Friday, April 27, 2012
Obsessed With Jest
After 40 days of complete, unbridled obsession, 1079 pages and 388 footnotes, I can finally say I have conquered Infinite Jest. The challenge given out by a website called Infinite Summer required the book to be read over the summer at 75 pages a week. Having hit my own personal goal, it already told me something I already knew, I have a severe case of OCD when it comes to being passionate about something. This including film and music. Yet, I have not edited a single frame or shot a single foot of film. I don't know exactly what went wrong at what juncture in my life, but I'm willing to venture a guess- conditioning and the willingness to be extroverted in a way that supresses what I want to do while doing what others want to do in order to keep them happy. There are so many times I just wanted to delete this blog, but I keep coming back to it. It's that need to create in any way or form.
The fact remains that finding people outside of the internet who actually share my interests has become harder. Carl Jung stated that loneliness does not come from not having people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you. That's where this blog comes in. But at the end of the day, it is a blog. It is not a person. Because the only things that are important to me in terms of interests are film, music and literature. Yet it's still not good enough. People keep telling me to be a film critic. I'd rather create than critique.
So in March, I decided to pick up a book I heard about. Supposedly, it is said to be an incredibly challenging read. Always being willing to take on challenges when it comes to art, I dug deeper. Upon hearing that a bulk of it takes place in a tennis academy, the first thing I thought was NO. No sports books. Oh, is there a plethora of more than just sports.
All I know is that this book has hit me at the right time and just the right moment in my life. It is exactly what I needed.
"That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That having sex with someone you do not care for feels lonelier than not having sex in the first place, afterward. That certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Then that most non-addicted adult civilians have already absorbed and accepted this fact, often rather early on…That sleeping can be a form of emotional escape and can with sustained effort be abused…That purposeful sleep-deprivation can also be an abusable escape. That gambling can be an abusable escape, too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and abstention, and masturbation, and food, and exercise, and meditation/prayer…That loneliness is not a function of solitude…That if enough people in a silent room are drinking coffee it is possible to make out the sound of steam coming off the coffee. That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt…That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness…That the effects of too many cups of coffee are in no way pleasant or intoxicating…That if you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it for know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way or form trying to get credit for it, it’s almost its own form of intoxicating buzz. That anonymous generosity, too, can be abused…That it is permissible to want…That there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.
That the people to be most frightened of are the people who are the most frightened. That it takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak. That you don’t have to hit somebody even if you really really want to. That no single, individual moment is and of itself unendurable. That clique alliance and exclusion and gossip can be forms of escape. That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.That logical validity is not a guarantee of truth. That evil people never believe they are evil, but rather that everyone else is evil. That it is possible to learn valuable things from a stupid person. That everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That it takes effort to pay attention to any one stimulus for more than a few seconds.”
"People of a certain age and level of like life-experience believe they're immortal: college students and alcoholics/addicts are the worst: they deep-down believe they're exempt from the laws of physics and statistics that ironly govern everybody else. They'll piss and moan your ear off if somebody else fucks with the rules, but they don't deep down see themselves subject to them, the same rules. And they're constitutionally unable to learn from anybody else's experience: if some jaywalking B.U. student does get his car towed, your other student's or addict's response to this will be to ponder just what imponderable difference makes it possible for that other guy to get splattered or towed and not him, the ponderer. They never doubt the difference — they just ponder it. It's like a kind of idolatry of uniqueness."
"You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do."
Upon reading it, the obsession with this book got pretty fierce. Followed by a track-down-everything-this-author-has-written type of affection.
Particularly when I heard this speech from him.
I've always held that Magnolia was that one piece of art that I've connected to the most. That the older I get, certain themes and emotions comes to the surface that weren't there upon the first, second, umpteenth viewing. Consider this correlation between the two: "And the book says We may be through with past, but the past is not through with us." Wallace's book says "The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you."
So what is it about?
Well, at over 1000 pages, it's about alot of things. Taking places primarily in a tennis academy and a halfway house and featuring a enormous cast of characters. One that would make Altman weep. All being funneled through addiction and how we choose to define our lives by the pleasures we seek. There is humor scattered throughout. At the same time a tragic undercurrent that concerns people who are lost within their families and themselves. There are tennis players, filmmakers, drug addicts, alcoholics, clinically depressed patients, wounded parents and damaged children. Regardess of occupation or defining characteristic, all of them are crying out for some sense of purpose, community and love.
Infinite Jest has become a companion to me and is one of the few pieces of art that is a catharsis to the anxiety that I have. There is an profundity in its tragedy and an absurdist truth to its comedy. I don't know when I will return to this book as it's exhausting in verbosity and at times, emotionally. But I do know, one day I will go through it's riches again.
David Foster Wallace would choose to take his own life in 2008. Leaving behind a small but incredibly important body of work. I can't imagine the levels of anxiety he had. It casts a haunting shadow over his work since he never wrote a word regarding his own problems with depression. Yet he understands the human condition so totally that it almost seems like it is codified in some of the passages in his books. I have to thank DFW for making the work a challenge. He is that type of artist that I respond to the most. Sincere, thought provoking and honest about the human condition and the experiences that we are going through. Above all, his work challenges me to continue creating regardless of how introverted or different someone may be.
If you suffer from some form of anxiety (come to think of it, we all suffer in different ways. just some more than others), then I implore you to check out Wallace's work. Taking on Jest is a challenge. One of those very rare books in which you'll need two bookmarks- a normal one and another for the footnotes in the back. Your best bet is to start with his essays, Consider the Lobster or A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (containing an excellent essay on Lynch's Lost Highway). At the very least, listen to his "This Is Water". It may just help you become more aware and conscious in an increasingly unconscious world. I am a better person for having read this book and discovering this endlessly talented individual. I hope you will one day take it on and feel the same.
An interview with Charlie Rose concerning the Lynch article, Wallace's thoughts on film, literature, etc.