Posts Tagged 'Infinite Jest'

Infinite Jest (II), (III), and (IV)

About  half way through David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus of a novel, Infinite Jest you realize it’s not going to end like a regular book. You realize this because the book tells it to you pretty openly. It spends much of its time ruminating and wondering about and arguing about and analyzing all of the ways in which our expectations tend more to reflect an abstracted definition of success rather than reality. And in so organizing it this way, Wallace gets to the heart not only of his book’s over-arching thematic statements (which incorporate nearly all realms familial, societal, artistic, athletic, narcotic, political)– its raison d’etre (as it would, did, does say)– but also Wallace’s own deep-rooted conflicts about the power of art to change people; of entertainment; of their place and status in our lives, and those of the artists and entertainers delivering them to us.

But it’s even more than all that too. Our expectations (in general, but for the novel in particular too, I suppose) are only important because they can help us try to figure things out or at least organize experience in a way that makes sense from one moment to the next. What should our lives be, what should anyone’s life be? What should we be doing, what does it mean to live life successfully? And in order to answer that, we have to figure out what does it mean to be successful in the first place? Whose definition? Our own? Our parents’? Society’s? And since one of the main ways success is gauged is by achievement, we look at our talents and we look at what achievements those talents can accrue and we set ourselves to the task of achieving those achievements. For Wallace, achievement lies in writing. And so this book is as much about itself as it is about its author trying to figure out what is the best type of book for a single author to attempt to write.

See? This is what happens when you start thinking about this book. Because it’s so big and so dense and can get your mind swirling very easily, I notice I haven’t been able to do more than imply the role that “addiction” in all its forms plays into all of this. But to put it simply, which is nearly impossible to do, to me the book is about addiction – to success, expectations, entertainment, family demons, et al. – and how it takes something more than (and outside of) ourselves to be able to do anything about it.

A Concise Explanation of "Infinite Jest"

It makes sense, then, that the book is all over the place, which it is, though as I said way back in September, not all over the place in a confusing, un-followable way; but instead in an ingenious, alive, playful, searching way. One of the greatest pleasures of the book is its ability to open up your own wonder at how it could possibly have been conceived by another person, how that person managed to juggle and blend and just keep straight all the pieces to the puzzle, while still creating a cohesive, engaging, entertaining piece of literature.

The best comparison I can make is the one that will also identify why I connected to this book so much — Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.” Both are sprawling stories in which the unbeknownst interconnectivity of a community of people creates the landscape for the story; in which plot details are not simply vague but indecipherable; in which the past has a vice-grip on the characters and forces them to wonder how far back the patterns go and what, if anything, they can do to change that; and in which the ending can be described as so many different things, among which “conventional” is not one.

Infinite Jest has the advantage of being a novel which allows it to move more seamlessly through many different places in time. As well, because it shows us things with words, not images, it is able to make a character who is almost never actually present the central, dominating force of the book: James O. Incandenza. For fun, I’ll gives the most basic plot outline. James O. Incandenza was an annular- physicist-turned-tennis-academy-founder-turned-uber-anti-confluential-filmmaker (see?) who makes one particular film called “Infinite Jest,” which is said to have be so entertaining that all who watch it cannot look away and eventually die from watching it. A Canadian terrorist cell, “The Wheelchair Assassins” wants to get its hands on the film to make copies and use as a terrorist weapon. Trouble is, the film was never released, so no one has a copy, except but there must be a master copy floating around, right? The filmmaker has three sons, Orin (a kicker for the Arizona Cardinals), Hal (a 17-yr old at the tennis academy), and Mario (who is disabled and shared his father’s cinematic interests). The book also follows Don Gately, who is on staff at the half-way house down the hill from the tennis academy, where he is on parole himself and where he helps others who are connected to the filmmaker and the film itself, though none of them seem to know it. And all of this moves out in larger and larger circles.

When the book begins, James O. Incandenza has already killed himself. The book follows a few major plot lines, chronicling the events of the tennis academy — with about dozen major supporting characters and ### minor characters — and those at the halfway house – with another few dozen supporting characters and another ### minor characters — and then there are Steeply and Marathe, government officials involved in multi-layered double crosses, Marathe being a member of the aforementioned “Wheelchair Assassins.” When your book is 1100 pages long, you’d be surprised how effectively you can keep all of these strands going.

