Sunday, September 04, 2011

Summer of Infinite Jest 8 -- Waiting for the other shoe to drop

I'm about a hundred pages on in "Infinite Jest," page 526 exactly. Hal Incandenza has been sitting outside the office of the tennis academy's headmaster, or whatever title they use for him, along with a few other seniors, waiting to hear how much trouble they will get into for not stopping the Eschaton match, a holiday entertainment which ended in chaos, injuring several younger academicians. (At the end of it, it seemed as if one or two might have actually been killed, but since no one has mentioned it, I guess not.) Hal and the others wait, and we wait along with them, subjected to one of the author's now-familiar tactics of inflating a scene by describing the setting, the background noises and movements, the physical and mental state of various characters, one or two side trips into backstory, and so on. That's not counting the footnotes, which I have been pretty roundly ignoring, though I looked at a recent one to see what "Coatlicue Complex" (sic) meant, and was rewarded with this footnote: "No clue." Ha.

My friend who roped me into reading "Infinite Jest" with her has long since quit, a choice I respect, though I tend to stick with great big books to the end. Maybe there's a little bit of so-I-can-truly-say-I-read-it feeling behind this, and maybe a bit of Stockholm Syndrome as it applies to the reading of large novels. But mainly I stick with the long novels I've decided to start out of respect for the author's own tenacity and the author's own achievement. If it would be a sad world if we all felt condemned to finish everything we started, it would also be a sad world in which no one actually finishes reading "Infinite Jest," "2666," or "Europe Central."

On the other hand, last year I gave up on a book by an author I used to love, Peter Handke's "Crossing the Sierra de Gredos," after 300 of its 700 pages, not only because I was bored stiff by the language but because there was absolutely no indication that anything would ever happen. So it's not like I can't cut my losses.

Back to "Infinite Jest." Several times in the last 80 or so pages we were brought back to the ridge overlooking Tucson, where the two secret agents, one Quebecois and one American, discuss the moral philosophy behind what I have referred to as the magically compelling videotape, or as they call it, The Entertainment. This sequence -- the scene is drawn out in ten- and fifteen-page episodes interspersed through much of the book so far -- shows how the author draws out a single scene to great lengths, gradually exposing meaning through events and -- in this case, exclusively -- through dialogue. The two operatives have a long disputatious conversation that acts at times as a chorus, bringing (gradually!) to light the main theme of the book, which is the tension between freedom and choice on the one hand and enslavement and addiction on the other.

More about that in next entry.

Meanwhile I also read, and finished, Manuel Puig's "The Buenos Aires Affair."

1 comment:

Katharine Hope said...

Glad you respect my decision! Stockholm Syndrome, you got it dude. Good line. Although I respect your loyalty to people and books.