Why David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” Is So Scary

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I finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest last week, which is in itself a rather proud accomplishment, given that the book is notoriously one of the longest and hardest to read out there. According to my copy of the 1996 book, the small text fills up 1079 pages with small margins–but of course, the last hundred pages are only the footnotes which there are almost 400 of, detailing extensive intricate drugs or explaining the meaning behind odd cartridge names that seemingly have no relation to the actual content of the book.

It was only here, after I had completed the book in its entirety, where I was able to take a step back and begin to fully comprehend it. And with Infinite Jest, this is no conscience decision. The one thing I can guarantee you will get out of this book if you read it is that it will envelop your mind. Still a week later, and with this phenomenon surely continuing onward perhaps months, I cannot wrap my mind around this book. I cannot escape it. It’s the type of book that you won’t ever really understand in its entirety, and I question whether or not even David Wallace could comprehend it all.

And the one attribute about the novel that had intrigued me so much this past week was why was it such a hard read? After all, the most widely popular feature of it–perhaps why it was so popular when it first came out–was how its supposed length and diction style made it so difficult. However, while the 1,000+ pages do present an interesting style, the difficulty certainly wasn’t its length, at least to me, as I had just finished War and Peace earlier, and I had rather enjoyed the amount of words and pages. Long books can be a challenge, and when you spend over a month reading one book almost constantly, you almost develop this weird relationship, sixth-sense if you will, with that novel. The length certainly wasn’t a problem when you consider that even when I was done with the book, when I had read the last footnote and flipped the last page–I wanted more. A part of me almost criticized Wallace by hotly asking, “Is this it?”. What astounds me as an author (who is almost always trying to make his plots even more complex and interesting) is that even after 1,079 pages I still wanted more. I wanted to become even more absorbed in the satirical world Wallace had created for me.

But this ultimately only further provokes the question above even more. If it was such an enthralling read, why was it such a hard one to get through? To put it simply: Wallace does not play games when it comes to human nature. He does not hold back on the disgust, fear or sadness factor. He will relate to you the absolute biting truth and will not apologize. He does this not in the way some of our current politicians do this – not in snide, sensationalized dividing remarks – but rather through cautious intellectual warnings. And it stings. Hard.

At one point of perhaps epiphany, I came to something of overly blunt series of adjectives to describe Infinite Jest based of the aforementioned thoughts and proceedings The words were depressingly hilarious. Somehow, through Wallace’s large amount of skill and power, he’s able consistently throughout the book to somehow have moments that have you laughing followed immediately by moments that send you in a grisly fear, disgust or in tears. Sometimes, they’ll even be the same moment. To be fair, this has been done many times before, and will be done many times in the future, but I do think that Wallace transcends a large amount of these other works by accomplishing all of this with an artistic flair that intrigues you without quite repelling you away.

For example, there’s a scene in the book that details a father that rapes his mentally impaired and practically catatonic daughter. There are so many things wrong with that, and it’s surprisingly more sad than it is obscene when put into the context of the book’s world. David Foster Wallace also has so much talent that he can allow us to feel empathy for even just minor characters and situations. My mind at this point always is drawn to the chapter detailing a father of one of the characters. Throughout this chapter, Wallace details his decline into obsession with the 80’s sitcom M.A.S.H., until he practically dies from his ‘addiction’ to the TV show. Out of context, this is almost funny, when put into scope that this is just a fictional world. But here Wallace calls out our own human habits and the destructive natures of them so harshly that we can all relate the events of the father to perhaps someone we know, albeit far less extreme (I’ll explain this effect later).

And as for humorous while also terrifying/depressing, we readers are treated to a chapter detailing a sociopathic (perhaps a psychopathic) recovering drug-addict’s different attempts to murder helpless dogs and cats as a way to vent out his frustration and helplessness at life. At face value–this is not funny at all, only sad. But the way Wallace constructs not only the mood and satire of this chapter, but of the entire text, makes this chapter in Infinite Jest slightly amusing. And once again (as I’ll explain soon) we see another large and brutal call out to human nature–all of our tendencies to project our failures and frustrations on innocent bystanders and friends.

