(Photo by Beth)
I will tell you what I think of Lolita, unabashed. I have opinions on Hitchhiker’s Guide and American Gods which slip from the tongue without hesitation. I will vouch for Sam Harris and be a redoubtable defender of controversy. But I cannot tell you, right now, without shame and embarrassment and exquisite self-awareness just what I feel about Infinite Jest. Maybe I will tell you that it’s the best book I’ve ever read and maybe you’ll go “Ah-oh.” And I’ll try to convey to you the way in which almost every page puts me into a dervish swirl, and that after I finished I stood around gaping, blind to physical reality, for half an hour and you’ll maybe have no idea quite why that should be significant to you or if, perhaps, you decided to read this book you might be expected to feel a certain way.
It would be one thing entirely if I had discovered this book or this writer, this mysterious Foster Wallace, and that I would be an advocate for obscurity. But of course and obviously I liked this book because it’s a book you’re supposed to like and admire for its Longinusal severity, while at the same time the acclaim and prestige might make you wary to give a fuck about it. This is how it happens as it happens, and I am guilty of this as much as you, stupidly.
So, okay. So I’ll just let you know how I feel honestly. This is the best book I’ve ever read and I really seriously doubt I’ll ever read a book as good in my lifetime. It is a philosophical tome that I don’t think I properly grasped but which has convinced me that the cliche has value and that depth is found at the surface, something of a neurotic, Western Dzogchen. The book and its author have profoundly affected me and I would count myself as something of an adherent, dare I say advocate. This is not unquestioning or uncritical, however. Wallace has occasionally left me baffled. His position on hip hop, as an example, where in interviews he’s basically salivated at some venison irony he sees in the black community causes me to call into question some other things he’s said about black students, like in Authority and American Usage. There is something unsavory, and something equally vulgar, by which I meant basic, about his desire for religion. I haven’t looked much into it, but apparently DFW tried and failed to get into the Catholic church and, if nothing else, was a believer in believing. This is boring to me, but suiting since Wallace will champion the banal and implore you to find something rewarding in it.
It’s boring, also, to talk about the experiencing of reading the book, an extra layer of postmodern exhaustion and something of a humblebrag for having endured, but it’s really the case that it’s something like to have read this book. Like there’s something like being a person, or something like being a cat, something like having people cheer for you or to receive bad news. This may be less the case, or at least unimpressive, if you don’t like the book, though no doubt you’ve gobbled up some piece of media which invoked this elated sense of experiencing. This is probably what we mean when we talk about true art, and why “art” tends to be so subjective, vague, and essentially mangled a concept. “True art” is now something of a carrion phrase, made gross by our distrust in experts (and thus a hesitation when approaching anything so nasty as recommendation) and our desire to be truly individual, so that enjoying something canonical represents a failure to be the Subject in your life’s story. We should do away with both expectation and the expectations of having no expectation.
If you feel at all gutless about undertaking Infinite Jest, you should be comforted to know that this book has nothing to do with your intelligence. Your rigor, perhaps, yes, and perhaps an unmistakable display of priority, you must read every day, and it’s impossible to deny that the osmium reference density requires some special knowledge to fully apprehend, but this says nothing about your intellect. So long as you remain interested, the philosophy can be sufficiently grasped. Or enjoyed. Really the way this book distinguishes itself from its voluminous cousins, the Dostoevsky’s and Joyce’s of the world, is that there wasn’t anything to struggle against in the text itself. 80 pages of Dostoevsky can be skin sheddingly miserable, and of course maybe this has something to do with the considerable distance which I hold from him, both in culture and physical time, and maybe I am lucky to be so very close to this book in such a way that I can derive joy from it, but the only struggle was against other forms of entertainment, or against distraction in general and people in my life wanting me to, like, do something else. Otherwise my struggle has been to find someone who has read the book that I actually like talking about the book with. Some tragedy of, again, expectation, or pompousness.
To finally take the task is to be rewarded. Infinite Jest has made me a better, stronger reader and has opened my mind to a variety of other kinds of literature, even airport bestsellers. This book is perceived as being pompous or high-lit, but is full of dead babies, drug use, dysfunction, violence, mysteries and satire, it is multifaceted and contradicts itself by being extremely fun to read and very hard to complete. It encapsulates a philosophy that is prescient and relevant, a encounter with genius and an excessively honest look at the author and machine gun rate of complexity of inner worlds. Infinite Jest is against nihilism and venerates the lives we live rather than insisting we erect a platform on which we can stand out, it is a matrix of horrors which manages to quell those horrors and allow for authenticity.