Category Archives: infinite jest

Friday Column: DFW, Reissued

Alert: This is Barrett posting, not Scott. The following embarrassments are completely my own.

The word on the street is that David Foster Wallace’s
mega-novel Infinite Jest will be reissued in a new (paperback?) edition this
Nov. 2 in honor of its tenth anniversary. Dave Eggers will pen a forward.

Not only does this new edition make me want to actually
finish the book—yes, let me be the first to admit I haven’t read the thing; I
made one valiant, 300-page attempt before life, and variety of svelter novels,
lured me away—it makes me appreciate the beauty of IJ simply as a book, as an
objet d’art in itself. It is, let’s state the obvious, a considerable chunk of
paper, and like other massive cult-growing novels before, it threatens to
become more talked about than actually read. (I mean, I know a lot about IJ given what little I’ve
read about it and most of that I’ve just sort of picked up by osmosis.)
[Further self-questioning: should I be admitting any of this in public?]
Anyway, my point is that IJ in its initial hard- and paperback editions was an
impressive work of both book design and marketing. (Let us temporarily table discussing
the torrent of verbiage the covers actually contain.)

By itself, Infinite Jest is simply impressive as a piece of
furniture—the fat glowing orange spine, the graphic color-juggling of the
letters, the mysteriously alluring author photo (here sits the mussed,
seemingly slightly autistic bandana-ed genius, demurely ignoring the camera’s eye,
bewhiskered, lost in no doubt digressively brilliant thought, whitely
turtle-necked, sporting curious hair, a vector of bad fashion as if on purpose,
a look of opaque sadness).

[When I grow up and go to big boy school, I want to write my
dissertation on the semiology of author photos, FYI.]

And then there’s the cover image of a cloud-scudded sky,
which for reasons I can’t articulate just feels perfect for the book.
(Remember, I haven’t read the thing so half of this post is total interpretive crapola.)
It’s an image that seemed to trickle down graphically after the book came out.
For instance, I’ve got a Windows 98 machine in my basement, bought in 2000,
which sports a (default?) wall paper of that very same blue sky w/ clouds. And
then there’s Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson’s multi-narrative epic. One of the
movie’s promotional posters uses
the same image, except here it’s speckled with those falling frogs. (It can
also be found on the backside of the DVD case.) All of which is to
say—aesthetic coincidence or homage or not—how totally cool, and furthermore, I
also find it incredibly appropriate how the novel trickled down to a computer—you
could read the compulsive endnotes as a type of manic ’Net-like linking,
no?—and a Hollywood movie, because it’s not hard to prove how IJ affected
writers of all stripes if not in their specific content then at least in their
scope of ambition. I believe the word we’re looking for here is: sprawl. Wallace
has infected the current generation of fiction writers the way, say, Raymond
Carver infected the one before—a highly idiosyncratic talent that sheds
imitators like sparks. Everyone—are you with me on this?—has to deal with
Wallace’s potential influence at some point. It’s like your hometown: you
either spurn its gates for good or you make some sort of peace with it.

Interpolated Rant: And now, I will gripe. Again, I mean, I
know I haven’t actually read this thing and all but who cares; Scott said I can
blogitate all I want and by God, I’m going to blog until I embarrass myself
into silence. Here’s the gripe: why does everyone refer to the notes in IJ as
footnotes when they are obviously endnotes? Now, he uses true footnotes
everywhere else as far as I can tell, and yes, many of these endnotes do
themselves have their own footnotes, but the massive rear chunk of the novel is
where the notes actually live. Take a flip for yourself. You don’t even have to
read the thing to verify that one.

And but so the specter of a new edition haunts me—can it be
as perfectly bound as the first edition? What will they possibly use for a cover?
Can they even approach the beauty of the original? We’ll see. Either way,
remember: lift with the legs.

Our incorrigible and profound revulsion against identity

From Wallace Stegner’s potent On Teaching and Writing Fiction:

Of our incorrigible and profound revulsion against identity, I suppose that physical love is the simplest, most immediate, and for many the only expression. Some have their comfort in feeling that they belong to the world of nature . . .some commit themselves to the kingdom of God. There is much in all of them, but for you [the young writer], I imagine, not enough in any. For you it will have to be the kingdom of man, it will have to be art."

