After finishing Infinite Jest and realizing I had no idea what just happened, I found a few reviews on blogs I already follow. I was heartened to find that I was not the only one who finished the book and was completely and utterly confused.
I also noticed that all the Infinite Jest posts were written by males. This might not seem like a big deal, but, the vast majority of book bloggers I follow are female. Indeed, the vast majority of all book bloggers are female. Searching past my own blogosphere, I found numerous articles, reading groups, Twitter accounts, and wikis devoted to DFW and his work, and they were nearly all written by men. What gives? Why are all of DFW’s super fans male?
I talked about the “maleness” of Infinite Jest in my last post – all male main characters, male-dominated settings. DFW’s personal life, as presented in the biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, is also rather male-centric. DFW didn’t seem to have any significant relationships with females other than the romantic kind, and those were volatile at best, and toxic at worst. His influences, mentors, and friends were all male. He had a sister, but wasn’t close to her. He had a fragile relationship with his mom.
The bio also shocked me with the misogny evident in DFW’s relationships with women. There is a reference to an incident when he tried to throw his girlfriend from a moving vehicle that is horrific in it’s matter-of-factness, and to affairs with students and fans that made me queasy. I’m not saying that his work should be judged differently in light of these incidents. There is a post over on Thought Catalog that sums up the problematic bits of DFW’s biography with great clarity and suggests that the “cult” of DFW needs to take a closer look at who they’re idolizing, but the writing is what it is.
So. DFW lived and worked in a male world that’s rife with misogyny – but don’t we all? And yes, he wrote about boys and men and the things that concern them, but the themes are universal. I don’t think that fans of say, Dostoyevsky are split along gender lines, and I would consider him a comparable writer – big, ambitious books, love stories clash with politics, devastation and beauty. Or even Franzen, although you could argue Oprah-effect, I suppose.
And, as for me? Am I a super fan? I haven’t done a proper review of Infinite Jest, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Rating classics is difficult. What kind of judgement can I possibly pass on a book that’s a modern classic, and arguably the most important book of a generation? But, if pressed, I wouldn’t give Infinite Jest five stars. There was something a little sterile about it for my taste. So while I certainly appreciate it for the heartbreaking work of staggering genius that it is, I don’t love it the same way I love Wuthering Heights.
PS: I didn’t know it when I started this post, but, it’s an excellent lead in for my review of The Fault in Our Stars, by noted DFW fanboy John Green, who is seriously in his debt. More on that later! (Spoiler alert: I cried. Lots.)