The Last Book of Foster Wallace

The heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theater…True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care – with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.

What David Foster Wallace was was a great writer but also what he was was a paragon of false modesty because in The Pale King he kept saying, ‘I don’t know if that makes sense at all’ or ‘I know I’m not explaining this as well as I should,’ but he is in fact explaining everything so precisely about whatever it is he thinks he’s failing to be so astute about. The Pale King seems messy, but is actually so clever and so full of awareness and witticisms and comedy and acknowledgments and denouncements of its undeniable cleverness, I can not help but treat it as a Christian Family would treat its bible, bookmarked at the Psalms section for easy reference on things that apply so concretely about life, like that! Every time I experience an impending inefficiency or if I feel like an attack of the stupids, I think, What Would Shane Drinion Do? Shane Drinion is the novel/”Memoir”‘s efficient, robotic, unfeeling man who goes through the motions of a seemingly truly boring life completely uncaring and unimpeded by its being boring. His and Meredith Rand’s conversations are so fake and so fantastical, it’s hard to believe they could ever exist. But really, fictional people exhibiting lifelike virtues is not a requirement. Ultimately they become the sort of characters that turn out to be the hardest to forget.

And so it has come to this, the last David Foster Wallace novel. It’s been said that it’s not going to be a Tupac/Jeff Buckley situation but an Amy Winehouse one. This is truly the last. That might sound sad but honestly, don’t be greedy. Infinite Jest alone is a mouthful. This may be the last book but if you’re the type who gets his morals, aspirations and philosophies from DFW, a shortage of sustenance coming from all the rest of his books will not not suffice. I know I’m not explaining this with any degree of efficiency but that’s that.

Although Of Course Thoughts

The pleasure I derived from reading a book filled with David Foster Wallace interviews I believe I already sufficiently derived from reading Infinite Jest although of course I never deny myself of even more pleasure. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is the ultimate in DFW voyeurism. How can it not be when it is DFW speaking, his speech transcribed word for word, feeling for feeling, with a sprinkling of asides by its transcriber, David Lipsky, the Rolling Stone writer who was supposed to publish a nice, thoughtful essay about the hot young writer of the sensational novel of that moment.

I’m reminded of JD Salinger’s vehemence about an author’s work having to stand alone and all that JD Salinger kind of crap about a writer’s work having to speak for itself, because in this book of interviews, reminiscences and impressions, DFW elaborates the essence of Infinite Jest, which if you’ve read as I have, you’d probably want explained too, or you’d want to dissect on your own.

David Foster Wallace’s idea of what entertainment does to the life of a person – the needing, the consuming, the never-ending cycle of wanting to satisfy ourselves of things that are life-affirmingly pleasurable like CDs, movies, candies, whores, boys/girls and TV, is crystalline. He dictates how a person can feel infinitely more conscious of the need to want more and more, never seeming to achieve a perfectly acceptable state of contentment in the consumption of things, conscious of his own humanly hunger, not too affected by Zen ideologies and/or stuff like ‘detachment’. What else is there to achieve after all the praises already so generously lavished upon his probably greatest achievement? So much more, of course, and I’m not suggesting that the suicide is apt, but it’s like he had an inkling that life could not get much better, and who are we to judge. The normal, non-Grammy/Oscar/Pulitzer-winning person can and will still aim seemingly forever for the gold. He touches upon that whole mess quite neatly.

Also, when someone freely talks and discusses death and suicide, it is not always insincere. It’s actually very relevant to the preservation of the life of whoever’s mouth matters of suicide comes out of. It would delight you to know, people who intend to kill yourselves, that there is nothing terribly wrong about killing yourself, even though people tend to think it’s cowardly or shameful. You should be warned, though, that simultaneously planning your Big Day and immersing your reading habits with David Foster Wallaces is, to borrow a DFW-favored term, disingenuous. You could do well by letting your DFW phase pass and then proceed with hatching the best, least showy, most meaningful kill self scheme.

It would’ve been a relief if DFW were a reclusive psycho-like person who in his remaining days was generally perceived as a ticking time bomb, although he kind of was but not in an obvious way, but who turned out he wasn’t. That could have been the short explanation for Infinite Jest. As it happens, he was just inexplicably really sad and overly concerned about the meaning of What It Means To Be Alive so much so that the topic of entertainment and comedy and not incidentally, death, are constantly discussed, each of them having a lot to do with one another.

