It was never my intention to write a series of posts about this book, but given it’s length and the fact I had things to say, it kind of just happened. About thirty minutes ago, after reading for the best part of three months, i’ve managed to finish Infinite Jest.
Whilst I’m somewhat proud of this as an achievement in it’s own right – i’m not yet sure it was entirely worth it. The book definitely had flourishes of genuine brilliance, and moments of both infinite sadness and infinite jest, but am I satisfied? Unfortunately not.
The book doesn’t end, so much as stop. I’ve been doing some searching online following the end, and came across this quote from the author:
“There is an ending as far as I’m concerned. Certain kind of parallel lines are supposed to start converging in such a way that an “end” can be projected by the reader somewhere beyond the right frame. If no such convergence or projection occurred to you, then the book’s failed for you”
My immediate reaction was that indeed, this book had failed me. That either I had not given it the required amount of time, or that perhaps I was not up to the task. But, thinking more on the book certain lines begin, to quote the author, converge. The book starts with what is actually, according to the books chronology, the last event to happen. The temptation to start again, almost immediately is now quite strong. Is the reader meant to feel stuck in a Donno Darko-esque loop which will play and play? Another pointer to this can be found in another interview with Foster-Wallace:
MICHAEL SILVERBLATT: I don’t know how, exactly, to talk about this book, so I’m going to be reliant upon you to kind of guide me. But something came into my head that may be entirely imaginary, which seemed to be that the book was written in fractals.
DAVID FOSTER WALLACE: Expand on that.
MS: It occurred to me that the way in which the material is presented allows for a subject to be announced in a small form, then there seems to be a fan of subject matter, other subjects, and then it comes back in a second form containing the other subjects in small, and then comes back again as if what were being described were — and I don’t know this kind of science, but it just — I said to myself this must be fractals.
DFW: It’s — I’ve heard you were an acute reader. That’s one of the things, structurally, that’s going on. It’s actually structured like something called a Sierpinski Gasket, which is a very primitive kind of pyramidical fractal, although what was structured as a Sierpinski Gasket was the first- was the draft that I delivered to Michael in ’94, and it went through some I think ‘mercy cuts’, so it’s probably kind of a lopsided Sierpinski Gasket now. But it’s interesting, that’s one of the structural ways that it’s supposed to kind of come together.
MS: “Michael” is Michael Pietsche, the editor at Little, Brown. What is a Sierpinski Gasket?
DFW: It would be almost im- … I would almost have to show you. It’s kind of a design that a man named Sierpinski I believe developed — it was quite a bit before the introduction of fractals and before any of the kind of technologies that fractals are a really useful metaphor for. But it looks basically like a pyramid on acid —
If you google what one of these triangles looks like, you’ll realise perhaps why there is no conclusive end to this book in the classic sense. A endlessly repeating shape, perfect in it’s symmetry, capable of infinite reproduction.
This is a thought seeded with the reader as the novel draws to a conclusion. Don Gately lies in a hospital bed at the novels close, his hallucination describing to us the moment he hits rock bottom with his addiction. Hal Incandenza, the character vaguely central to the story, is just beginning to lose his way. He’s about to experience his own rock bottom moment, when his drug addiction spills violently into the rest of his life, and the habit which hitherto has been under control explodes for all to see. Perhaps this cycle of redemption and damnation is illusory of a type of another infinity. That, the battle to conquer addiction will never be won, a point also illustrated excellently by the end of TV series The Wire. As one person leaves the game, another enters.
Ultimately, Infinite Jest is a perhaps a triumph of style over substance – a story so beautifully crafted that the actual narrative is somewhat subservient to the formal aspects of the novel. Not unlike the creator of the ‘The entertainment’, the man known to his children as “Himself”, the deceased film director and founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy where much of the book is set, James Orin Incandenza. A man whose technical prowess with camera and lens always outshone the storylines of the films he made.
Addiction, and depression, is central to this novel – as they were also to David Foster Wallace – a man who sadly killed himself in 2008, no longer able to battle his demons. The comparison between one of the central characters of a book that would become his masterpiece and the authors life, 20:20 in hindsight. It feels sad, knowing what happens to the author, that perhaps the book was an attempt not only to do what he loved, but also perhaps it is an exercise in dealing with the problems he faced, the problems he couldn’t address in any other way.