Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp 1-17

It’s very easy for one to feel as if they are in over their head when reading this book.

I’m not sure how far each of you has read in Infinite Jest, though I suspect those of you who are trying this for the first time scanned over these words with trepidation. David Foster Wallace doesn’t make this easy for us, though in hindsight, the logical method in which the opening conversation unfolds is actually deceptively simple.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Until Friday, I’d not had a bit of exposure to the words of David Foster Wallace. It was impossible not to hear his name, especially since I started college as an English major. I recall a few of my online friends doing Infinite Summer, but at the time, the thought of reading 1,100 pages over the course of a single summer just seemed to be a burden, which is saying a lot for someone who can plow through a mid-length novel in a weekend.

Turns out that Infinite Jest is not actually the first bit of writing I’ve experienced that belongs to Wallace, so I suppose that means I’m cheating, if just a little bit. I read his piece in Gourmet last week, titled, “Consider The Lobster.” (Here’s my obligatory, gushing sentiment vocalized: read this now, or at least when this review is over.) Beyond being fascinating, engrossing, enlightening, intelligent, how many more superlative adjectives can I use, it gave me a stark introduction to what I was getting into: a writer who uses detail to an extreme in order to build from it, and one who is deeply, intrinsically in touch with the morals (or lack of them) that drive even the most banal of minutia. In short: he’s verbose and he’s intriguing at the exact same time. (It was also a practice in reading real-time endnotes. They’re a workout.)

Infinite Jest takes just a few sentences to lapse into a similar style, though “Consider The Lobster” is thematically different. We’re introduced to a whole slew of characters, dropped into the middle of a scene, and the dialogue starts flying. After the first couple pages of introduction of our narrator, Hal Incandenza, a purportedly genius tennis player attempting to join the Enfield Tennis Academy, located outside of Boston, there was one person I was reminded of while reading this: Richard Price. As I said earlier, the dialogue here is deceptively simple. What I mean by that is that it appears to be difficult to follow, especially without the constant “he said” or “she says” interjected after alternating sentences. However, once you recognize the style, it could not be any more natural to how conversation takes place. It’s exactly what we’re used to, especially how words and sentences run on to each other in person. It’s rare that works of fiction capture this reality; it’s generally one person speaking after another. (Interrupting doesn’t count because it’s still existing in precisely the same order.)

I brought up Richard Price because, like many of his fans and readers, I have always felt that there are few people on the planet who can write dialogue as naturally as Richard Price. Go find The Wanderers, Clockers, and especially Lush Life as quickly as you can and consume them. It’s not hard. But many authors (and screenwriters, too) don’t utilize dialogue to build worlds. Here, in David Foster Wallace’s world, we’re given only that.

It wasn’t that hard for me to figure out this scenario of three Deans confronting Hal and his family members about Hal’s odd performance in school because it’s so reminiscent of the absurdity of college bureaucracy. It’s sort of familiar to me; I went to college without the backing of my parents. As I’ve mentioned in reviews before, I ran away from home when I was sixteen, so being on my own at that point didn’t make things easy for me in college. Standing in lines, talking to counselors who seemed unable to conquer basic communication, lost transcripts, meetings with the Dean, the endless cycle of it all…it’s all very familiar to me.

What Wallace does is begin to piece together tiny parts of this story. I get the sense that Hal is a genius of some sort academically. (It’s been established he’s a tennis genius already.) I laughed when the Dean’s cycled through the papers Hal submitted instead of the traditional college entrance essay:

‘Then there is before us the matter of not the required two but nine separate application essays, some of which of nearly monograph-length, each without exception being—‘ different sheet—‘the adjective various evaluators used was quote “stellar”—‘

Dir. Of Comp.: ‘I made in my assessment deliberate use of lapidary and effete.

‘—but in areas and with titles, I’m sure you recall quite well. Hal: “Neoclassical Assumptions in Contemporary Prescriptive Grammar,” “The Implications of Post-Fourier Transformations for a Holographically Mimetic Cinema,” “The Emergence of Heroic Stasis in Broadcast Entertainment”—‘

‘ “Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality”?’

‘ “A Man Who Began To Suspect He Was Made of Glass”?’

‘ “Tertiary Symbolism in Justinian Erotica”?’

I get the sense that Wallace finds irony, above all else, to be the most amusing to him. Or, at least the most fascinating. Did Hal submit these essays as an ironic joke to the school? Or was he entirely serious?

The initial conflict introduced, however, is the revelation that the E.T.A. staff is worried that, due to anomalous scores and grades, that the school might be accused of “using” Hal to better its tennis team. Hal’s uncle, Charles, has been speaking for him the entire time; the narrator has kept to himself, providing us with an internal monologue the entire time, until the Dean of Academic Affairs insists it’s time for Hal to defend his academic career and prove why the ETA can’t possibly using him. (That’s really strange, right? Why would they force someone else to prove THEY weren’t going to do something?

I cannot make myself understood. ‘I am not just a jock,’ I say slowly. Distinctly. ‘My transcript for the last year might have been dickied a bit, maybe, but that was to get me over a rough spot. The grades prior to that are de moi.’ My eyes are closed; the room is silent. ‘I cannot make myself understood, now.’ I am speaking slowly and distinctly. ‘Call it something I ate.’

It’s interesting the methodical way that Hal speaks. He narrates in a similar manner, moving to a flashback of a moment in his childhood to explain why he said, ‘Call it something I ate.’ It’s a story about being unable to be understood and I probably would have laughed more at it had the idea of eating a patch of mold been so revolting to me.

All Hal was able to say back then was, ‘I ate this.’ It’s true. He did. He is expressing this fact as both an explanation and a cry for help, but he cannot make himself understood.

I am at a loss for what happens next. Hal flashes out of the memory and we jump back to him talking to the Deans, insisting he is not merely a good tennis player.

