September 15, 2008 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Books | September 15, 2008 |


David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest was the most difficult, most challenging book I’ve ever read. It was 1300 pages of intensely dense prose, replete with pages-long endnotes, paragraphs that went on for pages, and prose you needed a dictionary and a weed whacker to slog through. It took me six weeks in the summer of 1999 to read it. I’m a guy that believes a book should look like a properly used baseball-uniform when you’re done with it: Worn-in and stained, with a few holes in it. My copy of Infinite Jest, which sits tattered, shredded, and broken on my bookshelf, suffered almost as much as I did reading it.

But it was also one of the most rewarding novels I’ve ever read, nevermind that it took 1300 pages to get to the narrative hook, only to abruptly end (grrrrr). The mere act of digesting Infinite Jest makes your brain grow in ways that you can physically feel. And whether you liked the book or not, it was hard not to feel an intense connection to the author, like a professor you hated for pushing you to your intellectual limits but, in time, learned to appreciate.

When I heard that DFW had hanged himself over the weekend, that summer of 1999 came flooding back to me. Infinite Jest wasn’t just a book, it was an experience, one its own set of memories — late nights, break-room lunches, subway rides, and the little looks that friends and work colleagues gave you when they saw that, six weeks after you’d begun, you were still carrying around that ratty-ass novel. Like soldiers in a literary battlefield facing the Vietcong of prose, those who have read Infinite Jest share an invisible bond.

I didn’t know David Foster Wallace. I’d read just a few interviews, so the only familiarity I had with DFW was through his writing. I knew more than a few people who thought he was pretentious, needlessly esoteric, and willfully difficult for the sake of being difficult, but while I admit it often felt like he was showing off, his prose — and those brilliant, ahead-of-their-time ideas — were always impressive. David Foster Wallace was impressive.

I have no idea why the man hanged himself, though Ranylt used a respectful reference to the “Infinite Noose,” or “the idea that creative types are infinitely caught in it as suicides.” That I didn’t get the reference, and that I thought it was on the morbid side, was only because I’d forgotten what Infinite Jest had taught me: That words have more meaning than what’s on their face — you often just have to work hard to get there. And I’m sure, if we all worked hard enough, we’d find millions of clues in DFW’s work to suggest why he took his own life. And maybe that was the final challenge DFW posed: “Here’s my body of work, go figure it out.”

But even if we don’t, even if no one ever does — suicides are impossible to understand, after all — there’s more that you can learn in a single DFW novel than you can in a library of bestsellers. If only you’re willing to put in the hard, intellectual work to do so.

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Infinite Noose


David Foster Wallace 1962 - 2008 / Dustin Rowles

Books | September 15, 2008 | Comments ()



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