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When I want to freak myself out, “I” think about “me” thinking about having an “I.” The only thing stupider than puppets talking to puppets is a puppet talking to itself.

Daryl Gregory


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Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Wow

If Never Let Me Go and Infinite Jest had a baby, it would be episode 2 of Black Mirror: Fifteen Million Merits.

posted morning of October 30th, 2016: Respond
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Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Infinite Jest

As the floor wafted up and C's grip finally gave, the last thing Gately saw was an Oriental bearing down with the held square and he looked into the square and saw clearly a reflection of his own big square pale head with its eyes closing as the floor finally pounced. And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.
So what did I think about Infinite Jest the second time? I read it back in '97 or thereabouts, and then lent it to Maurice, and his apartment flooded, destroying the book, so have not looked at it again since, until I picked it up a few weeks back.

My take back then, and what I've always said to people since, was it's a magnificent book for the first 700 or so pages, then trails off and does not go anywhere. And, well, I'm much more enthusiastic now about pages 700 - 9xx. The whole book is just really engaging and beautiful. But the ending. Well, it leaves me hanging in what seem like some important ways.

It seems to me like the two most important characters are Hal I. and Don G. I identify strongly with both of them pretty consistently throughout the book. Hal spends the book quitting marijuana and unraveling -- and it's clear from the first chapter, in the Year of Glad, that his unraveling continues after the end of the book. But I don't have a very clear sense of what this means, or why it's happening. Does it have something to do with the Entertainment? Does it have something to do with DMZ? (What is DMZ even doing in the book, if Hal and Pemulis don't end up taking it?)

Gately spends the novel quitting his narcotics habit and opposite-of-unraveling -- no that's not quite right I guess, he is sober and substance-free by the beginning of the novel, there are plenty of flashbacks to his addicted past and to his 12-steppery, but he is clearly free of that in the novel's present tense. I do wonder where he goes -- does he get together with Joelle? And why does ghostly JOI visit him at such length? Mainly I wonder why the final pages of the novel are a flashback to him getting high. It doesn't really seem to do anything for the story.

And this is a big deal -- what happens with the A.F.R. invasion of the tennis academy? The very last thing that happens in the book's present tense is them arriving on campus. But we know from chapter 1 that they did not kidnap Hal (I think? Or they did and he got back to E.T.A? Anyways something has to have happened.) We know from chapter 1 that ONAN has not been decimated by any Entertainment catastrophe. There was a possibility the master tape for the Entertainment was at the Ennet House, but no follow-up. And I'm completely driven crazy by how Hal made a casual reference, talking to Orin, to digging up somebody's grave -- throughout the book there are veiled hints that JOI's grave was robbed -- but it doesn't really go anywhere.

So -- I'm going to stick with my opinion that the ending is weak. But everything else about the book needs to be underlined and with exclamation points, what a great great book it is, how deeply necessary it is to read this book if you want to understand addiction. That's all.

posted evening of July 31st, 2014: 7 responses
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Friday, July 11th, 2014

Back from vacation with some new books

We went to Europe! Stayed with Jacki in Amsterdam, at airbnbs in Gerona and Barcelona, and back to Amsterdam. A wonderful time! As always, a new city for me brings with it the compulsion to visit bookshops -- we were traveling light so I kept my acquisitions to a minimum however. My two favorite bookshops in Barcelona are Librería Antiquaria Studio on Carrer d'Aribau, a seriously old-school antiquarian bookshop where I bought the first book to catch my eye, fortuitously it was Pere Gimferrer's Primera y última poesía; and Laie Librería y Café on Carrer Pau Claris, where I bought Maimónides' Guia de los perplejos and Pedro Salinas' Poemas inéditos.

Also: picked up Bonsái by Alejandro Zambra at a small used-book shop on the Ramblas; and had my interest in Infinite Jest renewed when I opened the copy that was on the shelf of the apartment we stayed in in Barcelona -- I leafed at random to p. 755, 11 Nov. YDAU, and kept laughing for hours. The first thing I did this morning was head over to Words bookshop in Maplewood and buy a copy, and start it from the front. An employee at the salon where Ellen was having her hair done asked what the book was that was making me laugh so hard, and put it on her reading list.

posted afternoon of July 11th, 2014: Respond
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Thursday, May second, 2013

Infinite Jest

At last! Criterion releases The Collected Works of James O. Incandenza.

posted evening of May second, 2013: Respond

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

It was a lot of fun to hear D.T. Max reading from his new biography of DFW at Words Bookstore in Maplewood. I am looking forward to reading it; and in particular I am taken with the title. Max says it is an expression Wallace made use of repeatedly in letters throughout his career, and generally without context. It rings true for me in ways I haven't quite been able to sort out yet. (Max said he was surprised, at each stage of the editorial process, at being able to keep the title he had chosen.)

