This is the fourth of a five-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.
Infinite Summer: Kevin, do you find Wallace’s style influencing your own? Will the title of your next novel (The Thousand) refer to the number of endnotes you went back and inserted?
Kevin Guilfoile: I’m pretty easily influenced by anything that I like, but usually within the parameters of my own style. For instance, it’s not unusual for me to write long, run-on sentences when I’m trying to change the pace of a passage (or when I’m deep inside someone’s train of thought) and I probably am doing more of that right now, just because Wallace is so effective with it. The novel I’m currently working on (the one after The Thousand) even has a character that’s rather Gately-like (big guy, ex-con, not an alcoholic but a teetotaler) although I created him before I read IJ. Looking specifically at the stuff I’ve written over the last month or so I can right away identify a lengthy passage in which a pickpocket is rhapsodizing at some length about cargo shorts that seems pretty obviously influenced by IJ.
Matthew Baldwin: I actually used the word “demap” as a synonym for “kill” in a casual conversation the other day. The person to whom I was speaking had no idea what I was saying.
Eden M. Kennedy: And I quoted Schtitt to my son on the tennis court. He was complaining how he wanted to switch sides because the sun was in his eyes, and I totally paraphrased that whole section about it always being too hot or too cold or too something on the court, you have to look inside, blah blah. And then I switched and took the sunny side.
Avery Edison: The only thing I’ve taken away from the book is a pretty heavy ‘drine dependency. That, and a fear of Canadians in wheelchairs.
And of course, as I typed that joke in I suddenly realize that I’m sitting at my computer in a bandanna. Curse you David Foster Wallace!
IS: Are you enjoying some sections better than others (E.T.A. vs. Ennet v. Steeply & Marathe)?
MB: They say that a world class director could film someone reading the phonebook and make it interesting. That’s how I feel about Wallace. In an interview, he talked about the challenge of “tak[ing] something almost narcotizingly banal … and try[ing] to reconfigure it in a way that reveals what a tense, strange, convoluted set of human interactions the final banal product is.” Given that Infinite Jest is a novel about a tennis academy, a bunch of AA meetings, and two guys chatting on a cliff, it’s clearly a challenge that Wallace both relished and consistently met.
So I don’t find any of the storylines to be more engrossing than others. In fact, I don’t find the narrative to be particularly engrossing at all. It’s Wallace’s style that I enjoy, and I am largely indifferent as to what subject matter he is writing about at any given moment.
AE: I’m a big fan of banter, so I look forward to any section (usually an endnote) featuring Hal and Orin on the phone to each other. A lot of information tends to get divulged during those pages, and there’s some nice verbal sparring in the mean time.
The Marathe and Steeply sections have also grown on me, probably for much the same reason. It’s also nice to see — in a novel that has almost avoided any discussion of its namesake – characters having honest-to-God conversations about The Entertainment.
EMK: Something shifts in Marathe and Steeply’s conversations as we get deeper into the book; I can’t put my finger on it but it’s definitely becoming easier to read and enjoy their passages.
AE: I think it’s that as we’re learning more about the world around them, the vague allusions to things such as the Concavity or subsidised time are clearer. I’m sure that the conversation Marathe and Steeply have regarding free will would’ve been impenetrable had we not learned more about the Entertainment’s effects on its viewers. I may go back to the earlier Marathe and Steeply sections and see if they make for easier reading now.
KG: It changes for me. I found the description of Mario’s puppet show movie to be a lot like being trapped on an airplane listening to someone taking two-and-a-half hours to describe the plot of a two hour movie, and so I wanted to got to Ennet House every minute of that section.
AE: I really enjoyed Mario’s movie, especially since it gave us a look into the wider community at ETA. Up until then I feel like we’d just been focused on a small group of students (Hal, Pemulis, Troeltsch, etc.) and it was nice to get everyone in that big hall and get little character moments with odd people. The tradition of gathering around for the viewing and the rule that students can eat whatever they want on Interdepence Day was a nice humanizing touch that made the ETA feel more like a school where actual humans would go. Before I saw it as more of a tennis-robot factory, now I’m seeing it as more of a family. Which would make C.T. proud, I’m sure.
KG: I love tennis and find the ETA stuff really enjoyable overall. On top of that there are set pieces, of course, that are just stunning but I don’t think they are tied to any particular place or character, at least not for me.
EMK: I love the ETA kids best when they’re giving each other shit, no doubt about it, but the AA stuff is still fascinating to me. Sometimes this book feels sort of sterile, in a Stanley Kubrick way, just very cerebral and cool, so I do tend to feel grateful for the warmer, more human stuff, I guess.
AE: An exception to that appreciation of the human stuff — at least for me — is anything dealing with Himself’s childhood. Right now if feels like we’re getting background on a character we know is dead, and whose legacy (the Entertainment) we already knew the motivations for. I understand that the scene featuring Himself and The Man From Glad culminated in the origin of Himself’s fascination annulation, but there were a lot of pages to get through for such a small detail. We couldn’t have learned that via. one of Hal and Orin’s earlier conversations, or done without the knowledge entirely?
MB:: Probably. But those two passages are among my favorite, no doubt because they showcase Wallace’s skill in teasing the interesting from the banal.