Infinite Jest, the wrap
Even the title of Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, is a joke. The ending, which left me wanting more (amusing Walker), wraps around to the beginning of the book. That doesn’t mean that all questions are answered, however. Much as I wanted more of it, I have to admire the way I am required, as a reader, to fill in the gaps between how the story began and how it ends. I get to draw my own conclusions about how Hal ends up as he is in his college interview (at the beginning), and what made Gately finally feel that he’d hit the kind of rock bottom (at the end) that makes someone go in for treatment of their addiction.
When I first wrote about the experience of reading Infinite Jest, I hadn’t finished the last hundred pages, but wanted to capture some of the pleasure of still being in the story. I was afraid that finishing might make me want to make some kind of pronouncement. I should have known better. If ever a book were pronouncement-proof, it’s this one.
What anyone who reads it simply cannot get enough of is not the message, but the medium–the feeling of being understood, of being reached out to so desperately that someone would make a video so compelling that it causes people to forget to live–or a novel so big and so full of incisive description of what living is like that readers want more even at the end of 981 pages plus footnotes.
I found the heart of the story in what Hal and Orin and Mario’s father says about why he “would rather Orin didn’t watch a hard-porn film yet” * and why “his most serious wish was: to entertain” Hal. It’s also in how his other son, Mario, touches the hand of a man outside a subway station, and in Gately-the-addict’s dream about a woman who kills you becoming your next life’s mother: “This is why Moms are so obsessively loving, why they try so hard no matter what private troubles or issues or addictions they have of their own, why they seem to value your welfare above their own, and why there’s always a slight, like, twinge of selfishness about their obsessive mother-love.”
*”He said he’d personally prefer that Orin wait until he’d found someone he loved enough to want to have sex with and had had sex with this person, that he’d wait until he’d experienced for himself what a profound and really quite moving thing sex could be, before he watched a film where sex was presented as nothing more than organs going in and out of other organs, emotionless, terribly lonely.”
As you can see, one of the jokes is that it’s hard to even talk about Infinite Jest without footnotes, because the issues are so big, and each one depends on so many others, and what each character figures out seems so essential and so universal. When I was in the hospital, I kept thinking of Gately in the hospital, having to refuse the narcotic painkillers. And what reader doesn’t–when seeing someone fictional faced with ultimate torture–want to bet, like the minor character Mlle. Luria P—, that the response will be right out of 1984: “Do it to her!” And did I mention that some of the footnotes have footnotes?
Having read Infinite Jest makes going through daily life better. Sometimes I find myself thinking about a bit from the footnotes, where the father of Orin, Hal, and Mario is making “Found Drama” which involves picking a name out of the phone book by throwing a dart and seeing where it lands, and then “you do whatever you want during the Drama. You’re not there. Nobody knows what the name in the phone book’s doing…..because in Reality nobody thinks they’re in any sort of Drama.” It’s more than that, though; that’s the jest. The serious part is that so many parts of Infinite Jest make you think yes, that’s it, that’s what it’s like.
Have you read other books that make you think that, almost as if the characters have been inside your head for a while, seeing the world through your eyes?