Tuesday, January 29, 2013

David Foster Wallace slams his junk on the counter

David Foster Wallace slams his junk on the counter. All of it. FWOP! The beautiful, the damaged, the cerebral, the interconnected, the difficult, the long-winded, the mind-blowing, the annotated. Here, take this, all of it, and have at it.

Wallace's second novel, "Infinite Jest," is more than 1,000 pages. It's a difficult book that's been critically heralded as genius by almost all counts, if sprawling, daunting and labyrinthine. That's not what young novelists are supposed to do. When you are 34 years old, building a literary reputation, you aren't supposed to slam down a confusing doorstop of a tome that might alienate readers who want an easy beach read.

When I walk into a bookstore, I know that I don't want to read most of the books in the joint. Not even close. I'm looking for books that speak to me about life, art, storytelling, philosophy, the Universe; that open my mind to possibilities; that connect things in ways I haven't considered. I'm learning over time what books those might be, what authors write the kind of books I want to read. I've known Wallace through his essays and shorter pieces. He is one of those writers.

But I have shied away from "Infinite Jest." With a book that size that is known as a tough read, I figured I might balk. Start and stop and figure I'll get back to it. But I didn't want to. I wanted to have at it. Eat the elephant, one bite at a time, but with the attention it deserves. I love that DFW was willing to slam his junk--his genius, his hang-ups, his shortcomings--and say, here.

In a commencement address at Kenyon College, Wallace posited that the goal of an education was to learn, "How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out."

That's a cat I want to hang with, one that has something to say to me. If you don't know much about Wallace or "Infinite Jest," I recommend reading Dave Eggers' foreword to the book.

I want to hear what Wallace has to say in his art, in his biggest, most brilliant book. So I've enlisted help. Myself included, we have 12 adventurers who are going to follow Wallace on his infinite quest. Strength in numbers. Many minds to help navigate the maze. We light our torches and begin the journey on Feb. 15. Holler if you'd like to join the expedition.

Wallace hung himself when he was 46. He suffered from depression and was on and off his meds toward the end of his life. The New Yorker has a great article on the chronology of his life and his struggles. There are geniuses/artists it seems, who aren't right for our times. Maybe for any times. The tragedy of it, we are left with a limited number of ways to honor, appreciate, indulge what he left behind. But one of those ways, part of his legacy is Infinite.


Jay Mallard said...

Infinte Jest is great... if you are like me, you won't be able to put it down and you will wish for hundreds more pages.

Anonymous said...

Brother, I Love You, for in your own way, you constantly offer your own "Infinite Jest"! I look forward to being part of this infinite quest. Indeed!