‘I’m not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you’d let me, talk and talk. Let’s talk about anything. I belive the influence of Kierkegaard on Camus is underestimated. I believe Dennis Gabor may very well have been the Antichrist. I believe Hobbes is just Rousseau in a dark mirror. I believe, with Hegel, that transcendence is absorption. I could interface you guys right under the table,’ I say. ‘I’m not just a creatus, manufactured, conditioned, bred for function.’

I’m fascinated with the idea that Hal responds to the ETA’s requests to validate their choice in accepting him by discussing the very nature of his humanity, to insist that he is not some “machine” to be bred and used and reproduced and exploited. I’m curious if this means something more than what it is.

What I don’t understand is the horror the Deans react with towards Hal. Perhaps this is evidence of Hal being an unreliable narrator in a sense, because as the Deans to insist that Hal has done something terrifying and wrong, Hal never narrates that it happened. One of the Deans asks Hal what the sounds he is making are, but we didn’t experience them happening.

‘But the sounds he made.”

‘Undescribable.’

‘Like an animal.’

Subanimalistic noises and sounds.’

‘Nor let’s not forget the gestures.’

‘Have you ever gotten help for this boy Dr. Tavis?’

‘Like some sort of animal with something in its mouth.’

This back-and-forth bout of panicked dialogue continues as I continue to feel completely lost. WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Is there something wrong with Hal? Did he actually do this? Are the Deans collectively hallucinating? Am I even asking the right questions?

As Hal is removed from the school on a stretcher and taken to some sort of hospital, Wallace moves to one of the longest paragraphs I’ve ever seen. (I’ve heard there are longer, so I’m trying to prepare myself.) Here’s the strange thing: It works. Completely. There’s a poetic sense of reality to the stream-of-conscious-style narration of Hal, as he jumps from one thing to another, all of which seem to be within his field of vision. He describes the medics, makes note that this is a special ambulance because it has a psychiatric M.D. on board, which takes him to thoughts of waiting rooms, with orange molded chairs, which takes him to a woman sitting in one of those chairs, and then bathrooms and therapists and people he knew in his past, to his upcoming tournament to someone named Dymnphna.

Such begins Infinite Jest. I’m lost, but that’s ok. I feel like I was thrown into the middle of the forest without a map and, to be entirely honest, it’s kind of exhilarating.

Note: For those who are reading along, which I hope is all of you who are reading this, here’s the ISBN number for my specific version, since I’m not doing set chapters:

ISBN: 978-0-316-06652-5

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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113 Responses to Mark Reads ‘Infinite Jest’: pp 1-17

  1. Meghan says:

    Yayy! You're reading! And the link works now! My lazy-ass counterpart to yours: http://ask.parliament-books.com/post/2732270276/t…. Careful cause I have the next 2 sections up too, and I don't want to spoil for you!

  2. Hermione_Danger says:

    One beautiful thing about IJ and Wallace in general, to me, is the pure joy Wallace gets from stringing words together. The rhythm and the sound and the incredible music of his writing just slays me. I like to read lines aloud, just to hear them, because of the way they hit the ear.

    Hal Incandenza — has to be meaningful, no? Hal from Shakespeare (along with the title), Incandenza maybe from incandescent? Light? Something.

    SO EXCITE.

    • Meghan says:

      YES I'm glad someone else had the Hal/Shakespeare thought, HD. I've been wondering especially about that later when they begin to talk about their father.

      • Hermione_Danger says:

        careful, Meg, that could be spoilerishy <333

        • Meghan says:

          I'm pretty sure he's mentioned in the Infinite Summer intro piece Mark referenced in an earlier post? If it's spoilery, I'm sorry! I didn't think it was!! I was so careful not to really say anything at all. :/

          • Hermione_Danger says:

            Oh, no, you're right! I 'm sorry, I forgot about that reference. Ignore me! :S

            • xpanasonicyouthx says:

              Yes, I was told to take a HEALTHY refresher of Hamlet beforehand and I would recommend the same for many other people, if only because HAMLET IS BOSS.

          • monkeybutter says:

            Since it's out there — I've never read Infinite Jest before — is it safe to assume that C.T. and DeLint aren't so much trying to get Hal into school as trying to get a troubled kid out of their hair? I guess I'm going to read them as Claudius and his enforcer Polonius now.

    • Blodwynn says:

      Cadenza reminds me of cadenza, an improvised or written-out ornamental passage played or sung by a soloist or soloists, usually in a "free" rhythmic style, and often allowing for virtuosic display. Which makes sense to me, considering what you said about the diction and style used in the writing, and especially in Hal's speaking or narration.

      • Hermione_Danger says:

        OOoooooh. I didn't know that. How interesting…

      • Meghan says:

        Totally! It also reminds me of "incandescent," and considering how BRIGHT Hal appears to be as a narrator and by the (ironic but still smart) essays he submitted… :) Clever name.

      • deleted1882775 says:

        The first association I though of was with the word "cadence"; which is a rhythm and, more specifically, a rhythmic pattern used to mark the end of a spoken sentence or a musical phrase. In that sense, "incandenza" could mean "without end" or "without rhythm". The combination of these seems like a decent description of Infinite Jest as a whole; it's a massive book that I've more than once heard described as "sprawling".

        I doubt that any of these possible interpretations are accidental, given that they all seem to make sense. Symbolic names are fun, but it's not like it's that hard to come up with one. A name that can be interpreted in multiple ways, all of which are meaningfully symbolic? Now that's impressive.

    • coughdrop says:

      I'm reading along so I don't really have any basis for this but I was also thinking since there was weird talk of machines and Hal not being one—could it also possibly be a reference to HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey? like I said, a newbie to this so I have no idea what I'm talking about….

