Nick Maniatis: Coming Full Circle

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.

nathan seppelt - circle icon
Infinite Jest, circle – watercolour by Nathan Seppelt

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.

Have you?


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.

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8 thoughts on “Nick Maniatis: Coming Full Circle”

  1. gorgeous summary f th connections
    d’v wanted y’all
    his readers
    t b able t volley hs serve
    n fr th game t progress
    as each f you
    found greater
    shall we say
    n th way t recovery
    glad t hear f yours
    cf: pinky


  2. Hey, Nick. I love this post. (Also, I’ve been crossing your internet strands since 2009, when I did Infinite Summer and became a full-time follower of a number of IJ-related twitter feeds and blogs, and I greatly appreciate your IJ presence. Thanks!) My friends and family have grown tired of me mentioning the book as it relates to seemingly unrelated topics at hand and I now try to mention IJ in conversation more sparingly, even if I think it’s particularly pertinent to what we are discussing.

    This was my 2nd cover to cover read. I was about 400 pages in on a solo read with Infinite Winter started and I went back to page 1 and started again. At the end I not only reread the first 17 pages again but I also re-read most of the last 250 pages. I was quite surprised at how much of the book I had forgotten from 2009, and also how densely revelatory the book was this time through. It moved me as deeply as it had the first time, or maybe even more.

    I look forward to reading it again. Annularity is no accident.

      1. Me too. I’d already read the book. Sad story. Too bad DFW could not treat his own head like Day or Gately, and instead somehow allowed it to “…be in the driver’s seat…”

  3. Hi David,
    Ourobouros. Yep.
    Yes, I’m definitely in the group of readers that have ‘difficulty’ with IJ as The Entertainment. (You’d think I would have learned by now…)
    RE: Mindfulness – I hear you.

    P.S. Dear readers, horrid typo spotted and reported… and I’m supposed to be an English teacher!

    1. Nick, I have an off-topic — i.e. not in the book but about the book — question, but don’t know where or how to address it.
      Is there a “Questions for ???” section in the HF website? If so, I can’t find it…

  4. Hi Nick, it’s exciting to be addressing — even so remotely, but what IS “remote” in this InterLaced world we now inhabit — the founder of The HF site. I did go back and read the first 17 pages, and I’m glad I did. The Great Worm Ourobouros, devouring it’s own tail, like the ring chapter talismen… I’ve only read IJ twice C to C, though I’ve read the Gately sequence more than that. It has been disappointing that so few people participated in this bibliofest — Although clearly IJ is, for some, The Entertainment, it’s also clear that the addicting factor is only inherent in a few… As a mindfulness teacher, I’d sum up the most trenchant value of This Big Book in a single sentence from Don G’s mind: (Paraphrase) …”that he could treat his own head as if it were G. Day or R. Lenz — Clueless Noise.”
    Again, thanks for your good work with the site, I’ll be over to check it out every so often…

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