As a reader of him, the best way I know how to pay respects and be less gross about the relatively recent fanaticism (it’s not like I could have read Infinite Jest when it came out in 1996 when I was in grade school), is that if I one day feel like killing myself already, if no one beats me to it, I’ll just think about all the books I could have missed reading, all the times I would have been less lonely for having been stolen by books because ‘books make you feel less lonely’, etc. It’s the one David Foster Wallace takeaway that, for the sake of just my well-being, is harmless and ought to be true.

And then the Yuletide season, Brandt my friend Brandt — Christmas — Christmas morning — What is the essence of Christmas morning but the childish co-eval of venereal interface, for a child? — A present, Brandt — Something you have not earned and which formerly was out of your possession is now in your po-ssession — Can you sit there and try to say there is no symbolic rela-tion between unwrapping a Christmas present and undressing a young lady?

Brandt bobbed and mopped, uncertain whether to laugh.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I’ve read it.

It begins with the monologueing Hal Incandenza, taking stock of the room he’s in, in the Year of Glad. It begins where it’s supposed to end, where the eventual, you-could-totally-see-coming result of the day-to-day, presumably mind-numbing, substance addiction-causing routine of his being a tennis player, in a tennis school, would drive him to.

This book is about many things and but though I highly doubt that tennis is one of those things, tennis the sport plays an important character. It is a sport that resembles life, at least according to a signage in the Headmaster’s House or some place I won’t anymore bother to check, ie that life is a sport usually won by those who serve best. The tennis thing, it’s tough pointing out it’s significance in this except for maybe that it’s vital since DFW himself was a tennis player, but it looks to me like it’s somehow used as a comparison for life, which I know is such a trite and maybe moronic observation, but that’s my take, because it’s the kind of sport that seems to reward excellence and in nature, more random than most sports, but which if you think about it, it is like every other game which sole aim it is to win as much matches as possible and some of that life-sport metaphor things, but that like life too, tennis is mechanical, it’s a sport whose eventual winner is preordained and that some just happen to be so good at it, some have the body, mind and heart for it, but that every move you make in it, in tennis, is going to lead to something that is premeditated, and that if you’re not good now, you’re not going to be much good at it later, even if you try hard enough as to go crazy. Or something.

Infinite Jest is either one of the most rewarding reading experiences of my life or one of the most dreadful. It’s probably both. If a 6-8-month-long slogging can be called rewarding then consider me satiated. Slobbering over it aside, it’s also one of the most challenging, most make-you-feel-stupid, most self-satisfied work of literature I have ever had to commit to. It’s a cock-tease of a book. Some parts of it makes your eyes googly with adoration, some parts you dread having to go back to get through to. Some days I spend reading any random 2 pages of it twice. But I chalk this up to my comprehension limitations than to DFW’s deranged but ostensibly brilliant idea of how drug addicts’ and depressives’, well, people’s story should be told. No one does depressive fiction better than DFW, I think.

It’s one of the heaviest books I’ve ever had to carry around and my desire to finish the fucking thing hurt not only my brain but also my back. Content and weight-wise, Infinite Jest is heavy. Aware as I am of its pretentious perception tendencies, ie reading it in public not only makes you look foolish (because of the insistence) but more obviously, it makes you look like pretentious person who doesn’t know better than to read a David Foster Wallace book in public, casually, and not think of the back or shoulders’ welfare, not to mention, the brain’s. It’s the kind of book most likely to draw ‘It’s one of the most _____ books ever’  conclusions because of its enormity, both in scope and ambition and it mostly deserves it.

I hadn’t thought of romanticizing the reading experience since there were days when getting through just 2 pages of it is painful to the head but I got sad when it ended. I forgot how much end notes it has that when I got to the last few pages, I was, well, I was sort of glad that I can move on with other things.

Notice how I’m more inclined to talk about reading it than what’s actually in it. You are probably thinking, why read something you can’t really get? But maybe I’m being stupid about this kind of perception because it could be that there really are people who read stuff that they won’t be able to digest totally, and flip about it. But if you’re dying to know, I read it because I was morbidly intrigued by the author’s suicide. That and because I can. Because I like to spend on things, on books and I can say with total conviction that that 700 Pesos was one of the most well-spent 700- Pesos I ever used my credit card on.

