Having the opportunity to experience anyone else's read of Infinite Jest is the closest one can get to that experience of reading it for the first time again. Jon Beasley-Murray's commentary is rewarding and well worth checking out:
For some time I have been wanting to teach a course on long books. In the first instance, this is a response to the common student complaint that the books I set are “too long.” I want them to think, then, about what it means for a book to be “too long.” I want them to reflect first on the irony that many of the books that are popular among people their age are long, and increasingly so: think of the ever-expanding length of the successive Harry Potter installments, for instance, though more generally much young adult fiction comes in weighty tomes, often a whole series of them. And yet they start to complain as soon as a novel set for class is more than a couple of hundred pages, grumbling that such longer books are “wordy” or boring. Is it really length then that is at issue? Why are some books too long, while others, no shorter, are not? Or to put this in more general terms: why are long books long? What can or does a long book do that a shorter one can’t?
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is undoubtedly a long book, one of the longest of its kind in recent times. Its title already raises the notion of boundlessness (though a book can never quite be “infinite,” can it?) as well as the possibility that its very length may be a joke, perhaps at the reader’s expense. Is this a long-form shaggy dog story? Does its effect then depend upon the extended build-up to a punchline that will never quite feel just reward for the patience its delayed arrival has enforced upon us? Perhaps the most famous such shaggy dog novel in twentieth-century US literature is Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, but that comes in at a breezy 275 pages, compared to Infinite Jest’s 1079 (footnotes included). At present, I’m only a hundred pages in, and whatever follows I can already attest to the playfulness of Wallace’s novel: it is often funny, sometimes quite absurd. And it is also clear that its author is playing with us, teasing his readers with allusions that are obscure at present but that will (we hope and expect) become clear in the future.
Continue reading the first post here.
Index to all the Posthegemony Infinite Jest posts.