What makes the book powerful to me is the way Wallace balances his book’s world. He succeeds at creating a hilariously absurdist world, which contains so many elongated passages involving multiple complex rationales and some of the flat-out funniest writing I’ve ever read, which exposes the flaws in manmade systems. He also examines the endless minutiae of three very separate worlds – drug additions, sports [mainly tennis and football], and filmmaking – and does so in a way that is neither comprehensive nor simplified and uses them to powerfully extend into the thematic realms.

Because the writing is so funny and so smart and contains so much word-play, there is the very real danger of losing touch with the characters; of populating the world with interesting but ultimately un-identifiable people. And so Wallace deliberately slows things down sometimes and allows characters to talk, to really just talk and communicate and seek and try to make sense of their lives and circumstances and pasts. He allows them to share themselves with others in the hope of creating a connection and maybe just identifying with them. These passages come to us in a few different ways. Some are third-person narrations which take on the particular speech patterns of one specific character, as the events are relayed. Some are told through recollections of other characters, with rich, detailed prose that takes your breath away. Some are told through letters, some through terse transcripts of recorded conversations. There is the tale of the woman who refused to stop using drugs during pregnancy, gave birth to a stillborn child and carried it around like it was alive, so great was her guilt, so crushing was her grief. There is the story of Eric Clipperton, who played every tennis match holding a hand-gun to his head, threatening to shoot himself if the other player did not let him win. There is Mrs. Waite, an old lady who lived across the street from Don Gately and “basically radiated whatever mixture of unpleasantness and vulnerability it was that made you want to be cruel to her.” But my favorite is a monologue spoken to James O. Incandenza as a young boy, by his father. The section details all of the aspirations the father has for his son and also recounts an enormously painful moment in the father’s childhood that involved his father. The monologue is 12 pages long, unbroken by any prosaic interruptions. Just a father talking to his son. I could quote from these passages for a hundred pages and still it would not be enough. There is too much great writing in this book to choose economically.

These small diversions, these “systems within systems” are here because this is how people help other people and this is how Wallace hoped to help his readers, maybe the only way he knew how to. There is so very much of him in this book, so that you establish a personal connection to the writer as well as the characters. This is a writer placing himself right there with his creations, in their midst, on their level. A writer seeking to write something lasting, that will create a bond between himself and those who read the book, as well as between the readers with each other. The book is a constant reference point between myself and a friend who’s read it; not because we’ve created an elite club, but because there is a sense of shared experience between us.

I love books like this. As a writer, it has dazzled me, because it’s something so far beyond the abilities I possess. There is so much skill and craft involved, and yet love of story and of character. I also love it because reading this book is like going to writing class. It’s expanded the way I view writing in every way. It has built bridges to islands of imagination that were hitherto uncharted in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever had this many new ideas to write about.

Infinite Jest can be overwhelming. It takes time. It takes patience. There are big words. But the effort it requires is nothing compared to the rewards that reading it affords. Please read this book. And then call me in 4-6 months. We’ll go get some food and talk about it, and we’ll have a great time.


Church on Sunday; or Ode to Bruce Beresford

I am a Christian not usually moved by Church. What I mean is this: I go to church, I can appreciate the ideas and truth content of a sermon, but rarely does the experience – the packaging, if you will – itself move me. Oftentimes, I leave slightly fussy and have to get over myself on the car ride back home. This is not a film. This is not a novel. This is not art. This is proclamation on a 7-day cycle. Pastors don’t have teams of writers like sitcoms and anytime I think “Well, hell, maybe they should” I am immediately struck by the stupidity and un-enlightened-ness of the concept. It is just possible that the sermon was not crafted with me in mind – and that it shouldn’t have to be for me to be willing to see what it’s saying. This is a lesson continually learned. For myself and people like me, small group meetings are more fulfilling: discussing verses, digging into them more than usually happens in a sermon. This is where His words come alive for me.

