Infinite Jerk

Several years ago, way back when I was in college for the first time, a class of mine went to participate in a round table discussion with David Foster Wallace. He was spending some time on campus terrorizing young writers with his particular brand of arrogance and whatever else. I know he’s dead, but even to this day I can’t separate him from that experience, when I found him to be such an assholey asshole. Sometimes writers take themselves far too seriously. This was, after spending several minutes calculating the time line with Janie, not too long after his book Infinite Jest had come out and he’d received the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius Grant.” I guess he was feeling proud of himself for cranking out his great American novel and being referred to as a genius.  Or some shit. I don’t know. The bitterness is clouding my memory.

In my attempts to get past this image of an arrogant genius that has kept me from enjoying his epic novel, I decided to participate in a project called Infinite Summer. It’s a group of people who are dedicated to reading Infinite Jest over the summer, about 75 pages per week, and then discussing it, as a community.

Last night Janie brought the book home from the library. She read me the first paragraph as I chopped up some vegetables.  I have no idea what it was about. Something about someone in a room with some people?

Anyhow, if you’re interested in reading this book in much the same way you were interested in following that Oprah 21 day cleanse with me, meaning you want to torture yourself for weeks, join me…join us all…let us read this book and talk about it and then feel smug for having done so. Maybe after all is said and done, in the wee hours of a September morning, we will forgive David Foster Wallace for that afternoon in 1997 when the only thing memorable he ever said was that he didn’t watch TV except for the episodes of Ally McBeal that his friends taped for him.


  1. Robin O
    June 18, 2009

    I was TOTALLY with you on the Jest. Totally. I was thinking, wow, I’m going to DO this. With Linsey! It’ll be so cool! Because I so like the Linsey! And we could discuss this book!

    Also, I’ve owned IJ for a VERY long time, but have yet to crack the mofo. It’s just been sitting around, collecting dust. Dust in now . . . how many states? 3? I’ve dragged it to and fro across the country, I have.

    But then I followed that link and read, “HOW TO READ INFINITE JEST.”

    I gotta lotta crap goin’ on right now, not sure I can commit to that. Whoa. So . . . mebbe no. This makes me sad.

    It also might amuse you that I when I initially read your post about DFW being a jerk I was thinking . . . no way! Once upon a time ’round about that same decade, I worked in a lil’ indy bookstore in Atlanta. We had many authors come for signings. I thought I remembered DFW being this very shy guy who was very sweet, and kind of horrified that all these peeps were there to see him. He hid in the employee area for a bit, and wondered (to the bookstore employees) if there was a way he could simultaneously do the signing, yet hide from everyone. He was anxious and phobic, yet wanted to please everyone. Ultimately everyone (the bookstore employees and the crowd) LOVED him. And I was about to write you back with my counterpoint.

    And then I finally remembered um . . . that was actually Rick Moody. Oops. I actually never met DFW.

    Meanwhile, taking a stance that you shall never watch television is patently idiotic. It’s a communications medium, just like radio, just like books, just like newspapers, just like the internet. There’s good stuff and bad stuff out there via ANY communications medium. A stance that one never watches TV is about as bright as insisting one never reads the printed word or hears anything on the airwaves. It’s retarded. Shall we stop reading books or listening to the radio because some publications or broadcasts are stupid? Or shall we just try to be discriminating?

    Jesus Christ on a Stick!


  2. heathen
    June 19, 2009

    🙂 HI!

    So, you shoudl read it anyhow…we shoudl read it together and discuss it. Yes. Even if you have a lot of stuff going on, you know…when there is time to read, you could read it and then discuss it. See how that works? I don’t know – but I think it would be fun if you read it too. Don’t be discouraged by the rules. FUCK THE RULES. Please read this with me. I don’t want to do this alone. Or with Janie, alone. She’s mean.

    Also, it is VERY possible that DFW wasn’t really as arrogant and assholey as I remember. I mean, I was a bit of an assholey teen at the time so, you know, I can’t necessarily trust those feelings. Teenagers are jerks! But he might have been…and until I’m proven otherwise, or at least prove it was justified, well…it is what it is.

    Also, I’ve contemplated no television for the summer. But I need to see the Real Housewives of NJ reunion show and then I’m sure there will be other good shows on, PLUS, I still need to see the finale of BSG. CAN YOU BELIEVE I HAVE NOT SEEN THAT YET?

  3. June 19, 2009

    Naw. Life’s too short. But thanks for the invite

  4. June 19, 2009

    Not to discount your experience at all, but I have never heard of DFW being anything but kind, generous, and supportive to anybody that he came in contact with. However, he did suffer from severe depression, so you may have caught him on a bad day. If you go here: you can read tons of testamonials about what a good person he was.

    Anyway, I have been meaning to re-read IJ. This sounds like it could be fun. The book has the tendency to be a tad bit inaccessible in the beginning, but once the substance-abuse recovery house enters into the story, you will be hooked. Promise. Good luck!

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