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

Midsummer Roundtable, Part II

08.11.09 | 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.