Hello, my name is Jeff A. —
[Hi, Jeff A.!]
— and I’ve been reading Infinite Jest for about seven weeks.
I’ve got an Infinite Jest problem and I’m hoping some of you might understand what I’m going through: somehow the discussion of addiction in the novel has started to resemble my experience with reading in general. Reading is admittedly an escapist indulgence for me but since starting Infinite Jest it’s taken on the form of something far more complex.
Here’s what I mean. This is from a recent Gately segment, and the brackets below are my swaps for the sake of this allegory:
“They neglect to tell you that after the urge to [READ ANYTHING ELSE] magically vanishes and you’ve been [READING Infinite Jest] for maybe six or eight [WEEKS], you’ll begin to start to ‘Get in Touch’ with why it was that you used [BOOKS] in the first place. You’ll start to feel why it was you got dependent on what was, when you get right down to it, an anesthetic. ‘Getting In Touch With Your Feelings’ is another quilted-sampler-type cliche that ends up masking something ghastly deep and real, it turns out.”
Is Infinite Jest is a binge or a detox? Am I reveling in its masked debauchery, or am I waking up to a long-standing dependence on escapism, slowly realizing that this alternate-history fantasia can’t disguise forever its fragile, human core? Maybe it’s both, simultaneously.
This forum, at times, feels like an addiction support group. You second- and third-time-readers are particularly noticeable: I saw you a few rows back from Gately, patting shoulders and telling us first-timers to hang in there, to stick it out for a month to page 223, a point when the clouds clear and everything starts to making sense.
Here’s where my suspicions began: early on in the novel we saw Ken Erdedy prepare to stop being such a pothead by going, for one last sesh, as hard as he can. He planned to score 200 grams of weed and really immerse himself for four days — all with the idea that he’ll come out of it clean and never smoke pot again. I laughed at this at the time but it’s followed me throughout Infinite Jest; I’m beginning to worry that this stack of 1100 pages is meant to function the same way, that I’m supposed to binge on it and, upon completion, be cured “by excess.” I fear that Infinite Jest has become my Spider and I’m not sure if I’m feeding it or starving it as the pages run down. I’ll read again, of course, but will that experience ever be the same? Is Infinite Jest the proverbial sex-on-ecstasy, an acid-enhanced sunset? It might not get better than this, people, and that scares me to my core.
I jones for Infinite Jest. I think about it at work, I make excuses to lug it out for a quick hit. I stay up late to get a three-page fix, a scant amount that in the millenary scope of Infinite Jest’s heft is small enough to glob onto the end of a pin. And I don’t even know what I’m looking for in its pages. I’ve uncovered something ghastly deep and real, alright: this past tenth has brought me more harrowing sadness than quirk or clarity, particularly in a few NA testimonials I’ll never be able to un-read.
DFW’s signature endnotes have become so much more than a means for prose expansion — they’re now a test of commitment and dependence, a red button that might nourish or zap me. I flip, looking for clarity and joy, and I get exactly that, sometimes, but it’s never enough. When Steeply and Marathe spiral into some soup discussion that I think warrants an explanation or two, endnote 174 beckons me to the back matter for what might be a chance to finally get it. “Absolutely no bonking”, the note reads, a half-baked translation of a meager bit of goofy French. I don’t know what I expected but I know it’s not enough. It never is.
I’m struggling, yet I want this search to last forever. Maybe that’s what I’m addicted to, that endless, dilated- and wide-eyed hunt for answers in literature. Like Joelle, I too mourn the “invisible pivot where a party ends”, “when the hostess turns back in from the closed door and sees the litter and the expanding white V of utter silence in the party’s wake.” I’m dependent, but I can also see that chevron forming, and it’s me at its vertex, waking up to the fact that there’s a silence out there, beyond this book, to face once all its beautiful anesthesia leaves my system.
–written in The Clipperton Suite, March 2015
Jeff Alford is a critic and book collector from Brooklyn, New York. He is a contributor to Run Spot Run, Rain Taxi Review of Books, and The New Orleans Review and is also the writer of the rare books and small press blog, www.theoxenofthesun.com. Find him on Twitter @theoxenofthesun.