Infinite Summer

Formed in the summer of 2009 to read David Foster Wallace's masterwork "Infinite Jest".
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 Post subject: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 5:03 pm 
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DFW commented that Infinite Jest was structured after a "fractal," specifically a Sierpinski Triangle. I looked it up on wikipedia and know what Sierpinski triangles and fractals are, but I still don't understand how these relate to the structure of infinite Jest.


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 5:20 pm 
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Location: UTAH. Yes I'm from Utah. No I'm not a Mormon.
Thanks for teaching me a new term Strychnine.

I looked it up on wikipedia hoping I could glean something from it.

I'm nothing close to a math whiz, let alone advanced theories (the chaos theory section on the wikipedia page made me skip the rest of the article!), so take this for what it's worth. Surely somebody a bit smarter than me will come along and be of more help.

The way I see it, DFW ties a lot of smaller, seemingly less important, details together to make up the big picture. I don't see it so much structured on a fractal as conceptually a fractal. By tying together all of the smaller pieces that share common thematic elements, you get the total picture. I guess the key is finding the one element that ties the entire story together.

I know there is no spoiler restriction on this thread, but just in case some poor soul wonders what the hell a Sierpinski Triangle is and checks out this post unwittingly, I'll leave it out. PM me if you'd like.


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2009 7:08 pm 
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This comment was made to Michael Silverblatt on one of DFW's Bookwork interviews...

Michael Silverblatt - "...something came into my head that may be entirely imaginary, which seemed to be that the book was written in fractals?"
David Foster Wallace - "Expand on that."
Michael Silverblatt - "It occured to me that the way in which the material is presented allows for a subject to be announced in a small form, then there seems to be a fan of subject matter - other subjects - and then it comes back in a second form containing the other subjects in small, and then comes back again as if what were being described were, and I don't know this kind of science, but it just, I said to myself: 'this must be fractals.' "
DFW - "It's, uh, I've heard you were an acute reader. That's one of the things structurally going on, it's actually structured like something called a Sierpinski gasket, which is a very primitave kind of pyramidal fractal. Actually, though, what was structured as a Sierpinski gasket was the draft that I delievered to Michael [his editor] in `94, and it went through some, I think, mercy cuts, so it's probably kind of a lopsided Sierpinski gasket now, but it's interesting, that's one of the structural ways it's supposed to come together."

It goes on from there, of course, but the important part is Mr. Silverblatt's second comment - that sums it up pretty perfectly, I think.

You can download the rest of the interview here.


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 4:06 am 
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The book Elegant Complexity lays out the Plot and Characters and Themes into a basic Sierpinski Triangle (ST). It's not a road map though. More like an attempt to address this question.

Also, I heard DFW say he had a poster of a ST in his office while writing IJ and that his editor kind of re-arranged some things so we have what we have. I think the ST was more of an inspiration rather than something we can follow. The general look of an ST with big triangles and minor triangles may relate to the larger themes and characters and those that are smaller. If you laid your general themes and characters out in this shape and then used that as a little map to write the book, it may look like IJ.

For example, lets say Hal is the middle triangle. You start with developing him. Stop. Go to the next triangle (character or theme), Addiction and Stasis. You fill in some of that with Erdedy's stasis and addiction (and that beloved bug). Stop. You pop over to the next triangle and fill that in with some detail Hal's relationships (a minor triangle in Hal's bigger triangle). Stop, next theme or character, etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2009 4:37 pm 
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Location: North Dakota
If IJ is a an ST (I love that we're all into the acronyming already, it's very fitting for this book), I think that means that the book mirrors itself at macro and micro levels. It's like that phrase "As above, so below." I believe it means that IJ's topics/characters/themes/whatevers show up again and again with both big and small consequences/contexts. A character will be introduced to us strictly through characteristics and then later given a name and then later given a connection to another character and later given there own mini story. A concept will appear huge and obvious and then get connected subtly to some other concept (watch for characters performing similar actions or entering situations similar to other characters. DFW has a talent for hiding things out in the open.). The book itself forces us to experience some of the concepts in an almost cruel way. Consider that the book deals with addiction and how addictions occupy huge amounts of time... the book simultaneously occupies huge amounts of your time and like an addiction, it's pretty hard to conceal that your reading (dealing with) IJ. For people who get addicted to IJ, the irony is painful.

I don't know that I'm right about this, I just wanted to put it out there for you all to chew on to help this fantastic community of readers figure out just what the heck it is we're all reading.

-Storm


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2009 9:06 pm 
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I don't know if this is taking the ST too far, but I find it interesting that it's considered a roughly 1.5 dimensional figure. Not so thin and wispy as one dimensional, and not quite managing to be two dimensional. I've always been fascinated by a figure that cuts away so much as to not really count as in the next dimension, but also found that idea lonely, lost, and strange. Ok, I know how that must sound, but math books can be quite romantic in their own way. Does this apply to IJ's structure? Almost one thing, but not quite another?


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Tue Jul 07, 2009 9:12 pm 
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 Post subject: Ha HA
PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2009 2:59 pm 
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Pg. 213
Quote:
There's sun on the wall with the hanging viewer and poster of the paranoid king and an enormous hand-drawn Sierpinski gasket.


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Sat Jul 11, 2009 12:55 pm 
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Endnotes within endnotes? Triangles within triangles?


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 Post subject: Re: Sierpinski Triangle
PostPosted: Mon Jul 20, 2009 7:42 am 
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Two big ST elements for me:

-the constant repeating of the incestuous family structure (the Hamlet family basically), writ large in the Incandenzas, but repeated in versions over and over with Clenette, etc., all of which kinda depend on the weird presence/absence of the dead father.

-the many versions of Schtitt's (paraphrasing here) "sending away from you that which you hope will not return": Tennis balls, waste launches, the "Entertainment", the concavity, etc, etc, which all end up being large and small versions of present/absent.

I think the mention of the 1.5 dimensional figure is well-remarked. Thank you for that thought, which leads me back to a minor detail: the mention, as the ETA teams return from Port Washington, that many of them are reading Flatland, which is apparantly appears on a bunch of the prorectors' syllabi. That weird book is all about trying to imagine what experience would be like if you lived in only one or two dimensions (where, for example, the beings living in one dimension see the passing-through of a two dimensional figure as a sort of miraculous appearance and disappearance of a godlike being. In IJ, things like addiction, recovery, Entertainment-as-terminal addiction, etc, could, I guess, be seen as presented as a sort of variation between living "three dimensionally" and living in flattened/fewer dimensions, in a way that ends up being sort of "1.5 dimensional."


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