Author Archives: jtlax45


I’ll start off by saying that it’s been a pleasure. There was a part of me that was hesitant to take a course for which I’d already done all the reading and the subject of which is so close to my heart, but the class hasn’t disappointed. My biggest fear was that the joy and pleasure I get from DFW’s work would be sucked out by being forced to reread and write about it. Though I’m sure some of us are burnt out on DFW – after all, we’ve read about 3000 dense pages of exclusively his work this semester – I’m still going strong. My biggest hope for the class was that I would get to spend time talking and  working  with other people who care and think as much about DFW’s writing as I do. I spend a really unhealthy proportion of my time reading and rereading and thinking about his work, and I’m glad to know now that I’m not the only one around here.

So I’ll devote my last blog post to what has stuck with me most strongly this semester. It is a single line from one of the first weeks of class, but is has informed the way I’ve thought about Wallace’s fiction and literature in general for the last three months.  In his interview with Larry McCaffery, Wallace proposes that “good fiction’s purpose is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” (McCaffery 127). Reading Infinite Jest with this notion in mind helps to explain a great deal about the text, and also helps us determine the methods behind the book’s success (or failure). After all, Infinite Jest is in no way a normal piece of fiction: it is extraordinarily written, extraordinarily structured, extraordinarily dense, extraordinarily long. It is a daunting bundle, impossible to see fully through any single lens, impossible to grab hold of entirely with any single analytical handle.  Nonetheless, we must determine which single analytical handle will give us the best grip. Given the book’s density, length, and obvious ambition — and given a desire to get to the very heart of the novel’s intent — it seems reasonable to frame our discussion in terms of Wallace’s writing’s most fundamental goals. Fiction’s general purpose — comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable — is the best way to grab hold of the bundle.

And the above framework applies just as easily to Wallace’s other work as it does to Infinite Jest. It even applies to the nonfiction, I think. It wasn’t until I read that line in the first week of class that I got a real sense of what it is in Wallace’s writing that makes it resonate. What makes Wallace’s nonfiction so extraordinary is that is has the same goal of comforting that side of us which is afraid and disturbed while simultaneously forcing us to keep thinking, even when it makes us uncomfortable. “Consider the Lobster” is a perfect example of this. Wallace forces us think about unpleasant philosophical questions and simultaneously admits that he has no satisfactory answers either. Even as we are asked to confront our most basic instincts, we are given implicit permission to fail in our  reconciliation  of desire and thought. “TV and U.S. Fiction” is like this, too. And so is “Up, Simba.” And “A Supposedly Fun Thing” and etc. You know what I’m talking about.

This, I think, is why Wallace found writing nonfiction a little bit easier than writing fiction. Confronting the real world through real experience requires feats of empathy and imagination more ordinary than those required by writing good fiction. Fiction involves creating entire worlds and entire perspective with this goal in mind. In nonfiction, the world and perspective are given.

Even as I try and fail to get a handle on the infinite complexities of his work, one thing I can’t help thinking is that everything he tried to do was, in this way, wonderfully simple.
Signing off now, I’ll admit what was my most basic and simple motivation for taking this class. I don’t think I realized it until just now, actually. Since September, I have been grasping for ways to separate the man Dave Wallace from the work he created, the work means so much to me and has comforted me through many of my formative years. There are some easy but ultimately unsatisfying intellectual ways to this, I’ve found. I’ve tried to let the philosophy and morality that rises from every page of his work remain alive and valid even after its author’s awful death, to keep them legitimately separate. I wanted to take this class basically because I thought it would force me to  intellectualize  DFW’s work to such a degree that I might really be able to think about what happened with some distance, but I’ve found that no amount of philosophical acrobatics, literary theory, or close analysis can really get me there. The good thing is that I’m less and less sure that we need to separate the work from the man. I’m less and less certain that Wallace left us as high and dry as I felt he did in September. I’m more and more certain that feeling both comforted and disturbed is precisely how Wallace would have wanted to leave us.

How Do I Explain This Properly?

