Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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The Inficratic Oath: first, post no spoilers. Limit your I.J. discussion to only those events that take place on or before the page 981 (100%).



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 Post subject: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 8:17 pm 
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Poor Tony, indeed. When I finished reading the seizure scene, I was shaking. And I forced myself to read further, knowing I could not go to sleep with Poor Tony's pain and terror in my head.

But as I read on, the page number seemed to scurry off the bottom of the page like a spider, and the hand holding the book---my hand---looked suddenly like a wax cast. A cadaver.

So my question to you is, what part of IJ thus far has moved you physically? Beyond the point other writing has? Or has it failed to do so yet? Joelle's Too Much scene? Hal narrating how he broke down about Himself's death? What has wound you up so tight you feel part of Wallace's pages?


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 8:33 pm 
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I'm with you on this scene. There have been several moving episodes so far but I had to put the book down for a while after reading about Poor Tony's withdrawal and seizure. It was as if it were happening to me; it shook me to the core.


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 8:45 pm 
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There are a lot of parts of the novel I'm incredibly moved by--the personal situations of Joelle and Poor Tony, Mario's selflessness--but I find that what hits me on a more immediate gut level is where DFW hints or obliquely refers to or tells only parts of some of the horrific stuff that happens to people.

p 291 the description of punter's injury;

p 259 "An even more embarrassing transaction is supposed to take place in private between the two schools' Headmasters, but nobody knows quite what. Last year Enfield lost 57-51 and Charles Tavis didn't say one word on the bus-ride home and used the lavatory several times."

and then also pretty much anything the AFR does...

I find those horrors he only refers to way more chilling than those he describes more explicitly (e.g., JOI and the microwave)


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 8:52 pm 
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I think I was most drawn in by the section with Joelle, not just the Too Much Fun part but really that whole section. Just unbelievable.

To be honest though, I'm kind of cold-hearted and as much as I may sympathize with characters I never seem to be moved physically by their tragedies. I get chills occasionally, but it's more often because I've just read an incredibly well-written passage and I'm a nerd.

I laugh out loud ridiculously often, though. It's not uncommon for it to happen multiple times per page, really. I have to make sure I'm by myself while reading to make sure I can freely laugh out loud without people thinking I'm out of my mind.

As a whole I can say that IJ has pulled me into its world way more than any other book ever has. Imagery is usually the most tedious part of any book for me (unless it's Nabokovian imagery, because then it's just too poetic not to love), but here I find myself wanting to absorb every detail, imagery and otherwise. I love the alternate near future DFW's created, and I love every character and every detail of their pasts. It's hard to stop myself from wanting to take notes on everything just out of the fear that I'll forget any small bit. I have problems, I think.


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 8:57 pm 
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Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:50 pm
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Quote:
It's hard to stop myself from wanting to take notes on everything just out of the fear that I'll forget any small bit.

It gets way harder the deeper you get into the book. I'm around p 627 now (have to finish the book before school starts), and I keep wanting to go back and start over again to remember every little detail. When I look back in the book to reference something earlier, I'll invariably come across something I don't remember reading, and I'll spend like an hour reading through the whole section again.

Makes it good for multiple readings, though!


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Sun Jul 19, 2009 9:01 pm 
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Joined: Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:25 am
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Location: Brooklyn
joel wrote:
It's hard to stop myself from wanting to take notes on everything just out of the fear that I'll forget any small bit. I have problems, I think.


I already filled up one notebook with crazy, tiny handwritten notes. I'm glad that I'm not the only one! I'm kind of just copying the entire book into my own notes.


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 7:55 am 
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Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:38 pm
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Location: Ottawa, Ontario
fivestring wrote:
There have been several moving episodes so far but I had to put the book down for a while after reading about Poor Tony's withdrawal and seizure. It was as if it were happening to me; it shook me to the core.

I agree completely, and had a similar experience reading pp.299-306. The image of a man locked in a library bathroom stall for days going through Withdrawal in the dark, with the feeling of ants crawling all over his body and the psychic shock of seeing himself wither away to nothing, a person whose "entire set of interpersonal associations consisted of persons who did not care about him plus persons who wished him harm" (p.301) -- this radically disturbing image epitomizes for me the kind of pathos, loneliness, and social detachment that goes unseen and unacknowledged by our narcissistic society, and which seems to be emerging as the dominant theme in the novel. This message is further underscored when Poor Tony, now but a shell of his former physical self, collapses from his seizure in a heap on the floor of a public train in a puddle of his own putrid filth, and we're left to wonder whether any of the passengers witnessing his torture see him as fully human enough to actually call for help.

