The Addiction of Infinite Jest

Barrett, whom we’ll be hearing more from on other books he reads in the future, is currently talking about Infinite Jest. In his first post on the book, he got into a little meta-discussion by mentioning a number of good sites with IJ criticism. I’ve visited several of those myself, and I think many other readers of this book have too, because IJ is a novel that leaves you with a number of dangling threads. Not dangling as in David Foster Wallace did a bad job of cleaning up after himself, but dangling as in purposely left unsolved to demonstrate the unrequited search for satisfaction that is IJ’s main theme.

For those who haven’t read it, IJ is largely about the culture of consumerism, where one more hit of entertainment is always desired. To critique it, DFW creates The Entertainment–a DVD (the book, written in 1996 before DVDs were common in the U.S., uses slightly different technology, but its pretty similar so I’ll just call it a DVD) with entertainment so compelling that anyone who sees it once is a goner–from that moment on, all they will want to do with the rest of their life is just watch The Entertainment over and over.

What is The Entertainment and why is it so addictive? Although IJ gives some very tantalizing hints, this is a question that remains largely unsolved. Like the narrative threads in the book, you can see an answer forming, but it remains indistinct enough that a number of competing theories all remain valid.

In IJ DFW draws pretty strong parallels between consumerism’s endless quest for satisfaction and the nature of addiction to alcohol and drugs. I think he leaves us with dangling threads because he wants us to feel the urge that drives addictions. If you liked IJ, then when you close that book and want more IJ, you are feeling the pangs of addiction. I certainly felt it. After I finished IJ, I needed to find resolution to the questions DFW leaves open, so I scoured the Internet for info and found lots and lots of competing explanations. (And I recommend all the sites Barrett listed in his post. There are some very smart essays and reads up there.) In fact, because I had become so addicted to reading IJ, and because these websites were the cure that helped me "get off" IJ, I nicknamed them Jestadone. (Which you can pronounce either like "methadone," or like "Jest-a-done.")

In other words, my reading of IJ left me instilled with the exact feeling that so many addicts and consumers in the book feel–that unquenchable desire for one more hit. If only DFW had written 200 more pages and given me some damn closure!

Although DFW’s way of getting me thinking and talking about his book isn’t common, I think IJ does what any good book should do: it gets you excited to talk about it. Now I know that there are many books out there that I’ve liked that haven’t really left me feeling like I wanted to talk about them. They’re good books, and I’m sure that many people out there would argue that they are "flawless," but I would disagree. I think that in order to be a complete success, a book needs to give you that desire to think about it beyond the page, and, if possible, to talk about it with others. IJ did that for me, and I’m glad that Barrett has chosen to blog about it, because I’m always up for another discussion of this book. So, even though this is his show, I’m going to be happy to jump in from time to time with comments of my own.

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Maybe I should try again. I started “Infinite Jest” about four years ago and gave it the old “screw it” after about a hundred pages. Should I read the footnotes? Read each chapter and then go back and read the footnotes? Read them as I go? I gave up.
Plus, I was just bored out of my skull.
But I’m older now and (theoretically) a more mature reader, so maybe I’ll give it another shot.


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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