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Week 1 Update

So we’re a little bit more than half way through the week, which means to be on pace you probably want to be around page 60 or so (if not you can always catch up). Here are just a few of my thoughts on the first half of the reading (don’t forget to post your own at some point!):

Be sure to post your questions and comments whenever you get a chance, either here or at http://infinite-eph.blogspot.com. Hope the reading is going well, and don’t forget to check back on Wednesday for next week’s reading assignment and some more things to think about!

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#1 Comment By kthomas On July 13, 2009 @ 1:54 am

On page 55 there is a line which I think sums up DFW’s reason for writing the book: “The reason being it’s a lot easier to fix something if you can see it.” What is he trying to show us? What needs fixing?

Thank for pointing out this particular phrase and framing the question in this manner. (Also, please note that our paginations are not, evidently, the same).

I am about 150 pages in — most in the past two hours– and hoping I can force myself to stop. I have not touched the footnotes– which emerge in a rather amusing fashion. “Some reactions.”

“First,” the novel brings me, quite disturbingly, back to a ‘milieu’ which is strikingly familiar.

Wallace’s use of — and experiment with– narrative and grammatical form: it may be navel-gazing to say “why is he doing that?,” but, in Lane Faison fashion, I have to ask, what is the relationship of the literary techniques employed here, the ways of living and thinking, to particular spaces and times?

150 pages in– so far, I’m expectant, but not impressed. This kind of future dys-topia — and its particular kind of “corporate” scenario-izing — were common enough by the time this was written. By page 150– I have to ask– does this stand as one of the top 100 “American novels,” whatever that is?

The narratives hooks– novella-like segments which slowly intertwine– almost boilerplate. There were, at the time, far more prescient visions of technological “future history;” the vision of “modeming in” has an almost stereotype-50s-like quality about it, as does what appears to be a male-centered narrative and the depiction of women.

But– skipping back to your question without elucidating it– if this is a sort of political novel, or novel of political times, — can — can literature of this type, serve as elucidation or diagnosis? (Or is it just a jest, which fails?)


#2 Comment By kthomas On July 13, 2009 @ 2:15 am


On that note, however, what’s going on with elisions, ellipses, and the inability to conceptualize, understand, and speak here? Is addiction the ‘best or proper’ metaphor (dulce et decorum)?

#3 Comment By Ronit On July 13, 2009 @ 10:48 am

Oh no. I am going to have to start speedreading. This is starting to feel like college all over again

#4 Comment By kthomas On July 13, 2009 @ 10:57 am

If you’re going to be like that: Gore Vidal. (Palimpsest and 1876 should do, with a smattering of his recent interviews).

#5 Comment By sophmom On July 13, 2009 @ 11:51 am

Hmmm, I am wishing I had committed to the book. Not sure I can catch up at this point.

Although, being a bit behind is somehow appropriate in my case, and could even be to my benefit if I hope to understand the book.

#6 Comment By sophmom On July 13, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

Okay, I am joining in on the read. Gotta catch up though…so far I am only up to the part where Orin is introduced.

Of the characters so far, Mario (Booboo) made me smile. For one, he seems to have no trouble eliciting conversation from Hal. And coincidentally, “Booboo” was the nickname we all gave my little brother. Like in the book, he was the youngest of three boys, and the baby in our family. In retrospect, I realize the nickname must have been coined by my parents, an affectionate reference to the fact that Booboo was a “surprise” baby.

FWIW, there was a Whataburger in the town that I grew up in. Until I could read, I thought everyone was saying Water burgers.

#7 Comment By kthomas On July 14, 2009 @ 12:04 am

Welcome! Now all we need is to convince JG!

On DFW’s influences: in response to Salon’s Laura Miller’s question about what books make him feel “human and unalone,” which is how Wallace describes the affect of great fiction:

OK. Historically the stuff that’s sort of rung my cherries: Socrates’ funeral oration, the poetry of John Donne, the poetry of Richard Crashaw, every once in a while Shakespeare, although not all that often, Keats’ shorter stuff, Schopenhauer, Descartes’ “Meditations on First Philosophy” and “Discourse on Method, “Kant’s “Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic,” although the translations are all terrible, William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience,” Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus,” Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” Hemingway — particularly the ital stuff in “In Our Time,” where you just go oomph!, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, A.S. Byatt, Cynthia Ozick — the stories, especially one called “Levitations,” about 25 percent of the time Pynchon. Donald Barthelme, especially a story called “The Balloon,” which is the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer, Tobias Wolff, Raymond Carver’s best stuff — the really famous stuff. Steinbeck when he’s not beating his drum, 35 percent of Stephen Crane, “Moby-Dick,” “The Great Gatsby.”

#8 Comment By JG On July 14, 2009 @ 12:19 am

Aw, thanks for the encouragement Ken. I’ve got the book (all 20 pounds of it, I think). I finally cracked the spine on the bus ride home tonight, although the 11 hour day and amazing view of [location redacted] in the sunshine made focus hard. I’m going to try hard to catch up though.

We’ll see if I have to fall back on the skill I most finely honed at Williams: reading enough to participate and understand but not obsessing over reading every tiny detail in the first pass. Fair warning that such is what you all may get, but I’m going to try to be a part of this fun project.

#9 Comment By kthomas On July 14, 2009 @ 12:50 am

JG: Glad to have you provisionally aboard!!!

Let me put it this way: it’s a heck of a lot more fun reading than 1,100 pages of corporate founding docs from August Moretti @ Heller Ehrman in an afternoon/night– in a [location redacted] fraternity room with the CEO and Marketing Director passing in and out. (Turning in detailed revisions to August the next morning is another story).

