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.

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