Infinite Summer

Endnotes

1. When I told a guy in a bar that my favorite novel of the last decade was House of Leaves, he replied with, “Oh, right. Infinite Jest Junior.”

2. Specifically the “oversized shelf”, adjusted to accommodate textbooks, magazines, and tomes of Infinite dimensions, a realm from whence literature rarely returns.

3. To be fair, the essay, penned on the topic of and shortly after 9/11, was by Wallace’s own admission “written very fast and in what probably qualifies as shock.”

4. He always does. Eventually.

5. OR SO SHE CLAIMS.

6. I was gearing up to get married and reading a lot of Calvin and Hobbes.

7. The actual quote was, “It’s too bad she doesn’t give a shit.”

8. And I’ll back off on the endnotes.

9. I withhold the author’s name as he was probably a nice guy having a bad day and I wouldn’t necessarily want this story to become part of his permanent Google legacy, but one of his books became a Kevin Costner film.

10. For further intelligent and flattering but occasionally news-to-me analysis of Cast of Shadows, see the NYU med school annotation.

11. Latham 76 of Latham, NY, a supposedly “Spirit Of”-themed eatery that doesn’t even bother to amend its menu items to delightful American Revolution-centric puns, like “eggs Benedict Arnold”.

12. Although the entire Animorphs series must be of comparable length, if not sophistication.

13. “Canoes are just moccasins for your whole body.” You can take that koan to the BANK.

14 Although, curiously, NaCl is about the only ingestible chemical compound that IJ has not described in exhaustive detail.

15. Speaking of the notorious Endnote 24 (which I was, albeit obliquely), composer Darcy James Argue–a self-described “shameless DFW fanboy”–wrote a piece of jazz entitled “Flux in a Box” that was inspired by same. An mp3 of the band Secret Society performing the piece live (the link to which was sent to me by Mr. Argue himself) is available here. Why not load that up in another browser tab and let it play in the background as you read the rest of my post? It will add a touch of class to my otherwise pedestrian observations.

16 You know who else has really good diction, and who’s still alive? Sarah Silverman. Seriously.

17 Falmouth University, in Cornwall UK, for those wondering. A lovely place, and I’m sure a great learning environment for those not suffering a dreadful addiction to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 and uncertainty.

18 This is also why I did not indulge in a dinner of Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola until 2003.

19 By the way, if you took the opportunity to “brush up on your Hamlet“–by reading the play or watching a cinematic adaptation–I cannot recommend too highly the Canadian television show Slings & Arrows. The first season (which consist of only six episodes, in the manner of British serials) concerns a staging of the bard’s most famous tragedy, and you should watch it while the play is still fresh in your mind.

20 The definitive version from that time seems to be one by Gerard Hoffnung. There is also a song by The Dubliners called The Sick Note that relates a similar incident. For an extensive, if probably still incomplete, history of this tale see Jan Harold Brunvand’s Curses! Broiled Again! pp 180-188.

21 Byron Crawford claims the story was sent to him by a friend who had spotted it in the Donalsonville (GA) News. The author of that article, Bo McLeod, claimed to have first seen it in an even smaller Georgia paper, and so on.

22 Page 128.

23 When Matthew and I were discussing this last week, I mentioned that I wouldn’t have any problem with it if the bricklayer legend had been presented in IJ as a story somebody heard and they were just passing it on to someone else. That would be acknowledgment enough for me. One defense we considered was that the whole joke here might be that this old yarn was still circulating in the future. Except in the novel it isn’t an old yarn. Wallace erases its history and creates a brand new origin for it. In Infinite Jest, this incident seems to have actually happened on March 27 in the Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland. For me, that makes his use of someone else’s text more problematic.

24 As I was writing this I happened to talk with my friend John Warner. John is a writer, editor, an English professor at Clemson, and a great DFW fan (he was even acquainted a bit with Wallace, if I recall). John is also the grandnephew of a writer named Allan Seager. Seager was a bestselling and celebrated novelist and short story writer whose work in the 1930s was compared by the original editor of the Best American Short Stories volume to Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway (John wrote an outstanding appreciation of Seager in McSweeney’s #7). Today, Seager’s name is all but forgotten, but he has an odd sort of immortality in that a story of his that appeared in Vanity Fair, “The Street,” has one of the most borrowed plots in 20th-Century literature. It has been copied so often by hack writers and dramatists and moralizers and e-mail forwarders that it has become an urban legend of its own. Seager came up in the discussion of this subject and John said something interesting: “[Seager's] name has long been detached from [the story] and the way it is used now (usually as a kind of Christian morality tale) is fundamentally opposite of how he used it in the original incarnation. Maybe Wallace is paying a kind of tribute by making sure the original is intact.”