Below is an essay I wrote about a year ago, shortly after I finished Infinite Jest for the first time (don’t worry – no spoilers) but which is mostly about Wallace’s essays. It is long and self-indulgent and, if I were you, I would skip it entirely. Actually, now that I look at it in blog format, it is way way too long. Nonetheless, here it is:

It’s often pretty hard to say what exactly is great about something that is, to you, so great you don’t feel like your own words can do it justice. For this reason, it’s a lot easier to write a bad review of a bad book than a great review of a great book. That’s why it’s hard to write recommendation letters, especially if you really like the person you’re recommending. This sort of difficulty arises from a not-unreasonable certainty that description, explication, or analysis will automatically diminish the subject to something that can be categorized and described and labeled in the same way that everything not-so-great can be. It’s why talking about your favorite things is a lot harder than talking about your least favorite. It’s especially hard when the thing you consider great is exactly someone else’s ability to do what you’re having trouble doing yourself.

Please, try to empathize. Understand how hard this is for me. Understand that I don’t want to describe David Foster Wallace as genius or insightful because I’m sure there are several writers who have been described as insightful geniuses whose work you couldn’t care less about. Understand that, if I describe Wallace to you as brilliant, I see you associating Wallace with all the other supposedly brilliant people whose work you find pretentious and boring. So I’ll tell you right off the bat: Don’t. Just…Don’t.

Wallace is the type of writer who makes people who don’t read start reading. His essays and journalistic pieces are a league/genre unto themselves. He is scholarly and journalistic in the sense that he analyzes and picks apart his subjects with a razor eye and an ear for the telling detail, but distinctly unscholarly in the humor and humanity that seeps up through the incisiveness. His fiction is dense and challenging but endlessly entertaining, well worth every five-minute page.

Wallace has in spades exactly what all enthusiasts fear we lack – an ability to explain things without explaining them away; a talent for labeling things without diminishing them; the verbal facility to create lucidity without simplicity; a style that makes us deeply understand a subject without forgetting for a moment its simple and literally indescribable human importance.

What makes the scholarly side of his writing great is not hard to spot. Wallace has an instinct about what really are the important questions to ask and answer. His journalism is never just who-what-when-where-why in the traditional sense. It explores the questions on way deeper levels than anyone is expecting. His Gourmet article on the Maine Lobster Festival is not good-food-good-times fluff; it is an exploration of the philosophy and psychology involved in getting everyone together to throw live animals into boiling water. (The magazine included Wallace’s acknowledgement that this is probably not what the Gourmet readers usually want/expect from their magazine.) DFW’s writing is almost preternatural in its ability to answer our questions a sentence or two after it occurs to us to ask them. At their worst, his essays and journalism answer every question we have, from the philosophical to the factual, with analytical incisiveness and humor that leaves us smarter than we were. At his best, DFW does all the aforementioned and also introduces ideas and questions the significance of which we don’t realize until he brings them up. At his best, he makes us see people, places, and issues from angles we didn’t know existed, though they are clearly the right angles to take.

Through “Television and U.S. Fiction,” “Up, Simba,” “Big Red Son” – which are about television and literature, politics, and porn, respectively – and every other non-fiction piece of his I’ve read, DFW has a pretty much 100% hit rate on what really are the Big Questions raised by the subject and how to look at them. It’s not just that he’s persuasive, he does what only the very best critics can: he presents things in a way that makes all other perspectives seem somehow off-center. Everything he does is, in one sense or another, definitive.

Through his analysis and critiques, his informality and mannerisms never let us forget that these are the perceptions of a human being with personality and flaws and instincts. Part of this is his writing style. His use of foot/endnotes and his comfort inside tangents are more honestly representative of the way people really think. Our brains don’t give us a topic sentence and neatly listed supporting evidence. He makes no apparent attempt to hide his thought process or, for that matter, the main structural beams of his writing. It is a style that, for all its inefficiency, indicates a real live person instead of the syncopic analysis of so much journalism and criticism.

But the truly remarkable part is that, for all his analytical chops, he never leaves behind the parts that more linear, thesis-oriented writers might consider fluff. By fluff I mean not the logical conclusions but the natural human questioning and considerations that come during rational parsing. I mean the feelings that certain subjects evoke despite our better judgment. I mean the things that make all the problems and questions and ideas that Wallace defines inescapably and profoundly human. It is stuff that, if we take a moment to honestly look at how much it affects us, turns out not to be fluff at all.

The piece I point people to for DFW Essay 101 is his 2000 Rolling Stone article on John McCain. It is an article that, by any other writer, would probably involve a few interviews and an entertaining anecdote or two, eventually concluding with something along the lines of “John McCain is a really interesting candidate.” What Wallace creates is one of the, if not the outright best pieces of political journalism ever written. And what makes it great is not the generous portion of brilliant analysis. What is great is that, instead of looking at how McCain should make us feel, Wallace looks at how McCain does make us feel. The essay resonates because it doesn’t leave out emotions and basic human drives, the instincts and needs we would turn off if we could. Instead, DFW accepts that the need for real leadership and the literal sickness and pain modern politics brings on are real considerations, like it or not.

