Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Infinite Jest Diary #8: Home Stretch

Progress: currently on page 938

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. 43 pages to go. I think I may finish this thing tomorrow. I have to say, I'll feel relieved when I do, though I've enjoyed the experience very much. The only problem? It's becoming clear to me that this is a book that demands a second reading. NOT back-to-back; that's for sure. Maybe someday in the future when I've read some criticism (I'm interested to see if there's been anything written on the multiple narrators in the book). (Or maybe the many uses of the word "entertain.") And maybe after I've re-read Hamlet. I'm going to try not to give anything away as I report on the final pages of the book.

Here are some quotes, passages, etc....

"This so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom [this] invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise." (p. 696)
Well, here's me being presumptuous, but this sounds awfully like someone who knew what that feeling was like. And it's really sad.

Endnote 304 is all about a student doing research - the incredible machinations one goes through to plagiarize something successfully vs. spending that time writing the damn thing yourself. It's an interesting passage for someone interested in information me.

There's a passage that starts on page 896 where Hal considers all the times he'll repeat a given task, and all the times he'll breathe in and out, and all the food he'll eat - and becomes overwhelmed and discouraged by the thought. I've often thought about this too; so much of what we/I do is maintenance and repetition. This can depress you if you think about it too much, which of course is Hal's forte.

Then I don't know what I think about this:

"It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle...that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go on caring this way for years on end....We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately - the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. The games or needles, to some other person." (p. 900)

This seems to me to be sort of a statement on both addictions and pseudo-addictions, and maybe the unavoidableness thereof. Maybe this is the antidote to thinking too much about thousands of breaths and breaded chicken cutlets...and some people take it to a dangerous level.

Okay, word time. Note: I am not including the barrage of vocabulary words on page 832 partially because I think you're not supposed to know what they mean along with the character who's hearing them, and partially because I'm tired.

1. hanuman (n.) An Indian monkey, Presbytis entellus, venerated by Hindus.
2. veronica (n.) A large genus of scrophulariaceous plants (herbs or shrubs) having leafy stems and blue (rarely white or pink) flowers borne in racemes or spikes.
3. gonion (n.) The outermost point on the angle of the lower jaw on each side.
4. entrepôt (n.) Temporary deposit of goods, provisions, etc.; chiefly concr. a storehouse or assemblage of storehouses for temporary deposit. Also fig.
5. colposcope (n.) Entry for colpo- prefix: comb. form of Gr.

{kappa}{goacu}{lambda}{pi}{omicron}{fsigma} womb, used = vagina in terms of Path., Surg., and Anat.

6. parturient (adj.) About to give birth; in labour; (of a plant) bearing fruit (obs.).
7. olla podrida (n.) 1. A highly spiced stew of Spanish and Portuguese origin, made from various kinds of meat and vegetables - or - 2. A diverse mixture of things or elements; spec. a mixture of different languages.
8. strigil (n.) An instrument with a curved blade, for scraping the sweat and dirt from the skin in the hot-air bath or after gymnastic exercise.
9. hulpil (n.) According to the Infinite Jest wiki, "probably a misspelling of "huipil," which is a kind of thin Mexican blouse"
10. parotitic (adj.) related to the inflammation of either of a pair of large salivary glands situated just in front of the ear
11. atheling (n.) A member of a noble family, a prince, lord, baron; in OE. poetry often used in pl. for ‘men’ (viri); in later writers often restricted as a historical term to a prince of the blood royal, or even to the heir apparent to the throne.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Infinite Jest Diary #7

I think I'm going to set this one up in fragments, since that's about all my brain can handle in this humidity wave.

Progress: currently on page 687

Obviously, in my profession, I read a lot about e-books. I've long thought the format lends itself better to some kinds of books than others. I think this would actually be a great book to read on something like an iPad. It might reduce the weight (the Apple site specs put the iPad at 1.5 pounds), and would definitely reduce the bulk. You could pop out to the dictionary or the Infinite Jest wiki; you could track characters and organize notes. I'm not saying I find the print version of the book difficult to do all these things, just that this particular book would be a good candidate for electronic form, in my opinion.

On a totally different note, characters utter a lot of malapropisms in this book; I think my favorite is Gately referring to a poet named "Sylvia Plate" on p. 593.

And here's a sentence I think sums up a lot of DFW's narration, not just in this book: "All this appraisal's taking only seconds; it only takes time to list it." (p. 609)

"At a certain level of abstraction it's like the brain recoils." (p. 570) Said about a science class, but obviously applicable to all disciplines. I reached this point in calculus.

"[P]eople of a certain age and level of like life-experience believe they're immortal: college students and alcoholics/addicts are the worst: they deep-down believe they're exempt from the laws of physics and statistics that ironly govern everybody else." (p. 604) This one was particularly authentic for the description of Boston-area pedestrians who cross the street whenever they feel like it - more than other cities' pedestrians, I think.