Which is why when a Sunday at Church – in this case, Pacific Crossroads Church – does move me, it’s a big deal. This week was a big deal; one of those times when everything in the sermon and the verses preached upon and the music and all of it overcomes all usual preconceived notions of expectation and cuts directly to your own personal heart. My heart. There was even a moment today when my friend and fellow writer Josh looked over at me after the pastor said something and said “We just talked about that.” It’s true, we had, last night, because it had been on my mind for the past week.

The sermon was the beginning of a series about the life of David (as in  “-and Goliath” and “-and Bethsheba” and many other “as in”s), but today was all groundwork and precursor. It was about Hannah, the barren woman in 1 Samuel who is mocked because she cannot have a child and goes to the temple to pray. The verse recount a bitterness and frustration of spirit not often spoken of in church. Most of the time we’re asked to abide, to stand it. Hannah approaches God with an honesty and frankness and brokenness so rare, she seems drunk. This is God’s word (emboldens, mine):

10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”  … 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk… 15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” 18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

The sermon was about our own personal terms for a successful life. How at that time if a woman didn’t have children, she was viewed as worthless. How Hannah assumed that this must be true. How while our society has progressed and evolved in its role of women in society, there are still mostly arbitrary societal pressures and incorrect criteria for what it means to be a successful person. How we assume that this must be true.

I Want to Go to There

There is a way to read those verses and see them as Hannah bargaining with God. Growing up in the church, this was my understanding of the passage, and I didn’t understand why or how it (the verses) could be suggesting this when I had so often promised things to God if he would just allow me to be Batman or Spiderman. This was one of those stories in Sunday School that the teacher thought would be an easy lesson – she prays, things change! – but very quickly got out of hand because of its dis-unity with our basic understanding of God. Snack-time was often invoked much earlier than normal on days like this.

What the passage is really about is a woman giving up what she had always been told her dream would be. It’s her wrestling with God to do this. It’s her arguing with God why this must be. And eventually it’s her decision to make God her barometer for success, to the point that even if He should decide to give her a child, she will deliver it right back to God; that is she will deliver her dreams into the hands of God instead of holding onto them for herself – “Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

The sermon was about how our expectations and dreams and societal/personal preconceptions about success have to be molded and given over to God. We assume that the blacker things in our lives should be given to God. Our greed and lies and sins, anything we dislike. Much harder is to give to God those things we like and want to keep and think will complete us – which good things in the end won’t complete us but seem like they will complete us at the time. It’s in some ways a sermon that goes back to the notion of a God-sized hole that nothing but God – which is to say nothing but Christ – can fill.

The One and Only Bruce Beresford

Saturday night, amid much movie talk, my friend Ben brought up a film he really likes starring John Cusack and Morgan Freeman, about a convict and a father. You know the one? Neither did we. It’s called “The Contract,” and it was made in 2006 and directed by Bruce Beresford, who also directed “Tender Mercies” and “Driving Miss Daisy.” It was released direct-to-market (a.k.a. straight-to-DVD). How can this be? His films used to win Oscars. He’s got two Hollywood heavyweights in his film. How does this movie not get released in theaters? How can this movie fail to be seen as “capable of cinematic success” with all this clout behind it? Has the world gone crazy?

This is my own personal fear. I want to write and direct. But what will happen on the day that I make something that I believe is worthy and good and am told by the world that it doesn’t measure up? How will that fit into my goal of being a first-rate filmmaker? How can it possibly be my goal to achieve something so intangible and fleeting? Or, what if I “Beresford” my career? What if I achieve great success early on, only to be all but forgotten and disregarded later? Woody Allen would be a more shining example, but his films always make it into theaters. He’s still seen as an auteur. Jason Reitman, whose early success with “Juno” he said could be a terrible thing because it’s a lot to live up to for the rest of his career. To be honest, if you’d asked me before Saturday night to name the director of “Driving Miss Daisy,” I wouldn’t have been able to. He hasn’t been forgotten by me, he was never known. And if this is the case with people like me, what must that mean for him?

I’m sounding incredibly insulting. My question is, what does success mean for Bruce Beresford? Is he bitter? As someone who has achieved essentially nothing to date, I look at his career and know that I would be bitter if it were me. I would cry out to God how totally bullshit it is that Morgan Freeman and John Cusack can’t get me a theatrical release. Yes, but Beresford has made 15 movies since “Driving miss Daisy,” many of which have had theatrical releases, and many of which have gotten very good reviews.

