Tag: Infinite Jest
Philosophical Sweep: To understand the fiction of David Foster Wallace, it helps to have a little Wittgenstein by James Ryerson in Slate.com:
In an interview with the literary critic Larry McCaffery published in 1993, Wallace explained that as a philosophy student he had been “chasing a special sort of buzz,” a flash of feeling whose nature he didn’t comprehend at first. [...] It was really an experience of what I think Yeats called ‘the click of a well-made box.’ The word I always think of it as is ‘click.’ ”
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams:
- Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.
- Big Daddy: What’s that?
- Brick: A click in my head.
- Big Daddy: Did you say “click”?
- Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.
- Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.
- Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.
- Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!
- Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic. So if you’d just excuse me…
- Big Daddy: [grabbing him] No, I won’t excuse you.
- Brick: Now I’m waitin’ for that click and I don’t get it. Listen, I’m all alone. I’m talkin’ to no one where there’s absolute quiet.
- Big Daddy: You’ll hear plenty of that in the grave soon enough.
Wallace’s writing about drug and alcohol addiction forms the moral core of Infinite Jest, using addiction as a lens through which to view tennis and visual entertainment as well. Years before his suicide, he checked into rehab and asked to be put on suicide watch. It’s no surprise that he would approach thought itself as a desperate search for ‘a special sort of buzz’ or ‘the click’.
In a gesture towards a clean slate, a fresh start, and a healthy digestive reaction to the upcoming bowl of black-eyed peas, here are four quick sketches for blog posts that I started to draft but never completed. Fly free, little half-born angels.
- Great Daves of the 90′s. I read Infinite Jest as part of the Infinite Summer challenge, and David Foster Wallace’s twisting, reflexive, ouroborean self-consciousness took me back to the early 90′s. The middle year of my college career was marked by emerging consciousness of the fictions involved in pronouncements about Generation X, and the same kinds of impossibility around newness and protest that Kurt Cobain seemed to reel from in his final famous years. When Dave Eggers (whose Might magazine I had enjoyed) published A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, its hysterically self-aware style felt immediately familiar, and I put off reading it until a few years ago, when I devoured it quickly, enjoyably, and without surprise. Wallace, however, resonates with the maddening headaches of that young consciousness that everything you think is already always being said, programmed by a machine you may operate but never master. But by approaching these struggles through the character of Don Gately, a recovering alcoholic, and showing us his experience grappling with the seemingly empty but vitally true dogma of Alcoholics Anonymous, Wallace validated this familiar and vertiginous self-reflexivity while challenging and expanding it, using a feature of my upper-middle-class overeducated habits of mind to create sympathy for a broken, giant ex-con. Also noted: while I was obsessing over the meanings and traps of “Generation X” I bought a Malcolm X hat (purple X on white baseball cap) and Sharpied “Gen-” in front of the X, and added “Generation Next” to the back, a gesture which in retrospect was a bizarre fashion error.
- Where The Wild Things Are. Where The Fantastic Mr. Fox presented a fetishization of material goods behind its trumpeted wildness, the Jonzes’ Eggers’s Sendak’s wild things are figurines in staging a Oedipal passage to adulthood. Lauren Ambrose’s monster KJ is a cool babysitter, providing a mother-figure who is also a safe object for the early stirrings of sexual desire (she swallows Max whole to protect him at one point, keeping him safe in a sticky cavernous interior). The movie’s exploration of childhood sets sail from the therapist’s couch, turning Max’s inchoate childhood rages (very well represented) into figures with names before the journey home — and into healthy adulthood — can start. A delightful adaptation of a childhood story to a therapy generation, Where The Wild Things Are was good but both HJ and I wished it wasn’t the definitive take. We wanted the magnificent sets and costumes put in the hands of two or three more writers, so they could play out their own versions of WTWTA against their own idiosyncracies.
- Interzone. At the time, the Los Angeles City Council was considering the prohibition of medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of any residence. More typically, restricted uses will be prohibited close to schools, churches, parks and playgrounds–y’know, because the children are the future– but someone went and threw residences in there as well, leaving about two or three industrial districts where dispensaries could fill prescriptions. My proposal was for the creation of an L.A. Interzone, a la the portrayal of Tunis (?) in Naked Lunch, where head shops, dispensaries, sex offenders and strip clubs could all profitably locate.
- Road Not Taken. I noticed that the people running to replace Paul Krekorian in the special election for California’s 43rd assembly district were all people that I knew and had come up with in L.A. politics. When I started working in City Hall I toyed with the idea of one day running for office, and if I had, it would be that election today. I made the choice not to seek elective office a long time before I got out of local politics entirely, but if I hadn’t, I could be out there today. Mutatis mutandis, I would have stacked up well. They’re a talented and friendly lot, and it should be an interesting race, but the Assembly today is no place for someone who wants to make a difference in California politics, sadly.
There. No more ideas! I’ll have to go see a movie or something. Big Josh, you back yet?
If there are lessons for writers in Infinite Jest, this must be among them:
If you put into your work everything you know in your head, you’d best also put into it everything you know in your heart.
Consider a book that is preoccupied with simulacra (copies without originals), with the relation of maps to territories, a book which uses “map” as a synonym for self. Consider that this book imagines an entertainment complex dominated by on-demand entertainment cartridges and the fuson of television and computing. Consider that one of the strands of this book that most resembles a plot hinges on the terroristic dissemination of one of these cartridges.
Now consider that in the book, published in 1996, this plan is slowed down by the discovery of a “read-only” copy when only a master copy can be used to make additional copies. The fuck is a read-only copy?
Infinite Jest gets a surprising number of predictions right. But it missed Napster.
(Caveat: I’m around p. 760. Perhaps I’ll revise this.)