Monday, December 15, 2008

And So Adieu....Until Next Time

So, I think I finally get it. The title of the novel is actually a triple-entendre - it's a reference to Hamlet, from which parts of the plot borrow heavily; it's the title of a film in the novel - also a cornerstone of the novel's plot; and, probably most importantly, it's a meta-reference to the novel itself. Let me explain that last one: The first chapter of the book is the last chronologically, so when you finish the novel, which really does just end at a seemingly random spot, you're supposed to flip back to the front and start all over again. The book is actually intended to be an infinite cycle.

Yes, last night I finished the two-month expedition I started back on October 7th (ah, okay, just for posterity - 1,079 pages in, 100% of the novel!). And yes, after I finished, I did go back and reread the first chapter, and was very, very tempted to continue. But that would've meant another two months of my life - and I'm not sure I have it in me...yet. There's no doubt I'll return to this novel at some point, maybe three or five years from now. DFW even said in an interview that, at the risk of sounding a bit presumptuous - you know, it is a 1,000+ page book - but it really is a book that he intended to be read more than once. And so, someday, I will.

After a first reading, it's very easy to see how a second reading is almost necessary. I had my "cheat sheet" guide book to help orient me in time and explain interconnected relationships of theme and characters, but without that, there's so incredibly much I would've missed. And I'm sure there's a lot I missed anyway. The book really is a giant cycle (and the notion of cycles dominates many of the descriptions and plot turns throughout the novel) in that the foundation for the last chapter (dueling story lines between Don Gately - a former drug addict and main character at the Ennet House, and Hal) is set up by tiny clues in the first hundred pages - when the novel is at its most jumpy and fractured.

So, at any rate, the next time I read the book, now that I know how it all fits together ("the interconnectedness of all things" - DFW), the reading will probably be even more fun than it was this time. This reading definitely had its ups and downs. There were certainly times I was bored and frustrated, and would find myself spacing out over several lines at a time, and then forcing myself to stop, backup and reread. But as pieces started to come together, and I started to "get" the book, it became more and more fun - like the feeling you get when you're let in on a joke, only magnified hundredfold.

And, so, I sign off - for now. This is quite sad, to be honest. After DFW died in September, I wrote a silly, somewhat rambling note on facebook - basically stream-of-consciousness thoughts on his death. Someone I don't know at all posted a comment: "Good luck with Infinite Jest. It's a much sadder book now." No doubt about it - that guy was absolutely right. Of course, the book is very sad anyway, and it's incredibly sadder now that DFW is no longer here. But thankfully, he left us a work that, by its very nature and structure and brilliance and fun, is meant to last forever - quite literally, an infinite jest.

(Thanks for reading...GZ)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nearing the End...Sadly

It's all starting to come together - only soon to conclude with no conclusion. (I'm not really ruining the ending here - the biggest criticism of Infinite Jest is that it...just...ends. So I'd hope anyone that takes it on knows that going in.) I'm 1,035 pages in, 96.0 percent of the novel. I'll probably finish tomorrow.

Before I conclude this blog, I wanted to make sure to post two links to DFW-related things I planned to blog about at some point, but never got to.

The first is his brilliant commencement address to Kenyon College, May 21, 2005. I've read this probably 10 times, and each time, I find something new that's inspiring and funny. It's very, very much worth a read! Evidently, an expanded version of this address will be published next spring under the title This is Water. So, there is (sort of) new DFW to look forward to!

Secondly, after his death, one of his English students at Pomona College posted a syllabus for a Literary Interpretation class he taught in the Spring of '05. It's funny and terrifying (if you were one of his students) all at the same time, and he even used his signature footnote-style in a syllabus!

"I wish you way more than luck."
-DFW, May 21, 2005

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Synecdochically Speaking

A couple weeks ago, I sat through the new Charlie Kaufman film "Synecdoche, New York." (Isn't saying "film" instead of "movie" delightfully pretentious? You know, similar to using a phrase like "delightfully pretentious"...)

So, how was the FILM, you ask? Let's just say Entertainment Weekly gave it a D+, and I'm hard-pressed to disagree. It's very, very bizarre and, I thought, way too convoluted and silly to be entertaining. Also, the last 45 minutes or so is incredibly dull.

In the novel Infinite Jest, Hal's late father Jim is an auteur known for his avant-garde and bizarre films, similar to Kaufman. There's actually a 20-page footnote that catalogues his filmography, including five versions of Infinite Jest - the fifth version of which is Jim's last film, and presumably what drove him insane enough to kill himself. It's also the film the Quebecois terrorists are looking for because (as mentioned in a previous post) it's so entertaining that anyone who watches is rendered virtually lobotomized, wanting to do nothing but watch the film over and over. Some other titles of Jim's films: The American Century as Seen Through a Brick, Dial C for Concupiscence, Blood Sister: One Tough Nun (which is a gory revenge tale taking place in a convent), and Fun with Teeth.

Jim is also known for inventing a new genre known as Found Drama. One example of Found Drama is Jim's film titled The Joke. The "film" shows an audience filing into a movie theater and settling in to watch a flick. The audience watches itself watch itself, becoming increasingly "self-conscious and uncomfortable and hostile" as the movie-goers realize that they are the actual movie. And then they leave. This film was credited in Jim's filmography as his first "truly controversial film."

So anyway, in a section I read this week (892 pages in, 82.7% of the novel), DFW is describing one of Jim's films, and uses the phrase "camera as audience-synecdoche." Clearly, that's not a word you come across too often, so seeing Kaufman's film and then reading it in as a description of another bizarre, mind-bending film (Jim's) within a few days of each other is quite a fun little coincidence.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Depressing Thoughts on Depression and Death

I'm back on the wagon in a big way, and am now 783 pages in, 72.6% of the novel. I came across some really thought-provoking and sad sections this week, especially, again, in looking at the book through the lens of DFW's suicide. In one part, DFW describes two different types of depression. Anhedonia is basically "spiritual numbness, a kind of emotional novicaine." There's nothing inside, you can't find yourself, you just don't have any feeling. Hal, it is revealed, is afflicted with this type of depression.

The other type is much more severe - "predator-grade" clinical depression. It is just incredibly, unimaginably painful. DFW says that for someone with clinical depression, anhedonia is a "fond dream." By way of further explanation, DFW says that if you put two people next to each other, one depressed and one not, and tortured the not-depressed person with electric current, that person would scream in pain, and the screams would be "circumstantially appropriate." But the depressed person is in similar pain, but if s/he did scream, s/he'd be considered "psychotic." His/her pain/screams aren't appropriate because, there is nothing tangible to be screaming about - to the outside world.

And here's an analogy to further convey the severity of clinical depression: When someone who is clinically depressed kills him/herself, it's akin to a person on the ledge of burning building jumping to their death instead of being burned to death by the fire. S/he'll die either way, but jumping is the less scary, and less painful. A depressed person views the pain DFW calls "It" as worse than death. I thought that was really profound and incredibly insightful, especially because DFW says it's nearly impossible for non-depressed people to empathize with depressed people, and vice-versa. It's also another frightening window into DFW's own life...and death.

In another section describing Hal and his relationship with his suicided father, DFW writes: "It's weird to feel like you miss someone you're not even really sure you know." Ah, the pathos of that quote! Incredible. And it made me think about how whenever I think about DFW's death, and the fact that there will be no more of his brilliant writing, I miss......him? his work? I'm not sure. It's weird.

On a slightly happier note, sort of - I was thrilled to find that one of the members of my favorite band (Smashing Pumpkins), guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who was working on Ph.D. in comparative literature at UCLA before joining Pumpkins, recently wrote a mini-tribute to DFW on a Pumpkins blog. It's not exactly sunny, but it was fun to see two of my favorite things intersecting like that.

And on a much happier note, GO MARQUETTE!