Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: Journey's End

    Infinite Jest is back on the shelf, a little more than two months after I had decided to re-introduce myself to the complex opus.  I think I remarked in my first post how impressive it was that in the fledgling days of the internet and the height of MTV that David Foster Wallace decided that he could succeed by releasing an entertainment both long and difficult and requiring work from the reader.

    But Wallace always found pleasure in work and must have bet that others would, too.

    The subject of Infinite Jest is addiction very broadly, and addiction to pleasure very specifically.  In the book, the filmmaker James O. Incandenza, who also founded a tennis academy and is a genius with electronics, has created a movie so compelling that to watch it for even a second will leave you wanting nothing more than to watch it until you die of starvation on your living room couch.

    The moral question of the book is how do you resist it, when you know it's good?  James Incandenza's motive was to create the ultimate escape and he succeeded.  But escape does imply that there's something worth running from and that life has its own pain and dangers, which Wallace explores without mercy for 1,110 pages. Incandenza's further motive was to create an entertainment so compelling that it would draw his son Hal out of a laconic and seemingly permanent depression.  In this, he fails.

    In The Pale King, the novel that Wallace was unable to complete before taking his own life, Wallace explores the mirror image of this theme.  That novel celebrates boredom, or at least the ability to overcome boredom in the service of doing good work.  It is set, appropriately enough, in an Indiana tax office, during a time where the government had been setting up stricter, technology-enhanced procedures to reduce income tax cheating.  It is boring and necessary work and those who best deal with it eschew its moral components (viewing themselves as heroes for stopping tax cheats or worrying they are villains for taking people's money and property) and instead focus on doing the work.

    So between these two mammoth novels (one sadly incomplete) there is the start of a philosophy of life that is leery of myth-making entertainments and obvious heroics, in favor of things like Alcoholics Anonymous or the IRS, where you simply must do your work with a minimum of distracting drama.  It's not an easy way to live because all of the distractions from television shows to night clubs to drugs and booze and music and obsessing over politics are all very seductive things that Wallace could certainly not separate himself from.

    Now, while I was reading that... anything happen in the news that I should know about?


    Thanks for posting your journey with this book. Still not sure how to reconcile his suicide with his art.  

    The only thing that's happened here is that a few people have commented on a guy from Vermont who is running in some election. I think your time reading Wallace was well spent.

    Just a thought Michael. It's possible you might have gotten more people involved if you had given more lead time in announcing your intention to read and blog about the book.

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