from 109 (3 November Y.D.A.U.) to the section break on 211
I come to Infinite Jest having read Wallace’s “This is Water” speech, assorted essays from his two essay collections, and his story collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. If an author’s work teaches you how to read his or her fiction, as I believe Wallace’s fiction does, then I find Infinite Jest shifting seamlessly between forces of numbness and anxiety, between alienation and humanity. This sentiment is all but nakedly expressed from 109-113, where male characters including Hal, Ingersoll, and others muse on the nature of community amidst a tennis and scholastic environment that encourages daily competition. Wallace’s novel breaks down how this sense of communal “suffering unites us” (113), if understood properly, and pushes its readers to understand how easily this environment extends to include contemporary America.
Yet Wallace’s novel also counsels how merely describing the world can become an overwhelming proposition, where pages extend atop one another as a narrative perspective gets caught in the paralyzing grip of psychoanalyzing oneself to the detriment of actual movement. This extends also to Wallace’s very rhetorical design, with footnotes capturing and contextualizing even the “meaningless” minutiae. For a more exhaustive account, Infinite Jest records a sequence around 146-147 that examines the debilitating influences of appearance, body image, and video technology, anticipating the rise of video-chat and the desire to look one’s best; more interestingly, the section understands the restrictive burden that such a mindset can create. Waves of anxiety wrap around this and other sections, and they emerge as some of the most empathetic material in the novel to date.
This is, as Gilmour notes, a highly literate novel, one that assumes its readers can link its more philosophically centered material – especially the existentialist material (205) –and understand the more film history sections that pull from esoteric filmmakers. Yet it’s not as mathematical as something like Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow to my eyes, and it’s more humanist in tone. Ultimately, Infinite Jest seems to assert, so far, the need to be conscious and attentive to sensation, rather than being dominated by the numbness generated by outside influences, even if those influences offer momentary release.
This is a text so far that denies full comprehension in a single reading as connections about characters in the first 200 pages only start unfolding after you’ve already progressed past that point. In my first attempt of the novel back in 2002 or so, I only managed about 60 pages before feeling irrevocably lost. At this stage in my writing, the narrative momentum—and narrative order—is starting to emerge. Let’s keep going.