I’m not a pet owner and I was still greatly disturbed by this section. While what Lenz does is disturbing it’s his mindset or his rationalizing of why he is doing what he does that is more disturbing to me then the actual acts he performs.

I did find it comical too in a dark way. How at once you as the reader identify the progression from rats to cats you anticipate the move to dogs. That along with his “addicts routine” was pretty funny I thought.

http://www.infinitesummer.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=421

A much more surface-level, broad reason why Infinite Jest was hard to read was the way that it was written. This is not a knock to Wallace’s writing style, but rather an extreme compliment. His writing style is to often confuse, intrigue and annoy his audience. It’s the reason why the book was so compelling and addicting at first, and also why even after over 1,000 pages of this novel I was still wanting more of his world. He dangles the carrot over your head, but unlike other authors, never quite relents it away.

And here, really, is the enigma of David Fost Wallace’s work generally and Infinite Jest specifically: an endlessly, compulsively entertaining book that stingily withholds from readers the core pleasures of mainstream novelistic entertainment, among them a graspable central narrative line, identifiable movement through time, and any resolution of its quadruplicate plot lines. Infinite Jest, in other words, can be exceedingly frustrating

Tom Bissell

But why is it scary?

I ask this because why we most definitely deconstructed multiple (but not all) of the reasons why Infinite Jest is a difficult read, we haven’t discussed why the book is scary. Why it’s almost terrifying to push through at times. The funny part is, is that I can use the same examples I used before to exemplify these two points.

As I hinted at with the M.A.S.H. chapter (around page 638), some of the reason why it is so lamentable is through the tragedy of the father, surely. We do feel some empathy at the family of which is torn apart by a simple addiction to a silly 80’s sitcom. But I think most of the sadness is actually originating from the terror of the section–the realizations and connections we make to our own life. Though the passage may be greatly exemplified (I mean, come on, you’re probably not going to die from watching a sitcom) we still can make out the realness the situation represents. Such as the thin line between habit and obsession or even more scary, how little control we have over ourselves and we what we enjoy, or how companies designing entertainment are not doing so simply to entertain us, but to enthrall us, obsess us. And perhaps the most fearful of them all: how meaningless most consumerism of this sorts is in the end.

Or perhaps with Randy Lenz (around page 538), the recovering drug-addict who enjoys suffocating cats in plastic bags, lighting kittens on fire or slitting dog’s throats. Why should this be scary in an intrinsic way? It’s the reason why. He does this because he feels powerlessness and vengeful. He lusts for some sort of control in a drugless life, a life that he considers almost not worth living. Once again, if we give an honest look at ourselves, we may notice these tendencies in ourselves. We’ll often attempt under stress to give ourselves any form of power or influence over other people. People with anorexia often fall to such a disorder in an attempt to control something about their lives: what they choose to eat. They believe that is the power they have over their own lives anymore. Or in classic human nature, the action of pushing others down to push ourselves up. Though we may not be murdering dogs or killing rats like Lenz, we’re certainly performing our own hurtful and self-sabotaging moves that have the possibility to destroy ourselves and push the people around us away.

Infinite Jest is scary because Wallace has the ability like no other author in recent times to show humanity for what it is.

But it’s also the way he says it. The action of killing dogs, or becoming dying from an obsession to a silly TV show is far scarier than just pointing out these facts of human nature at face value in an nonfiction-text-sort-of-way. And by making such dire situations and scenarios, Wallace enunciates the strength of the themes he’s sending.

