Guides, Miscellaneous

Amanda French: ∞/2

08.02.09 | 4 Comments

The midpoint of Infinite Jest is rapidly approaching (next Thursday, according to the schedule). What better time to organize meet-ups, so that readers in various cities can discuss their progress through the novel?

Militant Grammarians in the audience will notice a conspicuous lack of actor in the preceding sentence. Specifically, we did not say that we would be organizing said meet-ups. Instead, we’re going to do what we do best: come up with a snappy title (“∞/2”) and crowdsource the actual work.

So, if you’d like to organize a meet-up in Your Fair City, head on over to the forums and start coordinating, champ. And here’s Amanda French–who has been hosting get-togethers from the get-go, with some tips on ensuring that your meet-up doesn’t wind up as an Eschaton-scale debacle.

Putting together an Infinite Jest meetup just can’t be the same as putting together another kind of reading group, can it? My mother used to belong to a book club that met monthly in one or another of the members’ comfortable houses, with plenty of food and wine and good fellowship. They’d read books such as Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Jane Austen Book Club and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which are all very good books, books that fit well into pleasant surroundings. Reading Infinite Jest, on the other hand, is and should be a little uncomfortable sometimes. After deciding to do Infinite Summer, I put together a weekly meetup in Greenwich Village in New York City, and I’ve done my best to keep it just uncomfortable enough to be interesting. Here are my thoughts on how to do something similar.

  • Hold it in a bar. This a good place in which to discuss addiction to pleasure.
  • Do not hold it in a sports bar, not even if they’re showing tennis on the TVs. Sports bars are too loud for conversation.
  • Name a place and time that seems reasonable and stick to that, even if some people find it inconvenient. You’ll be arranging this with and for strangers via technologies that mediate communication, and so it’s not the best time for group decision-making. Announce it on the Infinite Summer forum for meetups, and if you use other means of publicity, include the link to that announcement.
  • Make up for this Schtittian intransigence by adopting the same policy as AA: No one can be kicked out. Don’t try to get people to show up every time, or a certain number of times, or on time, or having read as far as the Spoiler Line on the schedule, or not having read any farther than the Spoiler Line on the schedule. Let people come when, if, and however they will.
  • Promise to be there at the same time every time for the duration of Infinite Summer, even if no one shows up. If you wind up alone, you can always use the time to read. Veiled, if you prefer.
  • At the first meeting, now that you’re all relatively unmediated, you can and should make a group decision: how to run the discussions. Do they want you, as the organizer, to come up with a central question or topic every week? Should a different person lead the discussion every week? Are certain topics (such as David Foster Wallace’s life) off limits? Should it be entirely free-form and unstructured?
  • Also decide, at the first meeting, on the chief method of group communication. Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, phone, Infinite Summer forums–or fora? Should it be fora?
  • Ask every newcomer to say why they’re reading the book, whether they’ve read it before, whether they’ve read any Wallace before, stuff like that. Just because all that turns out to be very interesting.
  • Send reminders a day or two before every meeting, with the time, place, and the proper page number from the Infinite Summer schedule.

Here are some of the ways our discussions stay uncomfortable: we never know exactly what we’re going to discuss, people have read to different places in the book, people talk at length about Wallace books and short stories that others haven’t read, people talk at length about works that others haven’t read like Ulysses and The Corrections, people talk at length about Infinite Summer blog posts and forum threads that others haven’t read, people bring up the suicide, people recount tales of how they once met David Foster Wallace, people talk about their own drug use, people show off how smart they are, people admit that they don’t understand, people ask what the hell is up with Orin that he and all the other football players are attracted to Steeply, people get completely grossed out by the formless blob with the Raquel Welch mask and the hooker with the dead baby, people get completely annoyed by the footnotes, people go off on boring technology tangents about how wrong Wallace was to think that we’d still have viewing cartridges and floppy disks and telephones attached to walls, people start talking about the movie The Ring, people feel that they’re on the verge of realizing something important about the book but can’t put it into words, people stop all rational discussion and just sit around saying how fucking great the book is and how about that Eschaton scene, man, my god, so funny.

Hope your discussions go half as well.