This reminds me particularly of the essay Jonathan Lethem wrote in The Disappointment Artist (also excerpted in The New Yorker) about immersing himself in books as a teen after the death of his mother.

It also reminds me more generally of the overarching theme of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

Avoiding Obsolescence

Laura Miller has written a review of two books whose common denominator is that they are written by critics who despise the genre loosely referred to as hysterical realism. The two authors fighting against against the menace of hysterical realism are non other than the unholy alliance of James Wood and Dale Peck (the most respected and most reviled critics working today, respectively, in Miller’s words).

Miller notes (as many other critics have) that Peck, for all his vitrol, can’t really express what kind of literature he thinks is good. Wood, however, can:

For Wood, the ideal author appears to be Anton Chekhov (a curious choice for a writer so prone to expounding on the novel, since Chekhov mostly wrote short stories and plays). In the best fiction, Wood argues, the author submerges himself utterly in his characters, so that no image or idea surfaces in the text that would not occur naturally to them. The goal is to achieve a style of transparent "innocence," purified of the author’s voice, thoughts and sophistication. The only proper subject for such a book is family relations, or perhaps the relations in a small, immediate community.

Assuming that Miller is accurate about Wood’s preferences, I see a couple of problems. I’ll take the second part first, the part about family/community relations. Two of the most recent, most successful books in the genre referred to as hysterical are The Corrections and Infinite Jest, both of which are centered around family relations. Clearly these books expand far, far out from the families at their center, and these families do act as metaphors for America, but the fact remains that despite all the ideas they are crammed with, these books are dramas about families. More on this in a moment.

The first preference Wood mentions, to expurgate any idea or thought except that which would occur to a character naturally, seems ridiculous. First off, this completely ignores the role of the supernatural in literature. Regardless of whether or not one believes in ghosts or a god, it seems unreasonable to ask authors to withdraw spirituality from their work. Is there no role for divine inspiration, for those sublime moments in life that transcend the bounds of logic and rationality? Must everything be brought down to earth, explainable by the bounds of "real life"? (whatever that is)

Secondly, Wood’s preference would necessarily eliminate all of metafiction.  If an author can’t have ideas that aren’t in her character’s heads, then she can’t ever step away from the narrative and write directly to the reader. This seems a rather draconian imposition on an author, and I don’t see what rationale Wood has for insisting on it.

I suppose it could be argued that it’s more "aesthetically pleasing" to not have a clunky authorial voice constantly mouthing off to the reader, but then again, the oppostie could be argued as well. When correctly used, metafiction can have very pleasing effects. Allowing for the metafictional voice creates all sorts of opportunities for beautiful ideas and structures to emerge, as in the work of Paul Auster, who Wood certainly can’t object to for being too preoccupied with writing the social novel (as he does Franzen and Wallace).

But to get back to the families at the heart of Franzen’s and Wallace’s biggest books. I recently finished Franzen’s second novel, Strong Motion. Like The Corrections, Strong Motion is very much a novel of ideas. In its search for a consistent morality, it engages with both corporations and abortionists. Frankly, I believe that some of the things Franzen wrote about corporations and abortionists were far more interesting in 1992 (when the book was published) than in 2004.

However, what makes Strong Motion a viable work that I enjoyed reading are the social relations of its central characters. If it had been simply a book of ideas, an illustration of evil corporations and the struggle over abortion, it would have been rendered obsolete by the passage of time. But Strong Motion was a compelling read because its characters engaged me on an emotional level–I could empathize with their stories and found that their lives and their issues drew my interest.

It’s true that books refered to as hysterical fiction do often engage with contemporary America and are often about ideas, and to the extent that this genre is defined by these things, there is a danger that these books may be made obsolete by the passage of time. But as somone who has read many of the most prominent authors of this school, it is clear to me that many of the books in this school artfully construct narratives and characters that work as aesthetically pleasing literature. Even if the ideas and social situations of these books are one day outmoded, these other features will keep these books vital and worth reading, just as in Strong Motion.

Top 10 Books of 2004: #1

#1 — Infinite Jest — David Foster Wallace

This cannot be much of a surprise for anyone who has paid attention to this blog during October and November. During those months, I was reading Infinite Jest and often posting wildly positive remarks about the book on this blog. Quite simply, rarely am I so blown away by a book.

At a time when every new book is billed as profound, earthshattering, magical, and uproarious, Infinite Jest actually is. It’s the rare book that actually lives up to its extraordinarily hyperbolic marketing hype. Perhaps tellingly, marketing hype is central to the Infinite Jest’s structure: one of the (many) questions Infinite Jest tackles is Where is our hyper-marketed culture headed?

It’s a question which Wallace answers in a typically precise but satirically unrealistic way. For instance, Infinite Jest is set just a few years into the future (roughly 2008) and Wallace projects a vision of network TV that dies not from a lack of successful advertising, but from exactly the opposite: in the future, advertising is so good at instilling fear and scaring people into buying products that they can’t stand to watch network TV any longer because the commercials are so horrifying.

Clearly this alternate future is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s a credit to Wallace that it comes off as not only conceivable, but somewhat sympathetic. Sure, the networks are rightly derided for their shortsightedness, but Wallace doesn’t simply mock them. His account of the network’s decline feels more like the kind of inevitability that’s tragic–it’s not really anyone’s fault, it’s just the place where a bad system is headed and people are just doing what makes sense under the logic of the system. No one is really guilty, which makes their pain tragic.

Wallace puts the TV networks, and most of his characters, through lots of this kind of tragic pain and suffering, but these portrayals are never without empathy. Although Wallace is quite justifiably discontented with the state of society and although many of his characters are worthy of scorn, Wallace resists the urge to criticize without understanding. He wants to do more than complain, he wants to know why his characters are the way they are.

One of the things Infinite Jest has been widely praised for is the way Wallace explores and inhabits the unique mental vernaculars of many of his characters. Wallace does this because he wants to empathize with these characters–he wants to know how they think so he can understand why they are such imperfect people. In Wallace’s book, understanding a person’s personal language is key to understanding that person. And if anything, Wallace understanding even more than he wants irony and satire. Wallace’s goal with Infinite Jest is to move forward, to not simply retread the same steps of irony and cynicism that Pynchon and Gaddis have taken, but rather acknowledge the contribution these authors have made by taking the styles they pioneered to new places.

It is because of this deep willingness to move forward that I believe Infinite Jest is a hopeful book. Wallace paints a very dark picture of people and society and it’s clear that he’s holding no punches in giving comtemporary America its due. But the fact remains that Wallace clearly wants to know America from the inside; he wants to understand why things are this way. Wallace is empathizing because it’s only after you understand a problem that you can begin to solve it.

And so, Infinite Jest’s bleak and uncompromising feel only makes it more worth reading. It’s a book that exhibits the kind of humility and genuine curiosity that more people, in this age of hype and approximation, should reach toward. It’s a book that suggests answers by describing the questions so thoroughly that we can begain to see what the answers are. It’s a difficult, long, complex read that, for as much acclaim as it has received, has not been read nearly widely enough.

Top Ten:
#2 — Underworld — Don DeLillo
#3 — Speak, Memory — Vladimir Nabokov
#4 — The Octopus — Frank Norris
#5 — The King of California — Mark Arax, Rick Wartzman
#6 — The Corrections — Jonathan Franzen
#7 — City of Glass — Paul Auster
#8 — Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years — Brian Boyd
#9 — Rise of the Creative Class — Richard Florida
#10 — Madeline is Sleeping — Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

More Jest

Continuing my infatuation with Infinite Jest, here is a great quote from another excellent essay. As I understand it, this is more or less Wallace’s rejoinder of choice to those reviewers who said his book was bad because it "had no ending."

as we might imagine, bounded below by the line of the Earth it “rises from” and the Earth it “strikes” No But Then You Never Really Thought It Was Did You Of Course It Begins Infinitely Below The Earth And Goes On Infinitely Back Into The Earth it’s only the peak that we’re allowed to see, the break up through the surface, out of the other silent world, violently… (Pynchon, 726)

The great and infinite ellipse breaks not only the earth’s surface, but another illusory boundary: as Pynchon envisions the parabola coming from a “silent world” into what is visible, the parabolic text of Infinite Jest breaks from the ‘undifferentiated silence of inspiration’ (Sartre) into visible language, cut off to readers at its breaking & re-entry points. Calling for ‘resolution’ here is tantamount to calling for a novel utterly disconnected from its inspiration, its substrata; for a novel that ruins the speculative richness of its ambiguity with the stultifying precision of data.