So the question returns to what is success? How do I define it for myself vs. How should I define it? The question has been on my mind much of late, due to a sortof existential “Would You Rather…?[1] proffered by my roommate, Adam, and due to some brilliant passages in (what else?) Infinite Jest, by the late great David Foster Wallace (prepare thyself):

“And for the ones… the lucky who become profiled and photographed for readers and in the USA religion make it, they must have something built into them along the path that will let them transcend it, or they are doomed… For, you, if you attain your goal and cannot find some way to transcend the experience of having that goal be your entire existence, your raison de faire, so, then one of two things we see will happen…

“One, one is that you attain the goal and realize the shocking realization that attaining the goal does not complete or redeem you, does not make everything for your life “OK” as you are, in the culture, educated to assume it will do this, the goal… and you are impaled by shock…

“Or the other possibility of doom, for the etoiles who attain. They attain the goal, thus, and put as much equal passion into celebrating their attainment as they had put into pursuing the attainment. This is called the Syndrome of the Endless Party. The celebrity, money, sexual behaviors, drugs and substances. The glitter. They become celebrities instead of players, and because they are celebrities only as long as they feed the culture-of-goal’s hunger for the make-it, the winning, they are doomed, because you cannot both celebrate and suffer, and play is always suffering, just so.”

A clear image of any number of celebrities might leap sharply to mind. Along, hopefully, with some pity. Is it sortof narcissistic to think I am even in the running to have this sort of problem? Maybe. I can see it on many levels, though. For everyone. Because anything can be an idol. A girlfriend can be. A job. An artistic aspiration. These are all good and wonderful things for which we have found ways in our infinite wisdom-of-the-tunnel-vision to muck up and ruin and bring low. I’ve done it. Often. It’s caused incredible pain and nothing good. I’m still tunneling through the wreckage and still repairing the damage. Well, not me. God. And I’d rather like not to do it again, when given, on any level, the chance. I’d like to be able to look up and to see through it this time. I’d like to have internal systems in place, intellectual-emotional understandings of myself and my goals enough to avoid these pitfalls and trappings, such as they are, and undoubted as they will come.

[1] (And here I embellish the actual wording) Essentially: If you could only and ever make just ONE film (since for the purposes of this hypothetical you died of a sudden and rare leg-tumor), would you rather make Film #1, which was beloved by critics and audiences; which made hundreds of millions of dollars; which won all major awards, including numerous Oscars both you and all involved; but which you yourself knew in your heart of hearts was not your best work and so was not a film that you were proud of, though you could be proud of the attention it had garnered; OR Film #2 which was received only partially well by critics – some of whom liked it quite a lot (maybe it made a few scattered Year-End Top 10 lists) – and which never really got a wide release; which only made somewhere between let’s say 6.7 and 7.2 million dollars; which was altogether overlooked and not even in the mental running for any awards, either for yourself or for any involved; but which you yourself knew in your heart of hearts was your best work and so was a film you were completely and utterly proud of, a film about which there is not a single solitary frame you would change if your life depended upon it? Which do you choose?

Recent Readings 1 – David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace killed himself in September of 2008. I turned 25 that month. He’d already published a book by that age. When he died, he left an uncompleted manuscript for a novel he’d been working on for years, since his second novel, Infinite Jest came out in 1996. Before he hanged himself, he wrote his wife a note and left the manuscript on his desk, incomplete, but findable. It will be published this fall.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and somehow between buckling down so I can finish Infinite Jest and thinking about the legacy we leave behind, I’ve been drawn more and more to Wallace. I read a wonderful selection from his unfinished novel, The Pale King, which appeared in The New Yorker as “Wiggle Room” in 2009, in addition to an extensive farewell article, a short biography of his life and work and hopes and fears. It’s called “The Unfinished.”

Page of transcript from “The Pale King” w/ notes and alterations by its author David Foster Wallace

My goal was to give an analysis of both the selection and the article, but jeez, I just think you should read them both right now and then call me and then we can talk about it for hours and hours.