    • cait0716 says:

      Yes! I read Hal's whole clear, deliberate speech aloud before I discovered that he wasn't actually talking. I had this incredibly rich picture in my head of how it might sound. And then I was completely wrong.

  3. Blodwynn says:

    The way this boom is written is mind boggling, but has a point and works so well to get the point across. I'm only about 60 pages in, but I'm still fascinated and enthralled by it. It's slow going, and not the easiest read, but I can't wait to see what happens.

  4. Laura says:

    I've read a book of DFW's short stories, some essays from Consider the Lobster and I'm about 400 pages in to IJ and the one thing that takes me out of his writing is that sometimes some point will be essential to a story or a moment and I just don't understand it, plain and simple. It then ruins the moment/whatever because I start looking for when he will stop talking about whatever it is so I can get back into the piece.

    Case in point, there's a short story in Oblivion that deals with a company that manufactures snack cakes, and along the way Wallace introduces various initialisms for different economic/business aspects of the company. By the end of the story, half the page is jargon I just don't understand and it pulls me COMPLETELY out.

    I feel like IJ does this too sometimes (and sometimes in just the footnotes) but to the degree that if I skim it I can get the gist of what's happening without tripping over terminology.

    • Blodwynn says:

      I've heard a lot of people say that everything becomes more cohesive and understandable once you've finished the book. I

  5. xghostproof says:

    Okay good, I am not the only one feeling completely lost right now! This makes this a little easier. I think my copy of the book is about 3 pages behind yours since I'm reading it on my nook, and the cover counts as its own page, so now I must remember this while thinking of what pages to read.

    I laughed quite a bit during these pages, mostly at those essays, and at various descriptions of eyebrows. I liked hearing what Hal had to say for himself when he was given the chance, though what happened afterwards?

    What was that. What is going on, I don't even know.

    Also, eating the mold, oh my god. I was gagging just imagining it the way it was described. I screamed "NOOOO!" when I read 'I ate this.' Something far back in my mind suspected it, but oh man. So, so, so not prepared for it.

    On another positive note though, I love that his mother is referred to as the Moms. Its kind of adorable, really.

    eta: Though now that I've read some of this, I think that going back and forth between this and Battle Royale will have to satisfy me for now, I don't think my poor brain can handle it if I retry reading House of Leaves and start up Slaughterhouse Five like I originally had planed to do at the same time.

    • Hermione_Danger says:

      I love that you laughed! I find DFW incredibly funny, although his humor's not to everyone's taste.

    • cait0716 says:

      "The Moms" completely threw me. I had this image of a play group with a bunch of moms watching a bunch of kids. But then the Moms was singular. I had to re-read part of that section

    • exkathedra says:

      Oh please try House of Leaves again! I read it last summer and LOVED it. You have to get past that first scholarly-essay bit and it just sucks you in. Kind of a cross between a psuedo-scholarly paper/thriller/documentary of a film that doesn't exist/someone's downward spiral into insanity. SO good. Danielewski does some fantastically kinetic stuff with the book's layout of text too.

      • xghostproof says:

        I plan on it, I might read that after I finish Battle Royale, which I'm a good way into, and then do Slaughterhouse Five. After taking out the first little chunk of Infinite Jest though, I think it might be good to read two at a time and not try and overload (considering I was planning on reading all four things at the same time…I'm thinking that was a little too ambitious, ahaha.)

    • shortstack930 says:

      I'm reading it on the Nook also and this section is up to page 72. The foreword was about 24 pages so my page numbers are completely off from Mark's.

  6. pennylane27 says:

    Glad to see I'm not the only one who didn't understand that. I mean, what the fuck is going on? Why does he say stuff like
    I compose what I project will be seen as a smile. I turn this way and that, slightly, sort of directing the expression to everyone in the room.
    and
    I would yield to the urge to bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door is what the men in this room would see.?
    It struck me as really odd. Is he human? Does the mold he ate have anything to do with this? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND

    Other than that, I'm really enjoying this. The way this man has with words!

    • Hermione_Danger says:

      I compose what I project will be seen as a smile. I turn this way and that, slightly, sort of directing the expression to everyone in the room.

      Ugh, see, that speaks to me. Shyness (IRL not online, obviously), social awkwardness, low self-esteem all combine to make me sort of…disassociate in some ways? Like, trying to make sure that my facial expression and body language are correct for the situation in an academic way? That doesn't make any sense when I say it, does it?

      • shortstack930 says:

        That was how I took it too–that he was trying to project an image that he thought would be an appropriate normal reaction.

        • Steeple says:

          It makes me think of others and myself on the autistic spectrum, particularly when I took lessons on how to do exactly that. So the deliberation makes me think of that, too.

  7. Phoebe says:

    OH NO! im not reading the review b/c i haven't read it yet b/c i dont have the book and i have't been to a bookstore/ library and im SO UPSET!!! i want to start reading this book!!!! :(

  8. bell_erin_a says:

    Oh, I guess this means I should finish cleaning up all of my stuff (how does less than a week's worth of clothes and notebooks and textbooks make such a humongous mess in my half of the room??) so that I can get to starting this! I am excite. And also lost, which bodes well for me understanding this part of the book, lol.

    I'LL BE BACK.

    Also, yay for something non-HG related. I love the series, but sometimes it's nice to read something other than YA fiction, however awesome/awfully heart-wrenching said YA fiction may be!

  9. Shanella says:

    Hey Mark, I'd like to read this with you, but I'm going to do it via Kindle, I was wondering if there was any way for you to indicate the cut off rather than pages? Maybe put the last sentence or something searchable?

    • bell_erin_a says:

      Agreed, since I'm pretty sure I have a different version of the book than you.

    • doesntsparkle says:

      Here is the schedule from Infinite Summer, they have some page numbers along with the kindle locations and percentage read. http://infinitesummer.org/archives/168

      I have a randomish question: I have a first generation kindle, it doesn't have the percentage counter. Do the new models still have the location numbers?