I’ll give you an example: At a moment of extreme political good fortune for McCain – something so well- executed and almost literally unbelievable that it could only have been planned by strategists, but also so moving and spontaneous-looking that how could it have been — Wallace doesn’t try to look for the truth of the matter in the sense of finding out whether McCain and his strategists were really behind it all. Instead, he looks at how much we, regardless of political party, achingly want McCain to have been sincere in the things that were said and done surrounding Chris Duren. There’s basically no factual analysis; there’s just an honest discussion of how much we want, really crave genuine leaders and how politics’ conspicuous lack of them hurts and disgusts us and turns us cold and apathetic. There’s no look into what the facts should lead us to believe; there’s an infinitely more complex and important look into how painful and throat-tighteningly heart-wrenching it would be if it were all an act, after all.

The article’s conclusion – often like our own emotions – is at once profoundly cliché and profound. Wallace’s point, after a long and complicated look into John McCain and all the questions he raises, turns out to be what all of us feel in the first place: that it matters relatively little whether John McCain is genuine and sincere; that what really ends up mattering in the voting booth is how much we’ve been jaded and pained by disingenuous leadership and how much we’re willing to risk to get rid of that pain. It is a conclusion that only the most honest and perceptive of writers could go after.

Wallace’s essays and journalistic pieces strike what might just be a unique balance between revealing what should be important and understanding what really is. His writing leaves us not only understanding the complex philosophical and subject-specific issues, but also understanding ourselves a bit better now too. His delicate balance of humanity and theory never fails to make us smarter, more honest, and more compassionate than we were.

One of the many, many themes of Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a samizdat, a film so entertaining that it causes literally life-ending addiction, so entertaining is it that viewers forget all aspects of their life in favor of consuming the film over and over. Infinite Jest itself is not so different from this; it too is so entertaining, engaging, challenging, rewarding, and long that I, at least, had to put serious amounts of time aside in order to work my way through. (For this reason, I will not address at length the serious confusion and enlightenment that reading Infinite Jest has put me through.) But, unlike the samizdat, Infinite Jest does what entertainment should: instead of killing our minds, it breathes into us new life, new perspectives, and new ideas that, for all their entertainment value, also seem really to mean something.

Fiction and non- alike, Wallace’s is writing that reminds us what great writing can do. It is writing that inspires us to write and read. It makes us actually grateful for footnotes and endnotes that, by pretty much any author, we would probably skip right over. It makes us delighted to dip back and forth between it and the OED. It is writing that charms, enlightens, and, most importantly, teaches. It teaches that thoughts and feelings don’t have to be mutually exclusive and that paradox is often truth.

With this style of writing, talking and writing about our favorite things becomes a lot easier. If negative criticism is usually the result of neat, rational thought and appreciation is the result of – at least at first – a feeling, the Wallace thought-feeling blend is just about the best way to look at the things we love.

The map is not the territory

I think this must be where the map-territory idea in Infinite Jest comes from. Too similar to be coincidence.

Given What We Now Know

So I’m going to venture a controversial assertion. I propose, without real proof but with something like readerly  intuition, that “Good Old Neon” is the best short story DFW ever wrote. As a general matter, my second favorite story shifts from day to day, depending on mood and my ability to recall one story or another. “Good Old Neon,” though, has remained comfortably at the top of the fictional heap with Infinite Jest, for reasons I will now try to articulate.

It is in many ways the most traditional of the stories in Oblivion. What this means for me, at least, is that it requires fewer alterations of standard readerly expectations and physics. It is easier to naturalize and follow, and so it is easier to trust the story and become engrossed. It is fundamentally clear what the story is doing and where it is going, on a plot/story level (until the last two pages, that is). We have an identifiable narrator and are given, with not-too-strange temporal movement, the tale of his life and death. It is also simpler on a linguistic level than pretty much anything DFW has written since Girl with Curious Hair. I am a big fan of DFW’s linguistic and structural  pyrotechnics, but in “Good Old Neon” DFW seems to have managed to sacrifice his talent’s more abrasive/self-conscious/distracting  tendencies without sacrificing his truly stunning level of narrative control. On a sentence-by-sentence level, what makes “Good Old Neon” great is the same thing that makes all of Wallace’s great writing great: a stunning, unmatched ability to  anticipate  and empathize with the reader. What makes “Good Old Neon” better than almost everything else, though, is the  demonstration  that this anticipation can be done without forcing the reader up to Wallace’s own intellectual level. It is, in painfully simplistic terms, more gratification with less readerly effort.