The article about Wallace’s life dealt with his (Wallace’s) belief that in a world of hyperactivity, boredom can lead to amazing breakthroughs in one’s life. Transpose that to food, and it’s the same as fasting. What is strange is that reading, for me, in my current place, is just such a breakthrough. It has served as a reminder of everything I want my life to be, even if that’s not what it is right now. His novel is about an IRS Rote Examiner, saddled with the task of an endless string of reports to calculate, tabulate and validate. That he tries—and fails—to do this mindlessly is the biggest problem in his life. He can’t get over how much his mind won’t just go blank, let time slip away, and let his body do his job. If he could, he knows his days would go by faster. But he can’t and so he is left checking the clock moment to moment to moment.

This is the very same issue I’m dealing with at work: boredom. With nothing to do, the break-through for me has been returning to reading. I’ve noticed if left to my own devices and with everything available to me, I read less than I would like to. I write less than i would like to. At work, all I can think about is how much I want to do these things, because all of the other distractions and activities are removed and I am faced with boredom, with nothing. And when I see that nothing, I can also see what I want it to be filled in with. With writing and reading. With films, absolutely, but I don’t have to push myself to watch movies or TV shows. So at work, I find my appetite for reading is immense. I inhale articles and stories. But how weird to be sitting at work, as all around people are on the phones and talking insurance, and there I am being taken away and deeply moved by writers. There have been moments when I wanted to cry for being moved or laugh out loud for being tickled. I find myself glancing around, sure someone has noticed. My facial expressions aren’t those of an adjuster. They’re of a reader. I love it.

Some of the best things about the article are Wallace’s thoughts on writing:

Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being” and should make one “become less alone inside.”

“It seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies . . . in be[ing] willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this. And the effort to actually to do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage I don’t seem to have yet… All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers.”

“Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.”

“The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting—which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff—can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, [post-modern] stuff can’t, that seems to me to be important.”

I see these ideas being sorted out in Infinite Jest, particularly the third sentiment. I also love how much he plays with words. “Wallace explained that Broom [of the System] wasn’t “realistic, and it is not metafiction; if it’s anything, it’s meta-the-difference-between-the-two.” ”

And if Wallace felt that way about his first book while writing his second, he seems to have had apprehensions about the second while writing the third. He still felt like he was using too many tricks. He’d been working on the book since 2000, and he couldn’t find his way through it. He wrote to numerous friends and other writers, looking for inspiration, begging, pleading for them to help his breakthrough. He fell into a sortof Charlie Kaufman-esque state. Aside from all the sections about the IRS workers, he writes himself into the book through faux-introductions and he makes up things about himself and just sticks it all in there. Because he couldn’t help how interested he was in absurdist writing and how in love with language he was. Because one of the things that is so great about his writing is the way it battles itself with its disparate tempos- here calm and straight-frward and beautiful in its simplicity; there frenetic and confusing and dumbfounding in its linguistic complexity.

Another Page of transcript from "The Pale King" w/ notes and alterations by its author David Foster Wallace

And yet, he didn’t want his work to become only about that. In the article he notes how irony can do a lot of things, but one thing it can’t do is redeem. It’s outside of the realm of irony’s abilities. It seems like he battled that throughout the composition of this new book. In one of those letters (I think to Franzen), he said for it to be any good, he would have to write a 50,000 page transcript and then cut it down from there to a readable “thing.”

The article is the place to go for info about Wallace. This is much more about how I think of myself in relation to what he said. But before he died, his goal was to create a work that is all the things he believes about writing and the world. So of course it includes him. He wanted to write something that helped someone. But, because of his mental state, which was in disarray (the article details the litany of medications he took and his various attempts and failures to half-successes to deal with depression), he couldn’t bring himself to write anymore. He had an untold number of pages and notes and ideas, but he couldn’t make it work the way he wanted to on the page. (The above pages were also posted on The New Yorker’s website. You can click on them to enlarge and read his notations. To me, it’s inspiring to read a writer at work.)

I know very well what that’s like. To get the tone of the thing right, to make it all of the things you want it to be – all of which are different so as to immediately avoid any criticism that a) it’s too nice or too cynical or too whatever and b) more importantly, to avoid any assumptions or categorization by readers (or viewers) about which parts of the writing directly mirror your own personality, c) it covers all the bases you know of to cover.