I've read well ahead of the spoiler line by this point, and no other scene so far has moved me so definitively as this one. Indeed, I am at a loss to come up with anything that I've read in recent memory that even comes close to this in its impact: not because I can sympathize specifically with Poor Tony, and not because of how I see him fitting into the broader picture that is painted by the novel, but because DFW has somehow managed to communicate to his reader that this in fact is not a mere work of fiction. While the particulars may vary, this kind of deep human suffering actually happens -- is happening now -- to people in real life.

It is probably for that reason that I, too, had to put the book down at the end of the passage, feeling so psychically drained that I couldn't return to the novel until the next day.


--Todeswalzer.

_________________
First-Time Reader
Started: 26 June 2009 | Finished: 25 July 2009


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 10:48 am 
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What you guys are saying about needing to stop for a while after the Poor Tony section is, I realize, something that is kind of happening to me with most of the long sections now that the book is really up and running: You reach these really affecting climaxes of being either emotionally or aesthetically blown away, and it feels appropriate to set the book down and just live with the experience for a while -- almost feels wrong not to. And this is precisely the opposite of what a successful (from both the writer's and the reader's perspective) novel usually is expected to acheive, which would be the page-turning "I can't put this down" "what happens next?" experience.

And I think it is quite likely a reaction that DFW would consider a succesful trick to have pulled off. For one thing, his coyness with revealing key plot elements contributes to this: you get trained by the first few (hundred) pages NOT to expect that turning to the next chapter will give you the answer to any burning mystery that might have been raised about what happened in the past between two characters like Orin and Joelle or who is behind the apparant plot to distribute the "Entertainment," so you lose the instinct to turn the next page simply to keep up the momentum or find out the next immediate answer "after the commercial break" as it were. Of course, generations of "serious" -- and, especially, "literary" writers and/or the teachers and critics who introduced them to us, have hailed the need for and rewards of slow, careful reading and re-reading. What Wallace seems to have pulled off is a strategy that oddly encourages something like this, not as a chore, as something we "should" be doing, but as a pleasure, something we learn to enjoy doing with his writing. I'll bet that some people (and some of you?) have a much easier time finding this sort of pleasure naturally in some highly "literary" texts, and I've certainly had (albeit much more rarely and accidentally) this experience on occassion in other books I've read.

Another way of approaching this: If, as I did, you came to IJ via his short fiction or his non-fiction, you are probably familiar with his flair for these marvelous sort of apotheoses that rise out of sort of mundane starting points.* But it is a whole other thing entirely to figure out how to embed this experience in a longer narrative in a way that makes you both want to stop for a while and also come back to the book again.

* "derivative sport in tornado alley," which is his nonfiction piece about growing up playing tennis in the midwest is both a perfect example and a nicely relevant one. It was in Harper's originally, and is collected in "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again."**

** ...and shouldn't a posting board for IJ involve an easy way to format endnotes in your post? just sayin'...


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:04 am 
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Joined: Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:47 am
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Location: Brooklyn, NY
"Then at some point he realized: time had become the shit itself: Poor Tony had become an hourglass: time moved through him now; he ceased to exist apart from its jagged-edged flow."

I think this sentence (p. 303) is so elegant but I may have trouble figuring out what I want to say about it. The colons imply strong causal relationships (time becomes shit->PT becomes an hourglass) that then break down (illustrated by the semicolon) as Poor Tony breaks away from the linear flow of time. It's like the punctuation is performing the action.

Also Zuckung - the best definition I've been able to find on the internet is "the burst of energy that separates two trajectories" from the German word for twitch. So perfect.


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 Post subject: Re: Poor Tony
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:07 am 
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naptimewriting wrote:
Poor Tony, indeed. When I finished reading the seizure scene, I was shaking. And I forced myself to read further, knowing I could not go to sleep with Poor Tony's pain and terror in my head.


This section was absolutely the most viscerally gripping section in the book thus far, and probably the most amazing bit of writing I've ever read. At the end of that section, I had to put the book down for a while and let it sink in.


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