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#infinite jest

Maiden post from the new flat then. I now live in what must be the oldest house in London. A set of three Victorian mansions sliced up into flats across from Clapton Square. I said I wanted “some character” in the new place and I’ve certainly got what i asked for. Creaking floorboards. Not a strip of carpet. Austere, almost wartime, like kitchen. Heating that seems to be bludgeoned into life every AM. Some good character too: high ceilings, big windows, fireplaces in every room. I’ve also got a set of foxes as neighbours. There is that. Foxes gallivanting through the gardens every eve and shrieking with pleasure. Staggered into the kitchen at 2am the other night and saw four of them basking in the moonlight through the window. Googled foxes mating season and apparently that’s not until Jan so this is just standard fox stuff that could go on ad infinitum. My new human neighbour also confirmed that it has been going on since he moved in in January and he keeps “a small sock of stones” by his window for when the noise gets too much. Foxes everywhere at the moment. Just had a chat with a guy who runs this little sweets, fags and drinks stall next to Oxford Circus station. I frequent there every time I go into central because he carries a wonderful selection of next-gen snus. Sold me some called Fox and said it’s the ‘best thing he’s had since Nordic Spirt’. And to be fair to him, he was on the NS train since way before it hit Tesco. I asked him whether the snus was selling well and he turned to his mate as if to say, ‘you tell him’ and the mate nodded and said yeah, it’s selling very well. Not sure of the subtext there but apparently over half their snus customers are Swedes. Do the Swedes stumble across this innocuous kiosk or is its whereabouts being passed around the Nordic expatriate community? We’ll never know. One thing I do know is that I don’t like spending money. After a year of solid saving I’m in the midst of an unprecedented spending spree – by my own modest standards. Buying up furniture and bedding and desperately trying to add depth to a woefully neglected winter wardrobe. Progress is being made though and the piece de resistance will be arriving next week: a solid wooden writing desk to be slotted under my windowsill and a leather chair described on the site as ‘Cuban Boardroom’. Credit to the copywriter on that. I’m sure I’ll grow to love this new flat. Feeling more settled right now with my feet up watching World War 2 in colour but part of me still misses my old place. Church Walk. She had her issues. Boy did she have them. But there was a moment a couple of weeks back when I went to do a final check before handing in the keys, pockets full of tenners from last minute FB marketplace deals, when I thought I spotted something in the corner of the lounge. I reached around to the kitchen and flicked on the light without even thinking, like I had done so many times before. It felt like muscle memory. Hit me how much time I’d spent in that place this year. How well I knew it. Every creak and corner. Such a cosy little spot. Anyway. I’ve written this post in this ridiculous, borderline unreadable style, out of tribute to DFW and Infinite Jest, which I finished at 1am on Monday night. I don’t think I’ll ever read anything like it again. And, due to its length, I don’t think I ever want to. Incredible. 

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Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

“‘What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?’”

Year Read: 2014, 2020

Rating: 5/5

Context: It’s hard to know where to begin writing a review for this book. I read it for the first time in graduate school in about five weeks (alongside everything else I had to do in grad school, so I don’t recommend that), and it basically blew my mind. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine tackling it any other way for the first time. Despite its difficulty, there are things obsessive and immersive and, appropriately, even addictive about it. Full immersion might be the only way to read it for the first time, and I obsessed about it for months afterward. Since I’m not on any deadlines, I took it more slowly this time (21 weeks) so I could enjoy the writing and the nuances without the pressure to finish. For my less coherent weekly updates in real time, see my blog posts. Trigger warnings: Everything, everything. Death (on-page), child death, animal death, suicide, suicidal ideation, rape, pedophilia, possible incest, child abuse/abusive households, graphic violence/gore, eye horror, severe injury, drug use, addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, depression, OCD, grief, racism, ableism, transphobia, sexism, inexplicable hostility toward Canadians.

About: If it’s difficult to know how to write a review, it’s equally hard to describe what Infinite Jest is about. It’s about so many things, tennis, addiction, communication (failures), and entertainment among them, but I’ll do my best. Beneath all the numerous characters, timelines, and subplots, the main plot is about a film so entertaining that it kills anyone who watches it, robs them of all desire to do anything but watch it until they die, and what a faction of Canadian assassins will do to possess it. The auteur is James Incandenza, a suicide whose son, Hal, is a prodigy at Enfield Tennis Academy. Next door to E.T.A. is Ennet House, a drug rehabilitation center where Don Gately, former thief and Demerol addict, is taking it day by day to stay sober. Though they don’t know it, Hal and Gately are connected, and the deadly Entertainment and those who seek it draw their paths closer and closer together.

