretty much everything in Girl with Curious Hair.

oh look another dfw ij thread

to be fair, you're right. the post is pretty non-existent.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:40 AM on October 29, 2018


Discover, via an accidental listen to an interview with Mary Karr on Fresh Air, that DFW used the names and stories of real people in recovery, without their permission

I had not heard that. I do know that he flat lied to the media about the origin of that material, which he said he got purely from going to open AA meetings and just hanging out at a sober house and talking to people. Which is perhaps consistent with whatever AA precept prohibits publicity-seeking (the one that Ebert ignored), but it is shading into ethically dubious territory.
posted by thelonius at 10:41 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


"maybe Westward’s only real value’ll be showing the kind of pretentious loops you fall into now if you fuck around with recursion. My idea in Westward was to do with metafiction what Moore’s poetry or like DeLillo’s "Libra" had done with other mediated myths. I wanted to get the Armageddon-explosion, the goal metafiction’s always been about, I wanted to get it over with, and then out of the rubble reaffirm the idea of art being a living transaction between humans, whether the transaction was erotic or altruistic or sadistic. God, even talking about it makes me want to puke."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:43 AM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]




Yeah, I read this on a kindle back in Ye Earlaye Daes of Ye Ereayder, and boy howdy was that a terrible idea.

I had an opposite experience— the hyperlinks worked brilliantly to pop between the text and the nested footnotes, then return. Also highlight-to-define is super useful.
posted by a halcyon day at 10:46 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


1) Read the book when it is published in 1996.
2) Be forever after glad that I found it, read it, loved it, and shared it with others years before it was co-opted by post-ironic assholes trying to prove one of two opposing viewpoints about META-Infinite-Jest.
3) Occasionally re-read with a firm middle finger straight up at anyone who comes to the book with any agenda other than wanting to fucking read the fucking book.

(Step 4 is having to tune out men who think that, since I'm a woman, I must be reading it to gain their attention, because why else would a female read it?)
posted by tzikeh at 10:49 AM on October 29, 2018 [27 favorites]


One value of reading the Aubrey-Maturin stories as a warm-up to IJ is that you give proper attention to Gately's fight in the parking lot. That is one of the best fight scenes ever, being simultaneously tragic, exciting, and horrible. It goes right through the former bad-ass pushed too far trope to where you see that Gately has been not merely a bad-ass but actually bad, that he might not make it out of Hell, that he might not deserve to make it, and that you really want him to make it.
posted by ckridge at 10:57 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I can't even imagine the hassle of an ePub copy of IJ. Hell, back in the 90s when I read it I didn't have the patience to keep flipping back and forth; I just read the book straight through and then read the footnotes straight through once I was done. (I maintain that this actually improved the narrative experience.)

I haven't revisited it in some time, but what I remember of the President Johnny Gentle and the video-phone storylines' parodic qualities would probably feel a bit too on-the-nose these days to really provoke much of a chortle, anymore. And the media-oriented retreads-of-Neil-Postman bits that once felt snarky or paranoid are now just mostly... true. First as farce, then as tragedy, I suppose.
posted by halation at 11:44 AM on October 29, 2018


18. Get to heaven despite lifetime of lies. Find Wallace.

how you gonna find him there


I assume by asking, "Where the fuck is Wallace?"

"Where's the boy, String?"
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:45 AM on October 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


Infinite Jest is probably my favourite book. The first time I read it was a copy from my university library sometime around 2000-2001. I read that copy at least twice before I had to return it, which isn't anything special because if you read the book once you're probably compelled to immediately read it again. I still vividly remember reading it at the Kitchener bus station while trying to simultaneously listen to and ignore two people having a conversation about it. When I moved abroad for a couple of years I bought a copy to take with me so that I'd always have something to read and I'm not sure how many times I've read it now.