Of course, there is the content itself. The issues brought up in the story – genuineness and desire and accomplishment not  least  among them – seem to be at the very heart of everything Wallace spent his career struggling with. Given everything else we’ve read – other stories, Broom, IJ, essays, interviews, scholarly commentary, and postmortem appreciations – the material of “Good Old Neon” hangs prophetically in our consciousness, the shadow/echo of everything else we’ve seen.

And then, the ending. Our suspicions throughout the story that we’re dealing with things close to the author’s heart are almost explicitly confirmed. This confirmation is the story’s masterstroke, both because it brings us powerfully, suddenly, uncomfortably into the real world and because, in the process, it forces us to take the story with total, painful sincerity. After those last two pages, there are no excuses or escapes: we MUST accept that, even if it is fiction (is it fiction?) it is of crucial, real-life importance to our author. We see parts of ourselves reflected in Neal’s narration, and are disturbed, and then Wallace’s insertion of self into the text forces us to confront the real-world importance of these issues to us. No more abstractions here. No more worming out way out with “how imaginative”s or “it’s just fiction”s. All that’s left is “I, too, am a fraud.” “I, too, have been at war with myself.” “I, too, struggle to look the disingenuous, ironic side of myself in the eye and say: ‘Not another word.'”

There’s also that last thing, the unsayable thing. There is that side of us that knows the circumstances of Wallace’s death and think about the “years of indescribable war” and think about our own internal wars and hate to imagine that maybe “Good Old Neon”‘s author couldn’t win that war, in the end, and that we may never win it either.

Wittgenstein in Everything and More

I was already serendipitously planning to write about Wittgenstein in Infinite Jest and E&M when Tammy posted her questions for group discussion. The one I’m most interested in is Tammy’s third: In what way to abstractions ‘exist’?

It seems sensible to begin with Wittgenstein’s view of this question. He, like his teacher and friend Bertrand Russell (also an important mathematician/philosopher of mathematics, cited often in E&M), wants abstractions to truly exist. They exist as external abstract objects, considered as external and objective as things in physical reality. In Wittgenstein’s view, we can say that 3 exists in the same way as a rock or a house exists; it is external, outside any single individual. Despite 3’s abstract nature, it is objective in the sense that no opinion about it will change its characteristics. The complicating element here is that this abstract objectivity appears contradictory to the subjective-leaning Wittgenstinian notion of meaning as use. By this standard, wouldn’t different use of ‘3’ change its meaning, and hence make it subjective? Strangely, though, it is precisely this principle  that allows math to remain objective.

In paragraph 55 of Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein says the following: “What names in language signify must be indestructible; for it must be possible to describe a state of affairs in which everything destructible is destroyed. And this description will contain words; and what corresponds to these cannot then be destroyed, for otherwise the words would have no meaning.” (We are meant to understand that ‘3’ is a name for 3.) What this means for physical objects is that even when the physical object itself is gone, the name still has meaning via that physical object’s concept, its abstraction. But since 3 is only an abstraction – it has no physical manifestation – it is entirely immune to destruction or alteration. It is unchangeable. When we prove new mathematical properties, we are simply discovering a property that already existed without our knowledge; we are not creating or adding anything to  the  abstraction itself, we add only to our personal understanding of that abstraction.

And so Wallace’s idea of abstraction (his abstraction of abstraction?) aligns with this Wittgenstinian/Russellian model. This view is necessary to consider math an objective enterprise. Without it, proofs are not proofs so much as just detailed strings of subjective reasoning. By this Wittgenstinian standard, post-Cantor, infinity exists in the way all numbers exist, as an abstract external object. If you think about it, it is just as hard to imagine 3 (the abstraction) as it is to imagine infinity.

On a completely different tac, as a side-note of sorts, I want to call attention to Bob Death’s joke on p. 445 of Infinite Jest. It is the same fish-joke that Wallace uses in his Kenyon Commencement speech. The joke is: “This wise old whiskery fish swims up to three young fish and goes, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ and swims away; and the three young fish watch him swim away and look at each other and go, ‘What the fuck is water?’ and swim away.” This joke is deeply Wittgenstinian in a number of ways. It is a play on the (more famously Orwellian) notion that to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. This struggle to see what is so obvious and basic as to never be noticed is the main struggle of Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein’s project is to break  language  down to its most basic elements and discover how it actually works, how it is actually used. This preoccupation with ordinary  language  is one of the things that makes Wittgenstein so revolutionary and original. He is trying to see water clearly, even while swimming in it. We already know from Lenore that we are all swimming in language.

