Sunday, November 25, 2012

DFW and the Infinite Loop

Perhaps under the malign influence of Tim Footman over at Cultural Snow who is blogging about reading it, to say nothing of my buddy Tom who has been at me for ages, I gave my arse a substantial kick and have restarted Infinite Jest.

Some of these books I get to starting, I put them down for a while and forget, completely forget plot and characters, and then have start again - usually from scratch. Took me twenty years to finish Gravity's Rainbow for an e.g. I start, I give up, I feel guilty, I start again, I give up… It's a loop. I need to break this pattern in my life, but hey, another day another dollar, right?

The other impetus; after picking it up a few times in bookshops here, I recently whisper-netted David Foster Wallace's biography, Every Story is a Love Story onto the new Kindle (which I find even easier to read with than the one that's in coma on my substantially loaded electro-disjecta bench - before I dropped it I mean; an incompatibility with the negative effects of gravity thing) and was further stimulated to get back into IJ. Particularly as the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads say "dump the hack biography and just read the fecking' books". (I have Broom Of The System, his first novel, on [in?] here as well, btw, in case that urge takes over my brain.)

But I do like the biography; it has made the books a lot more approachable, made DFW's room-sized brain less daunting, his giant book more human-scaled and a lot more intriguing. It's all right for hipster know-it-alls, David Foster Kabbalaists and stalkers to get all protective about their memory of the man they've never met, but, you know what? Fuck you, I am just interested in finding out about the guy. Jesus. It's not like I looking at some princess's tits. Habitually, I mean.


One of the issues with the dead-tree version of IJ is of course its castle-drawbridge-stopping bulk. Feckin' hard to, you know, hold as you chase up all those footnotes, sorry, endnotes.


[Book Snobbish Wanker Dilettante Sidebar: "all those footnotes" - do'h, that was Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew (which was based on a character who was mentioned once in a footnote in Finnegans Wake [his only appearance. {Michael Chabon recently wrote about his experiences at The Wake.}] Both of those mammoth enterprises in ego also stumped me.)]


But with the Kindle Paperwhite, reading is a breeze (I am not getting paid to say this); light, readable in any ambient (light) situation. Love it. Mind you, there is that no longer that pretentiousness of casually displaying to all on the 700A bus what you are reading...


Already, after spending a total of maybe three full days over the past five weeks on IJ, eschewing [gesundheit!] food, movies, sleep, customers' entreaties to help them (eschewing [gesundheit!] work, in general, in fact) as the patients were starting to fade without any of my timely and crucial intervention (there'll always be more. Customers. Patients.), imagine my sense of achievement when after this fortunate loss of calories and unfortunate loss of life, I find that my blistering pace and uncanny (i.e. uncharacteristic) application to the task have sent me rushing through 12% of the book! Three (3, count 'em) little dots at the bottom of the cover thumbnail on the menu page. Three out of about 25. Wow! It has analysed my reading pace and told me I have "16hrs and 15mins left in book." Double Wow! (i.e. Wow Wow.)

Progress? Or seemingly endless task. Motherfecker. This effort is going to kill me. And of course I have already forgotten who is who and what has "happened" in the "plot." I did giggle out loud at some of the jokes. In public, on the 700A bus. At some point in time, I will have to start again, to get back those ellipses where I had pointed through so many screens without an iota of an idea what had being going on.

But still. Motherfeck, it's a big book.


Like Beckett's trilogy, in these plotless monsters, it can only be the humour that would keep you reading. Well certainly for me, jokes are key.

If you care, look at how most of the joyless experimental work in England the late 60's and early 70's (the hippy years) have gone under. They weren't funny. Christine Brooke-Rose, the latter Ann Quin (Berg was funny - tough, but funny) and there are many others best left forgotten for the moment, earnest people one and all but, as John Cleese would say, "so deadly DULL." I've made some attempts, but they tend be so dry, serious, self-important and humourless that I couldn't make any headway. B.S Johnson, who wanted more seriousness in the English novel was, at his best (i.e. readable) in my opinion when he was being ironic and blackly-humourous (i.e. conventionally post-modern), such as in Christie Malry's Own Double Entry.

But at least these people were making an effort, right, pushing boundaries to write for more than just mass readership (or any readership.) Maybe they were doing this with the depth of theorising that the hyper-academically-gifted DFW was using twenty years later, but it was certainly heartfelt.

"Compared with the writers of romances, thrillers, and the bent but so-called straight novel, there are not many who are writing as though it mattered, as though they meant it, as though they meant it to matter." - B.S. Johnson. Aren't You Rather Young To Be Writing Your Memoirs? 1973.

And DFW is a funny guy. Hilarious, amusing, smart-arse and smart. For an obsessive, Aspergerish, depressive, arrogant fuck, drug and alcohol addicted tennis prodigy who topped himself. Laugh a minute...


Not that it matters, but I am now alternating between IJ, the biography AND rereading Gravity's Rainbow (also on [in?] the Kindle) for some light relief and pace (1% and 21hrs and 22mins left in book. Woosh!)

Rereading is good. So that's describing a TRAIN!! And how the fuck do you grow that many bananas on a roof-top in London?


Don't I set myself some tasks, eh what! Also just finished Robert Coover's awesome pastiche, parody, puzzle, piece de homarrrrrge, Noir, and rushing through Christos Tsiolkas's rather confrontational sppoky story, Dead Europe before I watch the movie later this week.

And now, back onto the Kindle and DFW for a while, and what!, 15 page swipes later and I'm still at 12%… See what I said about concentration? Effort? Application?

Recursive loops. Excuse me, the record is stuck… the record is stuck… the record is stuck… the record is


p.s. Recursive loops are a key trope / running gag (nts look up the difference) in IJ.


Michael McClung said...

When I attempted Infinite Jest, I was way too young, callow and impatient. Now I'm just too impatient.

marke said...

I bought a copy of Infinite Jest.

I think that may have been E@L's fault.

IMHO it is unreadable.

expat@large said...

Marke: but think of what a conversation piece your new door stop will be.

And note that I hedged my bets on it almost every step of the way.... I have stalled at 15%. Again.

savannah said...

sugar, when i read "DFW" all i could think of was wtf is e@l doing at dallas-fort worth airport? xoxoxoxo

re the book? i never started and i'm ok with that. ;~)

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