Monday, March 28, 2016

Missing The Obvious

Despite having finished Infinite Jest, I can't quite get away from it. It isn't that I've been rereading any of the text, though I did peruse the opening segment immediately upon completion since chronologically this is, I think, the most advanced we get along the time-line of the events described, so it helps in terms of trying to figure out the ending in terms of the actual plot (or whatever resembles a plot.) No, what I've found myself looking at rather more than I expected to is the abundance of on-line commentary on the novel - well, bits of it. When I was reading the novel I avoided this material as I thought it would get in the way of my developing an authentic personal response, but since finishing Infinite Jest I've found what other people have to say about it is generally enlightening, though most of it tends to confirm impressions I'd already developed.

And sometimes I'm simply led to realize how blind I've been to aspects of the text I really should have immediately grasped - which is a great reminder to someone who teaches lit that it's perfectly okay for students to sometimes be obtuse to the point of the ridiculous. One simple thing in relation to Wallace's work: I'd never quite got the relationship of the two key settings involved - the tennis academy and the nearby halfway house for recovering addicts. I missed the obvious fact that they represent the two extremes of the world of the novel, athletic prowess/success as opposed to physical decrepitude/failure (with the academy at the top of the hill, naturally so.)

As soon as I read a comment neatly summing up this point, the novel suddenly became significantly different for me. What earlier had appeared arbitrary became integral, and I began to see this loose baggy monster as a Dickensian kind of work in other ways. Wallace, like Dickens, is attempting an analysis of the whole range of American society in an extraordinarily ambitious manner, and, like Dickens, convincingly connecting the threads between those struggling at the very bottom and those who see themselves as the movers and shakers operating within the upper reaches.

No comments: