Monday, July 27, 2009


I began reading Infinite Jest about 5 weeks back on my flight from BUF to SFO, and coincidentally, I've completed it today while flying from BUF to SJC. It's going to take a long time for me to digest even a small portion, but expect more on IJ later.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


While doing a bit of research this afternoon, I came across the following in Wikipedia:
The 50-year old Indian Coffee House at M. G. Road in Bangalore closed on 5 April 2009, after the Indian Coffee Workers' Cooperative Society Limited lost a legal battle with the owner of the building to continue in the premises. It has however been reopened on Church Street, less than a hundred metres away.
What a blow! The ICH is an Indian institution, and the one on MG Road in Bangalore was a real classic. Entering its blue wooden doors was like stepping back in time. Waiters dressed in Raj-era throw-back uniforms, complete with stiff turban-like hats (which call to mind the typical groom's headdress of North India). The very air was rife with the dust of days-gone-by. As far as I know, you can still get that feeling at the Mavalli Tiffin Room on Lal Bagh and Koshy's on St. Mark's Road.

(Photo not mine)

Monday, July 06, 2009

Just What I Need

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Free Music!

And not the downloadable kind, the living, breathing, sweating stuff.

My friend Nick tipped me off to some free lunchtime concerts in connection with the St. Lawrence String Quartet's Chamber Music seminar at Stanford this week. I made it to the Friday performance. Not only was it free,
the concert was pleasantly informal. The performers were dressed fairly casually, and simple introductions were provided by one of the SLSQ violinists (Nuttall, I think. The blond guy proudly sporting a very tacky shirt).

The show began with SLSQ's friends (and fellow Canadians) The Gryphon Trio- a piano/cello/violin ensemble- performing Haydn's Piano Trio in C Major (Hoboken 15/?).
They were wonderful. The cellist was really entertaining to watch, all swaying and exaggerated facial expressions, but it was the violinist who caught my ear. After thundering applause and a couple of rounds of bows, they were quickly replaced onstage by the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

The SLSQ, celebrating its 20th year together, performed Dvorak's Opus 106 (String Quartet No. 13 in G Major). Delightful. The man with the bad shirt introduced the piece with a background story. Dvorak* was the director at the National Conservatory of Music of America from 1892 to '95. By that time he was already very well known in Europe, but he accepted the position in New York because the salary of $15,000 was about ten times that he was earning in Prague. Though fruitful professionally, Dvorak suffered from terrible homesickness while in the US. The first couple of works he completed after his return to Europe (Opus 105/106) were thus emotionally charged with his happiness at being home.

There's something wonderfully intimate about chamber music. Though we arrived just before the performance began and the hall was nearly full, we were able to sit just a few rows from the front, at close to stage level. Near enough to clearly see the fingering, facial expressions, sweat, etc. of the musicians. You can't beat the live music experience.

*Coincidentally, I recently ripped a couple of Dvorak piano trios from among the substantial music collection at my local library.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Infinite Summer II

In connection with Infinite Summer*, whereby thousands of us have committed to reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest over the course of this summer, I watched an interview DFW did with Charlie Rose back in '97. This was a year after IJ had come out, and DFW was on a publicity tour for his essay collection "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." Charlie is his usual fawning self in the interview, whereas DFW often looks like he's about to crawl out of his skin.

Much has been made of DFW's liberal use of footnotes/end notes, both in
IJ and in his essays. In addition to the 981 pages of the main body of text, IJ contains 96 pages of endnotes, numbering 388 total, varying in length from a single line to 17 pages. A few of the end notes have end notes of their own. Some of the folks at A Supposedly Fun Blog find them obnoxious. I enjoy them**. It makes me feel engaged with the text in a specific way. In the interview, Wallace had this to say:

There's a way, it seems to me, that reality is fractured right now. At least the reality that I live in. And the difficulty of writing about... that reality is that text is very linear, it's very unified. And you- I anyhow- are constantly on the lookout for ways to fracture the text that aren't totally disorienting. I mean... you can take the lines and jumble them up and that's nicely fractured, but nobody is going to read it. Right? So there's got to be some interplay between how difficult you make it for the reader and how seductive it is so the reader is willing to do it. The end notes for me were a useful compromise,
although there were a lot more when I delivered the manuscript. And one of the things that the editor did for me was have me pare the end notes down to absolutely the bare essential.

From there Charlie went off in a completely different direction, but I'd have liked to get a better sense of what he meant by the fractured nature of reality.

Later they talk about how Wallace's essays end up being about himself. "A Supposedly Fun Thing..." contains a piece on David Lynch, and Charlie asks him how that is about him. Wallace reminisces about seeing Blue Velvet in the Spring of '86.

Blue Velvet is an entirely new and original kind of surrealism... it no more comes out of a previous tradition or the postmodern thing-- It is completely David Lynch... It was here that I understood that the point of being postmodern or avant garde or whatever wasn't following a certain tradition. That all that stuff was b.s. imposed by critics and camp followers afterward. That what the really great artists do- and it sounds very trite to say that line- but what the truly great artists do is they are entirely themselves... They've got their own vision, their own way of fracturing reality***, and if it's authentic and true you will feel it in your nerve endings... Lynch sort of snapped me out of this adolescent delusion that I was having of what avant garde art could be. And it's very odd, because film and books are very different media.

I'm approaching 300 pages in Infinite Jest, the generally-acknowledged Point of No Return. I can't imagine putting the book down now. I'm too invested, too sucked in, and it is a very rewarding reading experience. When I'm not reading the novel, I find myself searching the web for biographical information, essays and interviews. A.O. Scott wrote a lovely piece in the NY Times after Wallace's death in September last year.
It was this eulogy that first made me think about tackling IJ.

If you have an idea what he means by fracturing reality, I'd like to hear it.

*Which I mentioned here. For some reason I keep wanting to call this Endless Summer, like the 1966 surfing documentary.

**And I am aware of my own predilection.
***That expression again!

Happy Birthday, Canada!

And thanks to Colleen, who posted this image long ago.