Sunday, 10 June 2012

David Foster Wallace

One of the things that's different about reading on a Kindle is that you don't know how long the book is that you've downloaded. So I was puzzled, reading Infinite Jest, when the percentage numbers seemed to get stuck - puzzled until I saw it in a bookshop and discovered it's a thousand pages long. That's about three times as long as it should be. It contains brilliant ideas, and some completely convincing writing of a conventional sort - evocations of the early life of a tennis professional, descriptions of AA meetings etc. But it's in an American postmodernist tradition, Pynchon being the obvious model, eg in its group of paraplegic Quebequois terrorists, and it eschews conventional plot development. The clue there is in its core metaphor in the work of one of its more elusive characters, the film director James O. Incandenza, who is said to have an 'anti-confluential' theory of film structure, meaning that separate plot strands are not joined together. Infinite Jest  is also anti-confluential, - though the different strands sometimes infringe on each other, they never meet in any sort of resolution. Clearly you're meant to be frustrated by that, it's the major plot point, but it seems to me to lose one of the greatest resources of the novel as a form, and inflicts injury on a reader willing to commit themselves to a work of such length. However, it's certainly worth dipping into (maybe that's the reading model you're supposed to adopt?) because it contains brilliantly witty moments, as in this from its spoof Incandenza filmography:

Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell ... God and Satan play poker with Tarot cards for the soul of an alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman obsessed with Bernini's 'The Ecstasy of St.Teresa.'