Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Infinite Jest Diary #1

Hello readers! Sorry I let almost all of May slip by without posting anything. I'm going to make up for it with a vengeance this summer, hopefully, because this week I started reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. This has been an intended project of mine for a long time, and now I feel ready. According to Dave Eggers' foreword, I am two years older than the book's average reader.

There are several blogs and websites about people's experiences reading this novel, notably Infinite Summer, which provided a place for those reading it during the summer of 2009. I just now read the reading tips posted there by Matt Bucher, and am glad to see I was doing some of the things already, like:

Read the endnotes.
Use bookmarks.
Abuse your copy. (I already have quite a few dogears & underlines: part of what I'll share here.)
Keep notes.

One that I might do additionally is "Employ a reader's guide." One of the books Bucher recommends, for example, has a chronology. The book's chapters are arranged in a non-linear fashion, labeled with sponsored years such as "The Year of the Trial Size Dove Bar." I've been keeping a running list of the years to try to make my own chronology.

One note before I get into my own reading: I just looked up Infinite Jest in WorldCat, and it only has two subject headings: Addicts - Fiction and Compulsive behavior - Fiction. Is the second meant to describe the entire book, product and process?

I'm 60 pages in (921 + endnotes to go), and already I have so much to think about. I've already written quite a bit on this blog about how brilliant DFW's writing is, and what a tragedy it is that he won't write anymore, so I'll try to avoid generalizations like that. Why don't I start with something simple, like a quotation and a list of words?

"Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he's devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It's hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency." (p. 54)
(by the way, I'm reading the 2006 Back Bay paperback 10th anniversary edition)

To me, this is a classic DFW passage. A brilliant and concise observation that reflects a large theme but doesn't diminish the book's other details, followed by pull-back, a deflection that there might be judgment or superiority in said observation.

Okay, now for a list of the words I've so far encountered with which I was previously unfamiliar, and then I swear I'll stop. All definitions are (selectively) from the OED, unless otherwise noted.

1. wen (n.) A sebaceous cystic tumour under the skin, occurring chiefly on the head.
2. creatus (imagine a horizontal line over the a) "Latin for "creation," the line over the a indicates the vowel is pronounced as in "hate" rather than in "father." " (from the Infinite Jest wiki)
3. caries (n.) Decay of the bones or teeth or decay of vegetable matter.
4. amanuensis (n.) One who copies or writes from the dictation of another.
5. fantod (n.) A crotchety way of acting. ("gives her the fantods")