(Wow, flashback to opening night of Mortal Kombat. On the one hand, I don’t like remembering that I was such a dork as to stand in line before the box office opened, just to make sure I was there that first night; on the other hand, being in a crowd that whooped and hollered and cheered when the title appeared on screen meant it was a lot easier to ignore that the movie was bad in a bad way.)
So Infinite Summer is finally underway. It’s not like I needed an excuse to reread Infinite Jest again—this is my fourth time through, the third in the past two years—but I’m still excited. Also exciting is the fact that Mimi Smartypants is (unofficially) on board, and that her take on the book is 100% accurate about one DFW’s two main goals, in my opinion.
According to the schedule, the line of completion is still at page 63 (which means I have to save footnote 24, “James O. Incandenza: A Filmography,” for later, which is probably just as well, since it deserves a whole post to itself). Some introductory fragmentary remarks, then:
Hal’s admissions interview is so funny, but it’s also deeply disorienting and defamiliarizing. The incredible attention paid to communication and the concern for making sure that one’s intended meaning is carried over to the person it’s intended for are major signals toward my and Mimi’s understanding of the book. But they’re also tied up in the way the book itself teaches you how to understand what it’s trying to say. Along with The Book of the New Sun, Ulysses, and I’m sure others, Infinite Jest requires you to make sense of it in ways it doesn’t warn you about. There is no “As you know, Bob” infodump at the beginning, no stage-play phone conversation with the other party’s every line repeated for the audience’s benefit; it starts out confusing and makes you construct a provisional framework around it to construe the abundant information in ways that mean something.
(A dim recollection suggests that I’m talking about the invocation of what a very long afternoon’s Googling reveals to be reading protocols. Unfortunately, there is apparently no copy of “About 5,750 Words” available online. Some of its material comes up in this interview with Delany, though.)
The writing is of course magnificent: sensitive, overinformative, thoughtful, urgent, hilarious, tender, bitterly sad, and chameleonic. In the first 60 pages, you get at least four or five different narrating voices, plus various shades of the third person and a sort of transcription style that has its own deadpan quality (questions answered with ‘…’).
I guess the last thing I’d want to open with is a quick mention of the terrifying death of M. Guillaume DuPlessis, anti-O.N.A.N.ist P.I.T.* As a sufferer of seasonal allergies, I think I have never read anything that so quickened my pulse with anxiety as the detailed description of DuPlessis’s last, congested moments. Every time I reread that section, I get a little panicky. It’s not a comfortable thing to read, but much of Infinite Jest is about imaginatively sharing the experiences of others—that’s what empathy is, in some respects—even when they’re difficult. Indeed, that’s when it’s most important to try.
*‘Une Personne de l’Importance Terrible,’ presumably.