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235 of 295 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The other dimension of my life., March 5, 2000
This review is from: Infinite Jest: A Novel (Hardcover)
How is it that one novel can cause half its readers to put ZERO STARS - I HATE THIS BOOK and the other half to write I WISH I HAD 100 STARS TO GIVE? I am, obviously, in the second category. I found a copy in an outlet bookstore for 6 bucks and thought, "What the hell?" Since I am a literature student and already have to read 3-4 novels a week, it took me months to finish, but now that it's over, I am genuinely sad. The entire time I was reading it, I felt like my life had another dimension that was going on while I attended my university classes, saw friends, etc. Everyone I spoke to knows a couple of the plotlines of Infinite Jest because that's all I could talk about.
So many of the readers who did not love this book from deep in their hearts (as I do) want to compare and categorize and throw off Wallace as being pretentious. How sad! Unlike pretentious referential authors like Joyce, everything you need to understand Infinite Jest is there on the page. Sure, maybe it helps if you have some basic knowledge of theoretical physics and mathematics, but any reading on any topic requires a different level of previous experience, and that experience is not even necessary to enjoy the beautiful, sensitive, funny, HUMAN stories in IJ. This is not a cold scientific something -- this is pure human compassion and frustration and reminds me of what it means to be an American at the turn of the new century. (This is, of course, to say nothing of Wallace's prose, which sends me, as a writer, into alternating fits of jealousy and lust.)
I'm not trying to sell this book to all people everywhere -- it is a fact that most people over a certain age will find this book philosophically and structurally incomprehensible. I am 20 years old, and this kind of writing and the themes it deals with are closer and more real to me than hundreds of years of historical fiction. Having grown up in an age when entertainment is fast and hard and omnipresent (a fact which, like Wallace, I am slow to comdemn harshly), a novel like this reaffirms my belief in the medium. We haven't outgrown our literary past, and, much as films are becoming less linear (making less sense to the old and so much more to the young -- see "Magnolia"), the novel itself is learning, through authors like Wallace, to become the new animal that the upcoming generation needs to allow the medium to survive. The old avant-garde is tired now and needs to be put to bed.
Thank God for David Foster Wallace. Its because of him that I haven't quit writing yet.
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Showing 1-10 of 26 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 10, 2007 8:51:55 AM PST
TL says:
You may call Joyce self-indulgent, most specifically in Finnegans Wake, but pretentious (on the basis of 'outside knowledge' being needed to enjoy the work) is a claim that is false at its core. Foster, as well as his literary forebearer Pynchon, is best read (Joyce falls here as well) with a bit of background. This, considering the intentional esotericism of the authors, is to be expected. But a MA in literature is not necessary to enjoy any of these authors.

I, of course, separate the pre-Finnegans Wake Joyce, with his team of literary-linguists assembling mountains of paper filled with puns and portmanteaus, from the 'other' Joyce. Ulysses is certainly a difficult work to assess without a bit of help, as is Gravity's Rainbow, Infinite Jest, and myriad other 'post-modern' works. Yet, while Infinite Jest is an easier read than Ulysses, it is important to remember that Infinite Jest and Gravity's Rainbow would not exist without the prominent influence of Joyce's masterpiece.

Posted on Feb 10, 2007 7:03:06 PM PST
Jack Flack says:
"How is it that one novel can cause half its readers to put ZERO STARS - I HATE THIS BOOK and the other half to write I WISH I HAD 100 STARS TO GIVE?"

The answer is simple. Some people are easily entertained. The young tend to think everything they have difficulty understanding is interesting and/or intelligent. This book is proof they are wrong. This book is complex, but a waste dump also has complexity. That doesn't make it interesting or intelligent. The young also operate under the illusion that they have unlimted time in this life. Those who are older realize that time is limited. It is in fact too limited to spend reading this type of self congratulatory verbal diarrhea.

Posted on May 19, 2007 1:57:20 AM PDT
I am 60 years old, and I also found the the book to be "sensitve, human, funny, and thoughtful". It hooked me in a lot of the same ways that the HBO series, The Sopranos, has over the last six seasons. I guess that means an old media dog can learn new tricks. CS