25 If it turns out later in the book that this story really is an urban legend being passed around by email or whatever, then, um, oops.

26 They can’t sue me for saying that, right?

27 And if you don’t, you’re not human, you never went to school or you are otherwise immune to psychic trauma. Congratulations.

28. And even here my self-congratulations were truncated, as I visited the #infsum Twitter feed and saw this tweet from Josh Davison: “I figured out what Gregorian year YDAU is. The answer lies within endnotes 24 and 60.” Yes, he named that tune in two notes to my five.

29. That episode is one of the funniest of the whole series, by the way. You can watch the whole thing here.

30. When Kevin mentioned the possibly plagiarized Bricklayer Story last Wednesday, for instance, someone assured him that context was provided “on page 543.” The number of pages between those two related data is greater than that found in an average summer novel.

31. I like it when actual brothers play brothers, but the Baldwins are far too old, and Wilsons Luke and Owen are short a sibling and too old.

32. He actually uses it over ten times in the book. I can’t imagine any novelist is thrilled that his work might be so easily searchable.

33. This is the part where I careen wildly into speculation, but it’s easy to imagine Wallace going to see Pulp Fiction on its release (his own book mostly done and set for publication in early 1996) and having one of those sinking feelings of anxiety that expectant writers get as the scenes of the film unfold, shuffled in time. It’s not nearly as elaborate or as extended as the time structure in IJ, but the scaffolding is undeniably similar and Tarantino was widely hailed by critics for its originality. Then having been poked a bit by that coincidence, Wallace might have noticed that the McGuffin in Pulp Fiction–Marsellus’s briefcase–bears a very slight resemblance to his own McGuffin with respect to its captivating/paralyzing effect on people. Oh, and also that Marsellus’s last name is “Wallace.” I’m not saying these are things that anyone else would notice. Why would you unless you were an author waiting anxiously for your massive, high-stakes, career-making novel to be published? I’m just saying if I were David Foster Wallace, sitting in a movie theater in the fall of 1994, watching Pulp Fiction, I would have noticed all that. And it would have made me a little bit nuts for about a week or so. Hopefully Wallace did not also read the review in the Toronto Globe and Mail that claimed the complicated literary structure of Pulp Fiction “depends on the ease and speed of film to guide us through the narrative thickets.”

34. That article, like this one, was separated into numbered sections, probably because Wallace, like me, couldn’t think of an elegant way to segue from one to the next.

35. Tuesday, July 14.

36. Twenty-five years ago, folksinger Tom Paxton wrote a song called Thank You Republic Airlines about a baggage handler breaking the neck of his guitar.

37. The annual Mystery Writers of America awards.

38. Y’know, because it’d be handy to have Infinite Jest on tape? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?.

39. Yeah, that “learn some time-management skills” thing from last week is going great(!) .

40. Which I am proud to say I have not done even once during the drafting of this post. Yet.

41. Reading Infinite Jest had been one of the first things I’d done after graduating college. I remember thinking that the book was brilliantly-written and hilarious, that Hal was the bees’ knees incarnate, and that I couldn’t really understand, on an emotional level, why a brilliant dude like DFW spent so many pages on an blue-collar doofus like Don Gately.

42. I realize this suggestion makes me something of a snob and a phallocrat, so if there’s feminist hay to be made here I promise I won’t be offended if you make it.

43. Is this an AA slogan? If not, it totally should be.

44. I liked Match Point, but even Woody Allen can’t sway many tennis/movie fans.

45. By the time I read another tennis story by Wallace—”Federer as Religious Experience,” published in the New York Times Play Magazine in 2006—technology had progressed beyond copiers, and I sent my father the link. This time, he ate it up.

46. Consider as well the piece he wrote for Tennis magazine about the 1995 U.S. Open. When presented with an audience for whom he would not have to elucidate the finer points of the game, he wrote about the spectacle of the event: the angle many serious (but not professional) players may very well never experience.

47. I come from the generation that grew up in the 80′s and cannot think about thermonuclear annihilation without feeling wistfully nostalgia.