    • xpanasonicyouthx says:

      Oooh, I have an iPad, but I use the Kindle reader a lot. I will include that the next time around, promise!

  10. doesntsparkle says:

    It's probably for the best that you read "Consider the Lobster" before this. That's a great piece to get a feel for DFW, and just a great article in general. I'm so glad that you're doing this Mark. I've read it before, so I'll only say that your preparedness is a non existent void.
    I have a few tips for first time readers. Take A LOT of notes, it will help. If you're reading a physical book, use at least two bookmarks. The Infinite Jest Wiki is really helpful, and has spoiler free annotations. Here is a link: http://infinitejest.wallacewiki.com/david-foster-

    • Emily WK says:

      This might sound stupid, but take notes on what, exactly?

      Or will it become more clear as it goes on?

      • cait0716 says:

        I'm confused about that, too. The copy I got on my kindle already has a bunch of stuff highlighted, so I'm mostly just going with that for now and relying on this blog to keep me straight on everything going on

      • doesntsparkle says:

        Basic history class notes, names, dates, etc.(in my case, words to look up when I got to a dictionary). It's a long book and it's easy to forget stuff you already read.

        • Hermione_Danger says:

          Seconding the words-to-look-up thing. Context clues aren't enough in this book! :)

          • doesntsparkle says:

            Seriously, no matter how good your vocabulary is, David Foster Wallace's is better.

          • evocativecomma says:

            When I first read IJ, I carried it AND a dictionary with it. And I'm an English teacher. :) No shame in looking stuff up – DFW's brain was a thing of beauty.

  11. Mitch says:

    I don't agree that it's spoilery. It represents the information we have as of this point in the book. Having said that, is there even a way to edit comments? I can't find one.

  12. Hermione_Danger says:

    It is not spoilery to say that the Deans' perception of Hal is accurate, and that he is not speaking or emoting accurately as regards his intent.

    How is that not spoilery, exactly? It's not stated explicitly here in the text. To me, that makes it either your interpretation, in which case you should mark it as such, or a statement based on further information in the book, which makes it a spoiler.

    • Mitch says:

      Where did my other comment go? *confused* Anyway, fair enough, it's my opinion. It's a reasonable one, however, and [SPOILERS]

      it's not made any clearer later.[/SPOILERS]

      • evocativecomma says:

        You need to read Mark's spoiler policy. Explaining something that Mark has said he doesn't understand is spoiling him. He wants to figure things out for himself, and if you tell him "oh, don't worry about x, because–" then you've spoiled him. You even said it yourself, for crying out loud–first you explained *what happened in the scene*, even though Mark said he was confused, and then you said he was *supposed to be confused*, which tells him even more.

        • personalmap says:

          I'd like some clarification, if that's okay. Is Mark hoping for a book club type discussion of Infinite Jest, or does he intend to approach posting about IJ the same way he's approaching posting about HG?

          In his post announcing he was going to read IJ, it sounded like he wanted people to discuss the book in the comments, but according to your post it sounds like people will only be allowed to discuss the things that Mark himself has no questions about, and any comments that touch on things that Mark didn't perfectly comprehend during his read-through will be deleted. I just want to make sure I understand, so I don't step on anyone's toes.

    • Mitch says:

      Ugh, sorry, I put a lot more spaces before that spoiler in my most recent comment, but the comment box ate them.

    • bingo007 says:

      dont think he/she said is a spoiler.that was the first time hal actually speaks and the whole crowd goes crazy and hal is taken to a psychiatrist.it clearly shows that hal must have done some tourette like thing.

      • Mitch says:

        Yeah, that's what I meant, thanks. :-) I figured it made sense from context, with Hal's constant mentions that he couldn't be sure his actions would be perceived as he meant them. Arranging his face into what he THINKS is a smile, etc. He's clearly aware of whatever's going on with him, and it has outward manifestations that the Deans can see.

    • Hermione_Danger says:

      Hi,

      As I said, the way it was written didn't sound like an interpretation, which is what Mitch said that zie meant. It sounded like a definitive answer to the question of Hal's communication, which implied that it was based on information other than the, in my opinion, mixed depiction in these first few pages.

      • evocativecomma says:

        It doesn't sound like a definitive answer–it *is* a definitive answer. You are right, and people really need to read Mark's spoiler policy.

  13. momigrator says:

    I haven't read anything yet. I have a question. I was looking for a place to read it online and came upon this. Is this the right book? http://www.onread.com/reader/1414495

    Oh, and if it is, are the pages numbered the same as yours, Mark?

    • momigrator says:

      Okay, if anyone wanted to read it online, this link works, however, the page numbers don't match up at all. I believe I ended at the same part as you, Mark, and that was on page 37 of this internet version.

    • bradycardia says:

      This is definitely the right book, and thanks for the link! I was looking for something similar myself.

      I don't think the page numbers are the same though. And I don't know how the footnotes work on the site – although since Mark hasn't mentioned it, I assume there hasn't been one yet.

  14. monkeybutter says:

    Are comments disappearing again, or did I do something wrong?

  15. bell_erin_a says:

    Okay, so this isn't a difficult read, per se, in terms of actually reading. I had to reread bits a few times just to figure out who was speaking, but for the most part, it's not that hard, just slow going. What I'm having trouble with is finding out exactly what's going on here, but I suspect I'm out of luck with that.

    Those last two paragraphs, while not making much sense to me, actually made sense because of how realistic the stream of consciousness is. I sometimes wish I could write essays like that, just for the hell of it.

    The familiar panic at being misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds.
    I don't know why, but this sentence spoke to me. Maybe because the thought of having to talk about myself in an interview or something fills me with dread. I hate talking about myself. I don't represent myself well in stress situations like that. Can't you just read my application and accept that you should hire me or something?