Wallace’s suicide seems almost like the given ending to his final novel. How else could an author’s final novel end, how else could his career end, but in death? It’s a surprise, given he wrote so much about himself in his new novel, that he did not write a post-script in which he killed himself. Perhaps because he could not focus enough to write or could not settle his fears enough to focus on anything other than the fact that he thought the fears were taking over him, he decided to make his reality the ending to his fiction. Perhaps this was the way he thought he could prove to his readers that he was willing to die for them.

He spoke so often of wanting to move of wanting to make his work something useful that would point people toward something better. He wanted his work to help people. And so it seems that he made his life the warning  and the blatant plea he could not figure out how to give on the page. A warning and plea to get help. A warning and plea to keep going. A warning and plea to do what, in the end he could not: to keep writing and to write something that helps make people less alone inside. He did it so well and so beautifully for a while. But he couldn’t sustain it, and he hated that fact.

Maybe he thought his life had become the emotional, mental equivalent of what my Grandfather’s body’s physical state was just before he died: unable to breathe on its own; damaged and deteriorated beyond repair, such that to go on living would not be living anymore. I’m not commending or even excusing his suicide. I’m just trying to gain some hint of his possible motivation.

And so the book will be published this fall. Talking with my good friend BJ, recently, he observed that for someone so wrapped up in style and the way Wallace’s own feelings about it expanded and arced the older he grew, combined with an increasing drive to be simultaneously helpful and innovative, the idea of an unfinished novel – particularly an unfinished novel he had grand reservations about – becoming the published work just might be more interesting than a “fully-realized” work of fiction. More interesting, more fitting, and more final. And besides, when in the history of any artistic endeavor worth pursuing has the phrase “fully-realized” entered the artist’s mind as a thing achievable?


Asking for one of these for Christmas

I’ve been very busy recently. I am in the process of re-writing “Trailer: The Movie” – the full length film. This time last year, Adam and I were writing it for the first time. I’m doing the re-writing alone, with his permission, and boy-oh-boy. It’s interesting to read over the storyline for the feature now. It doesn’t really make sense and has a pretty limited scope. So my task from now until probably about January is expanding it to include more media entities. The internet, tabloid journalism, on-set visits, and DVD special features (I am toying with the idea of including a section in the film that is the DVD commentary for one of the films-within-the-film, which itself would make for an interesting moment on the DVD commentary for the film itself (should it ever be made)).

I went just yesterday to Booked Talent, a call-in service for extras. It was interesting. When I went to Central Casting to sign up for extras work (you have to do both), it was like a prison camp. Barking orders, 100 people crowded in elbow-to-elbow, very specific instructions and all sorts of lines to stand in. Today, there were 6 of us. It was laid back, very informal and helpful. I guess with only a few people per day, you can afford to be casual, but it was a welcome change. I had to bring 4 different outfits – business, business casual, athletic (basketball), and normal 20-something clothes. I am available for work as early as Friday, so who knows, you could glimpse me in the background of your favorite TV shows. I won’t be speaking, but that won’t stop me from chewing the scenery all I can.

I’ve been doing a lot of work for It’s Just Movies and also wrote a blog about writing for Tyler’s podcast blog, More Than One Lesson. He was nominated for a Podcast Award for that show, after only a handful of episodes. It’s a huge boost for him. Some day I’ll be on there, talking about who knows what? Until then, you can hear me on another great podcast – Barely Literate. I was on there in January talking about “Shampoo Planet” which wasn’t any good. This time, we discussed David Foster Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System which I liked more and more as I looked it over in preparation. I also came across a great piece of prose from one of Wallace’s essays. Here, describing the food at a state fair:

The corn dog tastes strongly of soybean oil, which itself tastes like corn oil that’s been strained through an old gyn towel.

His descriptions are some of my favorites ever. Infinite Jest is currently in the running for one of my favorite books of all time.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Aside from that, it’s Thanksgiving week! Tomorrow, I’ve got two to go to (one for my Gram on my Mom’s side, one for 25 of us from the two churches that comprise our small groups). Then, Saturday I drive down to Port Huneme and the house my Dad grew up in to have Thanksgiving with everyone on that side of the family. My fridge will be filled with leftovers to last til Christmas. I’m startled how excited I am for all of this. I’m used to spending the holidays with just my parents and siblings. This year, I won’t see them for either, but I’m spending time with everyone in both sides of extended family. It will be very interesting, and I’m looking forward to writing about it all.