48. Want to play Eschaton, but lack access to 400+ bald tennis balls and/or a score of athletic teens? Here are some real-life games that will approximate (some aspect of) the experience:

  • Nuclear War (card, 3-6 players): The components of this game are of abysmal quality, and players can be eliminated early (a modern game-design taboo), but Nuclear War is as close to “Eschaton: The Card Game” as you are ever likely to find. Use diplomacy, propaganda, and the threat of Armageddon, as you strive to be the last nation with anyone left alive within its boarders. It would not surprise me one whit to discover that DFW himself had played this in college a time or three. WARNING: Requires copious amounts of alcohol (not included).
  • Diplomacy (board, 5-7 players): The great-grandfather of negotiation games, which numbers among its fans John F. Kennedy’s, Henry Kissinger, and Walter Cronkite. (No joke.). Though set in the early 20th century, the back-stabbing, treachery, and deceit necessary to win Diplomacy are as underhanded as hitting a Kittenplan in the back of the head with a 5-megaton thermonuclear weapon. WARNING: Do not play with anyone you cannot afford to hate forever.
  • Twilight Struggle (board, 2 players): This is my favorite game–not just of this list, but of all the games I have played (and I’ve played my share). This simulation of the Cold War is so detail-intensive that my frequent playing of it allowed me to understand the Eschaton chapter on the first go (and also recognize that Wallace’s use of DEFCON levels was 100% ass-backwards). Read my whole review here. Twilight Struggle is currently out-of-print, alas, but a “Deluxe” version of the game is slated for the fall of 2009. WARNING: The length of the game is only slightly less than that of the actual Cold War.
  • DEFCON (computer, 1 player): A nuclear war simulator in which everyone dies, and your goal is to “lose the least”. Totally immersive, wonderfully atmospheric, and the recipient of great reviews. WARNING: Will provoke existential heebie-jeebies.

Lastly, Eschaton reminded me of nothing so much as “Calvinball”:

You can find some unofficial rules for C.B. here.

49. I’m such a tramp.

50. Along with Avril’s relationships with her boys.

51. A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.” Machiavelli.

52. A then-new translation of Albert Camus’ Stranger, whose margin’s I’d filled with probably-not-very-insightful notes, and a battered copy of Blood Meridian are the only two I still think about.

53. I never understood why so many why full-time, dorm-living, unmarried and child-free college students without regular jobs think Friday classes are such a nuisance. Dude, you live your whole life in sweats, other people cook your meals, you have class for like four hours three days a week, and your only sport is intramural co-ed Ultimate. You can’t hack getting up before noon on Friday? Your first ten or twelve employers are going to LOVE THAT.

54. The Thousand, which will be published next year.

55. Shortly after my first novel sold but before it was released, someone suggested I publish under a pseudonym because so few people know how to pronounce my name. I told them they should have suggested that before I’d invested so many years staring at the “GU” shelf in bookstores and libraries imaging my book there next to David Guterson or whomever.

56. Related to this, although more likely to be coincidental, I hear echoes of veteran IJ readers who insist that the going gets easier after page 300 or so in the suggestions by sponsors and counselors that the desire to walk out and return to Out There will abate in time if they stick with the program.

57. As well as tennis players puking into buckets during drills.

58. I would make a distinction between Infinite Summer, where the discussion and reading are going on concurrently, and a book club, where people generally read a book (or don’t) on their own and then get together to discuss it.

59. Like Rob Horning, who seems to share a lot of my frustrations.

60. Nintendo dubbed 1994 The Year of the Cartridge. Hmmm.

61. I urge you to read this first person account of someone who quit World of Warcraft, and especially recommend it to those who have never played WoW.(People who have played are intimately familiar with the addictive aspects of the game, but they will prove eye-opening for others.) It’s full of WoW jargon, but if you can get through Eschaton this will be a piece of cake.

62. It’s still around, at any rate.

63. Similarly, a commercial that audiences love (and which wins lots of creative awards) is hardly guaranteed to affect the client’s bottom line. With advertising, consumers seem to draw an intellectual and emotional distinction between the thing (the commercial) and the thing signified (the product), and our feelings about one don’t always transfer perfectly to the other.

64. The Freakonomics guys have a theory that doesn’t entirely convince me either.

65. This assumes that achieving our goals will make us “happy.”

66. Which was difficult to do accurately, I can tell you. I know that a lot of us are using two bookmarks, but I may be the only one among us to be using a ruler.