And don’t forget: this book was written in 1996. Not 2005. Not 2010. Not 2015. 1996. Before the internet was mainstream, before Netflix, before video-games became immensely powerful and visually attracting. Somehow, Wallace was able to predict accurately the trends of the market and create themes based on events and products that had largely not even happened yet, which is why even in 2020 the book is perhaps even a better more relevant read than it was in 1996. How right Wallace was in many of his predictions allows the other predictions, such as a catatonic-creating Entertainment cartridge being created, to seem even more real to the modern audience. Wallace has something to teach us all.

One final thing to note: this was not a review of the book. I simply touched on a few simple examples and larger themes of the novel, and barely even scratched the surface of what this novel has to offer. I fully entreat you to read the whole book, or, at the very least, read the other essays constructed on it. The truth is, I don’t have many of the answers of what Wallace asks, and, if I’ll be honest with myself, I’ll have to probably reread the novel before I even understand half of it. This blog entry is merely what I was able to comprehend myself, and as such, I once again ask that you read the book yourself and see what I’m saying yourself.

Trust me, though, it’s a wild ride.

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Animal Crossing Switch: A Wishlist

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Animal Crossing Switch is by far the Switch game I am most excited for. Not only was I not able to play New Leaf (I do not own a 3DS/2DS), but it’s just time to start placing paths and catching fish.

Because of this, I thought it appropriate for my first official blog post to talk about some features and mechanics I think would increase how I enjoy the game. As well, I would like to include the poll right below, which I conducted. It’s not necessarily important to the blog, but I still think it’s interesting to look at.

The Reddit Poll can be found here: Animal Crossing Switch Poll

The Wishlist

The rundown for how I’ll present these ideas is pretty simple. At first, I was planning to only allow four or five of these wishes, but as I began to list, I found out that I have much, much, more. As a result, I’ll quickly fly through each one, and if you want more information on a single point, just request it and I’ll deliver it. Also, these are in no particular order of importance.

