Finished reading Infinite Jest for the second time a couple weeks back (so many pairs), but I’m never sure exactly how to approach this book when it comes to literary discussion. The content is so human, so day-to-day heavy, that I can’t simply scan the text for profound one-liners like in a Denis Johnson novel and subsequently analyze them. I’ve often highlighted multi-page passages in IJ, because — when read in their entirety — their basic ideas are thoughts that have inhabited your head all along, but they’re the thoughts that seem too obvious to deserve permanent residence. More succinctly, what DFW does best is enhance the banal “wisdom” that you’ve heard from grandparents, parents, posters, preachers, cardigan-draped guidance counselors, etc. and presents them in witty, creative, and intelligent ways that make you more prone to embracing them than the easy, ironic dismissal we’ve grown comfortable with. Below are some selected quotes from a thousand pages of heart-pounding/warming/breaking text. I’m transcribing them by hand as opposed to copy/paste in hopes that they might enter my skull via battering ram.
A U.S. of modern A. where the State is not a team or a code, but a sort of sloppy intersection of desires and fears, where the only public consensus a boy must surrender to is the acknowledged primacy of straight-line pursuing this flat and short-sighted idea of personal happiness.
the real gem: life’s endless war against the self you cannot live without.
What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?
it’s about how to reach down into parts of yourself you didn’t know were there and get down in there and live inside these parts. And the only way to get to them: sacrifice. Suffer. Deny. What are you willing to give.
I blame no one your age, boyo. You see parents as kind or unkind or happy or miserable or drunk or sober or great or near-great or failed the way you see a table square or a Montclair lip-red...We’re just bodies and shoulders and scarred knees and big bellies and empty wallets and flasks to you. I’m not saying something cliche like you take us for granted so much as I’m saying you cannot…imagine our absence. We’re so present it’s ceased to mean.
That certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Then that most nonaddicted adult civilians have already absorbed and accepted this fact, often rather early on. That no matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that. That over 50% of persons with a Substance addiction suffer from some other recognized form of psychiatric disorder, too. That sleeping can be a form of emotional escape and can with sustained effort be abused. That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them. That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack. That most substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking. In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving shit out of itself. That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. That there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels. That God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.
Your freedom is the freedom-from: no one tells your precious individual U.S.A. selves what they must do…What of freedom-to.
The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.
the oceanic sound of 20 different tables’ conversation
Any conversation or interchange is better than none at all, to trust him on this, that the worst kind of gut-wrenching intergenerational interface is better than withdrawal or hiddenness on either side.
The above is only a small selection of what I highlighted. To include every emboldened line in a thousand page work would be to include 100 pages worth of words. I took a generous leap from beginning to end, as per quote inclusion. A basic idea is all you need, though. A spark. The tinder and flint of words and your mind. You don’t have to read the multi-pound book to perceive its message. Just know that I spent the majority of (both) time(s) shedding pearl onion tears or laughing aloud, maniacally, during the entire read.