Friday, January 2, 2009

Infinite Jest: 1-17

I'm joining Parabasis & others in reading Infinite Jest. But unfortunately, I'm down with a cold, so no profundities yet. But I did enjoy Hal's sense of alienation, mirroring my own fever-skewed view of reality.

This is my second time through IJ, & I agree w/ Isaac: the second read's a lot easier. My first time around, I re-read the first 100 pages, partly for clarity but partly also out of sheer pleasure at the world DFW creates. I also kept notes, including a calculation of the subsidized Years. According to me c. 2000 (& not to spoil anything, but...), most of the book takes place in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, which corresponds to 2009. Happy new year!

I like that DFW chooses to open the novel in the first-person present-tense. IJ is preoccupied (obsessed?) with perceptions of time. The ways that hallucinogens & other drugs affect the psyche is thematically important here & a Big Idea in modern science & psychology these days.

Even for a novel that begins in medias res, these first 20 pages are pretty thick. Aside from the tongue-in-cheek info-dump at the bottom of p. 3 ("You are Hal Incandenza..."), DFW doesn't give us many signposts or landmarks to orient ourselves in his world. He makes us read actively by omitting a straightforward intro of time, place, & character. And yep, those mysteries: what's up with that apocalyptic vision of Hal & Gately at his father's grave (an allusion to Yorick)? What's wrong with Hal?

That's all I got - nothing profound. But I should have more & better thoughts as my health returns.


Addendum: Feeling a bit better & re-read the first section. It's a wonderful intro, despite the "thickness" I mention above. That last line is a kicker: "So yo then man what's your story?" It casts the section up a prologue, defines Hal as the protagonist (tho' more than a third of the novel focuses on Gately), poses several questions while quickly answering the most insistent one (why is Hal unable to communicate? A: something about a fungus ingested at age 5) & propels us into the novel.

Still, yeah, it's dense & confusing in that modernist fashion. Meanwhile the section functions partly as a gatekeeper. If the sheer volume of space that the book takes up didn't scare casual readers off, then the thought of 1162 more pages of
stream-of-conscious writing probably will. The foreboding style drops away almost immediately, but the puzzlement will remain.


Rodd said...

Ronald - some have said that Hal's apocalyptic vision of he and Gately at his father's grave is actually a flashback, and that it is the key moment in the entire novel. Such folks maintain that in this moent, Hal and Gately dug up his father's grave to get the samizdat (Infinite Jest), Hal later watched it and that is why he cannot communicate in English anymore.

Anonymous said...

Rodd, I feel like someone beat them to it, Gately seems to dream of the future more than once throughout the book, and when he's in the hospital dreams that the sad boy and him are digging and (Hal) says 'it's too late,' as in someone beat them to the master copy (or antidote vid?). I think the copy wasn't there, and in a Pemulis footnote DMZ is described as based on a fungus that grows on other fungus such as what Hal ate as a child that took years to 'kick in'? There's another popular 'dosed-toothbrush" theory that makes sense, as Pemulis has found his ceiling tile stash rifled-through...