  • More Sectionalism Between Time Periods. By far, one of the most amazing experiences and attributes about Animal Crossing is the real-time day and night cycle. Waking up at 2:00 AM, or perhaps you can’t wait for Fall, because a game you own will change is a unique, interesting concept that I believe Animal Crossing implements well. However, some more differences between seasons (such as ponds freezing up, or different soundtracks) and times (make bugs and fishes even more varied depending on the time of day) would not hurt the game at all, especially when Animal Crossing Switch would be a handheld and docked experience.
  • More, Cooler Upgrades for Houses. One thing I remember fondly of Animal Crossing was my child response to finding out my house finally was going to upgrade! Since I didn’t know what the next upgrade was like, I woke up at around 1:00 AM the next morning (with my siblings), and tried out the new house. Even better, New Leaf has themes for the final house upgrade. A cool addition to ACS would include more branching paths so that you would have paths that would lead to other paths every upgrade. In the end, there could be 16 different style houses you could have!
  • Not A Lot of Character Customization, but A Lot of Map Customization. I know that a lot of the community wants more choices for how their character will look, but let me differ. For me, a character selection screen at the beginning of the game would take me out of the experience, and I think that the current Q&A method of creating a character is imperfect but still unique and amazing. However, I would like to see some more map customization. Maybe there could be a question asked at the beginning like “This [insert town name here] of yours, where is it at?”. Some answers would be “a valley” or a “beach”. And of course, depending on what answer you choose, the town could either be more layered or surrounded by water, respectively. Some other questions could be the density of villagers or even size, letting everyone be happy with their own town and ready to create more just to see what the others are like.
  • A Core Game with Minimum Pocket Camp Connectvity. The amount of connectivity I, and many others (case in point), want in this new game is at least in attometers. There’s simply nothing fun about someone having a head start, or having some special item/furniture set because they played a stupid mobile game. The most I would allow (since Nintendo has confirmed connectivity is going to be available) is simply Pocket Camp players get a shirt or something that is also available (albeit harder) for players who have not played the game. As for coreness goes (I’m not as worried in this regard), I just don’t want to see a rushed game, a large amount of DLCS, and an incomplete game or any microtransactions. Again, since Nintendo has had about seven years to work on this game, I don’t think a rushed or incomplete game is going to happen, and in-game microtransactions are never seen by Nintendo. Still, it should be mentioned that this is a big no-no for me.
  • Hurtful and Sick VIllagers. I don’t know about you, but every time in Wild World when my neighbor would throw some back-handed compliment, or perhaps insult me, a large deal of happiness spread across my body. There’s something so interesting and real about villager personalities, and it’s something that was sorely missed by most from New Leaf. As well, playing doctor for villagers back in City Folk was always a joy in my day and changed up how I went about my day.
  • Morning Aerobics (and other things from older games). One thing I like about Animal Crossing is how it simply adds on to past installations. Of course, there’s a negative side of this, in which older games seem bland and uninteresting to players who have little nostalgia to appreciate them (that’s a topic for a different post). However, I still think that there are remaining small aspects in older games that should be reconsidered for reuse in this new game. Morning Aerobics are at the top of the list, followed by the metropolitan area from City Folk and the question from Wild World that changed where your house was located on the map was cool too. Just some thought into games before New Leaf by the developers would mean a lot to me and others.
  • Better Path Making and SOME More Cultivation Options. Path making had sort of been a pain in past installments so just some small changes to floor patterns and their functionalities would go a long way. As well, more options to change how your town looks and possibly more flowers would be cool too. But, I would like Nintendo to keep this limited. After all, Animal Crossing isn’t a game about cultivating the land, it’s a game about relaxation and leisure. Besides, towns with a bunch of paths and flowers and crap look pretty tacky in my opinion. I mean, we already have Stardew Valley on Switch.
  • No Mayer or Much Improved Mayor. I haven’t played New Leaf for myself, but from what I’ve seen other players talk about, the mayor position could have been a lot better in that game. Also, I feel that if they took out Mayer for the rest of the installments, New Leaf would have something unique about it, leaving players to go back and play it even though it isn’t the newest in the series. If it is included (which it probably will), then just some more public work projects (especially functional ones) could help my previous point. Overall, I’m skeptical but open to the idea for sure.
  • An In-Game Friend System. This probably isn’t too likely, but I would just die over a friend system that’s built in-game. It would be easier, I would think, to connect with a friend and even trade with them. Along with it, we would probably have a better online UI as well and maybe even trading with other people who aren’t online. Also, it would take care of the stupid twelve digit code and give an easier option to make friends. Perhaps an online lobby where you can visit random people’s towns as a visitor? (You wouldn’t be able to edit their stuff, obviously)
  • A Huge Amount of Fish and Bugs. I loved to catch and discover new species of creatures in my early days of City Folk, and every time I saw the outline of fish I had never seen before, it was the most exciting experience of my gameplay. Because of this, I would like to see a ton more fish and bugs to donate to the museum. More specifically, seeing some rarer creatures would be interesting too, and as I said in my first point, fishes and bugs would change more heavily per time of day. I would even be open to Nintendo changing how to fish and catch, though I would rather it be the same.

Overall, I personally can’t wait for any news about this game. I seem to have bad timing at making wishlists. Three times before I did this with other games, and usually a day or two after the release of my list, the game’s mechanics are fully explored in depth. Hopefully, this happens again and before I know it, this whole thing is considered null.

This has been Ol’ Nerd Jenkins, and I thank you for checking out this little blog. It’s my first one, so I encourage you to consider following me closely from now on. In following posts, I’ll try to include more pictures and graphs and such.

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The Startling Power of Jane Eyre in the 21st Century

One of my largest pet-peeves (at least in the field of classic literature) is the accompaniment by almost every revised-edition novel with an introduction written by a modern editor, author or publisher. These introductions, almost to a fault, will spoil the book before you’ve even read it. After finding out that _______ is Pip’s benefactor in an introduction of Great Expectations, I had finally quit most preludes to these classic novels.

