Once in a while, you’ll stumble across a book/movie/song (or collectively, conveniently “art”) which would metaphorically seize your shoulders, and coerce you into believing that all in this bleak world would come into place, fit like a jigsaw, you would finally be able to breathe in the otherwise toxic air. The reasons to bond with such books on a spiritual level are different for different people, but books felt deeply by most people go down in history, as books with the capability of changing lives. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is one such book for me.
Before advancing further, I must make it clear that this book is a polarizer. You either hate it so much that you would make an active effort to climb a mountain and hurl it below standing on the tallest precipice, or you will love it so much that you won’t be able to stop thinking about it, will remain in an Infinite Jest withdrawal months after finally finishing it, and will see Infinite Jest in shards, scattered across your life.
The book is humongous, around 1200 pages long (980 pages of main story, along with 200 pages of endnotes). DFW had an inhuman lexical grasp which is portrayed in the book, as IJ has around 20,000 rare words (I cannot warrant this fact that I read somewhere, though you get the point) and his immaculate language captures your imagination as he plays around with central tenets of English grammar to mesmerizing effect. The narrative keeps jumping forth between different characters (there are many characters too, all unique and important) and their lives. Centrally, there are four plot lines happening simultaneously and we learn and understand each of these gradually. Initially, just due to the sheer ambition of the text and because you probably haven’t ever read anything like it, IJ will be daunting. But be assured it all starts to make sense somewhere around page 300. You might think reaching those pages would be a slog, but the way DFW has crafted it, you’ll be extremely entertained page by page (barring maybe a few which get over quickly). And entertainment is what the book is all about. It explores the effect that entertainment and addiction to entertainment in the form of television, movies, shows and ofcourse substance has on us, and how sometimes the mere want of “infinite jest” may leave us dolorous and destitute. It also sits cross legged, besides depression and looks deep into it’s eyes. Such a moving and empathetic account of humans struggling with their emotions is probably unprecedented. Just for the betterment of the selfish and harsh world, it is my wish for people to understand what depression and anxiety really feel like, so that the least we can do is support someone in times of need instead of ridiculing them.
DFW was such a clever guy with so much to say about the human condition that he put seminal parts of the book in the endnotes (which sometimes have footnotes themselves). This aspect makes reading the book an active deed where you page through to reach the said endnotes. The text demands your attention and it will be able to do so easily with just the way it is written, as it in itself is very addictive and entertaining. While writing, DFW predicted a general direction in which the world and its population would go in in the internet age, and yet remain grounded to the inherent human emotions and facilities. What we have in the book is a profound sense of ennui bundled with super-fast internet where everything is supposedly in your grasp. Sounds known?
Infinite Jest spoke both of its time, and transcended it all together as DFW had predicted services like video calling (and why it won’t ever replace telephonic conversations), Netflix, and infact even a character like Donald Trump. This book should reverberate along the path to future, and posterity should be as excited as I have been about it.
With so much of aggrandizement some criticism is necessary. A few parts of the book seem to drag and are difficult to get invested into. You cannot read the book in any place which doesn’t provide you quiet. David Lipsky once said, “To read David Foster Wallace was to feel your eyelids pulled open.” A very fitting description, and infact the only way to read this book for maximum satisfaction. Due to the length and complexity of the book, a few details which were mentioned in the beginning might get cloudy by the time you reach the end of the book. The use of colloquial street language might seem too tough initially. However, for both the aforementioned negatives, these links may be of help.
WHY SHOULD YOU READ INFINITE JEST?
If you feel that there is something wrong with the world, or with yourself, and there is a sense of entrapment, an itch you know exists but you can’t fathom where it is and hence are incapable of scratching it, then this is a book for you. And personally, that existential question is very resonant.
If you want to meet some of the most weirdest and charming characters existing in a world which questions fame, terrorism, politics, desire, heeding self-satiation and much more, and explores the deep recesses of the human mind in an unprecedented fashion then this is a book for you.
If we can agree that art shouldn’t always be easily accessible, and once you have worked your socks of on it, the reward is that much grander, Infinite Jest is for you.
Once you read this masterpiece, a lot will change. You will feel sharper, will be able to put in more hours into stuff and emotionally will feel better and more empathetic. And ofcourse, in the process attain Infinite Jest.