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Thursday, July 17, 2008

I don't even want to think about what day it is

Pages written today: 0 (But! But! But! I did think long and seriously about the end of the book, and work out some end-of-the-book stuff. I did that thing -- doubtless this makes me sound crazy, but whatever, that ship may have sailed -- where I walked around and sort of wrote in my head for awhile and could see the end. See the end shimmering in front of me, an actual end point, like the finishing line glimmering at someone running a marathon -- not that I've ever run a marathon or ever will--no fucking way--and it's entirely possible the end I see glimmering and winking at me might be simply a mirage, but...you know. It was still a nice feeling).

Pages written yesterday: 7, although to be fair, two or so of those were imported in from elsewhere, something I had written earlier.

Pages written day before yesterday: 2.

I think I have an idea for a new story. It's inspired by the Malcolm's Lowry's crazy-town foreward to Under the Volcano, which, by the way, is such a great and such a fucking heartbreaking book. Really. How you can not love a book that has sentences like this:
He had not played one, and Hugh could play almost any kind of guitar, for four or five years, and his numerous instruments declined with his books in basements or attics in London or Paris, in Wardour Street night-clubs or behind the bar of the Marquis of Granby or the old Astoria in Greek Street, long since become a convent and his bill still unpaid there, in pawnshops in Tithebarn Street or the Tottenham Court Road, where he imagined them as waiting for a time with all their sounds and echoes for his heavy step, and then little by little, as they gathered dust, and each successive string broke, giving up hope, each string a hawser to the fading memory of their friend, snapping off, the highest pitched string always first, snapping with sharp gun-like reports, or curious agonized whines, or provocative nocturnal reports, like a nightmare in the soul of George Frederic Watts, till there was nothing but the blank untumultuous face of the songless lyre itself, soundless cave for spiders and steamflies, and delicate fretted neck, just as each breaking string had severed Hugh himself pang by pang from his youth, while the past remained, a tortured shape, dark and palpable and accusing.
That, my friends, is a motherfucking sentence.

Like all brilliant sentences, in my opinion, it teeters just thisclose to being the worst sentence every written and it comes out the other side, weird and unexpected and somehow perfect.

I'm also getting more and more into Infinite Jest. I'm on about page 458, so nearly halfway. Can't quite believe that, actually, but it's true. I feel almost embarrassed because everyone else is like "Gosh, I'm too busy to read the book, what with work and my life and all" and because I'm up in Canada with literally no one around (Uncle and Aunt back down in Toronto) I'm zipping through the motherfucker.

I like to say "motherfucker" today, apparently.

As promised, as the sections start getting longer, the book gets more and more compelling. The addiction stuff is can't-put-down-able. Gately, I love, love, love. Everything about him and addiction sections (including P.G.O.A.T's suicide attempt) feels very real, raw and real and earned. And there's the pleasure of figuring out how the bits fit together and learning about the imagined future (figuring out the acronyms and getting less off-put by them, figuring out the "historical" stuff, etc.).

Here's my "theory" on Infinite Jest if you can really call this a theory. More a thought. But here it is, take it or leave it:

The form of the book, the fractal inspired structure discussed over here and on The Dependent Clause, is off-putting and when you don't know the details about the alternative future DFW has imagined, that can be very confusing. But when you've got a handle on that, when you've figured out how to read the book, essentially, then well...it isn't, in my opinion, all that complicated.

If I had to bastardize and compress a lot of stuff, The Point is (as I see it, and keeping in mind that I'm only half-way through, so I could be wrong, or meant to think this, only to have all my notions turned on their head): American society is based on the idea that Freedom, which has come to mean, the right to pursue your own individual happiness, is the most important thing of all. This has become confused with the right to be entertained, to be able to whim-satisfy, basically. And this idea of the paramount importance of "freedom to choose to be entertained" is easily manipulated, by, say, advertisers who create needs that don't really exist, or lather people up to feel it's their "right" to have a "choice" of different kinds of entertainment and this "choice" of entertainments and products is all that matters. And this has engendered an in-ability of Americans in particular to say "no" -- and that desire to keep hitting the morphine button, so to speak, and feeling like you have a right to hit the button--is usefully mirrored and reflected by the phenomenon of addiction to various Substances. America has become vulnerable and addiction prone. So much so that we don't think through or don't want to think through the consequences of our we-want-what-we-want-when-we-want-it system, and prefer to literally export our waste and focus on the aesthetics of being "clean" rather than being actually clean and sustainable as a society.

And as I see it, DFW takes this basic idea (which is actually more complicated when I wrote it out; it was simpler in my head) and "iterates" it: through addicts, through the Tennis Academy (which, I think, in DFW's view, tennis has to do with moving beyond your personal desires, with facing failure -- but I haven't quite parsed all that yet), through the films that Hal's dad makes, through the misfortunes of the dystopian America (or O.N.A.N) that DFW has imagined.

Add a soupcon of family drama, inter-textual relationships to things like Hamlet (and way more I'm sure I've missed), reflections on the pressures that high-expectations and early talent put on people...and viola! Infinite Jest.

The pleasures of reading Infinite Jest, as I see it, so far: 1) The pleasures of figuring out the world he's created -- basically the pleasures of world-building. The tennis academy had to be pretty fun to think up -- it's sort of an athletics kid's Hogwarts, let's be real -- and there's great pleasure to be had in figuring out the history of the dystopian America. DFW smartly doesn't front-load the book with those details -- you have to keep reading to figure them out, and you do figure them out, in time. Meanwhile, you keep reading to figure out things like: okay, so why is every year named after a product? What the fuck is the Great Concavity? And the way he tells you things -- student papers, Mario's film -- are clever and funny ways of doing it. No awkward exposition. 2) The pleasures of figuring out the structure. Figuring out the chronology; figuring out how the different strands fit together. 3) The great pleasures of the writing, which is weird and in some places hilarious -- I was pretty blown away by the AA meeting section, when I was laughing out loud at these horrible stories, while still being horrified by them. The mixture of pathos and humor and weirdness is just right, in places. 4) The characters, which are varied and weird and flawed and likeable, in ways that intentionally reflect and speak to each other. 5) The America-society satire, which is pointed and right-on, though, maybe not ground-breaking. By that I mean, while I take DFW's points, I don't know if I've hit a point yet where I'm like, slapping my head and going "No! Surely not no!"

None of this is to be like "Psh! Infinite Jest -- how simply is it, really?" And let's restate again I'm only halfway through and expect to look back on this and scoff at myself. But...it's to revisit once again the thought that while the book is formally challenging, to be sure, the pleasures of reading it and the stuff that I've gotten out of it aren't necessarily any more complex than any other thoughtful book I've read. It's hard, but it's not completely opaque or impossible to understand. I really do feel that at its center, there's a pretty simple idea that's been "spun out" in all sorts of different directions (a la a fractal).

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