Thoughts: It’s rare to find a book that is actually as smart as it claims to be, but IJ is–certainly much smarter than I am, despite all my attempts to make sense of it. It starts off strong and doesn’t let up for several hundred pages, which is a huge achievement all by itself. Wallace excels at writing extremely polished sections that could almost function alone as short stories, and the first chapter is one of my favorites in all fiction. It’s reassuring, I think, to start the book off on a strong note, in case we worried we were in for a thousand pages of tedious slog. It can be both, but it’s often heartfelt, insightful, and funny as well, and the payoff is well worth the effort. I don’t know how Wallace manages to pack every page with so much meaning. Anybody can put tedious lists in their books or make reading purposely difficult (and I have attitude about writers who do this for no reason), but there’s nothing haphazard about this book, despite its size and varied focus. Everything seems utterly intentional. The conversations are really top-tier; Wallace has a great ear for how people talk, and it’s a fascinating look at how communication works and doesn’t work.

Thematically, I think the book succeeds on more than any other level, including plot or structure. If we could say this book is “about” anything, we would almost certainly start with the themes and not the plot, which is often secondary to whatever point Wallace is trying to make at the moment. It takes an in-depth looks at things like addiction, depression, loneliness, failed communication, sincerity v. irony, critiques of postmodernism and metafiction (while being very meta itself, at times), and the very specific selfishness of an American culture that insists on freedom even to the point of self-destruction. At times, it feels a little heavy-handed or like it was yanked right out of an intro to philosophy course, but I suppose something in a thousand pages has to be obvious if we’re ever going to pick up on it. A lot of these themes resurface in his other work, from “This is Water” and “E Unibus Pluram” to Orin Incandenza’s Brief Interview style Q and A (and he would be a perfectly fitting character in that book).

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is some pretentious nihilistic egotistical artsy bull shit waste of time.

I thought it was trying to say something, but then when (of course) it turns out to be all in his head (Identity did it better), it seems like some college theater reject was given free reign with some of the best actors, and shittiest story drivers.

SNOW! Holy fuck SNOW! And famous poets, writers, artists, etc. REMEMBER THEM? And philosophy! THAT IS A THING!

do not watch unless you want to brag to an art major you saw all the themes of this steaming pile…ugh….

5/10.

Worth the watch? MAYBE. Artistically cinematicly, and acted wise-awesome.

But it is so boring and by the time it gets to the point you go ‘does anyone still care?’

ps-Fav part-the stupid simple joke of ‘dirty laundry’ in the basement. Not even a joke, but for how on the nose it was, should’ve been. at least then I could have said I had a laugh…

pps-a-just cause it is based on a book doesn’t mean it can be adapted to film. b-more important, just cuz a book exists doesn’t mean it is a good book…like when they brought up foster wallace…have you tried to read his book? It’s like he purposely uses the entire fucking dictionary in hopes you kill yourself like him.

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Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
‘I read,’ I say. 'I study and read. I bet I’ve read everything you’ve read. Don’t think I haven’t. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.”
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David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Gately’s attitude toward his own primitive tattoos is a second-category attitude, with most of the stoicism and acceptance of his tatt-regret sincere, if only because these irrevocable emblems of jail are minor Rung Bells compared to some of the fucked-up and really irrevocable impulsive mistakes Gately’d made as an active drug addict and burglar, not to mention their consequences, the mistakes’, which Gately’s trying to accept he’ll be paying off for a real long time.
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David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Don Gately’s developed the habit of staring coolly at Ewell until the little attorney shuts up, though this is partly to disguise the fact that Gately usually can’t follow what Ewell’s saying and is unsure whether this is because he’s not smart or educated enough to understand Ewell or because Ewell is simply out of his fucking mind.
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Week 1 | Week 2-3 | Week 4-5 | Week 6-7 | Week 8-9 | Week 10-11 | Week 12-13 | Week 14-15 | Week 16-17

Week 18 (p. 620-650)

“…inanimate objects have either been moved into or just out of nowhere appearing in wildly inappropriate places around E.T.A. for the past couple months in a steadily accelerating and troubling cycle … The inappropriate found objects have had a tektitic and sinister aspect: none of the cheery odor of regular pranksterism; they’re not funny. To varying degrees they’ve given everyone the fantods” (p. 632).

The Wraith’s activities have definitely kicked up since the deaths of the Antitoi brothers and Mario’s discovering the tripod where it doesn’t belong. J.O.I. has been dead for some years now, so I have to assume it’s important that he’s suddenly more active than ever, possibly because the A.F.R. is drawing closer and Hal in particular is in danger. Hal also nearly lost a game to Stice, which seems like more evidence that something has happened to him already.

“Trapped. As in trapped in some sort of middle. Between two things. Pulled apart in different directions” (p. 647).

More stories of people becoming so obsessed with something, they gradually destroy themselves, in this instance Steeply’s father’s addiction to M*A*S*H. He ruined his life trying to find real-world connections in the show, which seems like a metaphor for the pointlessness of trying to make all the connections in this book. Even if we could, even if it were possible, would it make a difference?

Week 19

Migraines are a bitch.

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