Infinite Jest In My Finite Best
It’s almost impossible to quickly summarize Infinite Jest. While over one thousand pages long, about one hundred of those are footnotes. Ultimately, most readers would agree that the book primarily follows the life of a high school tennis player, Hal Incandenza. Yet the book also follows addicts in rehab, a group of spies in wheelchairs, and the interweaving of the tennis academy that Hal attends and his family runs. It sounds like a mess, and it is. But it’s worth it.
Like with most books, in order to truly understand Infinite Jest, you need to know about its author. David Foster Wallace was not only an author, but a teacher. After growing up in Illinois with two professor parents, Wallace began writing at a young age. Like his character Hal, Wallace was a tennis player. In total, Wallace wrote three novels, three short story collections, and nine non-fiction essays in twenty one years. However, Wallace also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, recurring suicidal thoughts, and depression. In 2008, Wallace committed suicide. While reading the book, it’s easy to see not only Wallace’s life but his personality throughout.
TV writer Mike Schur is a major fan of the book, which is where I first heard of it. In the Parks and Recreation episode “Partridge,” Infinite Jest is continuously and seamlessly referenced throughout. After googling it, I quickly realized that Infinite Jest is no ordinary book. From guides to websites, there are nearly as many articles telling readers how to approach this challenge of a read as there are discussing it. After going to my local library, I soon realized that Infinite Jest would not be an easy, quick summer read. It wasn’t easy to carry around and pick up with ease, and its sheer size forced me to really sit down and focus.
With a book this large, it seems only natural that it would have memorable quotes. Infinite Jest held so many that I began to write them down. With no purpose in mind, I still felt like I needed to keep key parts with me even after I returned the library book. Some of them I wrote down because they made me laugh, others because they were perfect interpretations of my thoughts. You read sentences like, “I farted, but it didn't produce a noise. I was bored,” just a few pages away from phrases like, “That sometimes human beings just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.” Certain segments spoke to me in ways a book had never before; I felt there were sentences and chapters that I felt needed to be read and reread. By the end of the book, I found a very near and dear friend in David Foster Wallace.
Though there are thousands of essays and articles online about depression, nothing has ever connected to me like David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest. Like Wallace, I too deal with chronic depression and suicidal thoughts. The inconstant combination of humor and darkness matches exactly the roller coaster I feel inside me every day. Where I often feel alone, I now find find solace in Infinite Jest. On a few occasions, rereading the quotes I jotted down have literally helped me survive the day, while other times they simply cheer me up. While I feel a deep personal connection with this novel, I know that this book has that effect on many. The number of deep analyses and fan pages online prove that Wallace has been able to put in print common thoughts, uniting and connecting readers through a single work.
Though his characters are a work of fiction, Wallace clearly emptied parts of himself into this work. Now that I’ve finished reading it, I want nothing more than to pick it up and start all over again. I’ve also found myself asking new acquaintances if they’ve read Infinite Jest. Not only is it a great ice breaker, but I know that someone who has experienced this novel is someone I share a great deal of similarities with.
Without giving it all away, here are ten of my favorite quotes from Infinite Jest:
Keep a flashlight by your bed. It helps with the dreams.
Treat your knees and elbow with all reasonable care: you will have them with you for a long time.
If you are an adolescent, here is the trick to being neither quite a nerd nor quite a joke: be no one.
It is easier than you think.
This is your body. They want you to know. You will have it with you always.
So my offense is what, misdemeanor gargling?
It's back. For a second there I hoped. I had hope. Then there it was again.
You don't have to do what they say. Do exactly as you please - if you still trust what seems to please you.
It's all optional; do it or die.
Sometimes it's hard to believe the sun's the same sun over all different parts of the planet.