Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 2

InfiniteJest

But I look at these guys that’ve been here six, seven years, eight years, still suffering, hurt, beat up, so tired, just like I feel tired and suffer, I feel this what, dread, this dread, I see seven or eight years of unhappiness every day and day after day of tiredness and stress and suffering stretching ahead, and for what, for a chance at a like a pro career that I’m starting to get this dready feeling a career in the Show means even more suffering, if I’m skeletally stressed from all the grueling here by the time I get there.

(p. 109)

In this passage, Hal is expressing his feelings about working so hard at the tennis academy for the chance of becoming a pro, which would ultimately result in more hard work and stress. I found this to be a poignant metaphor for our society and the Sisyphean plight that most people face. The majority of Americans toil and stress in the early years of their lives to get themselves established in a career. The cruel joke is that once you attain your career goal, then you have to work just as hard to maintain your position, because there is a new and younger person coming up who wants your job. You are forced to prove your worth every day, and to constantly struggle to improve yourself, otherwise you will be deemed expendable and cast aside as something that’s obsolete or no longer needed.

This taps into the existential question of what is the purpose of this life. I’ve thought of this often, ever since the first time I read Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus as a teenager. We struggle and toil all our lives, chasing this ideal which we never really seem to reach, pushing the symbolic boulder only to have it tumble to the bottom and having to begin the process over again. The sense of futility can become crippling.

So how does one overcome this problem? For me, it was a shift in priorities. While success in my career is still important, I choose not to make it the most important thing in my life. I try to keep my family, my spirituality, my creativity, my intellectual curiosity, all above my desire for material success. That does not mean that I would shirk my responsibilities regarding work—anyone who knows me knows that is not who I am. But I always remember that there are things in this life that are more important than a career. I refuse to be one of those people who lie on a death bed, looking back at a life which was nothing but struggle, and having regret be my last thoughts in this world.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 2

  1. Things we read as teenagers sometimes need to be returned to. Camus’ Sisyphus is a hero whose human, earthly work he does in a state of grace, as the essay overturns the usual misconceptions of this great myth. “Sisyphus,” he writes, “proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory.” It is to this I am referring in my post “State of Grace,” if you want to know the truth.

  2. I keep getting this book recommended by people, but somehow it always give me a ‘meh’ feeling, but reading this in the way you write it, open and personal, is really making me reconsider.

    • Hi Oloriel! I hope you had a wonderful holiday.

      For me, when I read, I always try to find something which I can relate to my life, my thoughts, my feelings, etc. It is very rare that I read something which I don’t relate to at all (there are a couple). Anyway, this is such a huge book so there is a lot of sifting involved before you uncover the gold, so to speak. I’m about 1/4 of the way through it now. I’ll keep posting my thoughts as I work through it. Let me know if you decide to give it another shot, but by all means, don’t force yourself to read it if you are not connecting with it. 🙂

      Cheers and blessing for the New Year!

      Jeff

      • I think what puts me of with this book is how it is critically described. Whenever I read descriptions of it and passages various people share, it feels kinda like a textbook, a schoolbook, if you get what I mean. I find most reviews to be too cold and distant as well, which makes me feel like the book did not manage to leave an impact on the reader.
        Thank you for the blessings, I wish the same to you!Joy, good health, love, happiness, money and lots of books and reviews in 2016! 😀

  3. I so appreciate this musing, Jeff (and always appreciate DFWs writings). Your wording is apt: “I found this to be a poignant metaphor for our society and the Sisyphean plight that most people face.” It is Sisyphean. I’ve experimented into a priority shift as well (and continue living into that question!). Thanks for this article. I look forward to others on Infinite Jest, etc. A wonder- and joy-filled 2016 to you. ~ Jamie

  4. Pingback: “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 12: Final Thoughts | Stuff Jeff Reads

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