And the presence of these “spoilers” is quite a shame, for, the introductions of these novels often serve a very viable purpose: to coerce your thinking as a reader into the main themes and statements made by the novel so that you can be better prepared to take a more knowledgeable direction with the book. The perspective-shifts were helpful for me in more aged literature (Hamlet, Antigone) or also with more… confounding books (Infinite Jest).

I decided to take a chance with Barnes & Noble Classic’s edition of Jane Eyre. I had never read the Charlotte Brontë novel, but I had previously read the introductions of other classics from Barnes & Noble, and had fairly satisfied with them. Thereby, I jumped into Susan Ostrov Weisser’s take on the book I had always wanted to read.

Unfortunately, immediately I was greeted with a spoiler within the first fifty words: (spoiler warning, obviously)

…the most famous line of [Charlotte Brontë’s] best known novel, Jane Eyre: “Reader, I married [Mr. Rochester]”

Susan Weisser

But, as I continued on, Weisser, who “specializes in nineteenth-century and women’s studies”, became more compelling and interesting in her introduction. To put it simply, she chose to place the pressure and shift the perspective of the novel towards the controversy surrounding, and the idea itself, of feminism, especially that of which occurred in the nineteenth-century.

For instance, she observed the contrast of the backlash or praise in relation to the novel. Critics when the book was published in 1947 stated that Miss Eyre was too independent, too “against the norms”. However, today, many feminists will argue that Jane is not strong enough, not enraged enough at the circumstances of a woman in the 1800’s.

Today, for better or for worse, I’d like to examine how Jane Eyre functions in this anger as a character, and even more importantly, whether or not her attitude and disposition in times of conflict can relate to our own debates and political conversations today.

Before we begin, however, let me make two things clear: To start, I want to stress this isn’t a review of Jane Eyre and perhaps not even a character study of the female protagonist. Rather, it’s a take on the implications of said protagonist. If you’d like my review of Jane Eyre, I’ll put it right here for you: It’s great, and you should read it. Sort of imagine Great Expectations but with a lot more romance and a lot less of a time span.

The other point I must make clear: I want to stress to you that I’m at fault of many of these issues too. I’m not trying to make myself appear better by attacking these fundamental traits of humanity, nor is that my purpose. Rather, I’m interested in how Brontë writes Jane Eyre, and the surprising strength of that character in modern society, and thereby reveal the classic nature of literature.


A Loose Train: Jane Eyre’s Rage

From the very forefront of the novel (indeed, by chapter three) we see ten-year-old Jane’s most stark personality trait: her anger and frustration against the events surrounding her. Which, by the way, they (meaning the events) certainly merit such rage. Eyre is the adopted child of a wealthy mother, Mrs. Reed, is forced to keep. The other blood-relative siblings, especially the oldest, John, patronize and bully the young girl. Finally, and most importantly, Jane Eyre to the housemaids and Mrs. Reed is always in the wrong.

We observe in these opening chapters a growing change in Jane, so strong a character shift that even in the introduction, where we are little accustomed to our small protagonist, we notice. Jane becomes increasingly resistant and stubborn against her abusive mother and siblings. She does what we all would expect, and hope, she would do: she rebels.

Already a phenomenon is shown. Jane, while doing what we as 21st-century readers may want her to do, is performing the opposite of what the readers of 1847 would expect, and hope, she would do. And while these rebellious actions may appear satisfying and justified (which they most certainly are) to modern observers, immediately, Jane’s position begins to deteriorate. Her previously bad relationship with her adopted family begins to grow worse, and because of her behavior, she is later in the story sent to a strict fundamentalist religious boarding school rampant with typhus.

“I am glad you are no relation of mine; I will never call you aunt again as long as I live; I will never come to see you when I am grown up; and if any one ever asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me miserable cruelty… How dare I, