Matthew Baldwin

The Peril of A.P.

08.17.09 | Permalink | 19 Comments

It’s always strange to hear a term you thought you “owned” in a complete different context. Case in point: as a board gamer, I have been using the phrase “analysis paralysis” for years, completely unaware that the term was affiliated (and perhaps originated) with A.A.

Most Substance-addicted people are also addicted to thinking, meaning they have a compulsive and unhealthy relationship with their own thinking. That the cute Boston AA term for addictive-type thinking is: Analysis-Paralysis … That 99% of compulsive thinkers’ thinking is about themselves; that 99% of this self-directed thinking consists of imagining and then getting ready for things that are going to happen to them; and then, weirdly, that if they stop to think about it, that 100% of the things they spend 99% of their time and energy imagining and trying to prepare for all the contingencies and consequences of are never good … In short that 99% of the head’s thinking activity consists of trying to scare the everliving shit out of itself.

The problem of analysis-paralysis crops up so often in board game discussion that it is usually just abbreviated as “AP”. And we tend to use the term in two distinct ways: in reference to people, and in reference to design.

A person who is, in our lingo, “AP-prone” is someone who freezes up on their turn as they mentally traverse the entire decision tree, terrified of making a less than optimal move. Imagine a chess-playing computer, that calculates every possible move and its outcome before taking its turn; now imagine some guy who’s already had two beers and half a bag of Cheetos trying to do the same thing, looming over the table with furrowed brow, stuck in a endless loop because, by the time he considers the last of all possible choices, he has already forgotten the first, and must therefore start again. And meanwhile the fun whooshes out of the room like atmosphere through an open airlock.

A game that is “AP-prone”, on the other hand, is a design that encourages exactly this kind of minimaxing behavior.68 Whereas many players have learned to turn a deaf ear to AP’s siren song, certain games can ossify even the most casual of gamers.

AP is such a problem in modern board games, that designers are taught ways to prevent it. The quickest method is to throw a sand timer into the game and declare that each player only has x seconds to complete their turn. Another is to introduce an element to chance into the game, thus making it difficult or impossible to successfully predict future events. A third is to reduce the number of options available to a player at any given time.

In other words, the solution to analysis-paralysis–at least in terms of board game design–is to reduce freedom: reduce the amount of time, or the amount of information, or the amount of choices. Constraint facilitates action.69

Even if you don’t play board games, you are surely familiar with the phenomenon. Your 8th Grade English teacher says you can write an essay on anything, and your mind’s a blank; she instead says you have to write it on leaf cutters ants, and at least you know which Wikipedia page to plagiarize. Or consider Twitter: I would argue that the 140 character “limit” (no longer a technical necessity, by the way) is precisely what makes the service so popular.

Although the term “analysis-paralysis” only crops up on Infinite Jest a few times, in many ways it seems to be the crux of the novel, the delicate balance between freedom and constraint, action and thought, territory and map. Indeed, the recent passages about Randy Lenz and Bruce Green practically depict the two men as incarnations of the extremes: Lenz with his gerbil-in-a-wheel logorrhea, Green clocking in at “about one fully developed thought every sixty seconds, and then just one at a time, a thought, each materializing already fully developed and sitting there and then melting back away like a languid liquid-crystal display.”

It’s a theme present in all major storylines: Schtitt imposing his Draconian training regiment on the unruly student, honing them into world class tennis players; A.A. teaching “Substance-addicted people” how to stop overthinking and instead “fake it until you make it”; and Marathe lecturing Steeply about the perils of too much choice.

The rich father who can afford the cost of candy as well as food for his children: but if he cries out “Freedom!” and allows his child to choose only what is sweet, eating only candy, not pea soup and bread and eggs, so his child becomes weak and sick: is the rich man who cries “Freedom!” the good father?

One has to wonder if Wallace wasn’t so keyed into the chaos v. order equipoise because of his own relationship with editors, the tempering force to his own voluminous output, the catalyst between madness and genius.

Elsewhere Jest


08.16.09 | Permalink | 11 Comments

Every Happy Days needs a Laverne and Shirley, and maybe even a Joanie Loves Chachi for good measure. So too is Infinite Summer spawning spin-offs.