TFA seems like its something that should have been published 15-20 years ago, except for the social media references I guess. The more interesting article would be closer to the one linked by chavenet. How do you read a book when there's so much baggage around the offer? You could still do it as a lighthearted list but maybe include things like how you make a custom dustjacket for it to avoid being accosted or praised by random people.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:45 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


As much as so many people here hate Wallace, imagine how Chuck Palahniuk must feel. Palahniuk was all set to be the representative of 20th century fin de siècle masculinity before Wallace snuck in and stole the honor from him. He wrote Fight Club fer chissakes! How did Wallace end up being the go to guy for excessive maleness instead of him?

Honestly, there are so many books and other media from the same time as Wallace's work, and much of it from equally shitty people that the focus on Wallace does seem a bit perverse in itself. It would have been almost impossible to avoid having liked some really problematic media if you grow up before the century's end, end even after. That was the mass media so those same problems were still going to be present in "high brow" works too, though perhaps as much under examination as unrealized.

These threads always seem to be less about his books and more about him as a symbol of a particular sort of intelligence that is as impressive as it is destructive. It's the implicit betrayal in the promise for the result perhaps, which I guess does suit a certain type of male identity well enough and is the rough equivalent of the reaction to that mid-century masculinist Hemingway, but the proportions seem off, in the amount of energy spent on disagreement over men who wrote about the weaknesses of men without settling their own feelings on the issue as opposed to the vastly greater number of men who wrote with absolutely no doubt or signaled awareness of there even being a problem.

John Grisham or Tom Clancy, for example, have sold over 100 times as many books, but are virtually ignored as being part of the "just for fun" culture that we are all soaking in constantly. The conflicts over talented writers, or gifted people of any sort always seem to be much more intense than those of the ones that make up the bulk of the culture which we just tend to accept as a given. Wallace disappoints, while King delights. It's weird. And I say that as neither a Wallace fan nor hater, just someone who's only read his essays and found them often interesting, but not always entirely satisfying. Wallace is clearly representative or a symbol of some deeper issue, the various elements of which are made plain enough, but which always seems to escape precise summation.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:50 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I read A Supposedly Fun Thing and Consider the Lobster, and they were fine. I feel no urge to evangelize their quality or lack thereof.

Pretty much my take on Wallace from the start. I do think he could be a very funny writer when he wanted to be and at this point that's probably what appeals to me most about his work. I bought Infinite Jest when it came out because everyone else I knew was buying it and it sat on my shelves for years reproaching me and I did little more than leaf through it occasionally. I finally sold it for many times what I paid for it. I wish he'd been a better and a happier person and that's about the extent of my engagement with him.

Replace IJ with Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. Repeat steps.

Replace with Anne Danielewski's Haunted and some good weed. Repeat steps.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:50 AM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm a woman and I read IJ in the 90s and liked it. I've shifted in my awareness of his challenges as a human being as well as my tolerance for self-important dude writers, so I will probably not read it again.

On a different note, I do know a guy who has read (at least most volumes of) My Struggle, so it's not true that absolutely no one has read that.
posted by matildaben at 12:02 PM on October 29, 2018


That book is indeed heavy and big and awkward to hold, so I literally ripped it apart and made 5 smaller cute volumes. Then I proceeded to never read the smaller books.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:13 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


You'll need a hammock, and a long summer with time on your hands.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 12:15 PM on October 29, 2018


Yeah I just love to hate Infinite Jest because it came out just before I started college and was the type of writing everyone aspired to and I hated it then and now I feel vindicated. Time is a flat circle and coolness is too.
posted by dame at 12:18 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've read Infinite Jest. I liked it a lot at the time but was not at a point in my life when I got a lot out of it and don't remember it very well.

I really, really loved Girl With Curious Hair when I was in my teens, although I think that was by dint of reading it as stories about really strange people (which was reassuring) rather than reading it as about fiction. I know all those stories pretty well even now.

Two observations: Wallace wasn't macho in the nineties. That was why people liked him. He wrote about feelings, he wrote about being neurotic, he wrote about failing. We did not perceive him as writing stories that would be better written by women or people of color, because at that time, Mainstream Fancy Literature was not super welcoming to women or people of color. A white straight man who wrote in a way that wasn't chest-beatingly masculine (as we then understood masculinity) was a refreshing change. This is also one of the reasons he was able to sleazily seduce so many young women, I assume - that he did not seem like the classic seducer out of an eighties movie.

