Once I got over my initial fear, I’ve been pretty cocky about reading Infinite Jest. It’s been WAY easier than I thought it would be. I’m able to pick it up here and there without backtracking to remember what happened. DFW’s quirks and tics aren’t bothering me much (though starting sentences with “and but so then” just doesn’t make sense to me.) It’s just SO much easier to read something written in and about a culture you’re familiar with, than say 19th century Russia. My shiny new Kobo Glo is really helpful, too. I can look up words right on screen (my new favourite word is postprandial) AND I can jump back and forth between main text and end notes (good thing because there are a ton of them).
So I’m thinking I’m quite SMRT. Then this happens:
Calculus was by far the most difficult subject I’ve ever learned. In an academic career marked by minimum effort and honour roll results, calculus was just beyond my brain’s capabilities. I worked harder than any of my other classes and barely passed. Having to think about calculus again was like a big smack down, reminding me that I’m not that smart after all.
And THEN the end notes started to get out of control. The Kobo works great until you have footnotes within an end note. Then it just sort of shrugs and says “yeah, I don’t know, you find your own way back.” And end note 123 splinters into its own chapter for some reason. I guess it takes a book like Infinite Jest to expose the limitations of the technology (DFW probably would have LOVED that. You know his BFF Jonathan Franzen would.)
So, what’s the point of all the fussy words, strange constructions, copious end notes, and mathematics? Is DFW just messing with us? Trying to make the reader feel dumb? Weeding out the riff raff? Showing off? I think it’s a bit of all of these, but there’s probably some meta stuff going on… like, life isn’t a straightforward narrative, or something. I don’t know. I’m feeling pretty dumb right now.
But, I will soldier on! I’m one third of the way through after 23 days of reading, so I’m on track to finish in less than three months total. For the record, though, this is the ONLY way I want to deal with calculus from now on: