And but so in what seems like no time at all we’re done.
Mark and his team of bloggers have delivered to us all yet another incredible read of Infinite Jest. One that brought new insights, created new communities and fans. I am humbled that Mark asked me to write something to help introduce and to help conclude this read because, really, all I have done is sat back and read, posted, Facebooked, re-posted, and re-tweeted.
Oh, and I also lurked.
Lurked in the very sense of the word. I sat back in the shadows and made the most of (kind of) creepily watching how other people responded to my favourite book ever. I wasn’t disappointed.
I’m not the one to draw all the threads of this read together, but I will share with you some of the threads of my 20 years with this novel.
But first: How many of you have finished and decided to re-read the first 17 pages? No? Go and read them now and then pop back and join me.
Right, good to have you back!
If that’s the first (or second? Or third?) time I’m sure you have some pressing questions. Maybe continuing reading past page 17 feels a little tempting right now. Very tempting? If not for you, it was for me.
I know I was sure I’d find out/understand/solve Infinite Jest if I just read it a little more closely. Thinking back to my younger self I’m tempted to laugh at how naive I was to think I could make some sort of peace with what it all meant.
In my first Infinite Winter piece I wrote a little about how I had to go ‘cold turkey’ on Infinite Jest because it had an unusual, possibly unhealthy, hold on me. Truth be told, and exposed, and acknowledged, I’ve spent most of my adult life connected to this book. I might even be dependant on it. Maybe addic… How about we avoid that word.
Dependence? I once thought that David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest made me re-read it and re-read it and re-read it. Until the re-reading made me realise the I was the one choosing. It was my choice to re-read it and re-read it and re-read it.
It was my choice. I was in control. I could break this obsession. So I did. But then I chose to dive back in after a break and I’m glad I did.
Infinite Jest has (literally) been with me through some pretty tough times:
I read it solemnly after David Foster Wallace died.
I quoted from from it while speaking at my mother’s funeral.
I lost myself in it while grieving the death of a student.
I drew strength from it when I finally sought the professional help I’d been avoiding.
I think about it after particularly successful bouts of meditation.
There’s a journey there, obviously, if you want to find one.
In October last year I discovered Casey Henry’s spectacular piece about the typographic circles that mark the ‘chapters’ in Infinite Jest. Casey Henry unearthed some correspondence between Michael Pietsch and David Foster Wallace that reinforced/confirmed just how important these circles (and the final occluded circle on p.981) are to Infinite Jest.
To me, the circle symbol is a reminder of my continuing desire to re-read Infinite Jest. It is also a reminder of the growth and healing that I have experienced throughout these reads. I am not the first to express these emotions with regard to this novel and I know I will not be the last. As I said in my first post, this stuff is pretty much Infinite Jest cliché 101.
I did make a huge decision as a result of my multiple reads and Casey Henry’s paper; I decided to get a tattoo of the circle symbol on the inside of my left bicep. A place where I can see it when I need to but that isn’t obvious to the casual observer. It’s for me.
It reminds me of the afternoon I was tattooed – including trying to explain its origin to the tattoo artist.
It reminds me of my time with Infinite Jest without always having to be actively part of it.
It reminds me that sometimes things are just part of life. Cyclic. Annular.
It reminds me that my personal, private, experiences are things others have lived too.
It reminds me that healing takes time and that one is never the same as before.
It reminds me, “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.” (p. 204 IJ)
I haven’t stopped reading yet.
Nick Maniatis is the owner of the David Foster Wallace web resource, The Howling Fantods, that has been dedicated to promoting the works of David Foster Wallace since 1997. He lives in Canberra, Australia, and teaches high school English. You can find him on twitter @nick_maniatis.