As far as ‘obsessing’ on the details– it is, so far, structured somewhat as a thriller (though narrative voice wavers a lot). I’ve been reading as such and ignoring the footnotes.

#10 Comment By kthomas On July 14, 2009 @ 12:50 am

Speaking of which– what is occurring, in the placement of the footnotes?

#11 Comment By sophmom On July 14, 2009 @ 1:14 am

The notes in my book are endnotes. And they are under the heading “Notes and Errata”, starting on page 983.

#12 Comment By kthomas On July 14, 2009 @ 1:48 am

The thing with Schtitt: like most Europeans of his generation, anchored from infancy to certain permanent values which — yes, OK, granted — may, admittedly, have a whiff of proto-fascist potential about them, but which do, nevertheless (the values), anchor nicely the soul and course of a life — Old World patriarchal stuff like honor and discipline and fidelity to some larger unit — Gerhardt Schtitt does not so much dislike the modern O.N.A.N.ite U.S. of A. as find it hilarious and frightening at the same time. Probably mostly just alien. This should not be rendered in exposition like this, but Mario Incandenza has a severely limited range of verbatim recall. Schtitt was educated in pre-Unification Gymnasium under the rather Kanto-Hegelian idea that jr. athletics was basically just training for citizenship, that jr. athletics was about learning to sacrifice the hot narrow imperatives of the Self — the needs, the desires, the fears, the multiform cravings of the individ¬ual appetitive will — to the larger imperatives of a team (OK, the State) and a set of delimiting rules (OK, the Law).

What does this have to do with Rastafarianism and liberation theology?

#13 Comment By kthomas On July 14, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

So, does anyone else remember their first Toblerone, bought fresh from the Slippery B, when the Slippery B was a market?

#14 Comment By JG On July 14, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

So my time at Williams was obviously shaped to a degree by being a Religion major…which naturally has little actually to do with religion. My “learning” from/with Mark Taylor did, whether I’d like to admit it in polite company or not, make an impact. So I’m obsessed with the framing and choices an author makes, a publisher makes…how we perceive or experience any work of art is constantly influenced, shaped, “framed” by those who establish the boundaries. The use of endnotes rather than footnotes (like some of his other work) relates to this I think. The interruption of the narrative flow to go find the notes, which themselves may have footnotes, was obviously deliberate. I look forward to seeing if there is a pattern to the timing or depth of such.

Back to the original point: my edition of IJ includes a forward written in 2006 by Dave Eggers for the 10th Anniverary (I’m still amazed a paperback of that size will hold together…we’ll check in about that at the end of this adventure). Of course, I had to read the intro b/c it’s Eggers and b/c the task of writing an intro to a novel is fascinating to me and b/c someone chose to use this as the appropriate jumping off point. What tone do you want to set off on? Facts, opinion, effusive praise, gentle humor? Where do you go? What should I be thinking about when I start the book? If read, it influences one’s initial perception of the work. Choosing not to read it shows something as well.

Anyway, for me there are some incredibly sad moments in that introduction in light of DFW’s suicide last fall. I’m writing this hastily from work before I escape, so I won’t quote any of it now, but it put me in an interesting frame of mind as I tackled the first 20-25 pages. He mentions the accuracy/clarity/detail of the struggle/experience of drugs and depression.

Perhaps in light of Poor Yorick, such a spectre was an appropriate launching point for my Infinite Eph experience. We’ll see….

#15 Comment By sophmom On July 15, 2009 @ 3:01 am


I have the exact same edition and I agree, if not for the circumstances of DFW’s death, Eggar’s intro might have have been an enjoyable read, even funny. Instead, it leans to the tragic, most especially when he cites DFW’s “normal[cy]” as reason to buy the book:

In attempting to persuade you to buy this book, or check it out of your library, it’s useful to tell you that the author is a normal person. […] He is from the Midwest – east-central Illinois, to be specific, which is an intensely normal part of the country (not far, in fact, from a city, no joke, named Normal). So he is normal, and regular, and ordinary, and this is his extraordinary, and irregular, and not-normal achievement, a thing that will outlast him and you and me, […]

IMO, the intro serves to saddle Wallace’s title with yet more heartbreaking irony.

#16 Comment By The Swamped Fox On July 15, 2009 @ 4:44 am

@sophmom: I meant to throw my response to this in on the Week 2 post, but the “normal” thing does make it more tragic, but also complicates the text in a number of ways. There are lots of references to things that “everybody does” or the “typical family.”

Examples that come to mind are when Hal is with the professional conversationalist/his father and says that he understands that most families have special monikers, or when Steeply is able to guess where things are according to where most people put them.

I get this odd sense that we as readers are those “typical” people, and if DFW was so “normal” that we might be just as susceptible to whatever darkness he was clearly grappling with (the section about the “evil” nightmare is particularly chilling now).

#17 Comment By sophmom On July 15, 2009 @ 9:21 am

@The Swamped Fox:

Thanks for the feedback, SF.

…or when Steeply is able to guess where things are according to where most people put them.

I haven’t gotten to Steeply, but this comes up with Gately as well:

“…because the vast bulk of homeowners keep their dish towels two drawers below their everyday-silverware drawer…”

Still 20 pages behind, but shoud be able to catch up today.

#18 Comment By The Swamped Fox On July 15, 2009 @ 10:38 am

@sophmom: Whoops I meant Gately…Steeply is in the Week 2 reading post and I got my wires crossed. Those are the two exact quotes I was thinking of.