Some (Other People’s) Thoughts on Infinite Jest

by jbloodwell

English professor Alan Jacobs has been reading it and blogging about the experience. Particularly interesting are comparisons to James Joyce’s Ulysses and some ruminations on reading it on a Kindle versus in physical form (which I learned, via these blog posts, is called a codex. Huh.)

Picking through these is resonant for me because the novel and different pieces of it have been coming back to me lately. I like that Jacobs makes criticisms of IJ; I do sort of agree that it was needlessly long. But there is a staying power to the book that tends to refute nitpicking, and to override the more focused, intellectual praise of the novel’s achievements. In a strange way, the book interacts with its own observations on / concerns with entertainment (broadly defined), becoming the sort of work whose scenes and images linger in memory more, at least for me, than do any of its themes or philosophical threads.

On a more specific level, I thought of IJ a lot while I was watching Inception. The obvious reason is that Leonardo DiCaprio washes up on a beach, which “rhymes” with the last line of IJ, describing Don Gately’s position: “And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”

OK, maybe it’s more a similarity of feeling and circumstance than an exact physical/meteorological parallel. Both works also work their way to the point where the beginning and end join one another.

Although Infinite Jest, rather pointedly, doesn’t quite join these two points, at least not in anything close to an explicit manner. That’s always bugged me about the book, but I also recognize it may be the chief reason the novel—and especially that last line, and most of the last chapters—still haunts me. I literally still am not sure of what happened. (And looking through Jacobs’ post, where he cites some other internet commentary on the novel, it seems there is no one answer, and not much in the way of consensus.)

More to the point, Infinite Jest‘s failure to connect everything makes more sense in light of the book’s themes and, especially, Wallace’s working title for it, A Failed Entertainment.

Anyway, all of that is a long gloss on my posting a link to an interesting discussion of the book. I’d like to read it again some day, but with all the other good stuff in a pile beside my bed, and the endurance-challenge that IJ is, it may be a while.