Next week Infinite Jest will finally be published in German. At that time, the publisher is planning an Infinite Summer like read-along, and has a bunch of writers all lined up to participate. The official site 9all in German, natch) is

For those who found I.J. a little too daunting (or too readable, and already finished), B. Mernit has launched Infinite Water, which encourages folks to read and discuss David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Commencement Address.

Speaking of “This is Water”, the Telegraph has a long article on Infinite Jest, Infinite Summer, and David Foster Wallace. In it, Michael Pietsch speaks a bit about Wallace’s final and incomplete novel, The Pale King, to be published posthumously. The commencement is “very much a distillation” of the novel’s theme, says Pietsch, as well as “attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

And at long last we have a blogroll. Chronic Infinite Jest bloggers are now listed here on the mothership, for your pursuing pleasure.

Oh, and a big congratulations to Chaz Formichella, who became the 1000th member of the Infinite Summer. We sent him a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: A Reader’s Guide to commemorate his achievement. Nice work!


Infinite Summary – Week 8

08.15.09 | Permalink | 10 Comments

Milestone Reached: 590 (60%)

Chapters Read:

Page 528 – PRE-DAWN AND DAWN, 1 MAY Y.D.A.U. / OUTCROPPING NORTHWEST OF TUCSON AZ U.S.A., STILL: The Marathe and Steeply show continues. Steeply argues that America is not the only culture in which people are drawn to things that could “entertain them to death”.

Page 531 – 0450H., 11 NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT / FRONT OFFICE, ENNET HOUSE D.A.R.H., ENFIELD MA: Don Gately tells Joelle Van Dyne of a bar fight in which some of his friends “messed with a guy’s girl”; he also asks about the purpose of the veil and her membership in the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed (U.H.I.D.).

Page 538: How Randy Lenz became a Steel-Sak-wielding animal killer. (Aside: “Randy Lenz and his Steel Sax” is the name of my new light-jazz quartet.)

Page 548 – EARLY NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND UNDERGARMENT: Rodney Tine, Chief of U.O.U.S. and compulsive pecker checker.

Page 550 – LATE P.M., MONDAY 9 NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT: Michael Pemulis walks in on John Wayne (N.R.) and Arvil Incandenza in the middle of … something. “‘I probably won’t even waste everybody’s time asking if I’m interrupting” rockets to the top of the “Best Lines in the Book” list.

Page 553 – WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT: Lenz and Bruce Green stroll around town. Lenz regales Green with stories, all while wondering how he can ditch his companion in time to do his nefarious deeds. Eventually he manages to get away, and Green observes the dog-killer in action.

Page 560: Troeltsch, Pemulis and Wayne visit Hal in turn, each for just a few moments.


Page 565: Orin gets it on with a Swiss hand-model. Endnote 234 is a long interview between Steeply and Orin, in which much light is shed on Orin’s relationship with his parents and the mold-eating incident.

Page 567: Michael Pemulis explains annulation to a blindfolded Idris Arslanian.

Page 574: Orin sees his first wheelchair-bound “punting-groupie” since Ms. Steeply left.

Characters The characters page has been updated.

Sources consulted during the compilation of this summation: JS’s Infinite Jest synopses, Dr. Keith O’Neil’s Infinite Jest Reader’s Guide, and Steve Russillo’s Chapter Thumbnails.

Avery Edison, Eden M. Kennedy, Kevin Guilfoile, Matthew Baldwin, Rountables

Midsummer Roundtable, Part V

08.14.09 | Permalink | 7 Comments

This is the fifth of a five-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.

Infinite Summer: Any predictions as to what will happen in the second half of the novel?

Matthew Baldwin: I’ll tell you what I’m not expecting: anything resembling a standard climax or dénouement. In nearly all of Wallace’s non- and short-fiction I’ve read, the pieces just sort of end, often abruptly, with no surprise twist or delivered moral, frequently without even a deft turn of phrase. I always feel like there was an editor somewhere in the process who said, “Hey , David? This is a little too long, so we’re going to just lop off the last third. Does that work?”