Until next week, take care, hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!

Infinite Jest (I)

Because of the sheer size and literary scope of David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, any singular attempt to write about it will be futile. So instead of giving a broad outline and a few highlights after I finish it, I’m going to write about it as I go along.

pinocchio-paradoxAs of page 100, there are only whispers of the plot, but more than enough themes and characters and literary devices to keep me busy. I’m forming a thesis in the margins, so we’ll see how accurate I am in another 1000 pages. Right now, the biggest compliment I can give to Wallace is his command of narrative, which is also to say narrative styles, of which, so far there are at least 5. Never are they unclear, though Wallace is by nature a very complicated writer. He defaults to wordplay and enjoys clause-filled technical explanations of chemicals, ingredients, and drugs. It might be daunting if you didn’t get such a clear sense that the book was, in fact, written to be enjoyed (and is immensely enjoyable).

As for his driving thematic, Wallace’s own complex/paradoxical paranoia takes center stage in almost every major character. We wait with a man for drugs to arrive for 11 pages, in which he explains that he has quit 70 or 80 items before, each time asking a different person to procure him one last stash, each time making that person swear never to get him drugs again, so that now he has to meet new people just so he has someone who will act as a third party to get him the drugs. There is Hal, who we see in a segment from his childhood, talking to a professional conversationalist whom he accuses of being his father in disguise, the production being the father’s only way to be sure that the son actually speaks and is intelligent. If you’ve read any of David Foster Wallace’s work before, these things will not surprise you, and if you enjoy the reflexive, confusing style of Charlie Kaufman’s films, you might feel strangely at home with this book.

I do.

Stop Following, Me.
Stop Following, Me.

One last thing. Infinite Jest contains 96 pages of endnotes, and instead of being one too many revolutions on the quirk cycle, the device contains my very favorite thing so far. Hal’s father, the late James O. Incandenza, left his scientific/athletic (I’m not quite sure what else) job late in life to make films. The novel spends a couple pages giving only a cursory history of him, in which we are directed to the endnotes for a 9-page filmography. Each entry contains standard information (documentary or narrative; black and white or color; running time; silent or sound) about his films, which include titles like: “Annular Fusion is Our Friend,” “Kinds of Pain,” “Every Inch of Disney Leith,” “Let There Be Lite,” “(The) Desire to Desire,” and “Sorry All Over the Place.” Also listed: “Infinite Jest” attempts I-V. Using only objective information, Wallace uses the filmography to (a) give us a piece of crucial information about the title of the book, (b) construct an entire character in a radically unique way, and (c) make us laugh. The summaries of the films are hysterical in a way equal to and greater than the very funny (though ultimately contextless) curiosities of something like John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise. Hodgman’s is sortof an anti-book, and while it’s funny, its strands go off into nowhere and connect to nothing. Wallace’s absurdities keep us searching for where those strands have landed and keep us asking why. He takes the joke deeper into itself and also places it within the context of the novel, but without making it part of the novel itself. If he had explained the information contained in the filmography, the effect would be diminished, and it would become only another piece of plot. But a filmography is its own thing, so it is both itself and a narrative device. And if I am just spinning my wheels by this point, it is because I am having too much fun thinking about it all and don’t want to stop.

New Place News

Been in new apartment about a week – many cool things. 

1. Found a great running route that doesn’t cross too many busy streets, also found a huge lake/park a few blocks away with tons of running trails and no stop-lights for cars to kill me at. 

2. Apartment building has Courtyard with pool and hot tub, both of which are actually – wait for it – CLEAN!!! Overheard some neighbors talking about being actors in LA – maybe I’ll chat with them another time. Nothing better after running for an hour than a dip in the pool. Also, Courtyard has 3 entrances and circular halls – this seems ripe for one of my beloved long takes in a short film that I may have to start writing. Camera moving in and out of building, across pool, pausing here, there for some conversations. It’s a little Boogie Nights, but it’ll be a good exercise if nothing else. Party-sized cast + extensive camera movement = awesome

3. Looking for a car. Went with Tyler and Jen last week, need to go again this week. Talked to the salesmen at the used car place, and since I have good credit, I should be able to get a car without a current source of income. Looking for good gas mileage above all.

