“Reading Infinite Jest After a Year on the Wagon”

Infinite Jest‘s 20th anniversary is February 23*, and all the editorials and think pieces about people’s reading experiences and Saint David are popping up all over the inter webs.  This one, “Reading Infinite Jest After a Year on the Wagon,” however, really gets at what I suspected to be the case.  When Canelli and I whinge about slogging through it, it’s because neither of us had to deal with substantial and debilitating addiction.**  You can pretty much skip the first half of this short essay; the money shot is in the last five paragraphs.

In that sense, you can’t blow through Infinite Jest. You can’t expect to meander through the pages and emerge with any meaningful understanding—a lesson I fully learned after a horrible weekend of trying to cruise through 200 pages. It didn’t take long, but I quickly understood that my approach to reading this book had to mirror my newfound approach to life: to mimic a phrase that feels cringe-worthy but no less true, I had to take the text one day at a time. I had to comprehend that there are no shortcuts in either sobriety and Wallace’s fiction. There was no exit door. Also, it’s worth mentioning that both cutting booze and reading Infinite Jest drew their fair share of eye-rolls and sarcastic comments in friendly conversations. Both, also, seemed to be worth the ridicule.

We have to commend/applaud/appreciate what DFW did here.  We also have to recoil in horror when, following DFW’s established fictional M.O., we think about what The Pale King was supposed to be.

* Holy shit, the same day I moved to NYC back in 2004!

** That is, I assume Canelli has never had to deal with that.  I’m still drinking four Pepsi cans a day, waiting 20 years for the supposed kidney stones people said I would get.

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