Eden M, Kennedy: I am waiting for some class conflict to bubble up. So far the book seems to gloss over the fact that some Ennet House people work, almost invisibly, at ETA (kitchen; the towel girl), but that leaves me thinking that something’s slowly brewing there, theme-wise. Because what about Pat M., a rich woman who seems to be sort of class-blind — yet finding common ground with all kinds of fucked up people who simply share the will to conquer an addiction? She’s going to end up the Mother Theresa of this novel, you watch.

Avery Edison: It seems like we’re drawing to the end of Marathe and Steeply’s conversation on the mountainside, and I’d like to see some sort of confrontation between the two before they leave. We’ve been constantly reminded of the gun lurking just under Marathe’s blanket, always in his hand, and so I think it’d be nifty to see some action by Steeply to justify Marathe’s caution. At the moment it seems too much like Marathe has the upper hand.

Kevin Guilfoile: I just realized that I’m not spending much time trying to figure out what’s going to happen next. This book really is unfolding sort of like a dream for me, where I don’t have much vision of it beyond the present. I think Wallace set up some early seeds of anticipation—we know Hal and Gately are going to get together, for instance—but beyond that I’m not really trying to figure it out much.

Avery Edison: I’m similar to Kevin in that I’ve not given much thought to the future. So many odd events have happened already, I feel like I have next to no shot at making any kind of accurate prediction.

KG: I’m sort of letting it happen, and I’m enjoying it. I wish I could live my life that way more.

EMK: This was fun; can we do it again next week?

Avery Edison, Eden M. Kennedy, Kevin Guilfoile, Matthew Baldwin, Rountables

Midsummer Roundtable, Part IV

08.13.09 | Permalink | 22 Comments

This is the fourth of a five-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.

Infinite Summer: Kevin, do you find Wallace’s style influencing your own? Will the title of your next novel (The Thousand) refer to the number of endnotes you went back and inserted?

Kevin Guilfoile: I’m pretty easily influenced by anything that I like, but usually within the parameters of my own style. For instance, it’s not unusual for me to write long, run-on sentences when I’m trying to change the pace of a passage (or when I’m deep inside someone’s train of thought) and I probably am doing more of that right now, just because Wallace is so effective with it. The novel I’m currently working on (the one after The Thousand) even has a character that’s rather Gately-like (big guy, ex-con, not an alcoholic but a teetotaler) although I created him before I read IJ. Looking specifically at the stuff I’ve written over the last month or so I can right away identify a lengthy passage in which a pickpocket is rhapsodizing at some length about cargo shorts that seems pretty obviously influenced by IJ.

Matthew Baldwin: I actually used the word “demap” as a synonym for “kill” in a casual conversation the other day. The person to whom I was speaking had no idea what I was saying.

Eden M. Kennedy: And I quoted Schtitt to my son on the tennis court. He was complaining how he wanted to switch sides because the sun was in his eyes, and I totally paraphrased that whole section about it always being too hot or too cold or too something on the court, you have to look inside, blah blah. And then I switched and took the sunny side.

Avery Edison: The only thing I’ve taken away from the book is a pretty heavy ‘drine dependency. That, and a fear of Canadians in wheelchairs.

And of course, as I typed that joke in I suddenly realize that I’m sitting at my computer in a bandanna. Curse you David Foster Wallace!

IS: Are you enjoying some sections better than others (E.T.A. vs. Ennet v. Steeply & Marathe)?

MB: They say that a world class director could film someone reading the phonebook and make it interesting. That’s how I feel about Wallace. In an interview, he talked about the challenge of “tak[ing] something almost narcotizingly banal … and try[ing] to reconfigure it in a way that reveals what a tense, strange, convoluted set of human interactions the final banal product is.” Given that Infinite Jest is a novel about a tennis academy, a bunch of AA meetings, and two guys chatting on a cliff, it’s clearly a challenge that Wallace both relished and consistently met.

