It took just under seven months to get through the tome that is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace or DFW as the hundreds of posters before me have shorthanded. Honestly, it really didn’t feel that long especially after the 300 to 400 page mark where story beats and my own understanding of the characters ratcheted up to a very quick pace. It is long and involves dedication to get through, but overall it is definitely not some highly encrypted vault waiting for only the most intellectual of the bunch to break into. DFW even addresses this in the book through Hugh Steeply’s discussion of his father becoming fixated on the television show M.A.S.H. Other examples abound of addiction, which is one of the major themes, but I believe it’s to highlight something bigger in that we all have the same capabilities inside us. Anyone could read this book and be just as hooked on the intricacies of relationships and the fictional universe supplied here as they can with Harry Potter, the Marvel cinematic and comic book worlds, or hundreds of other television shows out there. We enjoy escaping into mythic worlds where we can recount the first time Ron showed feelings of more than friendship towards Hermione, how the Phoenix and Jean Grey were really two separate beings, or why a shoelace touching a public men’s room floor is a good enough excuse for Jerry to throw out his shoes. Those outside worlds that we take and make our own are so enticing because they’re easy to understand and easy to consume. We got a firm grip on them and thus we have a firm grip on life, or do we? Like the best, DFW doesn’t give you an answer because there really isn’t one. The question is the important part.
Like the question of communication. This is probably the most attractive theme from Infinite Jest for me, the addicted reader, because it is so illusive but so damn important in stepping away from fiction and into reality. I am horrible about communicating out loud, much like the protagonist Hal, and it creates so much conflict in dealing with the outside world. But this is not about me, it’s about Hal. Infinite Jest is Hal’s story; something I suspected (and Robert H. Bell or William R. Kenan, Jr or William C. Dowling [professors that posted together? about Infinite Jest] also stated) about halfway through the book but didn’t confirm until the ending and then rereading of the opening episode in which a hospital worker looks down at him and says, “So yo then man what’s your story?” Which is also a great way of emulating or mirroring Hamlet’s final request of Horatio to tell the world/Fortinbras what has happened. I think I also need to mention Hamlet is my favorite Shakespeare play; similar themes of communication and such that I haven’t been able to run away from yet or ever. And there’s the silver lining that lends hope to both of these tragedies. The protagonists’ stories do get told and, we can surmise, heard. The mouthpiece of these stories may be unconventional at first glance, but upon closer examination (I sound like Freud from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in my head here) it is the most true expression of character.
Himself, the Mad Stork, the Sad Stork, Dr. James Orin Incandenza, Hal/Inc.’s father (more great hints at character’s inability to express one true self to others) film career surrounded around the use of multiple lenses, some he created himself, to make art house pictures. These multiple eyes into the film director’s vision encapsulates the physical book Infinite Jest and Hal’ story. The reader doesn’t get chapters, we get scenes told through multiple lenses directed by Hal. His voice carries through/morphs with/fixes/suppresses/submits to dozens of other character’s voices and points of views with the purpose of, again, telling Hal’s story. And this is the only way Hal can communicate his identity, by accepting and using the influences around him. At first it may sound depressing that Hal’s identity isn’t fully formed by his will, morals, and principles but – now we get to come full circle – no one is. All those other lenses/voices Hal uses to tell his story are not solely identified by the owners. Each of them has influences pushing and pulling at them to varying degrees invisibly. Hal is our protagonist because he has seen all the strings and now tugs back to make an entertainment filled with infinite jest.
Well that’s as much as my morning clarity will allow because there are so many more pieces that DFW uses to beautiful effect in a novel that will probably be another lens added to the distortion of seeing my true self.
P.S. I’m going to cheat and use this post as a review on Goodreads as well. Shocking!