Notice too how I’ve become more self-contained though I’ve always been. Because you know what, I feel like it spoke to me, when Molly Notkin said something about what I’ve been obsessing about work for some time, this idea:

…a classic illustration of the antinomically schizoid function of the post-industrial capitalist mechanism, whose logic presented commodity as the escape-from-anxieties-of-mortality-which-escape-is-itself-psychologically-fatal

exactly at a time when I was thinking, what is the point of all of this consuming and working and consuming and collecting and working, and thinking having and consuming things is going to be the cause of my happiness/contentment, when in fact I am only becoming more unsatisfied with what I can’t have than with what I already have. Which is kind of the point of The Entertainment, the piece of entertainment that’s so entertaining it causes its consumer to literally die of amusement.

I remember reading this and being too aware of how corny I was being when I stood up from my seat and made connections to this idea and went to the nearest set of ears and said something like, I’m amazed wow this is terrific book, like that.

There are plenty of things in this book that I wish I could re-post somewhere but I will trouble you some other time with them.

I’ve never been more self-aware with my choice of reading than with this. Sadly I have no great realizations or analysis, and all I have are memories of smelling it, of trying to understand it, remembrances of smiling through passages that seem tailored for me (me me me), people like me, of laughing through the fart jokes, its gore and other tragedies (Orin Incandenza, for example, gets his testicles done something to by roaches through the genius of that Swiss hand model, a character I only have a vague recollection of, significance-wise – the memory is still so fresh), the times when I felt like smashing or punching it not out of love and moment of great understanding though I love it, sort of, but because it hurt to think that I may not be able to finish it in this lifetime, not unless I resign from my job, not unless I put an end to all connections with fellow human beings, friends, lover and foes.

I know it’s a little annoying when some fanatical book nerd attaches himself to a work of fiction just because he thinks he understands it, gets what the characters feel, and makes plans to name children after these characters, but some books, they deserve being the causer of people’s annoying tendencies.

Towards the end, Hal Incandenza gets finicky about the big deal tennis event as is the rest of the ETAers, Gately is stuck in the coma ward still delirious, Joelle van Dyne is not getting her lethally beautiful face back which was damaged to a devastating extent because of a deranged set of parents, it remains unknowable what is in the The Entertainment, and Mario Incandenza is still a retard. I have no fucking idea what these elements were supposed to be about or if they were supposed to tie each other up but I loved most of them because they’re either funny or real-like or they’re written so sharply and I’ve been with them for 8 months!

(Thank you, reading buddy, for indulging me in this. I hate to imply that we’ve been such phonies trying to do recaps of this mammoth book, making comments at this blog’s trying-to-be-purposeful recaps because you may not agree, you might say you were simply looking for a really good, serviceable piece of literature to consume you which might be only slightly true for me, and you did not go into this thinking ‘I’m great and good’ just for doing this, but just the same, thank you that you did not leave me to be the only one who seems phony and pretentious, etc, supposing we ever did for a moment seemed like those, for having the nuts to Read Infinite Jest. High five!)

Infinite Jest reads like a huge book about a lot of nothings but it is not trashy and I think it’s saying something to me? I do not know. What I do know is that it gave me the howling fantods, whatever that might ever mean.

Infinite Jest sounds like every other book written by and about sad people. In the world of these fuck-ups, there are no resolutions, only more fuck-ups. But if there’s one book about human sadness you think you could afford to read, devote not just spend huge chunks of your time and life for, even if you don’t care to know what is rooted in really depressed people’s sadness, I would humbly suggest this marvelous book. I would hate to have to call this book marvelous, terrific, excellent or anything that’s supposed to suggest it as great, but like those who did before me, about the subject of this book’s actual greatness, I just have no words, obviously.

I think Infinite Jest is about the futility of human exertion to look for and obtain happiness, but that’s just me. But thank you, David Foster Wallace, for saying, because I would not have believed it myself.

