Paratext – Part I

So what I’ve heard is that this is somewhere around the hundredth post for Infinite Winter.

If it is number 100, I’m sure you’ll all admire the way I’m totally resisting the pressure of the big number; but the thing I notice is not whether it’s any specific big number, but is – in general – a big number. For me this can mean only one thing: we’re getting pretty much towards Infinite Jest‘s pointy end.

As the book hurtles (possibly) towards (again, possibly) some kind of conclusion, you’d probably expect us guides to (well) actually guide, dive deep into the text and clue y’all in to just WTF is going on. But the trend I’ve noticed this week is pretty much the opposite. Your guides’ gas pedals have been eased up on and we seem – for better or for worse – to be giving you some space to do what Wallace really, really (I think) actually wants you to do. Decide for your selves. In slightly more theoretical terms: construct your own meaning.

So instead of getting too far into the text this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of something called paratext.

It’s something a friend has got me really interested in, is far less spooky and far cooler than it sounds, and is something I’ve only really picked up from talking about it and reading vaguely related things. So forgive me if I get this definition totally wrong.

Paratexts are kind of these “peripheral” texts that surround a main text and shape the way it’s read and reconstructed. If the text is (hypothetically, of course) Infinite Jest, the paratext would include things like the book’s cover, the copyright pages, special forwards by people with names like Eggers and Bissell, drafts and even all the criticism and blog-type posts about it.

I’m going to touch on paratext properly in my very last Infinite Winter post, but this week – seeing as this may be post number 100 – I want to pick out five of my favourite Infinite Winter posts by our regular guides (excluding me, of course).

A Noise Like the Historical Sum of all Cafeteria Accidents Everywhere – Mark Flanagan

This (not short) sentence in particular rang some pretty significant cherries for me:

“And so this very explicit notion of map v. territory, this Aha! moment with regard to an individual’s map versus his or her own territory, is that the elimination of one’s map is (merely) the death of the human form (the map), as opposed to the territory, that which underlies the individual’s map for which the map was purely representational, the territory of the individual being the true essence – their inner selves or even their soul or spirit.”

Both Pretty and Not – Jenni Baker

“No matter how much she turns her life around and tries to distance herself from her painful past, there it is, following her.”

Jenni’s deployment of “turns her life around” in her amazing analysis of the left/right dichotomy in Infinite Jest is just a thing to behold.

Mario’s Prescription for Calm – Corrie Baldauf

Because Corrie showed me something of Mario’s humanity I’d never seen before:

“But Mario can’t be found in his bed. He’s with his headphones, trying to remove himself from the physicality of the room and perhaps his own physical self. But he isn’t finding what he’s looking for—that voice that helps him get away from the waking hours of evening.”

The Psychoaesthetic Line – Dave Laird

“I can just imagine the spattery offscouring of lingual gray matter on restroom mirrors (the reflection of which you can even see, at the right angle), all over mirrors all across a nation that’s been hypnotized into developing a phobia that wouldn’t even have occurred to the grand majority of people.”

Dave just gets how Wallace finds the grotesque and the comic in the everyday, you know?

Abused Cats and Dead Extra-Terrestrials – Ryan Blanck

There are so many of Ryan’s posts I wanted to list, just for their brilliant titles, but it’s this post that made me laugh the hardest I’ve laughed in a long, long time:

“And sure enough, there’s poor little Gertie with tears streaming down her face, convulsing as the scientists try to zap E.T. back to life with the electric paddles. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes not just in this film, but in all of American cinema. And that is the last image these kids have etched in their brains as they head off to Spring Break.”

Honourable mention to Mike Miley’s Filmography: I haven’t watched all the films I probably never will, but I like to think I would.

Do you have a favourite post? Has there been one that’s really helped your reading of Infinite Jest? Let us know in the comments below – it’s great for our egos!


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2 thoughts on “Paratext – Part I”

  1. Nathan, Super special post here. Thanks for sharing your brain thoughts and some favorite post quotes! If all of us start seeing the periphery does it remain as that?! There is a design caption that reads: “objects next to the edge or the center represent tension.”

    wonder tension of paratext!

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