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.

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