Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Monsters We Carry

    I have just reached a scene in Infinite Jest where 17-year-old Hal Incandenza reflects, in conversation with his deformed brother Mario, about the monsters he once feared and what he fears now:

    'Boo, I think I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there's simply no well to tell. The ones who give nothing away.'

    'But then how do you know they're monsters then, then?'

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Causes and Effects of Terrorism

    Infinite Jest is a terrorism novel. This is, in a lot of ways, no surprise.  David Foster Wallace counted Thomas Pynchon and Don Delillo as influences and both of them were interested in the topic of terrorism.  Also, it's an interesting topic for fiction and though we tend to talk about it in terms of a post-9/11 vocabulary, terrorism has always been a way that a few people have tried to influence masses and it hasn't changed all that much.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Political Advice from the Past

    I'm at a rare books library this week, with politics happily tuned down to a lower volume. That's true even though the library is around the corner from the Capitol Building, and almost across the street from the Supreme Court. So I was in town for Mitch McConnell's continued resistance to the eminent Merrick Garland, but I am busy doing other things.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: President John Gentle and the Rise of Donald Trump

    As recapped in the excellent biography by D.T. Max David Foster Wallace loved television and could binge-watch with the best of them in the years before streaming Netflix. Netflix is, by the way, something that Wallace seems to have seen coming. In Infinite Jest, Netflix is an entertainment company called Interlace that sells both streaming videos and entertainment cartridges. Interlace basically destroys the advertising industry and the big television networks, by offering people the entertainment they want, when they want it.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Trump vs Hamilton

    A brash loudmouth from New York City has been taking America by storm lately, to the consternation of the traditional political elite. I'm talking, of course, about Alexander Hamilton, and about Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's monstrous, Grammy-winning Broadway hit.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Stages of Grief

    Within the first third of Infinite Jest we learn what happened when Hal Incandenza, a brilliant tennis player on the rise and son of filmmaker James Incandenza and brother of professional football kicker Orin Incandenza, found James after his suicide by microwave.

    James is the auteur behind the movie "Infinite Jest."  His suicide, perhaps on impulse after relapsing into alcoholism, was extremely gruesome.  He rigged a microwave so that he could put his head inside, effectively turning his cranium into a pressure-activated flesh bomb.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: Umberto Eco Is Dead

    I’ve never seen David Foster Wallace connected to Umberto Eco.  That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. But sometimes it is too tempting to compare writers just because they happen to write long books that are intellectually driven.  There are many ways to conquer the beast of the novel of ideas and these two writers may not have shared many tactics.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: Hamlet as Baseline

    One of David Foster Wallace’s goals (he said, sometimes) as a fiction writer was to help people combat loneliness.  Writing fiction allows the writer to reach out to an audience of strangers.  Reading it allows the audience to reach out to an author they will likely never meet.  Reading texts in common, like with Infinite Winter, gives us a chance to have a shared experience. I think a shared intellectual experience is why a lot of us have nostalgia for school (both high school and college).

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Hurt of Smart and Talented

    A huge theme of Infinite Jest is that there are pains inherent with talent.  A big part of this is athletic talent, which David Foster Wallace could write about because he was an immensely talented tennis player, just shy of pro. Another part of it is intellectual talent, which he could also write about because, well, if you’ve read him, I don’t have to try and convince you.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    DFW Told You What About A Fish?

    We have reached the 20th anniversary of the publication of Infinite Jest and I have just finished reading Signifying Rappers, a short book of essays written by David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello, designed to ape the style of the late music critic Lester Bangs, but about the burgeoning commercial and underground rap artists of the late 1980s and early 1990s.  It was a bit of a shock to realize that DFW hated The Beastie Boys but then, those were the “Fight For Your Right To Party” Beasties.  We have all grown up so much these days and some of us have died.

    Ramona's picture

    The Donald Dilemma: Loves The Crowds, Hates The Presidency

    I've been watching Donald Trump pretty closely (How to avoid it? Dear God in Heaven, how to avoid it?) and I have a theory.  Bear with me now, because at first you're going to laugh.  I know I did.  But here it is:  The billionaire Trump would rather die than be president of the United States.  But then he'd rather die than give up the attention, the fabulous, almost surreal attention.  From the people, from the press, from the Big Guys in Washington, from the world!  It's all his!  Donald Trump's!  He can't give it up!  He just can't!  But, damn, he does not want to be president.

    Danny Cardwell's picture

    I Don't Care About The Oscars

    In the last few days I've had friends and colleagues ask me about Oscar snubs, and the boycott some actors and activists are calling for. It's not that I don't care about black actors being slighted for their hard work, it just seems like our time could be better served worrying about the plight of African Americans outside of Hollywood. I could be wrong, but this fight seems like a small battle in the war for equality. I'm more concerned that too many graduates in the class of 2016 will be forced to work jobs instead of find careers.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    David Bowie Lived to 69 (Alan Rickman, Too)

    My social media feed, like yours, is full of mourning this week: not simply for the great and beloved David Bowie, but also for the brilliant Shakespearean actor Alan Rickman (likewise beloved from many films), the poet C. D.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Your New Year's Public Domain Report for 2016

    Happy New Year! It's Public Domain Day, the first day of the calendar year, on which people in other countries get new works of art and learning added to the public domain for everyone to use. And on the first day of the new year we in the United States get ...

    Zilch. Nada. Niente. Nothing.

    Again.

    Miss Universe no Misses Universes

    In case you missed it, the wrong woman was crowned Miss Universe last night. With the choice narrowed down to Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines, the always affable comedian Steve Harvey mistakenly announced Colombia had won. As is customary at these events, lovely Ariadna Gutierrez burst into tears while last year's champion Paulina Vega - also from Colombia - coronated her.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Brett Foster Goes Out Singing

    I was blogging today about art, especially about poetry and about grief, but that post was interrupted by the news of an old friend's death. My own thoughts about grief can wait. I will still be thinking them tomorrow. Today I give way to the beautiful, kind-hearted poet and scholar Brett Foster, who has passed out of this world. He was a better man than I have ever been, and I will miss him.

    Art is Inherently Personal and Political

    BarbaraAllenHelaine Smith is an English teacher at an elite K-12 girls school in New York City.  The Wall Street Journal recently published her essay on teaching literature without letting "politics" or "personal identity" intrude.  Here is my response to the Journal:

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Praise for the Foremothers

    This is how it works: men and women do things - write books, build institutions, start movements - that change your life forever, and the men get into the history books. The women mysteriously fall out of the story, over and over. How many times have you heard or read the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to be free"? How many of you can name the writer off the top of your head? That's what I'm talking about.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield

    Marvel comics is soft-rebooting all of its titles.  Marvel is, along with Star Wars, Star Trek and pro wrestling, a huge part of my pop-cultural life.  I'd love to say, "my childhood," but we all know that's too kind.  

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    What Is a "Good" College? Two Tentative Answers

    Sometimes, because of my job, people ask me advice about choosing colleges. It's always nice to be helpful, but talking about college reputations can be a minefield. Obviously, you learn quickly that you should never put any college or university down, but that's not enough. People can also get very prickly when you don't praise a particular college enough.

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