I am attempting to read David Foster Wallace’s very large novel and write about the experience as I go. That is all.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Beach read

From Books, by Charlie Hill:
He held a small rucksack. In it, a pair of shorts, a shirt, two pairs of pants, a pair of flip-flops and a beach read. The book was by David Foster Wallace. Richard had put his favourite ‘Gone Readin’’ sign in the window of the shop and he hoped that this would be the case: he’d started the bloody thing half a dozen times and had yet to get beyond the first ten pages.
Well, I got beyond 10.

Monday, 19 May 2014

More excuses

I really was going to get started again. But I got distracted by this instead.

Actually, is there mileage in a blog about *not* reading a book?

Sunday, 27 April 2014

That Dave Eggers review

Oh dear. Yes, I know, I know. I’ll get back to it, I really will. But in the meantime, here’s a review of Infinite Jest by Dave Eggers. He didn’t seem to like it quite so much as he does now.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

What happened there?

Sorry, if anybody should happen to read this. Real life and all that. I did keep reading for a while, but couldn’t put into words what I wanted to say. And without the discipline of writing, the reading ground to a halt. 

Maybe I’ll get back into it. Or maybe I should just check into rehab. In the meantime, here’s Robin Ince on pretending to have read Infinite Jest.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Twelve: Winter B.S. 1960 – Tucson AZ (B)

Sorry, was distracted again.

In the “SELECTED TRANSCRIPTS OF THE RESIDENT-INTERFACE-DROP-IN-HOURS” we’re essentially presented with clips, samples of dialogue, which are unattributed but we’re presumably supposed to be able to place (some of?) them by reference back to previous sections in the book that made no sense whatsoever at the time, but it all falls together when we realise that these disconnected individuals are all residents at Ennet House. It’s almost as if DFW wants to check whether you’ve been paying attention, I suppose.

So I’ll infer that the first speaker, the one annoyed by the drumming fingers, is Kate Gompert; the one who demands a definition of “alcoholic” (and refers in passing to the Kemp and Limbaugh administrations, alt-history of the scariest kind) is the lawyer Tiny Ewell, in the same chapter; but then it gets blurry. Whoever complains about the contents of the toilet bowl does do in terms (“All I can say is if it was produced by anything human then I have to say I’m really worried. Don’t even ask me to describe it.”) that echo the deans’ response to Hal’s voice in the first chapter. The one talking about the harelip is Bruce Green (see the reference to Mildred); and I’m guessing that Erdedy and Gately and others are in here as well. Can anyone offer anything more coherent?

There’s definitely a feeling of strands being pulled together here; if one is allowed to be a wee bit poncy, and it’s my blog so why the hell not, it’s as if Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey has been rewritten in the style of USA by John Dos Passos. This seems to be a novel with multiple beginnings, or maybe none.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

What words really mean

OK, OK, the Ennett House unattributed speech thing is nearly done. Meanwhile, a little something about DFW’s experiments in lexicography.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Twelve: Winter B.S. 1960 – Tucson AZ (A)

Without getting too ideological on your ass, Infinite Jest seems (so far at least) to be a rather blokey affair. OK, we’ve had The Moms and Millicent, Kate Gompert and Clenette and Mildred Bonk; and we might even be generous and include Helen/James Steeply. But there’s far more about Hal and his brothers and his variously gifted colleagues.

And now the chapter begins with a bit of chest-beating self-pity; James (Himself) is that way because his dad was that way and so was his dad and so on. The child is father to the man, we deduce through the gaps in the thicket of sport and cars and booze and Marlon Brando. “I’ve seen your long shadow grotesquely backlit,” the father bellows from 1960, but his shadow is just as long, haunting down the generations like Old Hamlet. [Thinks: A production of Hamlet with 1950s Brando as the Prince and late, fat Brando as the Ghost.]

