Book Review: Infinite Jest
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
Completed on March 12, 2010, something palindromic about that date, a 3, two 2’s, two 1’s, two 0’s, not in that order, begun sometime in late December 2009 or early January (this time around, like many books this one began with a failed attempt to scale the mountain) (Mt. Dilaudid?);
The weaving of narrative of characters. Loved the AA stuff, Don Gately, the overwhelming weight of substance.
A novel of television and distraction and the moral and intellectual degeneration of America. Written in 1996. Funny as those of Hal’s generation (or older, I am actually closer to Gately’s age, or possibly Orin, making Hal and Mario younger peers of my younger brother) did bounce back, after the decay/decadence of the mid-90s to make at least something of this lost nameless decade.
Wallace was right about that — the science-fictional decade of 2000-2009 was, due to a change in convention, unable to be named, leaving us in a strange limbo nameless time. Like a child who went around until he was ten unnamed. You — him — me — it is weird that we name things. Nevertheless, we do. What shall this decade be called? My vote is the ‘Tens.
Several different drugs. The greatest drug of all – DMZ? Is that a real one? Let’s look — no, wikipedia hints that it is fictional. Analogue to DMT, the Heaven/Transcendence/Drug?
When did I first hear about DMT? I was in RG’s apartment, it was my junior year of college at the University of Penn’s Woods, it was near the beginning of the year I think, but possibly later — I think it was near the beginning, while I was still doing the EL dance, and one of the boys from that other group of friends those girls were associating with at the time — (funny and great the meeting of new people where you are introduced to someone else’s circle of friends, a whole other universe of beings out there, conversing, their own dramas, not yours, the lovely attraction of it all, finally, new stories) — one of the boys — and you know, this may have been closer to winter, it may have been sans slash post EL, just RG, and JG, and a third, what’shername, but anyway, long way around, the mark of the chronically dull is that they can never get to the point, they are always digressing, they cannot separate the essential from the incidental, anyway, third time now, one of these boys tells us of the hallucinogenic drug called DMT — a drug, he tells us, that is naturally synthesized in the body at Death, the Big D, (and this news came to me only several months after watching the Big D obliterate my uncle and grandfather), and that this drug is, as we would say, available for recreational consumption.
The DMT trip is supposedly the explanation for alien abductions, out-of-body experiences, and near-death experiences. It is a hypothesis. Unproven.
Nevertheless, sometimes hypotheses are all that’s needed.
I learned somewhat later that one of the itinerant improvisational rock and roll bands I followed somewhat at that time, a band by the initials of the DBs, had a fanbase that had recently or at least somewhat recently begun indulging in said Substance, to use the DFW term, and learning more about said Substance and its effect on the proverbial Map/Territory, I, who was generally at least mildly inquisitive and experimental, decided to proceed with all deliberate caution.
It wasn’t until several years later that I was finally offered the Thanic pomegrantes as it were, in an apartment in Northern Liberties of friends of friends who I had never met before but decided to see a puppy they had just bought — it was a male and a female, and they were in love, and knew two individuals who I had gone to high school with, and had just bought a new puppy, and the girl reminded me of SS of USS Elsewhere somewhat, from where I had come approximately one year prior, but anyway, back to Northern Liberties, where we were sitting, and smoking the proverbial, to use the phrase, Bob Hope, and she, whose name might have been Caroline, I think, tells a story about a new band that was breaking out right around then whom she had stood in line in the rain for called Arcade Fire, and there was an amazing poster of said band, whom I had never heard of, on the wall, and there was also a puppy, brown I think, small, and adorable, and then, after a certain amount of time, and we talked about children, how I felt I was completely unready for them, but Caroline and her significant other beside her felt far more ready, especially Caroline, and then after that, the couple decided to take DMT, the substance I had heard of, and it was offered to me, out of unremitting generosity, and I can’t say I considered it — but I did just say no, one of the few and only times in my life where I have decided to just say no, and so, maybe, for that one moment, I should thank Ronald Reagan and the McGruff the Talking Dog, and the Brought To You By This Is Your Brain on Drugs Omelet, and of course, they were super ok with, but I told them to go right ahead, and I think they would have anyway, and I sat there for a moment as they enjoyed at least the crest of the high, which my research had and continues to tell me is the most intense part, where you are literally, man, on another fucking planet slash dimension, (and I want to say I did not interview them about the experience, but I do believe that before they partook, I did ask a few questions about the rumors I had heard and the substance’s general intensity level and they did say it was good but not that bad, though they suggested LSD as a potential touchstone, and I had not done that either, so was unable to connect), but anyway, after that, maybe another ten more minutes, after I perhaps took one more hit of Hope, said my goodbyes and made my excuses and went on my way.
I believe that night had started with me trying to tag along with a certain young hippie woman who I found fairly attractive and compelling, possessing some spark of joy or something that I found compelling, but had spent the night sort of being ignored by this said interest, but yet had made fun with some of the others, being good-natured and jovial about the whole thing. As said before, this was someone else’s whole new circle of friends, and it was interesting to see it, new stories, and I hoped that I would see them all again.
I never really did, I began dating one of the loves of my life shortly thereafter and did not come back up for air until January had become October.
That was in either 2005 or 2006. Last fall, while at a Rolling-Stones cover band festival in Indio, California, for possibly the current kings of itinerant noodling music, I did finally run into Caroline and her significant other again. They were standing next to us, and bumming a pipe, and he was wearing a Phillies cap (it was the World Series, and we were in it, for the second time in a row and the third time in my life), and we were all somewhat nervous about the pipe, as it was our only one, and after Caroline’s Other used it he passed it back fairly far, but nevertheless was sharing his Hope with us, and apparently it was very good, and we did the Philadelphia geography for a second, not recognizing each other, of course not, it has been years, five years give or take, but the Philadelphia geography sounded familiar to him, when we established that he knew two people who had gone to my high school, and then he remembered me, and said “I know who you are” and said “do you remember coming over to an apartment in Northern Liberties years ago — and then never seeing us again” and I said, for sure, I remember that well, there was a puppy, and he called Caroline over and said remember, and I’m not sure if she did, but I remembered the Arcade Fire story she told me about and recounted it to her, and we talked for a moment about the strangeness of it all, and he showed me a picture of the dog, who was large and no longer a puppy and that was about it —
A digression in a half this one.
I guess SS of Elsewhere had had a copy of Infinite Jest down there in Greensboro, and during those four or five months I was down there, I read Ulysses, and then Gravity’s Rainbow, and I guess Jest would have been the third one, but I never got to it, got out of dodge before it happened, I guess I was waiting for the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment which is next year apparently, and it’s strange, DFW did seem to anticipate at least NetFlix, and a few other things too, maybe, and it’s a big book, and a great book, and Jesus, he wasn’t afraid to take you to some pretty dark places, some very dark places, and that’s life I guess, he said he was trying to write about how life really was, not some stupid escape from life —
And I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid, and I guess I still want to be a writer, and I’m no DFW MacArthur Genius Grant award recipient (though I feel like they gave that to someone else recently who seemed on hearing this to be somewhat less meritorious), and DFW erased his own map about a year ago, one of the early chapters of Jest reads like the suicide note, just endless pain that would never go away — horror, not sadness, is how the character puts it —
I don’t know if I can do it. Embrace total horror and darkness and look at it, look at the unveiled deformity and study it and sketch it and hold it close, and breath its breath and then extrude it out — H.I. at the end, thinking about one room full of food and one room full of shit —