    I would yield to the urge to bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door is what the men in this room would see.
    Oh, wow. What has gone on in his life that he has to say something like this? Is it the mold (ew, by the way)?

    Also, "tell us why we wouldn't be using you." WHAT. First you have to apply to college, to convince them they want you. Now Hal has to tell them why he's not too good for them? Bullshit, I say. Also, the confusion with the hallways and offices and unidentifiable Deans is totally accurate. I feel like pulling my hair when I have to go to financial aid or something to ask them things. I just want to know if I can apply that scholarship money towards room and board, not tuition, is that too much to ask? It's a never-ending cycle of people who refer you to more people to talk to. /rant

    I hate this, but Space Odyssey: 2001 has forever scarred me. As much as I try to wipe the image from my mind, the name Hal always carries the idea of an evil computer with a red light, ugh.

    Alright, rambling done.

    • monkeybutter says:

      The familiar panic at being misperceived is rising, and my chest bumps and thuds.
      I don't know why, but this sentence spoke to me.

      Yeah, I got a sense of foreboding that this would be one of those books that makes me uncomfortably self-conscious. I think the line about bolting for the door is foreshadowing what happens when he tries to speak: utter chaos. Odd at first, but it makes sense in retrospect.

      • bell_erin_a says:

        I just see myself, and it's awkward and unflattering, and I squirm uncomfortably. WHY DO AUTHORS DO THIS TO ME.

        Oh, I know it was referencing his disastrous attempt at speaking. That was more of a "what the hell is going on here/why can't he just get up and do things or talk to people normally?" kind of thing. Why the chaos? Prediction time: we're not going to find that out for another at least 500 pages. Yippee.

    • evocativecomma says:

      Also, "tell us why we wouldn't be using you." WHAT. First you have to apply to college, to convince them they want you. Now Hal has to tell them why he's not too good for them?

      That's the opposite of what they're asking him. "Tell us why we wouldn't be using you"–"Tell us why we wouldn't just be using you to make our tennis team look good, because frankly your academics from the last year suck, so we'd be letting you in to the school based solely on your abilities on the court, and we need to know that you're actually bright, because the evidence implies that someone altered your transcript, and someone else wrote your essays."

  16. cait0716 says:

    I'm so glad this is finally up!

    Hal currently is a student at the Enfield Tennis Academy and is applying to college in Arizona: "You are Harold Incandenza, eighteen, date of secondary-school graduation approximately one month from now, attending Enfield Tennis Academy, Enfield, Massachusetts…"

    The style of the dialogue definitely took me a while to figure out. All the back and forth. And it's interesting because through all that, Hal's perceptions already seem off. His entire description of his position and appearance is almost a little too precise. Then he describes Charlie as "sitting in the chair to what I hope is my immediate right". It's deliberate, but it's strange. How can you be uncertain of something like that?

    I'm definitely hooked. I can't wait to find out what happened to Hal that he ended up unable to communicate.

    Also, for any Kindle users out there, this review goes through position 494 (which is still at 1% on the progress bar)

  17. curiousGirl says:

    I tried reading this book as soon as you said that you were gonna review them. I must confess, I am so lost too. Very confusing. As you said, it takes some getting used to reading without the "he said, she said" dialogue.
    What I do understand though, is that that "mold" he ate affected his ability to speak. We, as readers, know what Hal wants to communicate but I guess those other people only hear gibberish. And possibly, excitement and/or stress doesn't help much.

  18. arod says:

    mark. i can't even describe with words how glad i am that you're reading this, and writing, and reading and writing everything. EVERYTHING! you are a smores-and-hotdog-bonfire oasis in the internet desert. i love mr. wallace. your energy and honesty thrill my tiny damp soul.

  19. monkeybutter says:

    Okay, I'm just going to accept that my comment was lost to the ages, so I'll just summarize:

    Infinite Jest is engrossing; ONANCAA makes me giggle; I want to know why Hal's apparently healthy mind is disconnected from his apparently healthy body; "Kekuléan knot" is my favorite phrase in the section; and more please.

    I've read "Consider the Lobster" and it was pretty amusing. Did Gourmet ask him to do it because they wanted his honest opinion, or because a DFW-authored piece lends a certain cachet to Lobster Fest coverage and would appeal to an urbane readership? His footnote about the PETA video seems to argue against the first option. I think the footnotes especially are a great insight into the way his mind works, and the part about tourism makes me feel a certain kinship with him. I don't know if that makes me love him or hate him; either way, I'm sad he's no longer around to write these sorts of pieces. Really, the article was most successful in making me go find "Les Poissons" on youtube. Thanks for the recommendation, Mark!

    • doesntsparkle says:

      RE: "Consider the Lobster" I assume that Gourmet hired him for the piece because of his reputation, and he got hung up on the whole morality of boiling living beings aspect and went off on a tangent. That's just my guess.

  20. Kripa says:

    I'm reading exactly along with you, and I have a feeling Hal intends to speak articulately but it's just not coming out. Maybe something happened to make him lose the ability to speak intelligibly?

    Also, LOVEDDDDDDDDDDD "Consider the Lobster".

  21. Christine says:

    The Consider the Lobster article blew my mind. I'm from Maine, and my aunt and uncle live in the town where the Maine Lobster Festival is held each year. I LOVE lobster. It's delicious. I'll agree that it's probably cruel, but it's just so tasty I'm willing to overlook that. Call me selfish. (shellfish?)

    Case in point: My parents recently separated, and my father and I are not on good terms. On Christmas Eve this past year, he texted me asking if my brother and I would like to come over to his house for lobsters. Once I read the text I half-swore/half-laughed, and all I had to say to my mom was "lobster. he wants us over for LOBSTER." Due to other circumstances beyond our control we didn't actually end up going (thanks, snow!), but I thought it was funny that he knew the one way I'd actually agree to go would be via lobster…which was once a food for the poor.