For example this statement seems like it would make a really good epigraph (mutatis mutandis) for Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet -- a book I finished reading this weekend and which I'm recommending wholeheartedly, by the by -- I wonder if it is some sort of postmodern commonplace. This association of love with absence. Both Rushdie and Wallace I think are very concerned with the irreality of the world about which they are trying to write realistically; and maybe this in a way implies that loving someone (as Maria loves Ormus, as otherworldly Rai loves otherworldly Vina) is a way of escaping into their reality from your own irreality, of becoming a ghost. (And this in turn can be seen as a metaphor for the process of reading the novel and identifying with its characters, coming full circle.)

The irritation I felt at Rai's voice throughout the first part of the novel faded about halfway through (indeed about the time I figured out what was making me feel irritated, I started to feel more sympathy for him) -- and in the last 150 pages or so I really started loving his voice (which changed a bit at that point in the story -- he grew in a way that brought more sincerity into his voice).

posted afternoon of October 23rd, 2012: Respond

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Suicide is Painless

The truth is you already know what it's like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes.
"Good Old Neon", the fifth story in David Wallace's 2004 collection Oblivion, is just an excruciating story to read. Especially (of course) in light of Wallace's ultimate fate, and especially the last two pages of the story; but even without the author's suicide, even without those last two pages, the story brings the reader unbearably close to the mental process of contemplating suicide and of being driven to contemplate suicide. The act of identifying with the narrator (and of identifying with the author, identifying with his character) is excruciating.

posted evening of June 27th, 2012: Respond
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Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Punch lines

This weekend I am noticing punch lines in my reading. I read two stories by David Foster Wallace -- "Mister Squishy" which I found to be beautiful, engaging writing but lacking in punch lines, and "The Soul is not a Smithy", which is my new favorite DFW and which abounds in brilliant punch lines; now am reading and enjoying a novel by Julian Barnes called The Sense of an Ending, which actually, coincidentally, has a fair bit in common with "The Soul is not a Smithy", at least on first impressions. I got a good laugh out of this punch line, delivered as Barnes' narrator is recounting his youthful efforts to find a girlfriend:

Some girls allowed more: you heard of those who went in for mutual masturbation, others who permitted "full sex,"as it was known. You couldn't appreciate the gravity of that "full" unless you'd had a lot of the half-empty kind.

posted morning of May 6th, 2012: Respond

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Utter Global Crisis

A game of Eschaton:
-- Thanks for the link, Lauren! (Articles about this at NPR and the Times.)

posted morning of August 23rd, 2011: Respond

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Contorsion, Stigma

And yet (fact): Hands lack the anatomical mass required to support the weight of an adult human. Both Roman legal texts and modern examinations of a first-century skeleton confirm that classical crucifixion required nails to be driven through the subject’s wrists, not his hands. Hence the, quote, “necessarily simultaneous truth and falsity of the stigmata” that the existential theologist E. M. Cioran explicates in his 1937 “Lacrimi si Sfinti,” the same monograph in which he refers to the human heart as “God’s open wound.”
The current New Yorker prints an excerpt of David Foster Wallace's forthcoming The Pale King. It's shocking, beautiful, engaging; it "allows the reader to leap over the wall of self". You can also listen to Wallace reading this fragment, ten years ago, in a recording preserved at The Lannan Foundation.

And more! George Lazenby of 424 W 23rd St, NY 10011—2157 (an address to conjure with!) has a recording of Sunday, February 6th's edition of Endnotes on BBC radio; Geoff Ward presents his research into the life and work of Wallace.

posted evening of February 28th, 2011: 1 response

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Wheels within wheels

Yesterday I was talking with Ellen about Elizabeth Costello, how Elizabeth is herself a novelist and there is a lot of discussion of reading and writing in the book; Sylvia interjected, "It would be cool if there was a book that had someone reading the book that had someone reading the book that had..." Nice! We talked about mirrors for a little while. And then, this morning we were looking at xkcd's Sierpinski Valentine, and checked out Wikipædia's article about Sierpinski Triangles (which has a nice animation) -- I asked Sylvia if she knew what infinity meant, she said "Yeah, like something that never ends." And she made reference back to the book she had been talking about yesterday -- I found it pretty exciting that she would make this connection.

And this is funny: apparently David Foster Wallace made the claim that Infinite Jest is structured like a Sierpinski triangle.

posted morning of February 15th, 2009: Respond
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