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“Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 12: Final Thoughts

InfiniteJest

LIFE IS LIKE TENNIS
THOSE WHO SERVE
BEST USUALLY WIN

(p. 952)

So what can I say about a massive 1000-page book that uses tennis and drug addiction to explain life in the millennial age? This book is probably not for everyone, but if you have the fortitude to read it, I’m sure you will gain insights from doing so. Personally, I’m glad I read it. While there were some slow parts, particularly those that gave more detail on the technical aspects of tennis than were possibly needed (similar to Melville’s lengthy descriptions of the workings of whaling ships), as a whole, the book kept my interest and there were certainly parts that I would consider brilliant.

I figured I would say a little about the writing style. Wallace is able to change voices throughout the text, and the language of the various characters is very natural and believable. For me, this is the sign of a skilled wordsmith. I particularly enjoyed the way he played with the words, altering spelling in order to capture the nuances of regional accents.

So I will close out this series on Infinite Jest with an existential question and a quote. Is our life nothing more than an ironic joke? (Note similarities between “ironic joke” (IJ) and “Infinite Jest” (IJ).) I suspect Camus would love to weigh in on this one. With that, I’ll leave you with one last quote from the book:

‘I don’t know that he ever even got a finished Master. That’s your story. There wasn’t anything unendurable or enslaving in either of my scenes. Nothing like these actual-perfection rumors. These are academic rumors. He talked about making something quote too perfect. But it was a joke. He had a thing about entertainment, being criticized about entertainment v. nonentertainment and stasis. He used to refer to the Work itself as “entertainments.” He always meant it ironically. Even in jokes he never talked about an anti-version or antidote for God’s sake. He’d never carry it that far. A joke.’

‘…’

‘When he talked about this thing as a quote perfect entertainment, terminally compelling – it was always ironic – he was having a sly little jab at me. I used to go around saying the veil was to disguise lethal perfection, that I was too lethally beautiful for people to stand. It was a kind of joke I’d gotten from one of his entertainments, the Medusa-Odalisk thing. That even in U.H.I.D. I hid by hiddenness, in denial about the deformity itself. So Jim took a failed piece and told me it was too perfect to release – it’d paralyze people. It was entirely clear that it was an ironic joke. To me.’

(p. 940)


 

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

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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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