Infinite Jest

This summer, I and a few other brave souls are attempting to read David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus: Infinite Jest.

It is a long book with about forty pages of end notes, all of which is required reading. We are meeting about once a week in order to discuss the book, share quotes, eat snacks and drink drinks associated with the book, visit locations mentioned in the book (most of which takes place in a futuristic dystopian Boston), dress up as characters, and much more.

This book is designed not to be finished, and I’m told that the original title was “A Failed Entertainment.” Speaking of which, there are several pages of end notes dedicated to describing the main character’s father’s attempts at film-making (all of which are ridiculous). Everything is ridiculous in this story.

For other examples of works by DFW include his short story “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” in which he recounts going on a cruise, and everything he sees reminds him of nothing but death.

Also his essay “Hail the Returning Dragon, Clothed in New Fire,” also written in 1996, in which he predicts that AIDS may return the necessary element of danger to sex and romance it has lacked in the modern world.

And his book “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” which I have not read. I did watch the movie however; the first directed by John Krasinski (in which he also acts). I’ll simply say it is very good (whatever the reviews say) and I intend on seeing it again in order to get the full effect.

Also worth hearing is his commencement speech to the Kenyon College class of 2005, “This is Water.”

So, Infinite Summer has only just begun. I’ll quote part of  my friend’s description:

“If Tolstoy’s War and Peace has a peer along the precipitous range of literary Everests it is Infinite Jest. Spanning just over 1,000 pages, David Foster Wallace’s 1996 postmodern opus is simultaneously about tennis, Hamlet, addiction, feral hamsters, wheel-chair assassins, film theory, Sierpinski Triangles, Lemon Pledge, and, of course, the paradox of the human condition…If you’re patient with it and really submit to its craziness, however, it WILL change your life. That’s a promise.”

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest…” -Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 1

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