So I don’t find any of the storylines to be more engrossing than others. In fact, I don’t find the narrative to be particularly engrossing at all. It’s Wallace’s style that I enjoy, and I am largely indifferent as to what subject matter he is writing about at any given moment.

AE: I’m a big fan of banter, so I look forward to any section (usually an endnote) featuring Hal and Orin on the phone to each other. A lot of information tends to get divulged during those pages, and there’s some nice verbal sparring in the mean time.

The Marathe and Steeply sections have also grown on me, probably for much the same reason. It’s also nice to see — in a novel that has almost avoided any discussion of its namesake – characters having honest-to-God conversations about The Entertainment.

EMK: Something shifts in Marathe and Steeply’s conversations as we get deeper into the book; I can’t put my finger on it but it’s definitely becoming easier to read and enjoy their passages.

AE: I think it’s that as we’re learning more about the world around them, the vague allusions to things such as the Concavity or subsidised time are clearer. I’m sure that the conversation Marathe and Steeply have regarding free will would’ve been impenetrable had we not learned more about the Entertainment’s effects on its viewers. I may go back to the earlier Marathe and Steeply sections and see if they make for easier reading now.

KG: It changes for me. I found the description of Mario’s puppet show movie to be a lot like being trapped on an airplane listening to someone taking two-and-a-half hours to describe the plot of a two hour movie, and so I wanted to got to Ennet House every minute of that section.

AE: I really enjoyed Mario’s movie, especially since it gave us a look into the wider community at ETA. Up until then I feel like we’d just been focused on a small group of students (Hal, Pemulis, Troeltsch, etc.) and it was nice to get everyone in that big hall and get little character moments with odd people. The tradition of gathering around for the viewing and the rule that students can eat whatever they want on Interdepence Day was a nice humanizing touch that made the ETA feel more like a school where actual humans would go. Before I saw it as more of a tennis-robot factory, now I’m seeing it as more of a family. Which would make C.T. proud, I’m sure.

KG: I love tennis and find the ETA stuff really enjoyable overall. On top of that there are set pieces, of course, that are just stunning but I don’t think they are tied to any particular place or character, at least not for me.

EMK: I love the ETA kids best when they’re giving each other shit, no doubt about it, but the AA stuff is still fascinating to me. Sometimes this book feels sort of sterile, in a Stanley Kubrick way, just very cerebral and cool, so I do tend to feel grateful for the warmer, more human stuff, I guess.

AE: An exception to that appreciation of the human stuff — at least for me — is anything dealing with Himself’s childhood. Right now if feels like we’re getting background on a character we know is dead, and whose legacy (the Entertainment) we already knew the motivations for. I understand that the scene featuring Himself and The Man From Glad culminated in the origin of Himself’s fascination annulation, but there were a lot of pages to get through for such a small detail. We couldn’t have learned that via. one of Hal and Orin’s earlier conversations, or done without the knowledge entirely?

MB:: Probably. But those two passages are among my favorite, no doubt because they showcase Wallace’s skill in teasing the interesting from the banal.

Avery Edison, Eden M. Kennedy, Kevin Guilfoile, Matthew Baldwin, Rountables

Midsummer Roundtable, Part III

08.12.09 | Permalink | 41 Comments

This is the third of a five-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.

Infinite Summer: Does anyone have a favorite character?

Avery Edison: I’ve written before about liking Hal the most, whilst suspecting that he may be a dick. That’s still holding true. I tend to like the smarter characters, and in a book full of drug addicts and athletes, Hal is standing out a fair bit.

Eden M. Kennedy: I like Hal, too.

Matthew Baldwin: Hal?! I thought you and I shared a crush on Pemulis in common. You’ve changed so much since this project started Eden, it’s like I don’t even know you any more.

Two of my favorite sections–“Erdedy Waits for Pot” and “Erdedy Gets a Hug”–star the same person, so I guess Ken is at the top of my list as well. I hope the second half of the book is peppered with more of his comic misadventures. Oh Ken Erdedy, will you ever win?

EMK: I’m also gaining some affection for Steeply, surprisingly. I want to hear more from Avril. In a novel that’s mainly focused on male characters, it’s hard to find a woman to relate to. Apart from Air Marshal Kittenplan, of course.