67. Admittedly, that is an insight I should have already experienced way before now. Probably during elementary school or something.

68. Minimaxing is one of those mathematicy terms that Wallace so loved. It means to find the best outcome in the worst case scenario. (You are, in other words, maximizing your minimum return.) The minimax theorem, put forth by John von Neumann, postulated that:

For every two-person, zero-sum game with finite strategies, there exists a value V and a mixed strategy for each player, such that (a) Given player 2′s strategy, the best payoff possible for player 1 is V, and (b) Given player 1′s strategy, the best payoff possible for player 2 is -V.

Players will often attempt to apply the mimimax algorithm to non-zero-sum, multiplayer games, to which it is not suited. Hence the paralysis.

69. When you think about it, restricting choice is the essence of games. After all, the ultimate and unspoken rule of all games is “You may not do anything unless a subsequent rule specifically allows it.” This is why, for instance, the Candyland rules don’t say “You may not move your piece directly to the end and declare yourself the winner” or “It is forbidden to eat the cards, even the ones depicting gumdrops”. It is understood that the rules tell you what is permissible rather than what is not.

70. Or the future equivalent, anyway.

71. Tom Sawyer: Detective is out in a spanking new edition just this year, although I haven’t seen anyone with it on the El yet.

72. Whenever I am invited to speak to a book club that is reading Cast of Shadows, I always ask what other books they have read. The similarity in reading lists between unrelated book clubs is startling.

73. Certainly I mean no disrespect to these authors–I’ve read the Niffenegger, the McEwan, and the Atwood and liked them all.

74. The cavalier name-dropping of “TCI’s (John) Malone,” a business giant in the mid-nineties and already probably completely forgotten by any reader younger than me, actually made me laugh out loud.

75. Difficult doesn’t have to mean impossible, of course. I remember reading The Dunciad in college. Practically every line had to be interrupted by a history lesson explaining who, say, the Chancellor of the Ex-chequer was and why Pope found him to be “truant” (zing!). That was one of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve ever had. Of course The Dunciad is only about 70 pages. And it rhymes.

76. In the film the mostly illiterate inhabitants of the future all talk to each other like obnoxious nine-year-olds. Here Luke Wilson is mocking them in their own debased vernacular and not just trying to offend readers of this blog gratuitously.

77. I’ve mentioned this before, during the round table, and I will mention it again because who is there to stop me? An army? Probably not an army.

78. Although the fact that the Wheelchair Assassins have achieved such notoriety and spread such fear could be taken as an indication that the ONANites have become so subdued and pathetic (perhaps through overexposure to entertainment, or perhaps some lingering psychic effect of time itself being commoditized and whored out to the highest bidder) that even an attack from a group traditionally seen as far weaker than the rest of society is a terrifying concept.

79. If she even is deformed in any sense other than metaphorical. On the one hand, we have the phrase “after the acid” on p. 225. On the other, we have Joelle’s own assertion that she is “deformed with beauty”. I’m inclined to believe the latter, because, well… it’s much more interesting.

80. Oh, man you should have seen it with its near-fine dust jacket and everything. Then my junior year of college, I was dating this girl and I got the idea to type out 365 reasons why I loved her and then print out the reasons and then cut them up into individual slivers which I then put in a shoebox with a little hole in it so she could draw out one reason per day. So I typed up all the reasons and printed them out, but I couldn’t find any scissors in my dorm room so instead because I am an idiot I cut them up using an X-acto knife and the sturdiest book I could find—i.e., IJ . The resulting catastrophe looks like this.

81. I realize this seems totally impossible to you, but the first time I read the book, I looked at every single word in the novel except maybe some of the end notes, and I never fully internalized that ONAN was, like, a country and not, like, NAFTA.

82. Not kidding. Massively underrated book, and definitely the best of the series.

83. Is a statistic I made up. But I bet it’s true. I will bet you a dollar.

84. There is certainly evidence of irony on the McSweeney’s web site, some of it written long ago and by me, but Dave hasn’t edited that page since the Clinton Administration.

85. And also Without Hats.

86. Part of the issue, of course, is that not everybody understands the definition of irony.

87. Ten years ago Neal Pollack, John Warner, and I were at a planning meeting for some McSweeney’s function or other when Dave said he wanted to go to Applebee’s, and we all laughed and nodded like idiots until we figured out that he really wanted to go to Applebee’s.

