Don’t read further if you’re thinking of reading this book, because I’m revealing all kinds of goodies in here.
I stayed up late Saturday night / Sunday morning (at 2 a.m. it’s dark outside, even here at the 59th parallel) and mowed through a healthy chunk (up to page 809) which made it possible to imagine that the end was in sight. I finished Sunday night. This is a long book. And difficult. It should have a Tipper-Gore-style sticker on the front saying, (in addition to Adult Lyrics) — Warning: Reader is required to pay close attention throughout and to keep a dictionary handy at all times. There were other things that were difficult for me. There were stretches in the middle where I was just kind of slogging through, slowly, carefully, dictionary in hand. It does pick up momentum rapidly toward the end and he starts to weave some narrative threads together, which brings me to another difficulty — I’m not enough of a post-modern lit crit hysterical realism theorist to be beyond all narrative conventions. I kept expecting convergence, but the narrative lines are asymptotic. I kept going back and re-reading to see if I had missed some important moment that explains what happens to Hal, but I don’t see it. I don’t mind being left in the middle of a narrative — I’m left with Gately in a hospital bed, and don’t really "know" what happens to him (or any of the other characters either), but I liked Hal and wanted to know what happend to turn him into a freakazoid in the opening pages of the book. I also hereby publicly confess that I skimmed through an ugly section about a drug addict killing cats and dogs (pps. 538-547) and another ugly part that described in detail a movie showing a homosexual rape where the victim secretly had AIDS, and maybe a couple of other ugly things too bleak and graphic for my delicate sensibilities. He definitely has a flair for the grotesque.
I think my real criticism is somewhere in the neighborhood of admiring the intellectual firewords (meant to type "fireworks," but I’m getting into the neologism thing), which are brilliant — but thinking that the light doesn’t give off a lot of emotional heat. Reviewers (which I spent a couple of hours reading) compare his work to those of Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen and other cranky and hilarious writers in my generation whose work I admire/enjoy/love. I think Infinite Jest gives less for a reader to hold on to emotionally than these writers. It doesn’t connect to things outside its own world. It wasn’t particularly thought provoking/inspiring for me, especially compared to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, where I paused often to consider and ponder and think and reflect for long moments on humanity and history.
Which may be at least part of what he’s saying: the anomie of our generation — whose earliest memories include Watergate and helicopters lifting from embassy roofs in Saigon and Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army and stagflation and a whole plethora of institutions falling down.
And on a lighter note, for those of us who really did spend time reading the dictionary as children, the Vocabulary Development section:
Here’s a list of words I didn’t know before and managed to look up. There are other medical and pharmacological terms that I understood from context and didn’t feel compelled to look up, and I can only imagine that I missed a few others scattered about here and there, but these are some juicy ones:
- anfractuous (p. 39)
- fulvous (p. 93)
- strabismic (p. 290)
- saurian (forgot to track the page number)
- ephebe (p. 292)
- extant (p. 101)
- papular (p. 200)
- sallet (p. 527)
- caparison (p. 533)
- carminative (p. 630)
- apical (p. 290) N.B. definition 2
- Actaeon (p. 290)
- parturient (p. 789)
- antinomically (p. 792)
- strigil (p. 832)
- effulgence (p. 854)
- inspissated (p. 1078)
- sinciput (p. 950)
- felo-de-se (p. 1048) (hyphenated in the dictionary entry, but not in the text)
- nystagmus (p. 1018)
- Eschaton (found everywhere)
- parget (p. 666)
- pules (p. 670)
- ablative (p. 470) (ablation)
And an entirely new category of words not found in dictionary.com:
- pedalferrous (p. 93)
- ascapartic (p. 290)
- semion (p. 101) which I’m going to relate to semiotics since it’s about making a sign
- spansules (p. 1078, footnote 368)
- fremitic (p. 353) [frenetic?]
- omnissent (p. 599) [omniscient]?
- lalating (p. 788) [ululating?]
- votaried (p. 434) [votaries does exist]
I went to Google, typed in ascapartic and found a blog post of other words from Infinite Jest that are exciting and new and imaginary. He also uses ‘mobiusizing," thereby making a noun into a verb. I have a college friend who did her PhD work on this syntactical magic which I can’t remember the name for right now. Examples: fax, FedEx, office, and many others from the world of technology, but also the New England-y verb "to summer."
In this whole huge book the only thing that stood out in my mind as a possible error was a description of a scream on a B#. B# is almost always called C natural and I didn’t think B# really existed as a notation. But I’ve been trolling around on wikipedia, brushing up my music theory, and B# exists as the final and 7th sharp in the key of C# major. Have I mentioned yet that David Foster Wallace is a genius?
I’m sure I have lots more (prolix, verbose, bombastic, circumlocutory, diffuse, flowery, fustian, gabby, garrulous, grandiloquent, involved, long-winded, loquacious, magniloquent, palaverous, periphrastic, pleonastic, prolix, redundant, prolix, repeating, repetitious, repetitive, rhetorical, talkative, talky, tautological, tautologous, tedious, tortuous) things to say about Infinite Jest — but I’ll save something for tomorrow.