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.'  

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Truman Show

I wonder if Truman Show moments might be as common for some people now as deja vu. I experienced one this morning as I turned from the Lloyds bank ATM in Bangor and looked towards the Big Issue saleswoman who always stands on the corner where JD Sports used to be. She always wears a headscarf, a check shirt, and a skirt which capaciously displays Islamic art; she always whistles on the 'sh' sound of Issue in a way that reminds you of the difficulty, now, of getting a National Health dentist. As I turned, I saw her pat her hair under the scarf as though she was conscious of being on camera, and that caused the Truman double-take (of course, given the ubiquity of cctv in town centres, we're all on camera there). But maybe it's also a small-town effect - in places like Bangor you constantly see the same faces even though they're strangers, and, if you see a number of them one after the other, it's like being surrounded by minor celebrities.