Sunday, May 13, 2007


is read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (1996). I've just finished reading it, once. And that's enough. I can imagine re-reading parts of it, for there are parts of it that are, as they say, tour de force. But even so. I feel that returning even just a little bit might make me like any of the many addicts in the novel: just looking for an excuse for full re-immersion, and life is much too short. I still like to imagine I have things to live for, and this Entertainment isn't one of them.

As IF says: "concentrating intently on anything is very hard work." It's not that reading IF is hard work, it's simply incredibly extended work. "Following it," as in determining events' sequence and what is happening in "the story," requires preternatural powers of attention, sure. Though, as with any entertainment -- particularly if narcotics are applied -- following the story might not be the point. Granted, the time-frame of anything that happens is more knocked-out-of-kilter than in any novel I can think of. It follows gleefully in the "unreadable" tradition of Gravity's Rainbow (in that the logic of lucid drugged states is definitive for some of it and the enjoyment of quizzical scenes and odd flights of fancy for their own sake is accepted) and of Gaddis (in its penchant for ad infinitum monologue and dialogue and infinitesimal descriptions of scenes in which details dropped elliptically are somehow made to add up).

IF offers us many capsule comments on what reading it is like (most ostensibly aimed at the work of "après-garde" filmmaker James Incandenza). My favorite is: "'Watching Grass Grow While Being Hit Repeatedly Over the Head With a Blunt Object: Fragmentation and Stasis in James O. Incandenza's Widower, Fun with Teeth, Zero-Gravity Tea Ceremony, and Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell,' Art Cartridge Quarterly, vol. III, nos. 1-3, Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken." But then I'll take this one too: "is the puzzlement and then boredom and then impatience and then excruciation and then near-rage aroused in the film's audience by the static repetitive final 1/3 of the film aroused for some theoretical-aesthetic end, or is Himself [the filmmaker; here, the author] simply an amazingly shitty editor of his own stuff?"

Actually that rhetorical question runs in the wrong direction: it's not that Incandenza (or DFW) is a "shitty editor" because that would presuppose some failed attempt to edit so as to produce less puzzlement, boredom, impatience, excruciation and near-rage, but I suspect in JOI and in DFW no such intent. Rather the question is: does it have theoretical-aesthetic import (sure, it does, of course, what else) or is Himself simply a monstrosity of mind-boggling self-involved proportions with no sense of limitations -- in other words, is DFW, like JOI, borderline demented most of the time? Probably not.

DFW (as narrator) seems intent upon nothing so much as producing in the erstwhile audience (those who can't look away, poor fools) puzzlement, boredom, impatience, excruciation, and near-rage. That the latter effect is in fact the theoretical-aesthetic end. With also the intent to provoke some related reactions such as: laughter (I laughed aloud, a few times), disbelief (driving with a dog tied to your car?), mild horror (most of the AA speeches), uneasiness (child abuse), excitement (though DFW's narrator tends to describe scenes of action in such a way that one thinks of trying to watch an important moment of decisive action on screen in a movie theater while the projectionist makes shadow-puppets on the screen), curiosity (provokingly unsatisfied, often), suspense (the latter tends to lead to near-rage since it is provoked by playing a scene out interminably until it finally seems ready to reveal something and then immediately stopping the scene so as to jumpcut to something bearing no relation to the scene in which suspense was evoked, thus stimulating a constant state of suspended action, which many of the characters live in anyway, one way or another), pathos, sympathy, and wisdom-recognition, even.

It's a staggering achievement in its way. I mean, I refer to Dave Eggar's memoir as "A Staggering Work of Mind-Numbing Tedium," but Eggar's a piker compared to DWF. DWF may be the closest thing to a Beckettian sensibility produced on these shores, but... Maybe it's just because good old Sam B. broke down all those narrative assumptions way back in the '50s when things were still existential, but my take on the Trilogy is that it's much more metaphysical, aimed at something generally called "the human condition." DFW's target seems to be "the American condition," which, granted, may include all humanity, especially in the sense of pharmacology and video über alles, but even so, the diagnosis remains in the purview of endless navel-gazing. Gately's stint in the hospital bed is Beckett-like but remains the consciousness of Gately who is suffering from being Gately, not just from Being. And the novel rips off its most effective "image" -- Mme. Psychosis as the Angel of Death -- from Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (though the latter film does get a credit line -- elsewhere, Fun With Teeth steals from an early '80s film called Reuben, Reuben, without a credit).

Or let's take James Albrecht Lockley Struck, Jr's response to a tedious-beyond-belief account (which we get to read too) of Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents: "Struck at certain points imagines himself gathering his [the writer's] lapels together with one hand and savagely and repeatedly slapping him with the other -- forehand, backhand, forehand." Amen, the very image I occasionally contemplated with regard to Himself, DFW. Or like totally demapping the guy to put him out of his angoisse du discours incessant.

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