"Mario'd fallen in love with the first Madame Psychosis programs because he felt like he was listening to someone sad read out loud from yellow letters she'd taken out of a shoebox on a rainy P.M., stuff about heartbreak and people you loved dying and U.S. woe, stuff that was real. It is increasingly hard to find valid art that is about stuff that is real in this way." (p. 592, emphasis mine) This, to me, is DFW articulating postmodernism in one sentence, and it resonated, a lot.

1. caparison (v.) To put trappings on; to trap, deck, harness. Also fig.
2. cathexis (n.) The concentration or accumulation of mental energy in a particular channel.
3. rhynophemic (adj.) According to the Infinite Jest wiki: "a misspelled reference to rhinophyma, the reddening of the nose common to alcoholics"
4. anomic (adj.) Related to a form of aphasia characterized by inability to recall the names of objects.
5. saltire (n.) An ordinary in the form of a St. Andrew's cross, formed by a bend and a bend sinister, crossing each other; also, a cross having this shape.
6. tektitic (adj.) Related to one of the small, roundish, glassy bodies of unknown origin that occur scattered over various parts of the earth.
7. anaclitic (adj.) characterizing a person whose choice of a ‘love object’ is governed by the dependence of the libido on another instinct, e.g. hunger; also in extended use, characterized by dependence on another or others (see quots.).

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Infinite Jest Diary #6: Halfway Point

Progress: currently on page 490

Okay, first of all, a warning to fellow readers. Don't read pp. 375-379 while eating lunch, as I did. This book, especially in the brutally honest stories of its many addicts, goes to very dark places, and this one is particularly horrifying. Really, one of the worst things I've ever read (in content, not style). The passage is actually an extreme example of a style I've been noticing here and there in Infinite Jest. I was going to call it "farcical" - passages that verge on the ridiculous and incredible, both comedy and horror. I don't think that's quite the right word, but I'll go with it for now. These are the passages that remind me of Tom Robbins, or of what I know of J.G. Ballard. They push you to that verge, but don't knock you off the edge of tossing the book aside in disgust. There is an ongoing scene, for example, between two characters (Marathe and Steeply) that, written in a different tone, wouldn't be out of place in a Tom Robbins novel.

I also just want to note a couple of other characteristics of DFW's "near future" that have parallels in the present. For example, this representation of today's TV and movies:

"...what if, instead of sitting still for choosing the least of 504 infantile evils, the vox- and digitus-populi could choose instead to make its home entertainment literally and essentially adult? I.e. what if...a viewer could more or less 100% choose what's on at any given time?" (p. 416)

And in endnote 166, DFW makes reference to a computer that can hold lots of "various killer apps" (p. 1031). At first, I really thought he might have coined the word, but the OED tells me it was used in 1985 and 1992. It's certainly in much more widespread use now, though.

One more thing, something that has been steadily bothering me as I progress through the novel (I am at about the halfway point, I believe). One of the reasons I love DFW's writing is the empathy that comes through, especially in his nonfiction essays. In these essays, and his stories (especially Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), there is a particular empathy for women that surpasses what I would expect of a male author. That's missing in Infinite Jest. This may be because several of the characters are teenage boys, who generally lack said empathy. But I'm a little disappointed so far with the women in general. There are really only two who could be said to be major characters, and one of them is very compelling. Maybe this is a picky place to find fault, and maybe I'm just being a whiny feminist. But there is a quality missing from this book that is in DFW's other works.

Okay, enough from me; let's have a vocabulary quiz. (I believe #7 is meant to be a play on Hal's name and his father's profession.)

1. apical (adj.) Of or belonging to an apex; situated at the summit or tip.
2. cunctation (n.) The action of delaying; delay, tardy action.
3. fulgurant (adj.) Flashing like lightning.
4. panatela (n.) A long slender cigar, esp. one tapering at the sealed end; or, slang for marijuana.
5. catastatic (adj.) Relating to the narrative part of a speech, usually the beginning of it, in which the orator sets forth the subject to be discussed.
6. cuirass (n.) A piece of armour for the body
7. halation (n.) The term used to denote the spreading of light beyond its proper boundary in the negative image upon the plate, producing local fog around the high lights, or those portions of the picture which are brighter than the rest of the image.
8. picric (adj.) picric acid n. a yellow crystalline acid with a very bitter taste, obtained by nitrating phenol and used in the manufacture of explosives and in dyeing; 2,4,6-trinitrophenol, C6H2(NO2)3OH.
9. morendo (adv.) As a musical direction: with the sound gradually dying away.
10. mysticetously (adv.) In the manner of a whale of the suborder Mysticeti of baleen or whalebone whales.
11. propinquous (adj.) That is in propinquity (in various senses); nearby, close at hand.