Avery, you raised some gender issues in your first post. What are your thoughts on them now?

AE: After learning more about the Office of Unspecified Services, and its strange M.O. of outfitting operatives with highly inappropriate disguises, I feel a little better about Steeply. I have to believe that DFW is going for something a little higher than “ha, ha, look at the man in the dress!” because he’s obviously a smart guy and that would be an easy joke to make.

I hope Wallace ends up treating the infatuation Orin has for Steeply with respect and kindness, although the fact that he’s drawn it out for so long worries me. I’m beginning to wonder if the point of Orin’s crush is for us to laugh at him, as many other works of entertainment wish us to when they feature an un-suspecting protagonist becoming romantically involved with a trans-person. It seems like an innocuous trope, but it reinforces the concept that trans-women “trick” everyone they don’t explicitly divulge their status to. The idea that people are entitled to such information leads to the “trans panic” defense, which is used to justify violence against transgender people on a sadly routine basis.

Aaaaaand I’ve talked for far too long about this.

Speaking or Orin and Steeply, how do you feel about the mix of drama and comedy in the novel?

MB: I have no objection to the absurdity when it is “Out There” (subsidized years, the rise of Johnny Gentle, the history of O.N.A.N., and so on), but find it jarring when it’s in close proximity to the more realistic portions of the novel. I kind of consider Orin to be “Out There” so he’s exempt, but I was truly annoyed at the Clipperton passages. How are we supposed to take the real characters seriously when they are intermingling with cartoons?

EMK: The Clipperton stuff really felt like a parable or a philosophical exercise to me. “Let’s take this premise and draw it out until it collapses.” It seems like it could have been the outgrowth of some philosophical dilemma that Hal might have invented, just to toy with Orin late at night on the phone.

MB: And had it had been presented as such I would have no objection.

EMK: I keep asking myself, “How much disbelief are you willing to suspend in reading this novel? ” Because so much of it is so emotionally real. But then what do we do with the fact that the woman journalist Orin’s so intrigued by is actually a badly disguised man? I find it just so delightful and ridiculous that I honestly don’t care how just plain impossible that would be, I just can’t wait to see how it all shakes out. But still.

AE: To touch lightly (lest I type out another “trans-issues” screed) on the Steeply thing, I tend to assume that Steeply is actually pretty well disguised, and it’s only the fact that Marathe is such an intelligent man that he notices all the costume’s flaws. We also have to bear in mind that every description of Steeply so far has been after he fell down a muddy slope on his way to meet with Marathe. For all we know, his usual appearance is quite passable.

EMK: That’s good, I hadn’t thought about it that way at all, I was assuming that eventually someone like Hal would see through Steeply’s terrible disguise and set Orin straight, so to speak (ahem). I certainly hadn’t foreseen something tragic happening with Orin and Steeply. Now I’m a little worried.

AE: With regard to the mix of drama and comedy, I must say that I’m not finding the book at all laugh-out-loud funny. Every now and then I’ll chuckle at a concept (I think the head-through-monitor part of Eschaton got a giggle) but every attempt at humor by Wallace seems a little self-conscious. When I got to the section with Lateral Alice Moore the other day, I threw up my hands and asked aloud “is there anyone in this book that doesn’t have some ‘comical’ deformity?”

Kevin Guilfoile: It’s an old assumption that no one would recognize a perfect novel even if it were possible for somebody to write one. If I had one major complaint about IJ it would be this inconsistency of tone Eden and Matthew talk about, but that’s also inevitable given the scope of what Wallace is trying to accomplish. When you write a novel of huge ambition you are, by definition, stretching beyond your known abilities and so there are going to be occasional swings and misses along with the tape measure home runs (and obviously readers will disagree about what works and what doesn’t). During the Tournament of Books I said about Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 that in order for a novel to be a masterpiece it probably also has to be at least a little bit terrible. I said that with some tongue in my cheek, although compared to Infinite Jest I found 2666 to be a lot less ambitious and a lot more terrible.