Don't read the sensibility of the now onto the nineties. The nineties saw a definite return to political struggle over gender in mainstream-ish culture after the long revanchism of the eighties, but in retrospect it was mostly a pretty gross time. It was a gross time where at least people were trying to be less horrible and in which riot grrl and Third Wave feminism had a relatively large amount of cultural currency, but the atmosphere was still really gross compared to even disappointing situations today.

That said, even in the nineties when I read Wallace, there were a lot of things that dismayed me about how he wrote women. I was young then and did not have the experience to understand that he actually wrote pretty unrealistic women characters a lot of the time and that there was a certain creepiness and hatred in his work, and because it was the nineties there was not a lot of readily accessible cultural criticism to validate my suspicions. A common feeling in the nineties as I experienced them: feeling like something was bigoted and horrible, but at the same time feeling that maybe you were wrong and snowflakey and actually the universe itself was just gross and bigoted.

Second observation: I feel like Wallace's language stuff is a little bit overrated and people really like him because he's incredibly, incredibly sentimental. His work is just fucking drowning in bathos, never more than when he tries to be all hard-nosed.

Third and gratuitous observation: I went off him a bit after A Supposedly Fun Thing because the title essay really annoyed me for reasons that I think are intrinsic to Wallace. So, okay, he feels horribly conflicted about his cruise ship experience. I too have that kind of overthinking and nicely observed guilt/self-distrust. Well, it so happens that the fucking solution is politics, not whining. The staff on the cruise ship are treated poorly? The cruise ship itself depends on finely graded distinctions and envy and self-indulgence? No matter how much you want the cruise ship to be, like, a metaphor for society, the cruise ship did not drop from the sky. It was not placed there by the hand of god. You can change the cruise ship or avoid it all together if you don't like what it does to you.

The political seems nearly totally absent from Wallace, and that always annoyed me coming from a white straight dude.
posted by Frowner at 12:20 PM on October 29, 2018 [35 favorites]


it came out just before I started college and was the type of writing everyone aspired to

In my day, the college wannabe literary geniuses were still writing ersatz T.S. Eliot. It was.....not good.
posted by thelonius at 12:21 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


As much as so many people here hate Wallace, imagine how Chuck Palahniuk must feel. Palahniuk was all set to be the representative of 20th century fin de siècle masculinity before Wallace snuck in and stole the honor from him. He wrote Fight Club fer chissakes!

I dunno about that. Without the film, I don't think Chuck would be nearly as popular today as he is--and his popularity of late seems to be declining. Hell, I think the book came out 3 or 4 years before the movie. I'd never heard of it and knew no one who'd read it before the movie came out (and my friends and I are big readers). A few weeks before the film was released, I looked for a copy in Toronto as I often liked to read the books of big movies before they come out. Couldn't find a copy anywhere in the city and not one bookseller commented in a way that made me think they'd ever heard of it or Chuck, either. I remember after seeing the movie, literally walking out of the theatre and into a big chain bookstore to see if they'd gotten a tie-in edition in at the very least. Nope.

I've since read the book and though I think it's okay, the film is considerably better (I think Palahniuk agrees). He's certainly got good story ideas, but he's not a writer working at the level of Wallace or Knausgaard--which to many people is a good thing.

I suspect that without the film, Palahniuk would be confined to "cult" status on par with Matt Stokoe. (I've read one half of one Stokoe book, High Life, and knew it was too much for me to finish. It's still on my shelf with the bookmark on it and there are at least 3 scenes burned into my brain -- vividly! -- that I wish weren't there. Every once in a while one comes back to me as if a memory of real life and I have to sit down for a second and consciously push it out of my thoughts.)
posted by dobbs at 12:27 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have absolutely, without prevarication, never heard of this book.