4. Am blogging for Tyler’s new podcast More Than One Lesson, which is very good and interesting (Check out my most recent blog). I may be appearing (in voice) on this show very soon.

5. Meeting some good people, including new friend Josh who also writes for the website and is the only person I know who’s actually finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. And as he doesn’t know anyone else who’s finished it, I feel compelled to move it up my list and begin it as soon as I finish Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which shouldn’t take too long. For all her shortcomings as a writer, that damn J.K. Rowling tells compelling stories that are easy and fun to read. You could do worse. 

6. Met some AFI students over the weekend, two of whom are Production Designers. This could come in handy, especially with aforementioned possible new short film rattling around in brain. One of many.

7. Have been looking at filmmaker’s website Without a Box – awesome. You can get information about thousands (yes, thousands) of film festivals – including the major ones – for submission deadlines and costs. You can create a profile and add projects so the site can more easily point you toward those festivals that fit your film. You can create press kits with all sorts of promotional materials. Lucky for us, we have most of that stuff already, so it should be even easier.

So, all in all, things going well so far. In the midst of writing this, I was even called back for a job I applied for today. Ain’t that something!

Sad Sad Sad

Writer David Foster Wallace was found dead in his home late last week. He hanged himself. He was 46. And today’s blog is brought to you by the letter, why?

There is no answer. Even if there WAS an answer, it wouldn’t be an answer, how could it be? A question wrapped in an incomplete explanation is what it would be. So, a better question might be, now that he has left us, what has he left us with? He was not exactly prolific, there are only 2 novels, and a handful of short story and essay collections. Perhaps you may stumble across an old article of his at some point. So, what does he leave? Most notably, he leaves behind the Biblically-lengthy novel Infinite Jest, a 979-page behemoth of a book, with an additional 96 pages of teeny-tiny foot-notes. What is the novel about, though? And here we are, back to the questions again.

With all suicides, there is that tendency to say either, “We had no idea, he seemed so normal,” or “If only we’d stepped in sooner.” Both are well-meaning, and I’ve thought both recently. To me, reading his work, he seemed incredibly intellectual, and, by his writing, put-together. Then, because he will not leave my mind, I went online and looked some stuff up. Watched about a 30 minute interview with Charlie Rose from 1997. And I was startled by how manic he was. Manic in the saddest, scariest sense of the word. He seemed constantly embarrassed, unsure of himself, apologetic for his answers. Near the end of the interview, Rose mentioned some thoughts of suicide, and DFW said he hated that people talked about that, because it felt so ordinary a thing to feel. Watching it felt eerie. But, honestly, if I’d seen it while he was still alive, I would’ve had a completely different reaction. Would’ve assumed he’d exorcised some demons. Would’ve assumed that was his eccentricity shining through, not a legitimate part of himself.

Fairly, or not, artists are summarized by their work. It is, after all, why they are known to us at all, so there is a posthumous fluency to this categorization. About his life, what really do we know? What is known is what is known publicly. His family and friends are allowed to feel the loss on a deeper, more personal level, but the only effect he can have on us, or at least me, is what his work did personally to me. And in that way, I guess, he lives on, and he does not. For his work will live on, for those who read 979 page novels and essay collections. And the lines like “He seemed to be a writer who…” will amass and disperse into the air.

So, what is there to say about him?

I could list for you all of his accomplishments, the Genius Grants, the Fellowships, the accolades, since many of you reading this likely do not know such trivia. But I didn’t know it either, while he was alive, so what point could possibly be served by it now that it has ceased to matter? I don’t know most of it now, still. I would have to look it up, just to write it down. It would seem much more impressive than it is. A rallying cry to remember a man who I forgot to learn about in the first place, you know, while he was alive…? Remembrance is for those who have a history, a relationship. I read two of his books, both of which have parts that stick out and a stylistic flair, and both of which left me equally as annoyed as elated. Not much of a history. So perhaps this note is much less memorial and much more apology.

At least now I might actually read Infinite Jest.


It Has Come to This

March 2019
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