We’re now more than a month into Infinite Winter. By the time we finish we’ll each have spent three whole months with our copies of Infinite Jest. It’s not exactly all winter (or summer, down under) but it is a full quarter-year.
When you think about it that’s an awful long time – and a lot of time for most of us who are reading every day – to spend with a non-wearable, non-technological (our smart phones have become so present they’ve ceased to mean; but this type includes other things like computer mice or that one USB that’s always exactly where you look for it, when you look for it. Bits of tech we don’t get attached to, for some reason.) or non-“essential” – like for instance car key type objects – object.
At this stage I’ve handled and read from my big blue copy of Infinite Jest every single day for more than six months, and I’ve been carrying around, prising it open and reading it on an irregular (non-regular?) basis for much longer than that.
I guess maybe the point I’m trying to make is that we can, over time, fall in love with more than the writing itself. We fall in love with the book as an object. This glued-together, blue-cardboard-“With a foreword by DAVE EGGERS”ed-covered mere vessel for Wallace’s wily words becomes something more than a book. In our hands and before our eyes it becomes our book.
But as we are affected by reading, so too are our books. To spread open a book is to pull it apart. Our finger’s acidic excretions that grip the pages we brush to turn, the light we need to see by – everything about the physical act of reading is destructive. (If you think this is getting borderline NSFW, you should see what the French have to say about reading)
All this time I’ve been reading Infinite Jest I’ve been killing it.
What’s left of my copy’s front and back covers are barely attached to the book’s yellowing bulk. The pages are slowly being erased beneath poorly colour-coordinated highlights and (illegible) tiny blue-inked notes whose ink bleeds through the pages. The binding’s glue isn’t even glue-coloured anymore.
Just as my copy approaches a crucial point-of-no-return, two brand new 20th Anniversary Edition copies (one, I probably should declare, somehow magically comped from Little, Brown) show up on my stoop (I don’t actually have a stoop, but it sounds good) in one day.
When the new edition was unveiled I didn’t love the cover art and I might have made fun of the book’s amazon.com sales pitch’s “featuring flaps”, but it’s starting to grow on me as I spend some more time with it (plus, when said featured flap pull-quotes Stephen fucking King how can I possibly complain?).
I switched to the new edition as my main reading copy right around page 262, and it’s a totally different experience. Without all my former notes and highlights and underlines and dog ears and Derrida’s name popping up in the margin of every other page I’m noticing and responding to different things:
262 and first highlight from this touching scene between two E.T.A.s we haven’t had much reason to much care about yet: “Schacht doesn’t mind. He lightly strokes the sides of Pemulis’s head as his mother had stroked his own big sick head, back in Philly.”
The pretty much heartbreaking climax of this scene on 268: “but since the knee injury broke and remade him [Schacht] at sixteen he’s learned to go his own interior way and let others go theirs. Like most very large men, he’s getting comfortable early with the fact that his place in the world is very small and his real impact on other persons even smaller”
The way page 275’s grotesque, XSively cruel humour at Burt F. Smith’s expense who struggles to hold a cigarette with no hands – yet alone strike a match – is undercut by Gately’s ability (or at least attempt) to see the pathos in Smith’s struggles. How this reminds us that all IJ’s grotesquery masks a deeper pathos.
The way Randy Lenz, who I sure am looking forward to seeing more of, is described as “also in here” a page later.
How asking Ennet House newcomers to p[a]t the dogs is not really all that different to asking them to eat rocks.
Day’s “fine old antique” Spiro Agnew watch on page 280.
283: “the tumescence of O.N.A.M.ism.” Nuff said.