Tag Archive: Infinite Jest

freedom-flagI read this passage today and, although it is from a book published in 1996, I was immediately struck by how topical it is. What do you think?:

“Always with you this freedom! For your walled-up country to shout ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ as if it were obvious to all people what it wants to mean, this word. But look: it’s not as simple as that. Your freedom is the freedom – from; no one tells your precious individual USA selves what they must do.[……..] What of freedom – to. How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not know how to choose?”

pg 32o - Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.



The poetry of Paterson

PATERSON directed by Jim Jarmusch (USA, 2016)

What does take to be a poet? A way with words and a keen eye helps. Then you need time, both to think and to write. The Welsh poet, W.H. Davies wrote “A poor life this is if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”, the first lines of ‘Leisure’ published in 1911.

The title of Jim Jarmusch’s gentle and warm-hearted movie has three main points of reference: Paterson, the city in New Jersey, the title of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams and the name of a conscientious bus driver.

The location is the birthplace of Lou Costello of Abbot & Costello fame and it is also where a triple homicide took place that led to the wrongful arrest of Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter in 1966. Continue reading

THE GREENLANDERS by Jane Smiley (Anchor Books, 2005)

franzen_smileyIs life too short for big books?

When it comes to novels like Infinite Jest or Middlemarch, I’d say not.

David Foster Wallace was so overflowing with ideas that he needed the space to expand his thoughts while George Eliot used a larger palette to create a world with a world.

Yet, there seems to be a trend (or requirement) for writing 500 or more pages as a demonstration of a writer’s prowess.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s  sprawling ‘Here I Am’ is one recent example of a novel that would have greatly benefited from trimming by at least 200 pages.

Jane Smiley’s epic Norse saga is another. Continue reading

LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE a short story by John Barth (1968)

I read this story to plug a gap in my literary knowledge and as background research as part of my re-reading of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The style and experimentation certainly helps put Wallace’s magnum opus into context.

When you read of Barth’s Ambrose it hard not to think of DFW’s “communicatively challenged” Hal Incandenza : “Ambrose was at that awkward age. his voice came out all high-pitched as a child’s if he let himself get carried away: to be on the safe side, therefore, he moved and spoke with deliberate calm and adult gravity”. 

Above all it is the self referential, ‘metafiction’ of Barth’s story that is most striking and entertaining.  Wallace didn’t use this postmodern device so much in IJ but you find the influence in his shorter fiction, notably the closing story in his Girl With Curious Hair collection called Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way. Continue reading

dfwI have this ambitious (probably crazy) plan of re-reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and making my own ‘reader’s guide’ to try to examine just why and how it is a masterpiece. Often I read novels carelessly and miss connections or subtleties. This novel represents the ultimate challenge for a more attentive study. It is something I started and set aside a few years back and this is the preamble I wrote at the time: 

Infinite Jest was written in 1996 and is, by any standards, a big novel. It stretches to 981 pages with a further 96 pages of footnotes to push it beyond the 1000 mark. Footnote is probably a misnomer since many are more than just clarifications or references. One (110) runs to 17 pages. So, it’s not a novel you’d pick up lightly or cast aside easily (unless you wanted to do someone an injury!).

It is a definitive example of a genre of contemporary fiction that British critic James Wood memorably calls “hysterical realism”. In this category he also places U.S. heavyweight writers Thomas Pynchon & Don Delillo and British post-colonialist authors Salman Rushdie & Zadie Smith. Wood writes:
“Storytelling has become a kind of grammar in these novels; it is how they structure and drive themselves on. The conventions of realism are not being abolished but, on the contrary, exhausted, and overworked”

Continue reading

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