    This being said, I would kill for a lobster/lobster bisque/seafood chowder/clams right now. Yum.

    Sorry this is the longest/weirdest comment ever and is completely off topic. Infinite jest seems amazing!

  22. coughdrop says:

    So, reading along which I am glad we are doing this together because I feel like handholding is required in this trek! haha But, so far I find Wallace's writing incredibly thick and excellent. I mean I feel like there is so much under everything and I am confused but delighted about the fact I'm confused. Also, hooray I have the same copy as you!

  23. Random Person says:

    Consider the lobster…would be a good name for a band

  24. Jen says:

    It sounds to me like Wernicke's Aphasia. He can understand and think but anything he says is incoherent and unintelligible. >.>

    • monkeybutter says:

      Yeah, that sounds close, but his comprehension seems completely unimpaired. He perfectly understands what everyone is saying, but he's still coming out with word salad. It's Wernicke's aphasia except he understands, or Broca's aphasia except he can speak fluently. That's…odd. And if it was just something as common as aphasia, couldn't they have just gotten a note from a doctor explaining his condition to the admissions board? Why have Hal and the people around him decided to try to hide his aphasia instead of being upfront about it? Or would that defeat the entire point of the novel?

      Argh, I have no idea what's going on. I need to read more.

  25. deleted1882775 says:

    The Deans' reaction to Hal doesn't feel like an isolated incident. Given deLint and C.T.'s attempts to speak for Hal, and Hal's avoidance of speaking until he's more or less forced to, it seems that they were expecting something bad to happen if he so much as opened his mouth.

    An interesting quotation: "If I'd done you one from the last year, it would look to you like some sort of infant's random stabs on a keyboard." It implies that whatever Hal's problem is, it's not restricted to oral communication. He mentions that he's been coached on maintaining a neutral facial expression, so presumably he would have similar problems if he tried to show any sort of emotion; supporting this is Athletic Affairs' comment on Hal's "grimace" early in the interview. Hal cannot, as he says, make himself understood: not in speech, not in writing, and not even by body language.

    To me, this is really scary; losing my ability to think clearly has always been one of my greatest fears, and in some ways this seems even worse. Hal appears to be very intelligent, but he's completely unable to express his thoughts. Being trapped in your own mind like that, able to take in information but unable to give anything back, is truly horrifying.

    On a somewhat lighter note, my favourite line from this section (and one of my favourites in the whole book):
    "The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir."

    And it's just that much better because of the punctuation. I originally typed it with an exclamation mark, but then I looked it up to make sure I got it right and found that it was written with a period. It is not some exclamation made in the heat of the moment, it is a mere statement of fact. This man was genuinely terrified by whatever it was that he saw Hal do.

  26. theanagrace says:

    I'm reading the lobster article, because all of the copies of Infinite Jest in the Ottawa area library system are on hold, and something keeps jerking me out of the flow. I like the writing style, it's very organic, and the footnotes don't bother me, because I grew up reading Discworld novels. No, what keeps grabbing my attention with both hands is when he calls the Maine Lobster Festival the MLF, because I keep reading it as MILF, and that's not something I ever expected to associate with seafood in general, or lobsters in particular. Curse my subconscious. :D

  27. cait0716 says:

    I also read, I believe in Infinite Summer, that Hal's first word's "I am" are a response to the first words spoken in Hamlet "Who's there?"

  28. personalmap says:

    the Dean of Academic Affairs insists it’s time for Hal to defend his academic career and prove why the ETA can’t possibly using him. (That’s really strange, right? Why would they force someone else to prove THEY weren’t going to do something?

    If a university accepts an outstanding athlete who, nevertheless, is incapable of doing university-level work, then they're using that person for sports success. The athlete wouldn't be able to get an education at the school; all the courses would be way over his head. The school's primary goal wouldn't be to educate the athlete, but to take advantage of his talent to advance their teams' rankings. That's what the Dean of Academic Affairs is asking here: for Hal to prove that he can hack it academically. Otherwise, the school would just be taking advantage of him by throwing him into an intellectual environment where he can't possibly succeed.

    • evocativecomma says:

      All of this is true and awesome — however, you aren't replying to the person who asked it, so they won't get the blessing of your brilliance. :) Perhaps go back to the comment and reply directly to it?

  29. evocativecomma says:

    You've just posted massive, massive spoilers. PLEASE read the spoiler policy.

    • exkathedra says:

      Just read it. So sorry about that.

      Edit: Deleted. Since I don't think any of my comment counted as non-spoiler. Bleh.

  30. Erica says:

    I'm reading this from a sample on my nook so I'm certain the page numbers don't match up, but here are my thoughts:

    1) To say this author is verbose is an understatement. People weren't exaggerating when they said it would get frustrating at times. And I thought Stephen King was bad…

    2) Yet I'm still intrigued. The scene in the Dean's office was terrifying to me after realizing just how unreliable Hal is as a narrator.

    3) Are the footnotes absolutely essential (I know, dumb question, but the sample doesn't allow for access to them w/o buying the entire book…)

  31. cait0716 says:

    Hi Mark,

    less of a comment on the review and more of a comment on the process. I know you said this project is slightly more selfish than your other ones, but I'd still like to try and read along and comment and all. So is there any way for you to post an ETA for the next Infinite Jest review at the end of each one? Nothing specific or strict or anything. Maybe just a line like "This is super exciting! There will be another review tomorrow!" or "I'm super busy, don't expect anything until next week at the earliest." Something like that would really help me pace myself so I don't get really ahead or fall behind and discussions can happen with everyone on the same page more or less. Is this a reasonable request?

    Thanks! – Cait

  32. Lady X says:

    Can’t wait to read Infinite Jest now!

