Friday, January 02, 2009

Infinite Jestation: A Blogthrough (Pages 1-17)

I accept that things in this world are the way they are only because I cannot think of those things in any other way: that is what constitutes reality. I do not fly because I cannot conceptualize myself flying; I am bound by a failure to actualize my imagination. Fiction suffers no such limitations: the fluid world is approximated by words, words which the writer stretches to accommodate their unique perception, and which we then stretch further in our unique reception. In fiction, things that were true a moment ago can turn false with the turn of a page, but as they are preserved fly-in-amber-like by ink, they are still, at some moment, true.

This makes the blogthrough of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest a rather appropriate medium for such textual subjectivity. A group of people will read the novel (twenty pages a weekday), and each will record their own experiences. The novel will then, tesseract-like, widen from the writer’s world to the reader’s world and to the reader’s reader’s world, becoming, in essence, infinitely large in of itself. Best of all, it will be self-adapting, as each new entry—as long as it is truthfully written at the time—will continue to reveal something not just about the book, or the reader, or the reader’s reader, but about that infinitely large world—our world—itself, which is fairly appropriate for DFW, whose writing often spiraled out from a single subject to encompass humanity itself.

Off the bat, let's agree to agree that David Foster Wallace was a genius, and that although the edited version of Infinite Jest hits 981 pages (1079 if you count, which you should, the end notes), every word is more or less intentional [1]. Given that, I plan to read this novel--appropriately enough given the prevalent tennis themes--like a line judge, looking at each sentence as a well-executed shot, especially those that barely graze the line [2], and in doing so, extend our notion of "fair" space. So as to not confuse the metaphor, the court I'm speaking of is a linguistic one; the fun of reading Wallace is in discovering just how far one can go.

1. As is my demonstrative waffling.
2. Even the slenderest baseline (approx. 1"), contains an infinite amount of space if you buy Zeno's paradox.

PART ONE -----------------------------

Appropriately, Infinite Jest begins by deconstructing reality: there’s an unreliable narrator, an in media res flash-forward, and disconcerting set of abstractions and approximations. The time is given as "Year of Glad" and the first line reads, "I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies." It’s an eerie description, but one that mirrors the mental and physical disconnect of The Application (p. 3-17). If there’s any doubt to this intent, the next line emphasizes that Hal’s posture—like the novel’s spine—is “consciously congruent” (although the “chair” David Foster Wallace writes from is noticeably postmodern).

In the following pages, DFW excuses himself, through Hal, from being exact--"I believe I appear neutral," "I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully," "There is something vaguely digestive about the room's odor." In turn, this leaves him free to take humorous liberties with his descriptions: "The Director of Composition seems to have more than the normal number of eyebrows," "whose smile's teeth are radiant against a violent sunburn," "The two halves of his mustache never quite match." My unfounded premise (as I’ve not finished the book) is that these descriptions are necessary, which leads me to a syllogism that either the novel is pure comedy (it is called Infinite Jest) or that the pure comedy is a symbol for something else (Hal reminds us that he is “not what you see and hear”).

This fits in rather nicely with my perception of reality, and sure enough, Wallace’s next target is the past: he places a “(sic)” mark by the word “remembers” and has Hal recollecting his brother Orin’s memories, disclaiming it all (or punctuating it) with comedy: “It’s funny what you don’t recall.” The descriptions within this memory are also more lucid than anything in the present: "The patch itself [was] horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red." But if none of these things are trustworthy, but all of these things are intentional, then these signs are creating something larger than what is written, forming their own real world. DFW stretches his grammar to accommodate words like “Rototrembling” or to describe things in a new light (“The blue sky is glossy and fat with heat, a few thin cirri sheared to blown strands like hair at the rims”), and as he does so, he stretches our baseline of expectations.

And so, full circle to tennis, remember that the writer can only serve; the ball is in our court the moment we start reading. How refreshing, then, to find that the boundaries of that court are so infinitely wide that they no longer exist.

Words looked up: mottle, circumflex, lapidary, presbyopic, parquet, enfilade


takchess said...

Do you have an account @ ? I put a comment in infinite jest linking back to this post. d

takchess said...

Do you have an account @ ? I put a comment in infinite jest linking back to this post. d

takchess said...
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