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.

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.

Year of Glad – Mario Incandenza’s 1st and Only…

It was a mistake not to slog through James O. Incandenza’s filmography because the sillyly titled films and documentaries shed light on some things that wouldn’t otherwise make sense if you skipped the longest, most patient-testing footnote you ever read that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Not to be reductionist about JO Incandenza but he seems to me the David Foster Wallace alter-ego: killed self at 54 (JO), a genius who had plenty of unfinished work, and with a family that seemed to function unretardedly, in short, not the type of family that Jonathan Franzen or Wes Anderson would make subjects out of. Ok, it’s a little reductionist and shallow but I’m only through the first hundred pages. It’s slogging made flesh, as an ETAer  would put it, but in parts a barrel of monkey’s worth of fun, indeed – Dave Eggers. And then I got to the Kate Gompert part where she had this to say:

‘I think there must be probably different types of suicides. I’m not one of the self-hating ones. The type of like “I’m shit and the world’d be better off without poor me” type that says that but also imagines what everybody’ll say at their funeral. I’ve met types like that on wards. Poor-me-I-hate-me-punish-me-come-to-my-funeral. Then they show you a 20 X 25 glossy of their dead cat. It’s all self-pity bullshit. It’s bullshit. I didn’t have any special grudges. I didn’t fail an exam or get dumped by anybody. All these types. Hurt themselves.’

It helps to have an e-book of this so that if you feel like Kate Gompert, you can just copy and paste and announce fancily. So David is Kate Gompert, probably.

It’s not a very practical pursuit to try and reread something this big, a thousand-paged novel with lots and lots of fun footnotes all around. But I want to advance my once lost cause and I now have reading buddy who I’ll depend on to correct some of my perceptions about how certain scenes are actually not. And I know just how boring it is to hear about someone tell about the rereading of a book as if it’s a trek in the mountains. But if anything, reading Infinite Jest makes of you a person who would say things like happification, etc. In short, it’s worth it and also it’s nothing because in the end it’s just a book. And also, says someone who went through it already, it might take a whole season to finish it and summer’s just the right season for despairing over certain unattainables (undamaged scalp, a drop in the temperature, great looking torso) so it’s complementary reading. And it’s forgivable to think that this might be a means to ‘squander an insatiable need to advance some impression of himself,’ (myself, yourself) by picking this book up again.

So far, it’s the ETA tennis boys bitching about the tennis academy in the locker rooms and afterward in the viewing rooms where some boys wish they were tennis racketing their buddies in the head just because one finds another one inexplicably repulsive. What they actually do is they bitch for you. The bitching in the locker room routine is a masquerade. It is bitching about life not tennis. And while I already hate being simplistic about anything that is ever contained in this book, that is how it seems to me plainly put.

DFW has so far described how he may felt about his own depression but to link these similarities to his characters is kind of lazy because unlike your average depressive, say Elizabeth Wurtzel who would just say “I’m depressed’, Wallace conjures a multitude of people who would speak all the ways that he thought of how he’s had enough, even though that’s too presumptuous a presumption. He sets up an enormous backdrop, gets these depressives from anywhere in the book, and sticks them in like a glue in between that holds the so far Incandenza’s and the ETA boys’ narrative being the one that seem to go somewhere.

I stop for now at Mario Incandenza’s First And Only Even Remotely Romantic Experience Thus Far. Mario from what I recall is an interesting boy but maybe not as much as Hal who would beat Mario at a how many cutting, witty things can you say in a conversation contest, but I’m thinking Mario’s bound to get even weirder. There’s no logic so far to the sequence and I have yet to grasp the Years. No clue as to what could possibly be meant by the year of the depend adult undergarment which sounded from the moment I read it intriguing and usable. There’s just so much in here. Book is lovable so far.

Infinite despair

I wanted so much to talk about David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest because I’ve read a lot about it, something I rarely do since I don’t read about books I intend to read. I guess I was intrigued by the fact that the author killed himself. And one-thirds through the book, I can see but only dimly why he did, not that I ever understood what motivates suicide. Judging from the book’s sheer workmanship, length, vastness and supposed greatness, it’s not hard to see that this is a person who has a lot in his head. I suppose it is what most people would call an intensely psychological, intellectual, whatever Great work of literary achievement, etc. And I don’t know how but I can imagine how someone who worked on a book such as this could have been driven to do something as extreme as killing himself. I would think that about Chuck Klosterman but he has way too much overt humor in his works that it’s hardly unimaginable that he would unlike David Wallace whose supposed humor has to filter through some very hard thinking. Think before laughing. I guess the chismoso in me wanted to know how someone who’s supposed to be ‘his generation’s’ most over-praised writer would want to kill himself. So he’s like Kurt Cobain, fair enough, but not nearly enough of an explanation. If there’s a book by a successful self-killer that’s supposed to shed a light on the highly intriguing factor of the matter of his suicide, then it’s perfectly understandable to want to get your hands on it, isn’t it, and so I do.

