Contra Infinite Summer

Valve bloger Scott Eric Kaufman offers what must be among the dumber reasons for not reading Infinite Jest:

Am I alone in finding the whole idea of Infinite Summer a little morbid? The renewed interest in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is an obvious Good Thing—a first step toward popular as well as academic canonization—but having lived through the recent Michael Jackson Media Event, I can’t help but wonder whether the desire to read Wallace’s novel is akin downloading Thriller because Some Important Someone died. Do I sound like I’m thwacking some straw man with shovel?

Of course downloading a 10-minute music video is comparable to pledging to read a 1000-page, very dense difficult novel.

But forget the facile ThrillerInfinite Jest comparison and consider that Infinite Summer is a website, which still in this day and age is very much different from a top-down, cable-TV-fueled "Media Event." Not to mention, the fact that someone could put Infinite Summer together several months after Wallace died must show some depth to the feelings that his death generated, both in his loyal reading public and those to whom Wallace was merely an object of curiosity.

In the same post, Kaufman goes on to semi-bash political blogger Ezra Klein for considering himself part of Wallace's generation, despite a 20-year age gap. Kaufman then inadvertently gives a great reason for reading Wallace's masterpiece:

Note that I’m not criticizing Klein for being born in a time of cultural plenty—I would rather not have spent the better part of a decade searching for this in vain—I’m merely pointing out that his inclusion of Foster Wallace [sic] among his contemporaries dumbfounds me . . . unless I chalk it up to the novel instead of the man. Wallace might not be Klein’s contemporary, but Infinite Jest could be. Now that I’m reading it again, I’m struck by how contemporary it feels. Everything that annoyed me about it in 1996 still annoys me now—the footnotes, subsidized time, the too-frequent self-indulgent sentence—but everything that felt new in 1996 still feels new now.

There are various reasons for why what was new in 1996 can still feel new now, and among them is that Wallace nailed America in Infinite Jest. He nailed it in 1996 when IJ was written, and he's still nailing it now because this country is still screwed up in the same ways Wallace diagnosed 13 years ago (albeit far more closer to the nadir at this point). I'd imagine that this, and not the media treatment (which, at any rate, has generally been more concerned with suicide references in his novels and the unfinished manuscript than the substance of Infinite Jest) better explains why so many people have expressed a sincere interest in reading Infinite Jest since Wallace died.

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What’s up with the [sic] in the quotation? Calling him Foster Wallace doesn’t strike me as particularly wrong.


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