That’s all for now. Thoughts?

Everything and AA and more

This is one of those times when I’m convinced that the reading Gods (as I understand them) a) must exist and b) have lined things up for a pretty delightful confluence of ideas in the things I’ve read/watched this evening. I’ll spare everyone the details of all non-DFW items – which include Bill Maher and Cynthia Ozick, among others – but I think there’s something worth comparing between the AA section of Infinite Jest and some of the ideas put forth in Everything and More. Please, bear with me for a minute.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that the AA section of Infinite Jest is stunning and impressive and – I have it on good authority – one of the best existing descriptions of what it’s like to be in AA/NA. And one of the big themes of this section is that skepticism about praying “to a ‘God’ you believe only morons believe in”(350) goes out the window somewhere along the way. The most interesting part is that this point does not seem to be when people are deepest in their respective foxholes – everyone is still a skeletal cynic when they Come In. It is instead a slow realization that correlates with the slow decrease in moments of crippling desire for your Substance. As Gately discovers with shock that days have gone by without the Substance even occurring to him, he surrenders for a second time. The first surrender was to the substance, the  second  surrender is to the simple theoryless fact that AA works. After hitting rock bottom, faith in AA comes not from a strong underlying theoretical framework, but from simple and obvious pragmatism. AA works. Accept it. The reasons it works are almost totally irrelevant; only the effects matter. Use it because it works, not  because  it’s true.

And this is where I think there’s a narrow but notable connection to Everything and More. Wallace talks about the 17th century’s increasing abstractness and the way in which this lead to the Golden age of mathematics. Math turned away from its earlier grounding in the concrete and the empirical, and these new abstractions paradoxically turned out “to work incredibly well in real-world applications”(Everything and More 107). Calculus is a great example of this growing use of math in science. Calculus is also a great example of the way in which math came to depend on science and real-world applications “to justify its own procedures.” It is this last part that I see as weirdly analogous to AA. Well before the philosophical and theoretical groundwork for calculus was rigorized by mathematicians generations later, calculus  was accepted and used for no reason other than its pragmatic usefulness. “In brief, all sorts of formerly dubious  quantities  and procedures are now admitted to math on account of the practical  efficacy”(108). Like AA,  calculus  was accepted because it worked.

This is not to say that the two are in any way related, but they do strike me as too similar to just pass over. The notable thing is not that people give up theoretical rigor for pragmatism in everyday life; what is notable is that even the most abstract and theoretical of disciplines is willing to do this, too.

(In case anyone is wondering, the tie to Bill Maher is this idea of pragmatic faith as it relates to religion/atheism. Maher is seriously anti-religion, but he makes his arguments  mostly  on the causal side of the issue. Maher’s strongest argument says that religion is bad because it’s false and symptomatic of human weakness. It seems, however, that a good  counter-argument  can be made for non-fanatical religion under the umbrella of practicality: religion is the best way to instill societally  important  values in a population. Similarly, the argument against religion should really be that, practically speaking, religion does more harm than good, that religion doesn’t work. This is how Christopher Hitchens makes his antitheist argument, to much better effect, I think.

Also, note that I’m not trying to endorse one side of the issue or another. I  just  wanted to point out effect-side faith in an explicit faith-skepticism context.)


Too Much Fun

Like most readers of Infinite Jest, I would think, the deeper I get into the Book, the deeper it gets into me. I share the sentiment of almost every person I know who has completed it: the Book has far too much of my soul in it for me to be comfortable with anyone in the world not liking it. I feel about Infinite Jest the way I do about my favorite songs and movies (but to a far greater degree). I get genuinely cross when people don’t appear to appreciate it as much as I do.  I have a sort of a love-hate relationship with Michael Piestch (Wallace’s editor for  IJ), given that in the process of making the Book more readable, he had to slash 600 pages filled with wisdom and insight, pieces of my soul.

