Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rereading Infinite Jest: The Beginning

In my last Lescaret post way back in February, referring to Infinite Jest, I wrote:

"There is so much in this book, so much extraordinary writing, so many vivid descriptive phrases, that reading it only a single time seems inadequate."

Today I set out to remedy the inadequacy of having read it only once.

Two close accomplices, ND and LL, and I have agreed to take on this enigmatic and confounding masterpiece, reading it concurrently and sharing thoughts & comments via email. We're reading the paperback 20th anniversary edition from Back Bay Books (February 2016). All pagination references pertain to this edition and the novel itself will be referred to subsequently as IJ.

Neither ND and nor LL have read IJ before but both are familiar with DFW and have read some of the non-fiction.

I read IJ more than four years ago (see Infinite Vocab 101 and 1,079 Pages, in Paperback). Fascinated with the enormity of the novel, I wanted to know more about its author. Some would argue for the separation of art from artist, that great art stands alone, irrespective of its creator, and should be approached that way. Less ideologically committed, I always want to know the memoiristic details of my author heroes and mentors. I want to understand the Artist in relation to her Art; therefore, I want to know both - the art and the artist.

So for more on DFW, I read Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace (2010, David Lipsky) and Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (2012, D.T. Max). And dipped into The Legacy of David Foster Wallace (University of Iowa, 2012, edited by Samuel Cohen and Lee Konstantinou), and Conversations with David Foster Wallace (University of Mississippi, 2012, edited by Stephen J. Burn).

All are worth investigating, the first two in particular: The Lipsky book for its intimacy and its day-in-the-life-of qualities (in this case, week-in-the-life-of), and Max's biography for the DFW's years at Amherst College. As a note of personal connection once removed - the years DFW spent at Amherst (1980-1984) roughly coincided with my years at UMass-Amherst (1981-1985). It's not inconceivable that we passed each other more than once browsing the bookshelves of the then numerous independent bookshops in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Of course, whether you know the biographical details of David Foster Wallace or not when approaching Infinite Jest is irrelevant. In this instance, the art speaks for itself.

In the coming posts I'll visit our reading progress, list vocab words that sent me to the dictionary, cite sentences or passages of extraordinary composition, and offer general comments and insights that emerge from ND, LL, and myself as we go.

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