//checks to see where I have been all this time.//
posted by allandsome at 12:39 PM on October 29, 2018


As someone who grew up in Dallas, I am always surprised by these threads with such strong diverging opinions on our airport.
posted by BeeDo at 12:43 PM on October 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


Have we now reached peak anti-intellectualism, then?
posted by miette at 12:45 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have absolutely, without prevarication, never heard of this book.

While I do certainly believe you, I must ask: have you heard of Žižek?
posted by thelonius at 12:48 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just a note: perhaps one to skip on the Ereader. The footnotes seem intrinsic to the narrative and that's one thing that is not well supported on most readers. Could not get into the book at all.

My experience was very different, in that I could *only* finish it on an e-reader, precisely for the footnotes reason. The Kindle made it *much* easier to skip to the referenced endnotes and back to the main text, not to mention not having to lug it around all the time. Perhaps I missed something from missing the flipping backwards and forwards, but I'm not convinced I missed anything more than annoyance.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:50 PM on October 29, 2018


BeeDo: "As someone who grew up in Dallas, I am always surprised by these threads with such strong diverging opinions on our airport."

DFW's quality GREATLY varies depending what terminal you are at.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:57 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


"Read only the halfway house chapters"
posted by hwestiii at 1:06 PM on October 29, 2018


As someone who grew up in Dallas, I am always surprised by these threads with such strong diverging opinions on our airport.

No lie — also my least favorite airport in America, maybe in the world. It is so person-hostile to put the parking lot in middle and planes there taxi longer than even at JFK or DEN. And it lacks secure luggage transfer from international flights and makes you go through security again. The food is ok. That's it.
posted by dame at 1:17 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Two observations: Wallace wasn't macho in the nineties. That was why people liked him. He wrote about feelings, he wrote about being neurotic, he wrote about failing ... Second observation: I feel like Wallace's language stuff is a little bit overrated and people really like him because he's incredibly, incredibly sentimental.

I agree with all this. Another observation, he was, or appeared to be, a huge dork sitting there in his bandana with his footnotes and his clever names and his favorite recondite words, lacking only a copy of Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To and an Eraserhead VHS in his hot little hands. Nearly every white English lit grad dude I knew at the time—and some of the women—was either already that person or wanted to be that person.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:27 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


I have also read Infinite Jest three times and will probably re-read it again, a couple more times, before I kick off this mortal coil.
posted by hoodrich at 1:44 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


fwiw, aaronsw on IJ: What Happens at the End of Infinite Jest? (or, the Infinite Jest ending explained)
DFW: There is an ending as far as I’m concerned. Certain kind of parallel lines are supposed to start converging in such a way that an “end” can be projected by the reader somewhere beyond the right frame. If no such convergence or projection occurred to you, then the book’s failed for you.
also btw...
The Trump Administration Seeks to Deport an Abuse Victim Who Fears for Her Life by Dave Eggers
posted by kliuless at 1:50 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Never did get the bandana.

DFW

Christian Kane


Uncanny
posted by clavdivs at 1:58 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


My edited and improved version of this article:

1) Buy a book written by a woman.
2) Read the book you bought, that was written by a woman.
3) Repeat steps 1 and 2.
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:22 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Replace all the books with A Confederacy of Dunces.**
Read.
Laugh uproariously.
Read again.
Even more laughter.
Forget about all the bro-dudes.

**In a pinch, I would also accept A Prayer for Owen Meany.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:47 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that IJ is still the punchline of a certain type of literary joke (as mentioned upthread), but it points out the importance of such cultural touchstones. Some of us (all of us in this thread?) are drawn to these seemingly daunting doorstop challenges, but it's less important how any one of us experiences them, than the fact that we do.

Has there been another since? 2666? IQ84? House of Leaves?

22 years isn't so long. Was Gravity's Rainbow (1973) IJ's immediate predecessor? And The Recognitions (1955) the one before that? Seems a couple three decades makes us just now about due so poor DFW can have his rest.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:08 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


The joke's on the reader.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:38 PM on October 29, 2018


I came at IJ three times. It was/is an absolute mire. I am positive he was on a huge manic run when he wrote it; mania, like speed, helps put together all kinds of tenuous circuitous blather. As long as the mania or speed lasts, you can keep all the balls in the air.