As a second-time reader,  I am privileged.  I already know what’s important and how, what will turn out to be crucial later, which jokes are more than just jokes, etc.  (My retention for nearly every detail of the Book is, to me, strange. Generally speaking, my short-term memory tends to be good, while my long-term tends to be very bad. But with Infinite Jest I find myself remembering on a sentence-by-sentence basis what comes next, a year after reading it.)  And still, I am almost totally unable to take the book apart, to analyze and clarify. This, I think, is at least partially a function of maximalism, and the things it allows Wallace to put on the page.

This maximalism feels sort of like parachuting into yourself. When you start the Book, you are taking a jump out of a plane, and the earth looks strangely shaped and flat with odd peripheral curves, almost unrecognizable. As you begin to fall, it feels like the world is expanding beneath you, like you are not falling towards it so much as zooming in, watching as everything grows outwards. It’s only after you’ve been in the air for a little while – looking down at the expanding and increasingly recognizable landscape – that you realize you are getting closer and closer to the ground, that there is depth as well as breadth to deal with. And then you are close and falling and about to hit the ground when you realize that you’ve been there, on the ground, the whole time. That you really were just looking at yourself, the whole time you were falling, and you’ve just begun to comprehend everything that you were missing around and inside you. (Note: I have never parachuted and never will, if I have any say in the matter, but I’m told the above is sort of what it’s like.)

That’s all pretty general and abstract. It’s not analysis in any way suitable for serious, English-class-worthy discussion. So here’s a single, small instance of what I’m talking about:  On page 223 we are given a “Chronology of Organization of North American Nations’ Revenue-Enhancing Subsidized TIme, By Year” and then a Joelle-centered narrative that begins: “Jim’s eldest, Orin – punter  extraordinaire, dodger of flung acid  extraordinaire  – had once shown Joelle van Dyne his childhood collection of husks of the Lemon Pledge that the school’s players used to keep the sun off. Different-sized legs and portions of legs, well-muscled arms, a battery of five-holed masks hung on nails from an upright fiberboard sheet.” It is, like much of the Book’s narrative, comically absurd. It is cold and strange and unfamiliar.

And so it hard  sometimes  for us to imagine fully, to realize, in the French sense of the word. We are told that this is our world in the no-too-distant future, but there’s not a whole lot that we recognize or consider genuine. We are high above, with a sense of humor and perspective, and things are not immediately recognizable. Maximalism is what allows us to take this view, to feel as though we see everything without relating to it.

Then, as the world continues to expand and we are pressed with more details and more absurdity, we begin to get frustrated. We begin to think that we cannot possibly relate to the characters who live in this strange, flat-seeming world. We cannot possibly relate unless a character sees this world the way we do, a character who sees her world as intolerable and strange and sad…

Joelle’s world resolves with her darkness and sadness intact. It is there for us to identify and identify with. We discover, to our horror, that there are real people who have to live in this society – a society which, from our broad but deepening maximalist POV, looks mighty hostile to humanity. This is how we end up relating to Joelle (and Gately and Hal and sometimes Orin); we (you, me, and Joelle) share a feeling of alienation and sadness and desperation. We want, in multifold ways, a way out. The section ends with Joelle “uprightly fetal with chin on knees in yet another North American bathroom, deveiled, too pretty for words, maybe the Prettiest Girl Of All Time (Prettiest G.O.A.T.), knees to chest,[…] more fun way too much fun in her veil on the counter above her, the stuff in the funnel exhausted though it’s still smoking thinly”…. (239-240)

Maximalism – a deep and sometimes frivolous-feeling exploration of the minute details – works in service of a feeling of plummeting humor, a shift of perspective and sentiment that turns infinite jest into its opposite. It’s all about lifting the veil. In fact, veil-related imagery gets a lot of airtime in the 219-240 section. It’s safe to say that’s no coincidence.

And this is why people (read: I) tend to defend the Book so fiercely. Because pieces of our respective selves are floating amidst the Book’s absurdity. Because maximalism turns out to be the only way to really see everything. Because, like the characters, we see ourselves as facing a hostile and inhuman world, and we know that if other people were able to see it all in the way Wallace has – in the way we now see it – the world would instantly be less hostile.

Totally worth reading

Here’s something from about Infinite Jest. We sort of touched on this in class on Wednesday, and those who have not read the Book before will appreciate it (the article, but also the Book for that matter) more when they’ve finished.

Unfinished DFW in The New Yorker

This morning’s the New Yorker has a section from an unfinished novel by Wallace, as well as a long article about Wallace by D. T. Max.

From Rain Taxi

Here’s a nice little piece about Wallace. There’s a relevant sentence about “Octet” 3/4 through.