‘Tard tard tard,’ Stice says.
Group empathy is expressed via sighs, further slumping, small spastic gestures of exhaustion, the soft clanks of skulls’ backs against the lockers’ thin steel.
‘My bones are ringing the way sometimes people say their ears are ringing, I’m so tired.’
‘I’m waiting til the last possible second to even breathe. I’m not expanding the cage till driven by necessity of air.’
‘So tired it’s out of tired’s word-range,’ Pemulis says. ‘Tired just doesn’t do it.’
‘Exhausted, shot, depleted,’ says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand. ‘Cashed. Totalled.’
‘Look.’ Pemulis pointing at Struck. ‘It’s trying to think.’
‘A moving thing to see.’
‘Beat. Worn the heck out.’
‘Worn the fuck-all out is more like.’
‘Wrung dry. Whacked. Tuckered out. More dead than alive.’
‘None even come close, the words.’

Need to talk

My brain capacity is probably never going to be enough to take in and process the contents of something as voluminous and as big as Infinite Jest. I insisted on doing this, mapping my progress on it, because I don’t have a child, or any other thing that’s sufficiently distracting with which to eliminate the need to do this type of questing.

I thought it might be a good idea to track my whereabouts, plot-wise, which is obviously not such a wise thing to do with Infinite Jest, since it’s big. Where I’m wrong is in tracking my progress, checking my comprehension or degree of amazement thus far. What I should have done, I should have just sat back and read. It’s been a major slog but believe self-absorbed people talking about books when they say, IJest is great.

I thought maybe this questing is because of the need to talk about something.

It makes perfect sense that most blurbs read like as if it’s God himself they’re praising when they rave about something, at least within the pages of the book they’re praising, in their concise, sliced form, the blurbs. With this book, it seems particularly justified although last resort-like, such as that it’s bravely brilliant, a tour-de-force of nature, et al because, and I’m just guessing, book appreciation doesn’t always translate to comprehension, and maybe some book critics/appreciators are just fishing from their reserves of usable and trusty wells of praises when they have/want to describe books as marvelously intellectual and funny as this, which is very understandable since it’s beginning to look like its reason for existence seems to be to dazzle, because everything’s so eloquently laid out and there’s nothing left to do but say wow, or pick a word from your well.

What I should have done or should aim to do is to just let the reading experience be and spare what/whoever (WordPress) of my impressions since they’re so elementary anyway, and there are only but a few signs that I am understanding what I’ve been reading.

But for example, that conversation between Joelle Van Dyne and Don Gately, about how the principles of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and UHID (Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed) greatly differ, through Joelle’s gorgeous explanation to Gately that UHID, as opposed to the belief system(s) of AA, believes it’s important to acknowledge the shame of being shamed about his (Gately’s) shortage in intellect and perception of things while poking at Joelle’s need to hide under a veil all the time, that was great for me. It’s just like what I’ve been doing, actually; tracking the reading progression and at the same time being self-deprecatory about my inability to really comprehend, just so I won’t appear totally stupid. So I talk about this, admit my shortage in comprehension, and proceed to talk about it anyway.

What you do is you hide your deep need to hide, and you do this out of the need to appear to other people as if you have the strength not to care how you appear to others. You stick your hideous face right in there into the wine-tasting crowd’s visual meatgrinder, you smile so wide it hurts and put out your hand and are extra gregarious and outgoing and exert yourself to appear totally unaware of the facial struggles of people who are trying not to wince or stare or give away the fact that they can see that you’re hideously, improbably deformed. You feign acceptance of your deformity. You take your desire to hide and conceal it under a mask of acceptance.

In this, I am the YOU and you are the wine-tasting crowd who sees through the ‘deformity’. If I were you I am probably thinking, I really don’t get it and yet I still talk. It’s fine.

I wanted right now to talk about this, a book, because I’ve been despairing, really, one of the worst kind, where I dread things that happen on a very regular basis, from Monday to Friday, as a matter of absolute fact, and I have applied for a job where I told the people in authority I love books, and what kind of a book lover am I if I don’t talk about the few pages I’ve read of Infinite Jest. The so-called quest is not for nothing.

‘A la contraire. I let it ride around inside all day if I have to. I make an iron rule: nothing escapes my bottom during play. Not a toot or a whistle. If I play hunched over I play hunched over. I take the discomfort in the name of dignified caution, and when it’s especially bad I look up at sky between points and I say to the sky Thank You Sir may I have another. Thank You Sir may I have another.’