Sunday, August 09, 2009

Delayed gratification

I am finally on schedule and, according to the page count set out at Infinite Summer, 52.something% of the way through Infinite Jest, and inching forward.

And being that a good portion of the novel is set in a tennis academy, and a good portion of those scenes actually has to deal with the philosophy and psychology of tennis, and that in my associated literary travels this week, I had the good fortune to read for the very first time The Federer Essay, I am truly unreasonably excited to know that Roger Federer will be in Montreal for the Rogers Cup this week and I might be able to witness, albeit through a TV screen, a Federer-Nadal showdown similar to what DFW described.

But the book. Is thoroughly entertaining! I'm loving this experience. I'm a far way off from calling this the greatest piece of literature the world has ever seen, and at this juncture I firmly doubt that I will ever reread it in its entirety (although I concede certain sections are worth coming back to, for their hilarity or their clarity, whether vis-a-vis the world at large or as a key to the book's intracoherence). Maybe this really is a novel for this generation (my generation? one slightly younger than my own?).

To this point, the book offers some powerful insight into the addiction-addled mind. I particularly appreciate Gately's God problem: what if the Higher Power in the 3rd of AA's 12 steps to which one is supposed to turn oneself over is one you have absolutely no concept of, let alone believe in? (Which extended passage, starting at p 442, also leads us to a "What the fuck is water?" moment, later retold again in that awesome commencement address.) I mean, how does an atheist deal with all the God-crap in AA? Do atheists not go to AA? Or do they go through the motions, lying to others and themselves? Neither course of action really seems viable in terms of kicking an addiction. What if you're addicted to God? Is there a support group for that? (But I guess a lot of people don't see God-dependence as a kind of problem.)

(Here's a tangent: Did you know some people actually get unbaptized? Really, I know a guy. Which paradoxically maybe attributes more importance to the ritual than the unbaptizee intends. It's not like a pact with the Devil that must needs be broken. If God's a nonentity, the whole thing's kind of null and void already.)

It's Marathe and Steeply's quasi-philosophical mountaintop discussion that really holds the book together for me. It makes clear the wider political backdrop as well as some of the themes (ah yes, delayed gratification, recognition of the thematic importance of which is itself a kind of delayed gratification) through which most everything else slowly comes to make some kind of sense. There's this fabulous exchange regarding America's pursuit of happiness, and freedom, and the reader is well aware that there's a difference between "freedom from" and "freedom to," so there's no earth-shattering insight proffered — the gist of these discussions has been voiced in countless homes, classrooms, dorms, automobiles, grocery-line checkouts, dentist offices. But it's made kind of hilarious through the Separatist's use of a hypothetical problem of two individuals vying for the only-available single-size serving can of Habitant soupe aux pois.

I've had opportunity to reflect this week on the nature of the group reading experience — a local journalist interviewed me w/r/t my participation in the Infinite Summer project. And my conclusion, which should come as no surprise, is that I mostly love it.

Sure, some forum participants go on about (or namedrop, at any rate) Wittgenstein, but whatever. The book is not about Wittgenstein, and I don't know that DFW meant for it to be read about Wittgenstein (Who knows? Maybe he did. He was undoubtedly an Extremely Bright Guy, with knowledge of Wittgenstein, but whether he consciously meant to represent what all Wittgenstein was about...?) But hey, go ahead and point out whatever scene of Infinite Jest as the ultimate illustration of Wittgenstein's linguistophilosophical thought; it's just that at some point the conversation stops being about Infinite Jest, which was kind of the original point, so it can get kind of tiresome.

(Did anyone ever see Derek Jarman's Wittgenstein? That made way more sense to me than anything the kids, or the profs, ever said about the big W at school.)

Yeah, I don't know. The journalist asked me whether the forum was an opportunity for showing off, and whether it was elitist. Mostly no, mostly it's a support group. And I'm grateful for being made aware of connections I might not otherwise make on my own.

I don't see this reading as a chore or as a homework assignment; I'm not hung up on page quotas or having to contribute meaningfully on an Important Topic. But I do acknowledge that I'm reading more carefully than I've read many books this year (even if I'm not writing any more articulately on the subject), and that's a good thing to do sometimes.
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