IYI:…

On page 1 of “Everything and More,” Wallace tells us what IYI means, “If you’re interested,” he says.   On page 2, he tells us that it really means this is “material that can be perused, glanced at, or skipped without serious loss.”   The question that I kept thinking as all of these IYIs kept distracting me is why is this the first time Wallace explicitly gives us the option to only read some of the footnotes he has provided?

Before EAM, Wallace includes many footnotes or endnotes in his works.   Does this new statement regarding the footnotes explicitly mean that the preceding footnotes have all been mandatory, or have they all been optional up until now?   If he intended for the footnotes to be optional, it is hard to see how these new footnotes, the IYIs, can be somehow more optional than optional.   Also, if all of the other footnotes are optional, then what status does this place on the non-IYI footnotes in EAM?   The only conclusion I can come to is then that the footnotes he has included in all of his other works are somehow mandatory, that they all need to be read even if you aren’t interested in what they have to say or what they are commenting on.

That Wallace uses so many footnotes and digressions in his works then seems to point to a larger problem in some sense, that if these pieces of information should be included in the text itself instead of as numbered notes relegated to the bottom of the page or the end of the book in some cases.   His digressions about topics already make the arguements he tries to present or the information he is trying to convey harder to follow.   It says to me that he should either learn how to streamline what he is saying, or just not include them at all.   This may all sound like complaining, but his footnotes and digressions are one of the things that I enjoy the most about his work, it lends his voice to it, and it makes his works sound like there is someone talking to you as opposed to you reading what someone else has written.   The footnotes in that view are then his answers if you were to ask him “What?” as he is talking.

But I digress…why, if these “If you’re interested” footnotes are only IYI, are they not placed as endnotes?   They would cease to be in the way.   They wouldn’t take up any valuable page real estate.   You would only have to see them if truly, you were interested in what they had to say and wanted to know more about something.   The footnotes in EAM have been very distracting, moreso than any of the other things we have read by Wallace so far.   I found myself several times turning the page, seeing that there are footnotes, and reading those first.   This would be followed by finding what on the page needed that footnotes, then eventually getting around to reading the actual page, which is hopefully what Wallace intended us to be reading in the first place.   Oftentimes, the footnotes were the more interesting tidbits of information than what he put on the page, but if they are distracting to this level, why not just make a whole book out of footnotes?

Regardless of most of what I have said before, I think this book would have been much better served by using a system of endnotes as Wallace does in “Infinite Jest.”   Although I have found myself flipping back to the back of IJ often, it only happens when I run into something that I actually want to know more about what he is talking about instead of being distracted by different sized words which are lurking at the bottom of the page, tempting me with more interesting, but probably more useless comments in the context of the work as a whole.   All in all, his footnotes raise too many questions in my mind which are not answered in any of his digressions, endnotes, or footnotes, so I need to find somewhere else to ask and have them be answered.

Anyone still interested?

One response to “IYI:…

  1. I’m convinced that everyone should be interested and if an author did this in any other case (that is one not involving high-level thinking in mathematics) I might consider him absurd. Why would an author write considering those who might not be interested? The IYI’s must have been a struggle for DFW to put in the book, either self -consciously fearing misinterpretation, or by an editor’s request.