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!


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