I want to talk about it if for nothing but for the silliest of reasons that I got so intrigued with it, so that I could give it some sort of justification, for wanting it in the first place, and for seeking it out, for wanting to experience it myself when most of the things that I did read about was that it was a tough book, sort of, depending on whose opinion you wish to take seriously. I hardly ever get books from hi-priced bookstores such as Power Books (this one especially) and Fully Booked (although they have a couple of impressively knowledgeable staff who wouldn’t ask you thrice what title of the book it is you’re asking or if it’s the author or the title you’re asking, so they’re fine) because the guilt you feel when you see a book that you got for 800 pesos is on Book Sale selling for 110 you just about want to kill yourself too. Sometimes I worry that I might have been spending way more time looking for things to read than I do reading.

I try not to talk about books I don’t really get and so maybe I should stop obsessing over the David Foster Wallace catalogue since it’s doubtful I’d ever get through another one of his fictions enlightened. I can’t say I’m rewarded for the pursuit, not having finished it after starting so many months ago but the little I get, the little humor that I did find funny, I really appreciated. If anything it made me wish I have more patience and more brain space to take everything in.

I’ve also been thinking about turning this into a book blog but realized that it’s not possible since… it’s impossible. I wish there was more than 24 hours in a day and less means of self-gratification because then I wouldn’t have to spend time in the room where the speakers are, or in the bed where the comfort is. I’m miserable when it comes to this blog, speaking of blogs. I’m thinking of shutting this off but there are worse things than not getting attention and one of those is not having a space to talk about Mariah and some books.

Infinite Jest is about a bunch of tennis players who are, not weirdly as it turns out, also into drugs. Plenty, different, expensive drugs. It’s supposed to be about the dead-endness of their student and pro tennis playing lives. It’s also about something else, for sure. Maybe that’s what it’s about, despair? Which I understand and found a way to associate with my own? Hmmmm…

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.
That if you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it or know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way or form trying to get credit for it, it’s almost its own form of intoxicating buzz.
That anonymous generosity, too, can be abused.
That having sex with someone you do not care for feels lonelier than not having sex in the first place, afterward.
That it is permissible to want.
That everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That this isn’t necessarily perverse.

‘So this purports to be a disease, alcoholism? A disease like a cold? Or like cancer? I have to tell you, I have never heard of anyone being told to pray for relief from cancer. Outside maybe certain very rural parts of the American South, that is. So what is this? You’re ordering me to pray? Because I allegedly have a disease? I dismantle my life and career and enter nine months of low-income treatment for a disease, and I’m prescribed prayer? Does the word retrograde signify? Am I in a sociohistorical era I don’t know about? What exactly is the story here?’

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: For Sale

The David Foster Wallace book, which I got for 50 PHP is still unfinished after 3 painful months. I almost hated books and reading in general because of this difficult book. I have a feeling that some of the things I’ve read so far are funny but I can’t be very sure. In short, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again has the power to make you feel stupid. Lesson learned: limit purchase of books that have cute titles.

This is what happens when you try to get your hands on books that you think is a big deal, because their authors killed themselves or because the titles are cute. This is just like the time I bought Kate Bush’s Aerial CD just because it has a nice cover and because it’s so cheap. Her voice is very weird and I can’t bear to listen to her again even if she’s supposed to be a hybrid of Tori and whoever else does that kind of singing. I’m thinking of a future when I’m so broke that I’d have to sell all the worthless things I bought by virtue of their being cheap.

I lament being unable to read as much as I want to, even though its David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs and Franny & Zooey that I mostly read. I intend to read more Filipino authors but what I’ve noticed about local books is that unless you’ve heard about them from somewhere, you’d have no idea what they’re really about because in place of a book summary, what you get are blurbs and the authors’ educational backgrounds. Are the readers supposed to care that the writer graduated from the University of Quezon City when published authors like Bob Ong, who isn’t very good, is a best-seller, and whose educational history we know nothing about? His books don’t have much in the way of summary either, but he has the distinct advantage of creating very accessible reading matter. You may see him as a humorist who can be funny but who just tries too hard, but his publishers don’t see the need to plaster his book jackets with complete details on where he got his Masters in Silly Writing.

I reread Archie & Jughead and I must say, it’s still the best thing to read in any day at any age. I can claim to like the later works of Ian McEwan or the early Patricia Highsmith but nothing is as fun to read as the two boneheads from Riverdale. I’m so sorry I sold all my Archie comics to some girl who took advantage of my innocence. I’m sorry too that I lent some of them to kids who saw no difference between borrowing and taking.

I’m sure there’s someone out there who covets this David F. Wallace book and if you’re someone who has many Archie comics, I’ll trade my A Supposed Fun Thing (such a long title) for 10 Archie/Jughead Double Digest. 10 because I believe A Supposed Fun Thing is quite valuable in spite of itself. Will negotiate too with anyone who has A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, also from the Books With The Cute and Catchy Title cannon.