Posted on Aug 23, 2007 7:19:39 AM PDT
B. C. Palmer says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Sep 14, 2007 1:24:38 PM PDT
moviejonny says:
Just wanted to say that your description of how you felt on finishing this book - "Sad...I felt like my life had another dimension that was going on while I attended my university classes, saw friends, etc." - was spot on. Despite all reason, when I finished I actually wanted to start over and read it again. I certainly respect the many different responses people have to this book, but I can't abide the critics (either the ones who love the book or who hate the book) who claim that their opinion is the only valid one, and that those who disagree with them are idiots.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 14, 2007 1:39:11 PM PDT
moviejonny says:
I think it's a shame that you have such a generally dismissive opinion of "the young." Art, by its nature, will appeal to some and not appeal to others. The idea that there is a single objective standard of what is good or worthy and what sucks or is unworthy is naive. A 1000+ page novel with copious footnotes (and sub-footnotes and sub-sub-footnotes) will obviously be polarizing. I liked it - you didn't. (And, I should point out, I didn't have difficulty understanding it - I just liked it.) It doesn't make me an idiot, or you an idiot, or DFW an idiot. But take "Mason & Dixon" for another example - a novel that critics crawled all over themselves to praise. I found it nearly unreadable, and in fact didn't finish it. Does this make me an idiot, or the critics wrong? No - it just means I disagreed. I have a friend who gave "The Godfather" 2 stars in an online review. I can't think of a single bad review I've ever read of "The Godfather." Does this make my friend wrong? No. It makes her a distinct minority, but it doesn't make her wrong. I for one respect her audacity.

Posted on Oct 7, 2007 12:48:29 PM PDT
I have to agree (as let's see now a 28 year old?) that Infinite Jest is one of the great achievements of the 1990s. I first read this book when I was 18, and re-read it two years ago. It's an incredibly engaging book, and, yes, it is very "smart" -- although as someone trained in mathematics and philosophy I found it far more accessible than, say, Joyce. In many ways, the sprawling world of the Academy reminds me a little of something like Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game -- though extensively massaged and humanized -- and part of IJ's appeal to just-post-adolescents is it's creation of such a fantasy world. When I first read it, it was this part of the novel I devoured. But DFW's portrait of the halfway house -- the counterpoint to Enfield Tennis Academy -- is stunning, and coming back to the novel at 26 it was this depiction of the "flip side" of addiction that held me.

I am really happy to see this new edition. I'm also happy to see that many of the hipster youf of 2007 are carrying it around, as I did back in 1996. I get a little frustrated when friends of mine -- ex-English majors! -- declare the book "too hard" because of DFW's penchant for involuted philosophical and mathematical horseplay. They're used to "hard" when it's kitted out in historical allusion, but seem not to want to do the work to get up to speed with DFW. Who is, let me repeat, far more readable than Joyce of Ulysses.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 11, 2007 8:42:28 PM PDT
Jack Flack is a posteradult for the "The-Kids-These-Days-Don't-Know-Nothin'" school of unlimited closed mindedness. I am 39, just shy of DFW's current age, and a bit older than DFW at IJ's publication. I read quite a bit and consider myself to be of significantly above average intelligence, but no authority on literature of my or any other generation. I agree that there is plenty of room for criticism of IJ and expect that many highly intelligent literary souls of all ages will find IJ tiresome and lacking in merit on many fronts. Nonetheless, IJ spoke to me as no other piece of fiction written in my lifetime. Much like the way Hunter S. Thompson's more journalistic efforts blew me away in their ability to express to me what I think about his subjects (in ways that I cannot replicate through my own experience and subsequent solitary debriefings), IJ singularly succeeds in displaying the artform of the post-modern fiction of my generation. Jack Flack's review is simply part of the art. I laughed at him while reading IJ (and about 10 years before I read his review). I can only wait for complaints about the lenghth and detail of IJ's footnote detailing Hal's father's "filmography".

Posted on Jan 2, 2008 2:20:10 PM PST
Amidanshi says:
Your review is sparkling and reverberates my own feelings (as a 31-year-old) about IJ. I finished the book on Christmas Eve at 11:30pm, and at 11:35pm, I was already rereading passages. I've spent the last 14 months with IJ (not that I'm a slow reader, but that I don't spend enough time with my books), so it truly does feel like the loss of another dimension of my life.

My hugely ambitious goal for 2006 had been to read one "intro" book and one magnum opus from each of several authors. I handled The Broom of the System and The Crying of Lot 49 quickly enough but, as I mentioned, it took all of 2007 to finish IJ. It was thoroughly worth it: perhaps I prolonged the experience because, like the entertainment cartridge, the book itself was overwhelmingly (if not lethally) entertaining. For now, though, it's time to dig into Gravity's Rainbow...

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 6, 2008 1:49:43 PM PDT
movie: so it's your opinion that it's wrong to think that one's opinion is the only valid opinion. so i suppose you're totally open to the possibility that my opinion that only my opinion is right, is possibly a valid opinion? it's tough work being so totally enlightened and open-minded, isn't it?
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