  33. residentgamer says:

    I just started reading because you posted the review. I read a few pages and briefly wondered if my copy was messed up because of the weird dialogue cut offs. lol So i came here just to make sure.

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels lost.

  34. ashemiku says:

    To echo some of the previous commenters, the reading isn't hard so much as it is dense – the extra large paragraphs and the unique dialogue construction take a bit of immersion to get used to, but once you do the sense of reality is really amazing. I find that I can only read about 30 pages a stretch before I have to take a break. The text is SO SMALL. Some of the mammoth paragraphs, like my page 16 in which THE ENTIRE PAGE IS A PARAGRAPH OMG, get hard to read after too long.

    I read "Consider the Lobster" my first semester of college, and I loved it, but had completely forgotten it was by DFW. Remembering that now – and the epic footnotes, which I didn't realize you could just use all impulsively until that semester; it's very creative and freeing – I feel a bit more at ease reading this.

    It seemed to me that this disconnect between Hal's internal monologue and what he is perceived as saying has happened to Hal before – there's this section where he comments that his posture was "rehearsed" so that he would appear interested but say nothing, and his Uncle's insistence that everything was fine, like maybe he was used to explaining his behavior?

    And I had that total WTF moment when the Deans and administration started freaking out. Before that point, I was sort of interested but not very; as soon as that happened I COULD NOT put the book down.

  35. MissRose99 says:

    I decided to actually BUY THE BOOK instead of read it on my iPad. Kinda missed the feeling of turning the pages…. HOLY CRAP, when I saw the book!! It's bigger than any book I've ever read. It kinda excites me to start taking this journey of reading this book.

    I went to college and though I didn't have to deal with an athletics scholarship or anything, I understand the whole "administrators/dean taking themselves way too seriously" aspect.

    I wonder why his uncle is speaking for him – where is his mom and dad – and his flashback only talks of his mother… and brother Orin ( love the nicknames "O.") Like someone else said I think he thought he was talking but what came out was not what was said… they kept hashing and re-hashing that he is shy/problems communicating issues. He can divulge/devour books… so he must be smart – and those essay names were a bit ridiculous. I especially enjoyed him mocking the situation he was in… he would be out in time to beat his next opponet, almost like he's been in this situation before.

    Hal already reminds me of this guy at work. He's a turkish immigrant who is my age (we're 29 and we work in manufacturing) he has a triple major Physics-Mathematics-Statistics and all he does is physics problems all day. walk up to him and that's all he does all day. Crazy ass long physics problems. If you try to talk to the kid at all he might answer one or two words in the most awkward-as-fuck-why-are-you-acknowleding-my-existence. He literally shuts down. Smartest kid ever – horrible at Social interaction/common sense.

    Can't wait to see where this book evolves from this point.

  36. PaulineParadise says:

    Oh god I don’t understand anything from both this book and review. This is a bit too confusimg for my 17-year-old, dutch self. Too bad. Maybe I’ll try this when my English is a bit better.

    Anyway, every time you said ‘Wallace’ it reminded me of Wallace and Gromit don’t judge me or the were-rabbit will attack you.

  37. pica_scribit says:

    I downloaded the free sample of this book to my Kindle to try it out. The sample is a really good-sized chunk, so I probably got around 50 pages (hard to estimate). So far…hmmm…. I'm having a hard time getting into it. I love books. Long books don't scare me. I like the books I read to contain a certain amount of humour. But so far, this book is failing to grab me. For a book that I've seen sold as "I know it's long but it's really funny, honestly!" I haven't laughed out loud once yet, but apparently other people have. Maybe it's not my kind of humour? I'm not saying it's a bad book or poorly written, because obviously it's not. The author is clearly a brilliant man. I'm just not loving or identifying with any of the characters yet. I'm still confused about some of the stuff that happens right here at the start, and I have a feeling Wallace is going to make me wait for answers, if I get them at all. I don't know if I have the patience for that. I don't know if I'm willing enough to commit to reading this book to actually pay money for it. Maybe I'll see if I can get it out from the library. I want to give it a fair shot before I give up.

    • doesntsparkle says:

      I promise that this book is worth it. But, It's hard to get into. I read 50 pages and abandoned it for a year before I could get into it. At first it's frustrating and confusing, but it gets better. As for the comedy, I really don't want to say too much, but if this book is a comedy, it is a pitch black, middle of a black hole, comedy.

    • cait0716 says:

      I didn't laugh at anything in the first chapter, but I did in later chapters. I've heard if you push through the first 200 pages, you'll be hooked. That's kind of insane, given plenty of books are barely 200 pages long, but there you go. I'm only 4 chapters in (I have no idea of page numbers), but I would say give it a chance for another chapter or two at the least. At least finish the sample?

      Also, I hope it's not a spoiler to say I laughed in later chapters…? Let me know if it is.

  38. Kate says:

    This chapter reminded me of the diving bell and the butterfly, of being trapped inside your body with articulate thoughts that you cannot express, at all, not merely inadequately like most of us do and, perhaps even more excruciatingly, to remember what it was like to be able to communicate, so that the frustration is mixed with loss.

    I say this as someone who was once forbidden by doctors to speak for two weeks. It wasn't that I could not, but that I was not allowed on pain of permanent damage. While minor in retrospect, (and saving of my alto, if not my soprano, range) it gave me a whole new appreciation for speech. This chapter was intriguing, but also horrifying, and I'm definitely engaged. Excited to read on!

  39. Yusra says:

    Eek. I want to read Infinite Jest so bad and since I just finished my exams, I figured now was a good time as any to start it. So, I googled it for an e-book, as it were. I tried, but I honestly need all 1000+ pages in my hand to do this. So, erm, yeah, I won't be following you until I buy it from a book-store somewhere. :D

  40. Doug says:

    I hope this is not inappropriate for this forum. If it is, delete it and accept my apologies.

