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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

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Jake

I was recommended his big book twice, but only felt motivated to read it once he self-slaughtered. Yeah, it's all a little morbid.

ZIRGAR

I think the affinity one feels for a certain piece of art once it has been appropriated supercedes or maybe transgresses the temporal boundary that says there is distance between artist and admirer, especially in a chronological sense, and binds them together in an onotological sense. The space created by great art is atemporal, therefore there is the genuine possibility of an interpretation whereby one joins into a kind of contemporaneity and even a simultaneity with both the art and the artist...or not.

moria

I (also twenty-five) read Ezra's comment as meaning something more along the lines of "unique as a cultural artifact to my generation," and thus one of my own. Wallace is something that is consumable as a cultural monolith, first and originally, to our generation. Infinite Jest was new in 1996, yes, but it is our own now. None of that seems strange to me. Literary time is never immediate. Death seems almost a necessary impulse of its non-immediacy.

My first real memory of pop culture: we all - ten, eleven years old - rushed to buy old Nirvana records when Kurt Cobain died. It was a good thing. We learned. We experienced. It was raw and sad and good.

Now, as maturing intellectuals, we consume Infinite Jest in the wake of Wallace's death. It is similarly raw and sad, and similarly good.

Vance Maverick

Or, perhaps more simply, not being pop, literature moves more slowly. To whom does Gertrude Stein feel archaic?

Sisyphus

Arrrgh!

I _liked_ the idea of Infinite Summer and came _this_ close to buying the novel except I felt too guilty about my various stalled writing projects and was sure that I'd avoid them by throwing myself into the book. So mleah!

Isn't the cool part of this idea that it would be creating a community through shared experience? (both the death and the reading --- or I should say the mourning and the reading --- both of which are usually so solitary.) I mean, except for your Mr. Morbid example there.

Jake

Sisyphus: yes! Now that I remember, didn't Scott like how the book brought "us" together (even if it was narcissitic to think so). Also, I didn't know there were things that annoyed Scott about the book.

SEK

I was recommended his big book twice, but only felt motivated to read it once he self-slaughtered. Yeah, it's all a little morbid.

Especially when you put it that way.

I think the affinity one feels for a certain piece of art once it has been appropriated supercedes or maybe transgresses the temporal boundary that says there is distance between artist and admirer, especially in a chronological sense, and binds them together in an onotological sense. The space created by great art is atemporal, therefore there is the genuine possibility of an interpretation whereby one joins into a kind of contemporaneity and even a simultaneity with both the art and the artist...or not.

If you're saying what I think you're saying, then yes, one way of looking at art is as something that transgresses temporal and cultural boundaries (think Shakespeare in Nigerian theater), but I don't think that same logic holds for contemporary cultural artifacts. I'm not sure judgments of greatness really stick to contemporary literature the same way they do to properly canonized works, which is why I brought the Clash up: in 1979, they were another hyped punk band that might amount to something, but by 2001 they were, in essence, "punk classics." (The mind reels at that phrase, but you catch my drift.)

I (also twenty-five) read Ezra's comment as meaning something more along the lines of "unique as a cultural artifact to my generation," and thus one of my own. Wallace is something that is consumable as a cultural monolith, first and originally, to our generation. Infinite Jest was new in 1996, yes, but it is our own now. None of that seems strange to me. Literary time is never immediate. Death seems almost a necessary impulse of its non-immediacy.

If you're saying that Foster Wallace comes to you pre-canonized, I see your point. I had to argue him into respectability, but now his greatness is taken for granted. I hadn't thought of it like that, but I suppose the same dynamic that I outline in my response to ZIRGAR obtains here . . . I'm just so old I didn't even notice. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go mourn my youth in the corner now.

Or, perhaps more simply, not being pop, literature moves more slowly. To whom does Gertrude Stein feel archaic?

Depends on what you consider literature. I mean, have you read Coupland recently? His '90s material absolutely feels archaic.

Isn't the cool part of this idea that it would be creating a community through shared experience? (both the death and the reading --- or I should say the mourning and the reading --- both of which are usually so solitary.)

Absolutely, except the book and the mourning seem all tangled up in untoward ways here, which is my only caveat. (Also, what Jake remembered I'd said. I like having a distributive memory. Makes life so much easier.)

I didn't know there were things that annoyed Scott about the book.

You have to love a book to be earnestly annoyed by it, otherwise it just goes into the unread/unreadable bin.

SeanH

I'm 21, and conceived an interest in David Foster Wallace only after his death (in fact the reports of his death and various obits across the internet were the first I'd heard of him at all). All I recall hearing was that various voices across the 'net whose opinion I respected spoke of Wallace as a genius and Infinite Jest as a work of genius; and being somewhat starved of literature at the time (I was living in Korea from a period shortly after Wallace's death) I decide to order that book online.

Infinite Jest quickly consumed my life. I do not think it was the first serious work of literature I read (my tastes run to the fantastic and science-fictional, but certainly there is overlap, as with Banks, Mieville, Le Guin, Dick...) but it was the first to really engage me, to demand a level of attention and involvement that previously only Aristotle, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard had warranted (I am a once-and-future philosophy student, in case that comes off as unbearably pretentious). It is still, probably, the best book I have ever read. The only thing that comes close is that volume of Borges' collected fictions.

My best friend is an English Lit grad and was delighted to see me finally engage with a work of literature (I have an illustrious former career as an sf/f nerd who dismisses all non-genre fiction as "adultery in Westchester"), and her promptings about Infinite Jest's resonances with other works (Madame Psychosis/metempsychosis in Ulysses, the decidedly Pynchon-esque character names, et al) have sparked in me a desire to learn more about this wonderful form that I've apparently been missing out on all these years. So that is Infinite Jest's, and DFW's, legacy for me - without him I may never have noticed an entire universe. I actually plan on reading Ulysses next. Big leap for someone whose tastes had never been any more challenging than Robin Hobb.

Also, now I watch tennis. Andy Murray's through to the semis!

Matt

I read David Foster Wallace's commencement speech given at Kenyon Collge. I was deeply impressed and forwarded it several of my friends, who were likewise deeply impressed, and we exchanged a series of letters about it. Now, as to "Infinite Jest" -- I have begun reading it twice, and twice I have stopped short of the half-way point. Why? Not because it was too "difficult" or that I found the prose impenetrable or because I couldn't fathom (most) of what was going on. I stopped because more important tasks call to me. Tasks with rewards for self and others. Activities in the sunshine. Good books to read. I won't invest the requisite time and effort in tracing through this tedious and self-involved novel. "Ulysses" it ain't.

Martin Wisse

My objection to this project is much more basic and less interesting: it's yet another bookreading project that makes reading into a chore rather than a pleasure.

chris

We see our own cultural moment with a microscopic focus no one else ever will, though. "In the academic sense," I think we would be perfectly comfortable saying that Emerson's Nature and Leaves of Grass--separated by a whopping 19 years, if my math is right--have a shared cultural and philosophical substrate, even though a lot happened between 1836 and 1855 (easily as much as happened between '96 and '09). This is not even to mention that Infinite Jest, you know, "takes place" close to 2009. Without daring to assign some superhuman prescience to Wallace: Citi Field? Skype? I don't think it's any great surprise the novel might feel entirely contemporary to readers who were barely literate in 1996.

va

...and he started writing it in 1991, with a draft submitted in '93.

Maybe IJ feels contemporary because 1993 is the year it always is, according to that Michael Berube.

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