Infinite Summer

The meaning of "X"
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Author:  Roxanne [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:01 am ]
Post subject:  The meaning of "X"

For some reason I started from the beginning noting all the X passages. Don't tie in yet for me:

pg. 3
"I have committed to crossing my legs I hope carefully, ankle on knee, hands together in the lap of my slacks. My fingers are mated into a mirrored series of what manifests, to me, as the letter X."

pg. 18
"He sat and thought and waited in an uneven X of light through two different windows."

pg. 66
"Spiraling down toward the line of X's and the bill-capped guys that help strip the wings off, runty potbellied volunteer front office-connected guys who always smirk in a way you couldn't quite level the accusation."

pg. 91
"And Steeply raised his bare arms and held them out and crossed them, maybe as if signalling for distant aid; this made X's and pedentive V's over much in the city Tucson....."

pg. 115
" 'Plateaux,' Wayne says, looking at the ceiling and pushing the back of his head isometrically against the door. 'With an X. Plateaux.' "

pg. 166
"You slip into the clear current of back and forth, making delicate X's and L's across the harsh rough bright green asphalt surface......."

I also see a connection possibly to all the crossed legs. But I didn't keep track of those.

Am I dreaming this up or does anyone else wonder about all the X's???

Added on July 9th:

pg. 179
"We had like an in-joke on how long he wouldn't wash his hair and we'd make X's on the calendar for every week."

Author:  OhItsJustDan [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

This is similar to another topic that was started about mentions of the color blue. When you're dealing with an enormous book by an author known for his hyper-detailed descriptions and overall verbosity, it seems likely that you're eventually going to encounter descriptions of things using similar words or symbols (i.e., lots of things are blue, X is a common, symmetrical shape). It's sort of like matching up Dark Side of the Moon to the Wizard of Oz; sure, there are a handful of things that seem to coincide, but by far the vast majority of things are completely unrelated. Don't forget what Marcus Sakey wrote in his guest column a few weeks ago, which is worth quoting at length:

I made a mistake the second time [when reading IJ]. I thought that because I had puzzled out certain aspects, the rest of the book was a riddle, a code I needed to crack. So I went at it that way. I took notes on characters and relationships. I annotated. I formulated guesses about what “The Entertainment” was, and where it showed up, and how what happened at the end played into what happened at the beginning. I visited message boards and forums and the Wallace discussion list. I spent as much time taking notes on the novel as I did reading the damn thing.

And here’s what I learned: There is no secret.

Fundamentally, IJ is a novel about two things: the pursuit of happiness, and the impossibilities of communication. Wallace explores those themes and their intersections in a hundred different ways. And because he was a genius who didn’t believe there were answers to these questions, he also contradicts himself over and over and over. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that there are no assertions of importance in the text that aren’t contradicted somewhere else.

I realize that sounds annoying. But that’s why I’m writing this piece. It’s only annoying if you look at the novel as a code to crack, if you see everything as a clue.

Personally, I don't think any of the passages quoted above feature "X" in a manner prominent enough to suggest that maybe we should be keeping track of the reference. I don't think DFW is burying things that deep. There's so, so much to take in here, and it seems to me that getting too mired in finding "riddles" to solve threatens to be counterproductive. Don't miss the forest while examining the bark on the trees. But that's just me.

Also, be careful, because your last quote is from a passage that is currently beyond the spoiler line for this forum.

Author:  Roxanne [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

Thank you. I was thinking that what you have said is a definite possibility - but my brain went into over drive. !
And - whoops - mistake on the spoiler. I will watch it -
Thank you for your response.

Author:  EverybodyHurts [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:10 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

Agree with the post above. Now that I'm going through it again, I tend to just highlight all the references to "blue" or "X" or "insectoid" or "dessicated" or "spider" or "billowing", stuff like that, but I don't get overly invested in trying to figure it out. It's just DFW, maintaining a certain wordplay throughout the novel. It's cool and interesting, but not ultimately necessary in figuring out the main themes of the novel, noted above.

Author:  joel [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

I think this is notable. Firstly because I don't think it's too common for authors to describe things as looking like a letter, but DFW does it consistently with one particular letter, and he even did it on the very first page of the novel. And secondly because the letter X implies an intersecting of things—a communication—and that is after all what the whole novel is about.

I don't think that it's an imperative detail or that each instance holds any special meaning, but I doubt that the repetition is a mistake.

(And the repetition of "spiders"—since spiders are considered a very typical phobia—of course helps to emphasize the undercurrent of anxieties experienced by many, many characters in the novel.)

Author:  Philip [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 10:07 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

Well, sure, IJ is more than a riddle to crack or a very complicated crossword puzzle to solve, but the recurrence of words and phrase, called a "motif," IS important and interesting. Folks have compared IJ to Ulysses, and James Joyce did the same thing in his masterpiece. I think Marcus Sakey is cautioning us not to miss the forest for the trees, but the trees are interesting, too.

And X is also used to mean . . . Ooops, sorry, no spoilers.

Author:  OhItsJustDan [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 12:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

I certainly agree that the trees are very interesting (and important!), and I don't mean to discourage anyone from reading IJ however it pleases them! You just wouldn't want to take a walk in the woods and spend the whole time focusing intently on a single tree because you think maybe, if you watch it long enough, it'll become more interesting than all of the other trees.

Author:  internethandle [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 1:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

Well, personally, I don't buy - at least in the case of the 'X' recurrence - that Wallace casually inserted that image just due to some sort of fascination with the image itself, and not because of how it might meaningfully fit within the context of the larger novel. It would be easier to make such a case (again, for the 'X' recurrence) if you found a few instances within the first 100 pages or so, then two or three scattered between the 700's and 900's, and that's it.

Anyway, getting away from the 'X' image, authorial intent is really a tricky subject, and one that I don't think any of us can definitively comment on one way or the other with some of these recurrences. We can certainly make a case that Wallace inserted certain images and motifs intentionally for the reader to dwell upon, based upon solid textual evidence, but what Wallace may have meant by some of them does end up being fairly elusive. And that is what Wallace would have wanted, anyway, I would imagine - for the reader to draw some of his or her own conclusions, and not always the ones he "wanted" his readers to draw. That being said, I think we need to distinguish between the fact that, if you wish to take the time to do so, there are perfectly legitimate interpretations to be found in these recurrent themes, and the fact that, if you want to maintain your sanity, it is not totally necessary (or even at all necessary) to de-code all of them during one's first time through IJ.

Author:  EverybodyHurts [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 1:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

I certainly didn't mean to minimize the use of the letter "X" in the novel, by any means. This book contains something for everyone, and should be read at one's own pace, even if it takes longer than the "Infinite Summer". My own copy is starting to look quite worn from frequent flipping, scribbles and 4 bookmarks. :D

Author:  Roxanne [ Sat Jul 04, 2009 2:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The meaning of "X"

Well - this is why I wanted to join this .... whatever it is. Now I pretty much know that it isn't crucial to follow the x's and I won't probably get anything monumental out of them - but I will keep them in my mind. I definitely DO want to maintain my sanity - which is probably why I asked the question in the first place. Like - do I need to keep track of these parodic entropies or can I just hang?
Thanks for the help and input. I really appreciate having the opinions and guidance of the seasoned DFW's.
I'm sure I will ask many more of these types of questions.
But also, after reading some of the biographical and historical writings of DFW I also agree that he is just giving something to kind of "entertain" ourselves with if we choose - to choose polite words.

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