I finished reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest this morning, and now I feel it’s necessary to deliberate on it. Don’t worry: no spoilers.
With a text this size (all done and said, it’s over 1000 pages), the book’s been on my mind awhile. And it’s not something that can be summed up easily. I’ve been restless; the day summons a kind of ambivalence about IJ having been completed. Maybe I need a few days before I know what to do with the ending.
Anyway, some background. “Infinite Summer” is a unique idea that sprouted through the web channels, perpetuated itself in its members’ excitement to read a massive book together, and drew press in a way that most book clubs cannot even hope to do. It’s been on the radar of celeb-status blogger Matt Yglesias, and frontman of the Decemberists Colin Meloy, among many others. With online guides to stimulate conversation, and a reading calendar to ensure that discussion along the way is limited to the spoiler line, it’s one heck of an organized gig for such a sizable group. “Infinite Summer” has branched out beyond the website and forums, the sinews of which exist on the aggregate of Twitter updates with hashtag #infsum, as well as on Facebook, Livejournal, and many blogs.
Less so on my blog, but several writers have temporarily repurposed their own blogs primarily for some prime IJ analysis. I started reading Infinite Jest a little bit before the main “Infinite Summer” group did, which is why I haven’t been participating much – don’t want to accidentally spoil anything. But wow, I am following the ideas being exchanged online by first-time readers and re-readers of all ages, and it is astounding. There’s a clarity and a wisdom that emerges which gives me faith in modern readers. Meaning yes, there are still intelligent, passionate, and literate people growing up in America today. Meaning that we can adapt this hyperactive, multi-tasking, and above all distracted screen culture to the task of concentrating on a book. A giant bugger of a book. Sometimes I falter in this belief.
It was only recently when the sheer driving force of this group (those reading IJ with “Infinite Summer”) really struck me. Naturally, there has been the expectable press and Internet-interest surrounding a virtual reading group of this size and coordination, but just think of the consequences! Infinite Jest is still a pretty young book in the grander scheme of things, as it was published in 1996, and already such an accomplished and insightful public has adopted this text to study – and of course generally enjoy. There has been much theorizing, analyzing, debating. The forums have been too active for me to follow. Infinite bloggers seem downright inexhaustible. I foresee new literary criticism being published soon. The body of work surrounding DFW’s own will grow. So props for that.
Additionally, I love David Foster Wallace for his ability as an American author to direct the harsh light back onto his own nation. I am a sucker for literature that unveils what kind of society we’re in today – that is unafraid to undress what modernity has done to the human character. DFW’s truly American in this regard. I think the allure is that the details he includes in Infinite Jest make it identifiably American. In reading this, I get battered with what’s so familiar and difficult to escape. It’s confrontational. This also explains why Don DeLillo’s White Noise is absolutely top-shelf, in my book. (OK, heh, couldn’t resist an awkward pun or two.)
I’ll admit I’m feeling drained, though. It is precisely that information-overload which David Foster Wallace does so well in Infinite Jest that is so conspicuous living in the U.S. today.