...and it’s Pemulis again, going about his shady business, with another passing reference to Ennett House. The narrative shifts from the well-dressed piss-dealer to a discussion of DMZ, a drug I’d assumed to be fictional until I came across this:
I have two questions related to the steroid DMZ. First being is it safe to take? I am an 18 year highschool student at about 6'2 170, extremely lean and very athletic (I'm going to a large SEC school on a full scholarship for tennis in the fall) but I'm looking to put on some size. I have been working out hard and smart for the past 8 months, been taking protein daily and have pretty much doubled in strength but I'm not put on the visible size I was expecting.
...which could all be an elaborate bit of role-play on the part of an over-zealous DFW fan, but the responses seem to suggest that DMZ is a drug, albeit a steroid rather than a hallucinogen. Of course, they may be in on the act as well.

And as Pemulis gets back to ETA he finds Hal reading Hamlet. See, told you. And Hal’s speech for Mario’s film feels at first like one of the droney self-help mantras accompanied by footage of Stan Smith but it’s more father-son-father stuff:
Have a father whose own father lost what was there. Have a father who lived up to his own promise and then found thing after thing to meet and surpass the expectations of his promise in, and didn’t seem just a whole hell of a lot happier than his own failed father, leaving you yourself in a kind of feral and flux-ridden state with respect to talent.
And for some reason I start to think of:
Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honor's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep, while to my shame I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth! (Hamlet, act IV, scene 4)
Essentially, the inevitable futility of trying to live up to any standards other than one’s own; whether you’re trying to impress a father or a country. And for more disappointment, meet the inmates of Ennett House (coming next).

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Eleven: 3 November Y.D.A.U. (C)

Videophony is one of Wallace’s predictions that really has come to pass, even if some of the incidental details are different. Of course, it didn’t require an enormous imaginative leap on DFW’s part, as one-to-one audio-visual communication has been a science-fiction trope going way back; see Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm (1932), for example.

So I’ve known about it for far longer than it’s existed in practical form; and yet I’ve never particularly liked the idea. Now I have Skype, but I have no particular wish to inflict my horrible face upon the person to whom I’m talking and to be honest I can take it or leave it whether I can see them or not. And Wallace’s farcical description of “video-physiognomic dysphoria”, and the “optimistically misrepresentational masking” and “transmittable tableaux” used to combat it, sums up all my reasons for resistance. (Although to be honest, I’ve never much liked audio phone conversations either; or, for the most part, face-to-face contact. The first time I sent an e-mail, in about 1993, I experienced a dizzy little rush, similar to when I first heard a song by The Smiths; it just felt right, somehow.)

Of course, Wallace’s satire is not directed at the technology per se. It’s about the many madnesses of consumer capitalism; punters are encouraged to make incremental spends on innovations that supposedly cure one problem (that you never knew you had) only to throw up a new problem (that you never had before but, hey, here’s someone with a cure that you can buy). And they all become agoraphobic but that doesn’t matter; capitalism can find you, wherever you are.

…and the clearest manifestation of such capitalism at the Enfield Tennis Academy is Michael Pemulis with his “warm pale innocent childish urine”, sold from a battered hotdog tray. But Wallace is rather less cutting about this example of entrepreneurial spirit; it’s more of a hook upon which to hang various members of the ETA community and the respective roles they play in the big, dysfunctional family structure:
...Mario will be the only one of the Incandenza children not wildly successful as a professional athlete. No one who knows Mario could imagine that this fact will ever occur to him.
I do like Wallace’s treatment of Mario, refusing to let us feel any pity for him. Ennet House also gets another mention, as a source of cheap labour for Michael’s endeavours, helping to facilitate the very “self-abuse” that got them into trouble in the first place. Also, note the ONAN heraldic design:
...a snarling full-front eagle with a broom and can of disinfectant in one claw and a Maple Leaf in the other and wearing a sombrero and appearing to have about half-eaten a swatch of star-studded cloth...
The various components of North America are all present and correct, but why the cleaning materials? Wasn’t there a waste truck involved somewhere during the Mario/Millicent encounter? Clean? Getting clean (Ennet; Michael’s clean urine)?

Oh, incidentally, do check out the ever-droll Expat@Large on fat and/or difficult books in general, including Infinite Jest.