Avery Edison, Eden M. Kennedy, Kevin Guilfoile, Matthew Baldwin, Rountables

Midsummer Roundtable, Part II

08.11.09 | Permalink | 36 Comments

This is the second of a five-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.

Infinite Summer: Have you been sticking to the schedule?

Avery Edison: For the first time since the project started I’m sticking to the schedule. I had been catching up in 75-page burst the day before my posts were due to be written. It’s not a great way to read the book – the feeling that IJ was a homework assignment was only intensified and the fact that I didn’t have time to take breaks from the harder-to-read sections was stressful.

Last week I was getting through about thirty pages a day, and now I’ve decreased to around 15. I’m a little ahead of the schedule, which has added a nice, relaxed tone to my reading.

I mean, as relaxed as you can feel reading about something like the Eschaton game.

Matthew Baldwin: My trajectory has been the inverse. I was consistently ahead of schedule, by as much as 150 pages a few weeks ago. Then I stalled out for a spell.

The main thing that stymied me was the passage about Lucien and Bertraud, before the arrival of the Wheelchair Assassins. Every night I picked up the novel, read one or two paragraphs of that section, and gave up. It took me a literal week to get through four pages, 480-484.

Instead, I occupied my evenings reading everything else by David Foster Wallace I could furtively send to my workplace printer: the David Lynch profile and E Unibus Plurum and Host and The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing and two (count ’em: one, two) long essays about tennis.

Also, at some point during that period I came down with a cold, and discovered that it is nearly impossible to read Infinite Jest (at least for me) when fatigued, even in the slightest.

AE: I’ve found totally the opposite – I make the most progress reading the book when I’m sleepy. Usually I read for half an hour to forty-five minutes just after I wake up and just before I go to bed. I think maybe my brain is still relaxed enough to let the words just wash over me, rather than allow me to interrupt myself by over-analyzing the book.

Kevin Guilfoile: I have actually never been behind, although a couple times the days have caught up to my bookmark. I’m enjoying the book so much, and especially now, that I’ve never not wanted to read it. Right now I’m about a week ahead, I think, which is probably average.

AE: Kevin, reading ahead doesn’t get you any extra credit. I checked.

IS: None of you addressed the Wardine / yrstruly sections. Care to do so now?

AE: I was upset by the Wardine section, but more by its content than style. It’s tough to get through, but both of those sections cropped up during my “read it all in one go” sessions, and so I just kept reading and tried to ignore the language.

Eden M. Kennedy: I guess the Wardine writing style didn’t worry me too much. Certainly DFW’s not the first white author to write in blackface, so to speak, and I think that whatever you as a reader bring to those sections will determine whether or how much you cringe when you read them. I got into the rhythm of the yrstruly section pretty quickly and just began to follow the action, rather than getting too hung up on the style. I’m just going to trust that there’s a reason for the radical style change that sets those sections apart, and that something will happen to bring everything together in a meaningful way later on.

MB: The Wardine section didn’t bother me a whit. For one thing, I never made the assumption that Wallace was trying to emulate an entire race’s locution, only that of a specific person. I mean, if he had every black character speaking in that style then there might be cause for alarm, but this section fell 30 pages into a 1000 pages novel–a little early to go all torch-and-pitchfork on the guy.

And I loved the yrstruly chapter. Very A Clockwork Orangeian.

AE: Yeah, the yrstruly stuff really pulled me in — the text felt more frenetic than cumbersome. I felt like I really was in the mind of an addict, although — as a middle-class white girl who tried pot just once and felt sick for two days after — that could say more about my perception of drugs users than it does about Wallace’s writing.

Have any of you been to Boston? Can you visualize the city as you read?

MB: I think this is the first fiction I’ve read about Boston and its environs that wasn’t written by H. P. Lovecraft, of whom I am a huge fan. So, while reading Infinite Jest, I keep waiting for E.T.A. to play Akham University, or a cult to be discovered holding rituals in the Ennet House basement, or Johnny Gentle to be unmasked as Nyarlathotep. I am pretty sure that Mario’s conception is going to involve the town of Innsmouth.

