The Infinite Summer Reading Challenge is something I agreed to do after seeing a post on reddit. I’ve just finished my first week and as you might except, I’ve got some thoughts.
I think that maybe perhaps it’s possible that David Foster Wallace was a genius. I am the first person to notice this and definitely the first person to say it. In any case, he’s definitely smarter than I am, at least at the age he was when he wrote Infinite Jest. I have about 7 years to become a genius.
This book is notoriously difficult, and I had no idea precisely why before I started. The book is more tome than mere text, and that alone is intimidating. Even as an avid reader, I shy from books over 400 pages. Part of this is anxiety manifesting in What if I’m missing something while I read this huge book. What if I actually get dumber by the end of it. Which is woefully appropriate and likely not uncommon. I had heard of the footnotes to footnotes, and the footnotes themselves sometimes being very long and complicated. I am personally not daunted by this, except sometimes when I think DFW means for me to be by creating a steady, maddening rhythm of relentless information and reference, truly taking postmodernism to its excruciating limits in the most masterful way. There are post modern writers that are excruciating only in their self-adulation and self-reciprocation masturbatory sycophancy – none of this ejaculatory glee present in IJ. Many references are missed, or poorly understood. I know who Mandelbrot is and what he is famous for, though I confess to have no clue as to the mathematical genius he possessed, or any of the mathematical figures mentioned in the text. No doubt this makes my reading and understanding poorer. The language itself is dense, but in fanciful, prosaic way that is verbally baroque. It’s extremely pleasant and engages the reader. Skimming simply will not garner any understanding of what’s happening for two reasons. First is that DFW uses precise language, uses language as a scalpel to cut just beneath the skin and reveal the muscle. As opposed to Nabokov who’s precision results in lofty, drifting, swirling sensations or Malcolm X who’s precision accosts you and does not abide by any softness. The second, an additional aspect of difficulty, are the multiple story lines and additional changes in perspective. You must may attention. No doubt Wallace would promise rewards for attentiveness and thoroughgoing, as he does with Kafka and Dostoevsky (I still can’t finish Demons…).
All of this is, for all its required struggling, superbly fun. Your brain-meat pulsates in your head and undulates under the immensity of the undertaking, your eyes go wide and a smile becomes impossible to avoid.
I’m looking forward to the next 1100 pages. I never thought I’d ever be excited for that many pages.