88. The question “What are your ten favorite books?” is always a trap because no one has ten books they adore above all others. I get asked all the time to name my favorite books, and although I’ve always answered honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever given the same answer twice.

89. Plus/minus 50 pages at any given point. I’m a little behind now.

90. My sister Maile Meloy’s new short-story collection, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It which is amazing, but I’m admittedly biased – and Paul Collins’ fantastic meditation on autism, Not Even Wrong: A Father’s Journey into the Lost History of Autism. I’m also about half-way through a book about Joni Mitchell’s Blue period which is mostly purple, really, but this is neither here nor there.

91. I’m an iCal nerd, so that ‘infinite summer’ calendar that someone created has been really helpful.a

a. And aggravating. Sometimes.

92. Particularly A Supposedly Fun Blog. Really great stuff.

93. DFW’s father taught at the university at the time, though I would not learn this until many years later.

94. Ironically, I had picked the dorm because of its nickname, figuring it indicated some kind of freewheeling social atmosphere. Turned out that the name referred the shape formed by the six main buildings in the complex.

95. Most famous alumni: Pistons great Joe Dumars and short story writer Andre Dubus.

96. Sam (RIP). Once featured in GalleyCat’s dogs of publishing.

97. “After Experience Taught Me …”

98. Even the title of the story “The Circus Elephants Look Sad Because They Are,” was positively Wallace-ian.

99. Caveat: I haven’t seen Short Cuts since it was in the theaters (1993), and my memory for such things is abysmal. I may be getting all the salient details about the film wrong and, in fact, may well be conflating it with Krull.

100. If you haven’t seen Magnolia you should do so, if for no other reason than to see Tom Cruise (of whom I am usually no fan) turn in a scenery-chewing and Oscar-caliber performance, and even hold his own against Philip Seymour Hoffman. Plus, I honestly think that fans of The Jest will naturally enjoy Magnolia (exhibit A: Jason Kottke).

101. Yes, some characters had major roles in multiple storylines: Joelle as both resident at Ennet house and girlfriend-cum-actress for assorted Incandenzas, for instance, or Helen Steeply as Orin’s interviewer. But in these instances, the character was only “present” in one storyline, and appeared in the other only off-screen or in recollections. Also, “thrain” is a Matthew Baldwin Original Neologism™. If you wish to use it, please contact me directly w/r/t licensing fees.

102. All my musings on fractals get the same disclaimer as Short Cuts got above; namely, it’s been a good 15 years since I’ve really delved into this subject, and Possathwaite’s lament that “nothing is true” may well apply to my description of them here.

103. I had completely forgotten this particular childhood anxiety until I started reading Infinite Jest.

104. Past experience tells me that it won’t be.

105. Besides freaking ghosts, DFW. I mean, really? Really. Really?

106. In as much as these are theories, i.e. “a concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena.”

107. That, at any rate, is what I think the book is about as of this moment.

Recently I was trying to describe to a friend the majesty of another of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Novels, Alan Moore’s Watchmen. One of the amazing things about it, I told him, is that, depending on how you thought about it, any of like five different people could be considered the “main character” of the book: Nite Owl II, Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandias. Even The Comedian, who dies before the first page, could be reasonably construed as the protagonist.

Likewise, there are at least half a dozen motifs packed into Infinite Jest. You could argue that any one is the “central theme” of the novel, and you’d be right.

108. Total and unwarranted cheap shot, here. Actually, Oprah’s book club selections included Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, Elie Wiesel’s Night, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (which is to maudlin inspirational claptrap what ammonium phosphate is to an open flame).

109. Well, it’s 12 weeks if for some bizarre reason you opt to read the book over the course of one meteorological season exactly.

110. These labels exist for good reasons, but they’re not my reasons particularly and I always feel bad when I have to slap one on a novel myself.

111. pp. 388-389.

112. pp. 16-17.

113. And if you’re still not convinced, pick up a copy of Ben Affleck’s masterwork, “Daredevil”. You might have to hunt around, though — this cinematic gem has been all but lost to the mists of time.

114. Proviso: this does not apply to nationalized health care.

115. Yes, I know he didn’t predict AA, but if you haven’t clued-in to the tongue-in-cheek nature of this post by now, then… Well, then you probably hate me. You’re not alone.