EMK: I lived on the east coast from the early eighties to the early nineties and had a few Boston boyfriends, so I feel like I can peg several of the locations he uses in the book, as well as the look of some of the people he describes, especially the Crocodiles and the ETA kids. And now that I think of it, I wonder if some of my ETA associations are tinged by other east coast prep novels, like Donna Tartt’s “A Secret History,” and the dozen others I’ve read over the years. I’m sure that’s a topic for a term paper, somewhere.

AE: My only exposure to Boston has been via. the film “Good Will Hunting”. I don’t think this affects my reading of the book too much, other than the obvious downside that – in my head – every character looks like Ben Affleck.

I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

KG: I grew up in the Northeast and my brother has lived in Boston for 20 years, so I’ve been there dozens of times and so I have a pretty solid picture of the city as I read. If the characters would just ride that little tourist trolley around a bunch, I’d be right there in my head with them.

Avery Edison, Eden M. Kennedy, Kevin Guilfoile, Matthew Baldwin, Rountables

Midsummer Roundtable, Part I

08.10.09 | Permalink | 41 Comments

This is the first of a five-part roundtable discussion with the Infinite Summer Guides.

Infinite Summer: Congratulations on reaching the halfway point.

Eden M. Kennedy: Thanks.

Matthew Baldwin: Huzzah!

Avery Edison: Thank you. Although I think that once you factor in the endnotes, we technically haven’t even started.

Kevin Guilfoile: I turned 40 last year, which is pretty much halfway to dead. This feels like that in a “I’ve been reading this same novel for so long I’m not sure what I’m going to do after I finish it” way.

IS: What do you think of the novel so far?

KG: I really love this book, and not in a way I can remember ever loving a book before. Last summer I read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, which is also in the 1,000-page range and is about as beautiful a traditional novel as I can imagine. On some sort of linear scale I would tell you I liked both of these books about equally, but if you were charting my feelings about these novels in three dimensions the plots marking my feelings would be pretty distant from one another. Man, so different.

MB: I am also enjoying it immensely. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also find it taxing. I once likened reading Infinite Jest to exercising, and that opinion hasn’t changed: I’m happy while I’m doing it, I’m happy having done it, but getting myself to do it everyday is something of a challenge. I also find myself eager to be done reading the novel the first time so I can start reading it the allegedly more rewarding second.

AE: I’ve very recently started enjoying the book, although I’m having trouble articulating just what about it that I’m so enjoying. I had a lot of frustrations related to the lack of information we’d received in the first few hundred pages, and now that we’ve learned a little more about the ‘world’ of the book I’m happier to plow through it.

EMK: I feel as though it really took getting past page 400 for the book to open up for me, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m a crummy reader or because patterns are beginning to take shape or because the characters are familiar enough to me now, or what. But despite some rocky weeks, I know I’ll finish it now, and I’m looking forward to finding out what it is that happens at the end that makes some people turn right back to page one and immediately start over again.

IS: And the endnotes?

MB: I have gone back and forth on the issue about two dozen times in the last month, and right now I’m learning away from “essential literary device” and toward “gratuitous pain in the ass”. Plus I just don’t buy any of the rationales I’ve heard for them: that they simulate the game of tennis, that they simulate the fractured way we’d be receiving information in Wallace’s imagined future, that they are there to constantly remind you that you are reading a book, etc. I’d be more inclined to believe these theories Infinite Jest was the only thing Wallace had written that included them. But the more you read his other works, the more it becomes obvious that Wallace couldn’t even sign a credit card slip without bolting on an addendum. The dude loved endnotes–I’m pretty sure that’s the only real reason they are there.

KG: Everything DFW writes is in some way about this difficulty we have communicating. I mean I don’t think it’s as contrived as that—I think he finds endnotes practical as a way of imparting information without interrupting the primary narrative—but I think they are useful in the context of these themes that he’s always returning to.

MB: Why do you always take David’s side?

EMK: I’ve completely gotten used to the endnotes and I actually look forward to them, as they often turn into little punchlines for jokes you had no idea you were being set up for.

AE: I’m not really that bothered by the them. I can definitely see where they could have been included in the text (either as parenthetical asides, or as footnotes on the page), but it is nice to have a break from the main text now and then. I think I also like that, whilst everything else about DFW’s style is so subtle and cultured, there’s something rather in-your-face about his use of endnotes. I like that it’s a very clear “eff you” to the reader.

Elsewhere Jest


08.09.09 | Permalink | 17 Comments

Despite the Avery induced exodus, many folks tenaciously cling to the Infinite Jest bandwagon. The most indefatigable chronicles are:

The fine folks over at Infinite Zombies

Gerry Canavan

Infinite Detox

Infinite Tasks

I Just Read About That

Love, Your Copyeditor

The Feminist Texican

Conversational Reading


Repat Blues

Chris Forster

Brain Hammer

Naptime Writing

Infinite Jestation

A Supposed Fun Blog (although they haven’t posted in a fortnight, so perhaps they have been defatigabled …)

Crystal Bae wrote a nice little entry about Infinite Summer on her blog, Aesthetics of Everywhere. Mike Miley discussed Infinite Summer on The Huffington Post. There was also an article in The Daily Texan.

Reid Carlberg “Finished That Damn Book“. R.J. Adler of A Litany of Nonsense hit page 500 in the novel and asked “Halfway to What?

And Jeremy Stober can’t figure out why he likes Infinite Jest:

In the meat and heft, the narrative always seems just easy enough to read that you don’t even realize how much of the novel’s world you are absorbing, as if it sort of slips in through osmosis and entrenches itself in your metabolic pathways as you lug the physical weight of the book around.

Lastly, the students of ENG 590 at Albany’s College are reading Infinite Jest in three weeks (!!), and keeping blogs all the while. You can read about the class here, and find the course website (including links to the student blogs) at

if you have written about Infinite Jest recently, please let us know in the forums or the comments.


Infinite Summary – Week 7

08.08.09 | Permalink | 6 Comments

Milestone Reached: 516 (52%)

Chapters Read:

Page 442 – YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT: Gately ponders his relationship with a possibly fictitious Higher Power, and remembers his mother’s alcoholism / cirrhosis.

Page 448 – VERY LATE OCTOBER Y.D.A.U: Hal has the “losing your teeth” dream; Mario continues to listen to “Sixty Minutes More or Less”, even without Madame Psychosis.

Page 450 – 9 NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT: Early morning drills at E.T.A.; Schtitt delivers the “second world within this world” lecture (i.e., “suck it up, whiners”).

Page 461: Pat Montesian, and Gately reckless driving in her husband’s car.

Page 450 – PRE-DAWN, 1 MAY – Y.D.A.U. / OUTCROPPING NORTHWEST OF TUCSON, AZ U.S.A., STILL: Steeply and Marathe discuss the “pleasure centers of the brain” (p-terminals) experiments.

Page 475: Gately continues cruising in Pat M.’s car; the Wheelchair assassins kill Lucien and Bertraud of Anitoi’s Entertainment.

Page 489 – PRE-DAWN, 1 MAY – Y.D.A.U. / OUTCROPPING NORTHWEST OF TUCSON, AZ U.S.A., STILL: Steeply and Marathe discuss the possibility of an Entertainment “master”; Steeply asks if Marathe has ever been temped to watch it.

Page 491 – WINTER, B.S. 1963, SEPULVEDA CA: James Incandenza helps his father isolate and fix a squeak in a box spring.

Page 503: At a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, Ken Erdedy gets hugged by Roy Tony.

Page 507: Marathe admits to Steeply that some interns were “lost” while there were experimenting with the Entertainment.

Page 508 – 10 NOVEMBER / YEAR OF THE DEPEND ADULT UNDERGARMENT: Hal and others await punishment for the Eschaton disaster; an introduction to “Lateral” Alice Moore’s.

Characters The characters page has been updated.

Sources consulted during the compilation of this summation: JS’s Infinite Jest synopses, Dr. Keith O’Neil’s Infinite Jest Reader’s Guide, and Steve Russillo’s Chapter Thumbnails.

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