Matthew Baldwin, Miscellaneous

Join the Tunnel Club

08.31.09 | 129 Comments

This is cross-posted to the forums.

We’ll be featuring guests for the remainder of the week, but I’m appropriating my Monday slot for a discussion on the future of Infinite Summer.

the sub-14 E.T.A.s historically have a kind of Tunnel Club. Like many small boys’ clubs, the Tunnel Club’s unifying raison d’etre is kind of vague. Tunnel Club activities mostly involve congregating informally in the better-lit main tunnels and hanging out and catching each other in lies about their lives and careers before E.T.A., and recapitulating the most recent Eschaton (usually only about five a term); and the Club’s only formal activity is sitting around with a yellowed copy of Robert’s Rules endlessly refining and amending the rules for who can and can’t join the Tunnel Club.

Like The Tunnel Club, Infinite Summer’s raison d’etre is kind of vague. Well, not yet. But it will be in a month, after we’ve finished reading Infinite Jest.

The question of what would happen to Infinite Summer come autumn was one that I was frequently asked in interviews. And was always very coy in my responses so as not to tip my hand w/r/t the Master Plan … or, rather, the fact that I had no plan, Master or otherwise. The idea of transitioning the site into a perpetual online book club thingamaroo certainly occurred to me, but the amount of work the project entailed (at least until recently) prevented me from mapping out what such a future would look like.

It’s decision time now, though (it takes at least a month to line up Guides, guests, and so forth). And while I continue to have no solid plan, I am slowly tumbling to the realization that I am going to continue the site, at least for a while.

Right now I’m trying to figure out what direction to go after IJ. I am well aware that Infinite Jest is a unique artifact, and that Infinite Summer may implode without it at the core. That said, it seems to me there are a few distinct paths the site could take from here:

  • Focus on the novels folks “have always meant to read”: That would be a mix of the classics (Moby Dick, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby) and modern stuff (The Kite Runner, Beloved, etc.).
  • Do the postmoderns, those that stimulate and reward discussion: Labyrinths, House of Leaves,The New York Trilogy–pretty much anything on this list.
  • Keep the site DFW oriented: I recently learned that DFW taught a contemporary fiction course at Illinois State, in which the syllabus was books that he himself had trouble reading. Like me and I.S., he figured that imposing deadlines on himself would be a good way to trick himself into finishing them. Novels included JR by Gaddis, Ratner’s Star by Delillo, Blood Meridian by McCarthy, etc. In addition we could do other novels that Wallace expressed admiration for (e.g., Dune & The Screwtape Letters).
  • Pick books based solely on their conduciveness to catchphrases: Let’s face it: 65% of Infinite Summer’s success is attributable to the phrase “Infinite Summer” itself. Going forward we’ll only select books that lend themselves to catchy title + season project names, e.g., Autumn 2009: “Things Fall Apart!”, Winter 2009: “Snowlita!”; Spring 2010: “From Here to E-vernal Equinoxy!”; and so forth

A mix of these themes would probably be best; perhaps a huge, postmodern opus every six months, and shorter, more conventional novels in between. Right now I am leaning toward 2666 for winter and Gravity’s Rainbow next summer (or The Pale King, depending on publication date). I would also love to tackle The Recognition and Underworld, devote a season to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and maybe have Dystopiathon (think 1984, Brave New World, and Clockwork Orange). For shorter works, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Housekeeping are at the top of my list (I have a literal list). And as a post Jest palate cleanser, I am tempted to devote October to Dracula, to conclude on Halloween Day.

But as much as Infinite Summer is about literature, it is also about community. And we’d love to get your input on the website’s future, in either the comments or the forums. We’d love for you to join The Tunnel Club and help us draft our very own version of Robert’s Rules.

And thank you for your continued participation–I hope the Infinite Summer experience has been as wonderful and engrossing for you as it has been for all of us.