And for good measure, here’s the operative quote from another essay explaining the philosophical underpinnings (via Wittgenstein, a Wallace philosophical favorite) of why Wallace doesn’t just tell us what happened.

It is very hard to come to grips with such an ending. Wittgenstein offers us an explanation of our frustration: we are seeking out chimeras. We are trying to analyze and penetrate instead of describe. The goal of philosophy, and literary theory is if anything the philosophy of the 20th century, should not be to break down the text into its component parts and look for meaning, but to describe the usage of language. Meaning is right in front of us, and it is our natural error of methodology to seek formal unity where there need not be any at all.

Wallace, with his metaphor of annulation, the self-consuming ring that constitutes the temporal scope of the book as well as the mechanism of fusion that powers its fictional world, offers us a carrot on a string to grab at and follow, but in the end, the circle is not completed – it leaves an emptiness, and we must accept that emptiness for what it is. It is a void bereft of language and hence, a void that is beyond our conceptualization. What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence. We can describe the possibilities, but within the gap framed by the book lies a set of characters and situations in a superposition of states which we cannot collapse.


The Infinite Jest Thesis Page over at The Howling Fantods has several good papers on the Jest. This is the best one I’ve read so far.

I’m beginning to see why this book is so difficult to walk away from. It appears that part of Wallace’s plan is to leave you in the lurch at the end; he writes the book in such a way that you think, with just enough attention and dedication, you can figure everything out. Apparently, figuring out the book conclusively is  not really possible, but Wallace (who on many occasions has said he takes pleasure in being a little malicious–in good humor, of course–with his readers) must have got a kick out of writing such a compelling, incredibly long work, only to leave you just inches from putting it all together. (This would be a rather poor joke except that it gets precisely to the points Wallace is trying to make.)

It’s probably no coincidence that Wallace, as a writer, shares so many traits with his filmmaker/avatar/character, James Orin Incandenza, who made many films designed to trick and dismay his audience.

Infinite Jest

With about 90 pages to go, I’m heading into the home stretch with the Jest. In a cruelly ironic twist (if you’ve read the book, you know why), I feel that I’ve grown somewhat addicted to this book and will need something along the lines of Jest-methadone to ease off back into other fiction. I believe I have found exactly what I am looking for–the myriad websites devoted to dissecting and analyzing every last of Jest’s 1,076 pages. Perfect.

Here’s a fun fact. Page-wise, by reading Infinite Jest I have read 1/3 (1076/3276) of Wallace’s 7-book oeuvre.

Cynicism in Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace thinks irony and cynicism, once useful critiques of society, are played out.

Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies and duplicates . . . The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, "then" what do we do? Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone . . . Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.

So if irony and cynicism are not useful and redemption is sentimental and naive, what’s left? I’m not sure if DWF answers this question in Infinite Jest, but I think he at least provides some insight.


I wouldn’t call Infinite Jest sentimental by a long shot. I don’t think sentimentality is something Wallace exhibits much in his writing. The book does have irony and cynicism in spades, however. (and this is not surprising, given its subject matter.) Wallace seems to enjoy using irony and cynicism, but, as far as I’ve seen, he usually qualifies it. He either does so explicitly by saying "this is too easy of an answer," or implicitly by taking his writing beyond a simple cynical sideswipe.

From what I understand of Infinite Jest, Wallace tries to get beyond cynicism and irony in two ways. In one of them, he uses something along the lines of farce. Earlier, I posted about Wallace’s send-up of the future video-phone industry. In about 10 pages, he chronicled the rise and fall of video-phones, portraying both consumers and corporations as somewhat helpless players swept along by their own vanity, and out-of-control market forces.

