rest in peace.
words of tribulation have been overdue.
One summer I dropped by a Barnes and Noble waiting for a friend looking for air conditioning and found a copy of Infinite Jest for $10. Looking at the size of the book I thought in jest (heh), 'what a low page-per-cent density', and started flipping through it. I had heard of Infinite Jest from a friend a few years back, but never really started reading it.
This edition had a foreword by Dave Eggers, and having nothing to do (and this friend hadn't arrived yet) I started reading it. And this is the passage that grasped me:
...And yet the time spent in this book, in this world of language, is absolutely rewarded. When you exit these pages after that month of reading you are a better person, It's insane, but also hard to deny. Your brain is stronger because it's been given a monthlong workout, and more importantly, your heart is sturdier, for there has scarcely been written a more moving account of desperation, depression, addiction, generational stasis and yearning, or the obsession with human expectations, with artistic and athletic and intellectual possibility.
And right then I knew I had to get it. I did.
You know, sometimes I regret reading Infinite Jest. Yes, regret. Not regret as in: "I wish I could read the book for the first time again", or "I'd like to know that I have such a wonderful piece of literature to read ahead of me". Regret as in: This book changed part of me so much that I'm frightened by it at times.
After I finished it that summer, on the subway, bus, going downtown on the express A, holding this tome and not thinking of anything but the Incandenzas and the Samizdat and dear Don Gately -- after I finished it that summer I couldn't think of anything else. You know how you fall in love with someone and then you think of them all the time, at least once every day? That was like this for me -- for half an year I couldn't go a single day without thinking about it. Every single day. IJ opened the floodgates of some hidden emotion and made me jubilant and nostalgic and beautiful but also frightened and sad, sad, sad. Once in a while I'd read the start of the book, where Hal opens his mouth and nothing comes out but gibberish, and the hairs on the back of my metaphorical neck would stand up straight, but because Hal is so rich and complete and solid, and the workings of his future starts there when he's five, when his mother screams about in panic and you understand heartbreakingly...
Right after Infinite Jest, I read Confederacy of Dunces and was frightened, completely freaked out because I felt that the book was John Kennedy O'Toole's absolute masterpiece of self-loathing and despair, of a scathing portrayal of himself -- or what he felt himself was like. The hyperintelligent artist who finds everyone celebrating a distorted and altogether ugly version of himself.
Just now I read an interview he had done with Salon. In there he says: There's something particularly sad about it, something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it's unique to our generation I really don't know.
Here's to you, David Foster Wallace. You did exactly what you set out to do, and more. You were my summer that year, and more. I, too, used to pronounce "epitome" dactylic. Your work and your words are embedded in my mind and heart, somewhere down there. Rest in peace.