I came at IJ one last time. And I read solely the pieces about people in recovery, about people in sober houses, about people who are brand new clean and sober and absolutely nuts and holding on to being clean and sober, which is fucking heroic. It is by far the best writing I have ever read -- anywhere -- about setting down drinking and drugging; it is the most accurate, it is dead-on, it rings completely true, because it is completely true, because DFW was a great writer and he was reporting/transcribing in almost real-time what he was living.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:39 PM on October 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


thelonius: Which is perhaps consistent with whatever AA precept prohibits publicity-seeking (the one that Ebert ignored), but it is shading into ethically dubious territory

From the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Eleven—Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

Twelve—Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Open meetings or not, using the names and stories of AA members in your book absolutely violates the 11th Tradition, and trading on that material for personal gain looks a lot like a violation of the 12th Tradition.
posted by hanov3r at 4:08 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Nah. It ends right on time, and the next section picks up right where it should--at the beginning of the book. The narrative is ~CiRcuLaR~*

Like Samuel Delany's Dhalgren (1975)
posted by larrybob at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I loved Infinite Jest. I thought it was beautiful. One of the most emotionally absorbing books I've ever read. I'm a WOC and nothing about it seemed remotely obnoxious or bro-ey to me. Yeah it was 'white' but so are many other books I've read. Yeah it's kind of word-y and circular and obscure but again, it's not unique in that. Yeah a lot of the men in the book are kind of terrible, but, again, it would not be the first or last book I've read about terrible men. I'm a little detached from the zeitgeist so I was surprised when I realised that the book is a punchline for a certain kind of white male jerkishness.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:09 PM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


"I read solely the pieces about people in recovery"

I take it that was the prudent way to read at the time. At some point you might want to go back and take a look at the careful portrayals of people who know, for sure, that if they do something even once, they will be destroyed, and do it. I don't think he writes very well, but he explains by repeated example very well.
posted by ckridge at 5:10 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I wonder at what point Infinite Jest became the default punching bag for this kind of thing when there are books like Gravity's Rainbow and Ulysses out there, which are arguably harder to read and more pretentious!
posted by speicus at 5:11 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Can't one of Franzen's books be the punching bag?
posted by fluttering hellfire at 5:39 PM on October 29, 2018 [14 favorites]


It's a great book written by a crappy person. I don't honestly have a problem with that, because so many great works in all media are. I know this is now a controversial way to live, but I cannot ignore works of art because society tells me their creator is now no longer allowed. Just.. no. Michelangelo was a gigantic asshole, too.

So, yeah. IJ was recommended to me (by a woman, if you must know), and I really liked it but was annoyed by the ending because all it really does is point out that you missed something, after which I literally threw it across the room because 1100 pages only to find out I have to read it again, well that sure sucked... but yes, had to read it again immediately, and I did, and I had.

It is not a life changing work, but few modern writers ever had his gift for language, or his ability to really write about sadness and depression with such a deft touch, with none of the maudlin of most pop fiction today.

The Pale King had a lot of potential, too. A lot.
posted by rokusan at 6:12 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I 100% agree about The Pale King, rokusan. I loved that weird mess too.

(I also threw IJ across the room after my first reading, but I didn't go back for a few years.)
posted by minsies at 6:33 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Can't one of Franzen's books be the punching bag?

Indeed! I have no recollection of being more non-plussed and/or aggravated by anything (before or since) than I was by The Corrections (?)
posted by PaperArtist at 6:51 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I am a white dude who has tackled IJ four or five times now. I have not learned how to read it, but I have discovered four or five ways not to read it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:56 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


There's a time and place for Infinite Jest, and that time is college. Seriously, I've got a toddler and a newborn, I'm lucky I got through this list.
posted by iamck at 10:05 PM on October 29, 2018


I recently started reading Infinite Jest after getting into a Facebook conversation a couple weeks ago with my old high school English teacher who asked me what I thought of it, and I had to admit I hadn't read it. I'm reading it on Kindle and my goal is to get through one percentage point of progress a day.