I’m currently at a part of Jest where Wallace is doing a similar thing with TV advertising. In an ironic twist, the big four networks (facing dissolving ratings because of competition from cable and the rise of VCRs, etc) become victims of their own successful advertising: The ads are so disgustingly fear-inducing that they sell tons of product (by creating consumer anxiety) but also kill the networks because people immediately change the channel when the disgusting ad appears. This, of course, causes ratings to fall further and creates financial disarray, which forces the networks to sell even more ad time. A vicious spiral ensues.

The narrative voice that explains this episode is simply relating recent historical events, albeit in a slightly awestruck way. Like the video-phone story, it’s a farcical, but not entirely unrealistic projection of certain current trends.

In another instance, Wallace’s book explains how the U.S. turns a good part of New York, New Hampshire, and Maine into a toxic waste dump, and then "gifts" the land to Canada with the understanding that in return the U.S. will retain the right to still dump on the land (land which Canada isn’t exactly thrilled to accept).

This land grant is told through a video-taped puppet show that is shown as a sort of joke every year when Wallace’s tennis academy celebrates "Interdependence" (the union of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico).

I don’t think these count as cynicism because Wallace’s portrayal of events is more empathetic, or even fascinated, than angry. It’s not that certain people or corporations are out to get the rest of us: if anything they are as helpless and anyone. Also, the narrative voice doesn’t take pleasure or recrimination in the humorous misfortunes that inevitably ensue. These narratives are a sober sort of look at things and are rendered empathetic by the fact that they aren’t told out of anger.

I don’t know if this sort of technique gets us all the way past cynicism and irony, but I think it is a start. It’s an astute diagnosis of societal problems, and, importantly, it doesn’t point fingers or assign blame. Rather, through not-unrealistic farce it conveys the idea that we’re all in this together and we had better do something before things get worse. Yet it certainly isn’t a sentimental, or laughably naive way of doing so.

And the other way? I’ll have to get to that another time, as this post is long enough as it is.

Infinite Jest — So What's It About?

I’ve blogged at length on Infinite Jest twice so far, and neither time have I written much about the book’s plot. Instead, I’ve written plenty about the anti-narrative tendencies of the book. Well, Infinite Jest does have a plot, and it’s a pretty interesting one, even if it moves, in comparison to other books, glacially.

There are basically two major plot threads that, thus far, have slowly coalesced, one involving a sort of tennis boot camp/magnet school, and the other involving a residential recovery house. The tennis academy is atop a hill, right next to the residential recovery (in fact, part of the recovery house’s grounds were destroyed years before the book takes place when the academy was built–by falling debris when the hilltop was flattened).

The very first scene is a college interview of Hal Incandenza (the book’s central character). Hal is the son of the founder of the tennis academy, James Incandenza, who became enormously wealthy after making physics discoveries that paved the way for several advances, including fusion. After racking up more money than God, James built the tennis academy and launched into a career as a maker of experimental films.

Hal is one of the academy’s star students, both athletically and scholastically. The interview is going decently (basically Hal’s coaches from the academy are doing all the talking for him) when something, which thus far remains unclear, happens. From Hal’s perspective everything is normal, but suddenly he is tackled, strapped to a gurney, and rushed off to a psychiatric ward, the result of something he did which apparently scared the heck out of everyone in the room.

After this opening scene, the book jumps around quite a bit, and it’s pretty much up to us to fit everything in. Dates head the chapters, but these are not entirely helpful since the years are no longer numeric, but instead are assigned to corporate bidders, e.g. "The Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment." (note: I’m placing this roughly vicinity of 2015.) As the book jumps around, we find out about the rest of Hal’s family (his pro football playing brother, Orin, his deformed brother Mario, his father’s suicide) and his teachers, coaches, and fellow students at the academy.

During all this jumping throughout Hal’s life, we begin to get inklings of the recovery plot. These are far less structured, basically a bunch of glimpses of the lives of strung-out addicts, circling around suicide, destitution, or both. As time passes it become more and more clear that the thread that binds them is the Ennet House of Recovery.

