Adam Reger | Freelance Writer

Pittsburgh-based freelance writer

Month: September, 2010

Some (Other People’s) Thoughts on Infinite Jest

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.

Ween

A blast of late-high school-era nostalgia when I heard this hilarious Ween song. Oh, Ween. Before Flight of the Conchords, there was you. Stay beautiful.

Update: But then, minutes later, a reminder of the other, possibly weirder side of Ween: the beautiful, tender and apparently serious “Sarah.”

Franzen

Jonathan Franzen interviewed by the AV Club here. Two of my favorite things, finally joined. His new novel, Freedom, is receiving glowing reviews. I’m bending in my position of resigning myself to waiting a year ’til the paperback comes out . . . and have just added my name to the surely long waiting list at the Carnegie Library. From the interview alone, though, one gets a sense of the scope of the novel and its ambition. You can also get a clear sense of Franzen as a thoughtful writer, grappling with significant issues: freedom, clearly, and what it means in the current American context, but also slightly meta concerns such as hooking and keeping readers. His take on it is, as with most things, unimpeachable: that it’s the writer’s job to produce work so compelling the reader turns away from cable, YouTube, video games, etc., etc. in order to read the book. Period.

In what limited press and review materials I’ve read from this novel’s publicity push, Franzen has come off as a more likeable person. Having read both How to Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone, I got the clear sense that he’s a warm and funny person but that there’s a thin shell of reserve that can come off as chilly. Even reading this interview, the number of long pauses put me in mind of television appearances where his stoic face, those thick-framed glasses, that arrogant stubble(! I don’t know where that came from; I’m just going to go with it), made him come off as detached, a snob. Knowing he went to Swarthmore College, and possessing just enough knowledge of the place to form some key assumptions, probably doesn’t help. (I grew up one town over from Swarthmore.) Franzen seems, in general, the opposite side of the coin of his friend David Foster Wallace, who possessed a formidable intellect but seemed always to take pains to be self-deprecating and to connect to his audience. This is an observation, though, that suggests the folly of thinking you “really know” a public figure based on his/her writings and televised appearances.

Addendum: I forgot about this, or perhaps I never fully noticed, but I guess there was a small “feud” surrounding Franzen and Freedom when the writers Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner both complained about all the press. It was one of those annoying one-sided feuds that shouldn’t be called a “feud” because, well, you wouldn’t call mosquitoes buzzing around your ear a feud. But there’s a good rundown and, indeed, takedown by Lisa Solod at Open Salon (I guess a branch of Salon where people can post their own stuff? Don’t let that keep you away, though: the writing and reasoning are both Salon-quality.).