I've got to say, this article was not very helpful!
posted by phoenixy at 10:24 PM on October 29, 2018


One of the few books I cannot imagine reading on Kindle. All that flipping. All those footnotes.
posted by rokusan at 11:24 PM on October 29, 2018


Lurking on this site for nigh on twenty years it's been interesting to see how consensus evolves on DFW. Which is a good thing! It proves we're dynamic and reflective and willing to change.

Whenever an acquaintance proposes to embark upon Infinite Jest I helpfully recommend two bookmarks. To the quizzical response I just say, "you'll figure it out".

Seriously folks, two bookmark, problem solved.
posted by St. Oops at 11:44 PM on October 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


It is by far the best writing I have ever read -- anywhere -- about setting down drinking and drugging

Those parts made me briefly feel like I knew what it was like to be an addict. That kind of empathy and comprehension is as much as one can ask of fiction.
posted by nnethercote at 1:53 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


I thought Infinite Jest was a tremendously entertaining book, caustic in its wit and incisive in its insight. As well as being an engaging literary narrative, it's a fascinating puzzle to unravel, and despite its dreariness, made me feel considerably less alone. I'll certainly be reading it again one day.

Why it seems to have become some kind of identity-politics punchline is beyond me; it's unfortunate and ironic that it seems to have become some kind of vilified samizdat itself.
posted by phenylphenol at 3:02 AM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


gusottertrout, as a teenager in the late 80s, I read a LOT of Clancy-esque technothrillers. In a combination of nostalgia and a desire to have some “easy” things to read on planes and in hotels I’ve reread some Clancy and, wow, it’s even more problematic than I remembered. I think he had skill as a writer, but he also had a tendency to fall back on really vicious stereotypes of anyone to the left of Atilla the Hun. It’s like he’s the anti-Sorkin.

I was digging around this weekend to see if “Flight of the Old Dog” is available as an e-book and ended up on the author’s Facebook page. I don’t suppose that I should be surprised that a guy who would write that kind of fiction is a giant Trumpet, but at least I know not to give him any of my money again. (I’m sure theres’s a torrent out there of 1,000 poorly edited technothrillers, but it hardly feels worth the effort to find it.)

As suggested above, perhaps I’ll just re-read “A Confederacy of Dunces” again, possibly with “All the King’s Men” as dessert.
posted by wintermind at 3:52 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


1) I made this post to troll Cortex, but he never showed.
2) I had somehow missed the DFW reckoning in re his personal life.
3) I have read many "difficult" books, and IJ is the only one of those that I have abandoned...repeatedly. I do not hold this to be DFW's fault, or the book's.
4) I thought the listicle was funny for the reasons people have mentioned here: really, this is relevant content in 2018?
5) When it came out, The Name of the Rose was notorious for not being read but being talked about.
6) When I was in college (when DFW was around but IJ had not yet been written) someone had an art exhibit where the centerpiece was a very large "self-portrait" of the greasy photographer, in bed, surrounded by detritus of what we now call hipsterdom. This included a beat up copy of Gravity's Rainbow, cigarettes, a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels, and the back of his naked girlfriend (he was mostly clothed) appearing to give him head. It was a lot.
posted by OmieWise at 6:13 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


The article by Maria Bustillos that chavenet linked to is probably the best case you can make for why David Foster Wallace shouldn’t simply be allowed to fade away, like so many writers before him who resonated very strongly with the metal of the culture that was cast around them, but who rang false once that cultural structure had cracked and rusted. Essentially, she makes the case that he engages with misogyny, allowing readers to ask questions and come to their own understanding.

I’m sympathetic to that kind of interpretation, for instance I’ve been persuaded by similar readings of H. P. Lovecraft, that he engaged so fully with his own racism that he was able to push it into such strange places that allow his readers to see the racism in a different kind of horrific light, and understand racists from another perspective. The problem with Wallace is that his main goals as a writer had little to do with his own misogyny, it just came along for the ride. This is abundantly clear in Infinite Jest.