Woven into all this is the landscape in which the book takes place. This landscape is slowly, but surely, intruding into the lives of the main characters. For example, the United States has enacted something called "Interdependence," which is apparently a pumped-up version of NAFTA in which Canada and Mexico remain sovereign states, but seemingly come further under the domain of Washington. Some Canadian terrorist groups have sprung up to protest this Interdependence, and they have ties to Hal’s brother and deceased father (one of his films may be their most potent weapon).

It’s not quite clear if the tennis academy and recovery narratives will meet, but my guess is that they will. There are already certain parallels between the students and the addicts, and their geographical proximity implies that something is going to happen sooner or later.

Also, the narrative has begun hinting at what happened during Hal’s interview. For about 200 pages or so Hal’s narrative has proceeded more or less linearly through his last year at the academy. It is now clear that his catastrophic interview takes place about 1 1/2 months from where we are now (roughly November 15th). One of Hal’s friends has gotten his hands on some extremely potent, no, legendary drugs circa 1970 (they all do marijuana recreationally) and they plan to try them out toward the end of November. I’m guessing that what happens at the interview is an after-effect of the drugs.

That’s it. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the book, and the plot has been fairly cohesive. There are some loose strings, but at this point everything major has fit somewhere into the overall plot.

Certainly this is not a whole lot of plot for 350 very dense pages. What has taken up so much space? That’s a topic for a future post.

Infinite Jest Continued

Being not just a lover of literature, but a somewhat anal-retentive lover of literature, I decided to figure out roughly how many words per page Infinite Jest carries.

Some quick counts and estimation showed that there are 43 lines per page and that each line carries about 13 words. 559 words per page, on average. You can compare that to a regular-sized paperback, which is in the neighborhood of 300-350 words per page. Basically, each page of Infinite Jest carries about 1.5 times as many words as a normal book, making the page count of 1,088 more like 1,500. But, as they say, the more the merrier.

Infinite Jest continues to tell its story by description (which I described in my earlier post). Very little actually happens in the book, rather Wallace describes locations, characters, and most especially, thoughts, in extreme detail. The book feels like a massive agglomeration of almost purely descriptive vignettes and, 1/5th of the way through, I can only recall a handful of vignettes that actually have any narrative elements.

One thing this book is full of, like the day is full of sunlight, is satirical social commentary. If you find such commentary worthwhile, as I do, then you’ll like this book. If you’re looking for more of a normal story, then you’ll question the inclusion in a work of fiction of pieces such as the one I’m about to describe.

Wallace spends about 10 pages describing the rise and fall of the video-phone industry. Basically it works like this: First consumers flock to the technology. However, they soon notice the drawback — now the person you are talking to on the phone can see you. Consumers realize too late that the phone’s best illusion, that the person you are speaking with is paying attention to you and vice versa, is shattered. Even worse, consumers develop horrible complexes about appearing ugly on their video phones. Soon new technology enables users to "upgrade" their appearance, and this idea runs away until eventually there is an entire industry built around providing fake appearances to hardwire into video-phones. At this point people realize that for all intents and purposes they’re right back where they started, voice-only phone communication, and the bottom drops out of the video-phone market.

This is a hilarious, and brilliant, send-up of our infatuation with ourselves and the way the marketplace blindly feeds it. But is it appropriate to a novel? Especially when not one character is included in this section, and video-phones play little to no part in the book itself? At best, the only way you could make the case for including this is by saying that this helps describe the future America that Wallace’s novel takes place in, but this is a very weak justification.

Personally, I loved this part of the book and I’m glad Wallace included it, but I do realize that this kind of wandering, digressing writing is the reason why Infinite Jest is such a loose, bloated book. I don’t think very many writers could get away with doing this, but I’ll count Wallace as one of the few who can; these digressions are so compelling on their own that in this case I feel they are justified. Whether you like the digressions or not, though, they still raise significant questions about the boundries of what we can consider a story. This is appropriate because it is precisely these boundries that Wallace is testing in Infinite Jest.

But if things like Wallace’s vido phone industry don’t belong in a novel, then where do they do belong? They are like Borgesian stories carried to the farthest extreme — whereas Borges at least had some characters and plot, these bits of Infinite Jest lose any trace of characters and simply become pure descriptions of an invented time and place. They are fiction, but if they are not stories then what are they?


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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