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John C. Rowland ( RSS Feed (Oxford, OH)

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Infinite Jest: A Novel
Infinite Jest: A Novel
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Paperback
88 used & new from $4.36

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars two pounds of hilarity and pain, November 18, 1997
This review is from: Infinite Jest: A Novel (Paperback)
Living in an nation where we all share the "inalienable" right and bear the legal burden of an unending "pursuit of happiness," I feel people have a responsibility to themselves (and others) to set aside 30-50 hours and give David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest a serious read. Despite the book's imposing girth, a vocabulary that sends the well-read scuttling for a dictionary, several hundred endnotes, a seemlingly endless disjointed catalog of outlandishly crippled and damaged characters, and the reader's final unsatisfying realizations of dissolution, I haven't felt this strongly about a book for years.
Infinite Jest's characters and plots at first seem foreign and hard to understand, but as the pages turn, they become friends whose dilemmas become more accessible than your own problems. Characters such as Hal Incandenza, the pot-addicted tennis player who memorizes dictionaries and trapped between the exploded legacy of a father and a terrifyingly pleasant mother; and Don Gately, a heroic square-headed Demerol addict, start out disjointed and at the periphery of the text become the two counterpoints in a story about something larger than their problems. The Quebecois terrorists in wheelchairs, numerous drug addictions and occasional perversions, feral hamsters, childhood flashbacks, apocalyptic tennis games, and cinema theory all start to come together clearly around page 200 to form a pattern of ideas much greater than the sum of the parts.
With a firm grasp of the innate absurdity of humanity, a ton of pomo irony, a sweeping dystopic vision of a future, and a keen understanding of psychological disorder, Wallace offers an insightful indictment of a society, our society. It is a place totally disconnected from itself, intrinsically damaged, forcing the inhabitants of this culture to escape into self-feeding forces of further disconnection. Wallace manages to make his point without actually saying it-nowhere in the book does he saddle a high horse and beat the reader over the head with his 1000+ pages of prose. Instead, he presents the complex perspectives of impossibly comedic and hurt characters vaguely intertwined in a struggle which is never fully explained and his point is made.
I found the messages of Infinite Jest reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's dystopic observations in his Brave New World. That future of scientific predetermined mindless pleasure, addresses one of today's pressing problems of the role of meaning, truth, and pleasure, in a society continually engaging in acts of diversionary mental masturbation. It is about freedom gone awry as individuals have lost control. In writing about the point of Brave New World, Huxley notes:
"The early advocates of [...] a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened [...] the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main with neither the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." [Brave New World Revisited (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 28-29.]
Both Infinite Jest and Brave New World lack the convenient and centralized evil of Orwell's 1984, only the undefined evil of individual consumers who lose themselves and others as they blindly attempt a futile escape from their culture. Wallace's vision is much more terrifying, insightful, less preachy, and more believable than Huxley's; delivered as a form of hilarious entertainment; and is worth a serious read.

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