    I’ve heard about this blog in the past, but only came to explore when I heard about IJ. I read the book about 15 years ago and am realizing that I never got any of this when I read the first 17 pages. I don’t remember what I did get, but I’m pretty sure I never got much of a good footing in the book even though I finished it and remember many very striking things in it.

    I still have my spiffy, heavy hardcover copy of this on my bookshelf, but I just now realized that I will never want to read this again for many reasons that aren’t important. I notice several commenters here wanting to get their hands on a physical copy of this to read. I no longer need to have this book on my shelf and would rather provide it to someone who wants to read it. If you want my copy, I will send it to you with no strings attached. (Hopefully you will read it and pass it along, but I don’t really care.)

    I will send Infinite Jest to the first person who sends an email to:
    brautigoogle AT yahoo DOT com (I don’t know if that works to avoid spam, I get enough of it anyway, so what the heck, people seem comforted by it.) Postage is on me.

    Again, I hope that this offer isn’t out of bounds here.

  41. Spikelee3000 says:

    Thanks for the quick response! I think I'll give the Kindle version a go. You bring up a very good point when you mention the dictionary feature… I'm almost OCD about how often I look up word definitions. Thanks again.

  42. Fuchsia says:

    So I finally got my copy of this book and started reading tonight, hopefully I'll be caught up in the next few days so I won't be writing comments on weeks-old posts that nobody will probably read. But, that being said…

    I'm very interested in Hal's communication issues, right from the start. I have a speech impediment and was in speech therapy from the age of three until I was eight. I couldn't form words at all, everything I said came out as me screaming gibberish (honestly, screaming). Sound familiar? My family, who had obviously been around me from the start, knew how to interpret my attempts at communication but nobody else had a clue what I was saying. And even though I eventually finished my speech therapy and I can generally speak well now, I still have moments where I get tripped over words (I can't for the life of me distinguish between shoulder and soldier), pronounce things entirely wrong, or just can't get them out of my mouth at all. Sometimes I revert to being completely not understood, especially in moments of stress or when I'm not expecting to talk much. (The grad program I was in for a year required taking a public speaking class, and presentations in every course, and it was pretty much the worst thing ever. Needless to say, I quit that program.) So, at least regarding spoken communication, I completely identify with Hal. It's one of the reasons I love writing in all its forms; I started writing stories to keep myself entertained as a kid (childhood is lonely when all your playmates can't understand what you're saying) and even to this day, I much prefer writing emails and texting over spoken conversations.

    Hal's situation seems a bit different than mine, since he hinted that even in the last year, he hasn't been able to write as coherently as before. So I'm interested to see where this goes, but it definitely resonated in me.

    Also, I'm both deathly allergic and terrified of mold, so that part made me freak out and I may just have nightmares now.

  43. Malacandra Meekle says:

    As a postmodernist myself (what an arrogant opening) I would like to ask you all if anyone has considered that Hal IS understood, every word. It is purposely written like this, because what Hal is talking about in his explanation is the kind of thinking that the world loves to ignore, that in an almost Nietzchian dialectic is impossible to accept by the world of the who-really-are machines (the deans, and that slimy Compositions Director). I happen to know the real people Wallace is referring to, because I went to the graduate school where he was teaching when he wrote Infinite Jest, and several of the people in the interview are modeled after people I knew quite well, and also had to deal with them on this level. They would not accept real thought. It was horrifying to them. Notice Coach "Kirk While" has left the room when the real interrogation begins. This is Curits White, the writer, who is a fine thinkier, albe-he not such a great fictionist as Wallace. Anyway, keep up the great blogging! I usually don't get involved online, but this time, I've really enjoyed everyone's input.

  44. We’re a group of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your web site offered us with valuable info to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our whole community will be grateful to you.

  45. evocativecomma says:

    There's a difference between clarification of something Mark got wrong, e.g. "He's not applying to ETA; he's currently attending ETA and applying to U of A," and addressing what happens in a scene when he says he's confused about what happened in a scene. If you've been reading along with his other stuff, you know that when he says "WHAT JUST HAPPENED" he doesn't actually want answers.

    If there is a fact that Mark got wrong, then sure, post a correction. But telling him the proper way to infer what happens an entire chapter if he doesn't understand it is not a correction of fact; it's an explanation of how to read the book, and that is something each of us does in our own way. In this specific example, you explained, in no uncertain terms, exactly what happened in the scene–and it's not for you to determine if a reader should have "gotten it" yet–especially since you are telling him something that will be made clear later on. (I have asked Mark not to read my reply, so that he doesn't see that part.) I'll nudge him to clarify the "relaxed spoiler" concept.

  46. personalmap says:

    I'm not trying to be stupid, I promise. I just want to make extra-sure I understand. So, as we read the book, if we draw conclusions before Mark does, or if our conclusions are different from Mark's, we're not supposed to discuss them?

  47. evocativecomma says:

    No worries re: being stupid.

    Have you read the book before?

  48. deleted2934595 says:

    No, of course not! No one is trying to say that.

    The problem lies in the phrasing, really. Had the original poster said, "IMO" or "I think" or something showing that this interpretation was theirs and not the "correct" one, there wouldn't have been a problem. However, by writing the interpretation in a way that made it sound prescriptive, i.e. "this is the right interpretation," it crossed the boundary into what the spoiler policy describes. It's giving Mark information that he doesn't otherwise have — from what he read so far, he wasn't sure about the interpretation. Stating the "correct" interpretation without making it clear that it's a reader's interpretation based on what we've read so far takes away Mark's chance to figure it out for himself.

    It's the difference between saying, "Based on what we've read so far, I have a hunch that Mr. Rochester is hiding something from Jane" vs. "Mr. Rochester is hiding something from Jane." The same information, both correct, but one is a spoiler and one is not. Does that make any sense — I've been at work all day and my brain is pretty scrambled.

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