Diving into Infinite Jest


I was in a used bookstore recently, and they had Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace for $1.50. It was in pristine condition, as if it had never been read. That made me sad, so I bought it. I had been threatening to read the book for years now, but I never could bring myself to buy it at full price. I just didn’t think it was for me. It’s dense. It’s philosophical. It’s been called a work of genius. While I am dense, I’m barely philosophical, and as far from a genius as you can get. I had it in my mind that I was not worthy of this book, that it would beat me into a puddle of self-doubt about my own writing and leave me weeping at my lack of talent, that the book would somehow judge me for calling myself a writer.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The book is incredibly accessible.  The high praise for it by critics is merited, but I think it also does it injustice. By elevating it to an iconic status, the critics scared readers away, and I think it even gave people the wrong impression of Wallace. All this time I thought he was like Maude from the Big Lebowski, militantly artistic, when he was more like The Dude, just a guy who was beautifully confused, and all he really wanted was someone to replace his rug. If you’re baffled by my analogy, see the part where I warned you that I’m barely philosophical, and I’m no genius.

The point is that I’m sorry I took so long to read this book. I don’t know why, but I feel like I somehow cheated Wallace by not connecting with this book while he was alive. I’ve started watching interviews with him in an effort to learn more about him, and it’s obvious he was not comfortable with the attention. He liked the praise, but he didn’t want to be defined by it. I think he felt an unavoidable fall from grace on the horizon, and in his own mind he constantly wrestled with having to deal with the day that he would inevitably be exposed as a fraud and let everyone down. That’s what makes depression so fucking evil. It doesn’t just make you feel unhappy. It completely redacts any thoughts of joy from your life and leaves you with a head full of lies about who you really are and what you really mean to others.

Anyway, Infinite Jest is awesome. That’s my review. I’m not nearly finished, and I’m going to savor the story for as long as I can, but as engrossed as I am now, I don’t anticipate that my view will change. In closing, I found this short film using a commencement speech that Wallace gave as the soundtrack. Do yourself a favor and watch it. Bookmark it and watch it whenever you need to be reminded that everyone is dealing with their own shit.

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One thought on “Diving into Infinite Jest

  1. Fighting a nasty battle with depression and anxiety, I can totally agree with you statement, “That’s what makes depression so fucking evil. It doesn’t just make you feel unhappy. It completely redacts any thoughts of joy from your life and leaves you with a head full of lies about who you really are and what you really mean to others.”

    I have never read anything by Wallace, for the same reason as you. I felt his writing would, in fact, make me feel worse about it than I already do and I’d give up and go back to jobs I hated to make ends meet.

    With your glowing endorsement, I will give this book a try.

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