I first read Infinite Jest in 1996. I loved it.
I was 20 and studying for my undergraduate degree at the Australian National University in Canberra. Infinite Jest had such an impact on me that by March 1997 I had created a website celebrating David Foster Wallace, The Howling Fantods, and I reported on everything I could find about his writing.
Fast forward to 2009 and I’d read Infinite Jest four times and claimed (during 2009’s Infinite Summer) that I had stopped counting. But I hadn’t stopped counting. I was just kind of worried that I couldn’t shake this book. That it had too great a hold over me. That I had succumbed to some of the themes that Wallace, through Infinite Jest, was urging readers to… avoid.
I decided to stop re-reading. Cold turkey.
Last year, 2015, I picked Infinite Jest up again. My brother and a close friend were reading it and I wanted to be able to read along and discuss it if they wanted to. But along the way something else happened:
I’d forgotten how funny it was.
I’d forgotten how it relied on me to work – to attend – to unearth its rewards.
I’d forgotten that I grew up while reading it.
I’d forgotten how it changed me.
I’d forgotten how it helped me.
Without warning the Infinite Jest clichés flooded in as I found myself just as immersed as during previous reads:
“Infinite Jest changed the way I think about the world and other human beings.”
“I connect more easily with people and better understand how they think and feel.”
“I can just talk to someone else who has read Infinite Jest and we… connect.”
“I’ve made so many friends – across the globe – since reading this novel.”
“Infinite Jest feels just like the voice in MY head.”
“It was challenging but I just kept at it, every day, one day at a time, and I shared it with others, and I got through it. I got through it.”
No doubt many of you joining Infinite Winter this year will have already stumbled across some variations of these in the pieces already shared here on the blog. If you’re joining us so that you can read again with a crowd I’m sure that some of these clichés have floated through your minds, or at the very least you’ve heard someone else express one or more of them when discussing this novel.
I even suspect some of you out there are groaning because here they are being repeated again.
But please don’t resist them.
Because at their hearts clichés are also truths. And the clichés at the heart of Infinite Jest are beautiful.
And if you let them… they will change 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.