Why Lovecraft works is that he never had ambitions to write about society at large. His protagonists are largely racist white men. It’s interesting to think about the fear of miscegenation when portrayed as the mental collapse of a racist white man finding out he’s descended from fish people. It’s absurd enough to become a text about racism, not simply a racist story.

It’s much less interesting to read a book that tries to encapsulate American society at large written by a male author who seems uninterested in the lived experience of women. In Infinite Jest Wallace set out to write about American society, but instead of pushing against the limits of his understanding of human nature, he sculpted his female characters from the misogynistic clay of his own thinking. And that’s a really major fault in a writer. It would be like reading a book by someone who doesn’t understand how verbs function in a sentence.

Well, except that misogyny is so deeply entrenched in modern literature it’s as if the canon is largely made up of books written by people who don’t know how verbs work and we’ve grown up being told to focus on the beauties of the adjectives or the deep seriousness of the nouns.

Now that I’ve written it down, that’s understating it. It’s more like the last century of literature has been mostly devoid of verbs, with novels containing verbs mostly shelved in bookshops in the Verb Lit section, with the occasional book that’s fully stocked with verbs allowed in the classics section, or if it’s a tiny bit genre-inflected, placed in that section. And that even today, people have to argue for the importance of verbs to fiction, to a generally skeptical cultural elite.

Except, you know, if verbs were human beings and not parts of speech.
posted by Kattullus at 8:37 AM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


I have this but about Ulysses, which I am perennially 45 pages into.

A few years ago, I did a reading project: I read Ulysses, Infinite Jest, and Middlemarch.

I have since re-read Middlemarch, because I loved it, and Ulysses, because it struck me as the kind of book a person might better enjoy and understand the second time around. The second time, I listened to the audiobook, and that was a good choice—it let me just ride along. I had also by then read The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses, which is excellent and really put the novel in context for me.

I had strong feelings, both positive and negative, about Infinite Jest. There are some sections that struck me as so sexist or racist that it is tempting to say, "Anybody who can love that book has a problem." But there are other parts that I loved so much—I don't think anyone writes better about depression than DFW. I think any work as ambitious as Infinite Jest is going to be flawed, but man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?

IJ has really stayed with me, and I think I will likely re-read it one of these days, to better understand it, and to re-experience the parts of it I loved so much. Perhaps some of what offended me will appear in a different light the second time around; or perhaps I will be even more aware of the book's flaws.

I am glad to have read it because, having read it, I understand the video for the Decemberists' Calamity Song.

I trained for it by reading all the Aubrey-Maturin stories first.

Many endeavors would be improved by incorporating this as a first step.
posted by Orlop at 11:23 AM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


Holy shit that Decemberists video is amazing!
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:48 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


The book just sort of ends so it's like it just stops reading you instead.

Really? That's interesting; he chose to end Broom Of The System literally in mid-sentence.

And I can sympathize. Endings are a bear. I think it was Mel Brooks who said that writers should have no problem coming up with an ending because they can always put "and then everyone got hit by a truck and died" or something to that effect.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:46 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have mixed feelings about Inifinite Jest. There are passages of brilliant writing, but I'm not sure that the distancing devices and experimental touches always work to make the entire novel more effective?

I kinda like experimental literature (usually in smaller chunks) but it makes for a funny thought experiment if you might take: Ulysses, Dhalgren, Gravity's Rainbow, House of Leaves, etc, and try to see how these stories could be re-imagined with more conventional structures, and how they would be read an alternate universe?
posted by ovvl at 6:27 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


I liked Infinite Jest. I read it when I had a week at the beach and nothing much really I had to do. I was a big DFW fanboy at the time but I was not yet in university and there was nobody I could've really pushed it on, thankfully.

I think it should've been three books, released quickly (like the recent Southern Reach series). Where do you split them? Dunno. Not sure it matters. So much of it is just sustained riffs on experiences that I feel like you'd get a lot out of any third of the book without really getting all the cross-references.
posted by solarion at 1:21 AM on October 31, 2018


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