Infinite Jest, the thousand-pound tome by David Foster Wallace, is a meme. It’s been a meme for years, but I only learned about this recently.1 I gather that the book is used as (or perceived to be) a sort of intellectual flex by pretentious millenial hipster dudes, few of whom actually read it.
Inevitably there’s backlash against this characterization because it’s dumb to demonize people for liking something. Then there’s a woman who went viral by gradually eating the book. Whaa? I’m unsure where she lands on the Infinite Jest love / hate spectrum.
I fit the meme’s stereotype: right age, right gender, right ethnicity, bought the book. That’s OK. My favourite DFW writing is his essays — A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All are a blast — but I genuinely enjoy Infinite Jest.
Well, mostly. There’s a chapter that describes in excruciating detail a fictional wargame that the schoolchildren play on a tennis court. It includes statistics and math formulas and everything. I think I understand what DFW was going for, but it’s a bore. Other parts are great though. Here’s my favourite:
In the eighth American-educational grade, Bruce Green fell dreadfully in love with a classmate who had the unlikely name of Mildred Bonk. The name was unlikely because if ever an eighth-grader looked like a Daphne Christianson or a Kimberly St.-Simone or something like that, it was Mildred Bonk. She was the kind of fatally pretty and nubile wraithlike figure who glides through the sweaty junior-high corridors of every nocturnal emitter’s dreamscape. Hair that Green had heard described by an over-wrought teacher as ‘flaxen’; a body which the fickle angel of puberty — the same angel who didn’t even seem to know Bruce Green’s zip code — had visited, kissed, and already left, back in sixth; legs which not even orange Keds with purple-glitter-encrusted laces could make unserious. Shy, iridescent, coltish, pelvically anfractuous, amply busted, given to diffident movements of hand brushing flaxen hair from front of dear creamy forehead, movements which drove Bruce Green up a private tree. A vision in a sun-dress and silly shoes. Mildred L. Bonk.
And then but by tenth grade, in one of those queer when-did-that-happen metamorphoses, Mildred Bonk had become an imposing member of the frightening Winchester High School set that smoked full-strength Marlboros in the alley between Senior and Junior halls and that left school altogether at lunchtime, driving away in loud low-slung cars to drink beer and smoke dope, driving around with sound-systems of illegal wattage, using Visine and Clorets, etc. She was one of them. She chewed gum (or worse) in the cafeteria, her dear diffident face now a bored mask of Attitude, her flaxen locks now teased and gelled into what looked for all the world like the consequence of a finger stuck into an electric socket. Bruce Green saved up for a low-slung old car and practiced Attitude on the aunt who’d taken him in. He developed a will.
And, by the year of what would have been graduation, Bruce Green was way more bored, imposing, and frightening than even Mildred Bonk, and he and Mildred Bonk and tiny incontinent Harriet Bonk-Green lived just off the Allston Spur in a shiny housetrailer with another frightening couple and with Tommy Doocey, the infamous harelipped pot-and-sundries dealer who kept several large snakes in unclean uncovered aquaria, which smelled, which Tommy Doocey didn’t notice because his upper lip completely covered his nostrils and all he could smell was lip. Mildred Bonk got high in the afternoon and watched serial-cartridges, and Bruce Green had a steady job at Leisure Time Ice, and for a while life was more or less one big party.
Like what you like. If nothing else, Infinite Jest makes an excellent doorstop.