On Finishing Infinite Jest

I just finished reading Infinite Jest, which is to say I’ve just begun to re-read it; the annular narrative boomerangs one’s investigation, slinging it forward and sending it with momentum on a trajectory right back to its origin. In other words the plot is a circle (or oval?), and the ending is so abrupt that one is forced to fill in one half of the story (180 degrees) using evidence or suggestions from the other half. There is a paranormal explanation for the events, as well as a Rule-of-Parsimony-adhering one. Actually, there are several of each.

One of the main themes of I.J. is addition: to drugs, to entertainment, to success, to identity, to meta-identity. The possible silliness of critiquing media and entertainment, especially the world-wide web, on my very own little corner of the internet is not lost on me here, when thinking about all these aforementioned things as really ways to complete circuits; drugs are just a way to have an endless conversation with one’s self, after all—and so what is a blog?

But David Foster Wallace shows through I.J. that even seemingly fully-connected loops can be broken, or should be. In this case all the severing work is done by the reader, since by looking at the existing text alone, i.e. sans mental extrapolation, it’s true that not one character ever really changes. Even substance abusers who kick their substances of choice ultimately replace them with other “substances”: drugs for AA, freedom for ideology, perceived happiness for perceived success. Even after major geo-political reconfigurations/cataclysms, people are still just thinking about scholarships and tennis and more drugs. What is broken, then, is the reader’s muddling through this daily existence (see “This Is Water”, the joke of which is also found in I.J.) thinking that media (in our case mostly TV and the internet) is ultimately right about us: that we—especially Americans—are cynical, pleasure-seeking automatons, and that consequently our political-economic arrangements are simply the best we can do.

I don’t think we can do anything about climate change, but the point is we can’t do anything about anything if we don’t ever stop and think about why we’re doing what we’re doing—day in and day out. If we don’t break the loop.

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One thought on “On Finishing Infinite Jest

  1. Pingback: Onantiads | Coming Soon: A Vast Desert

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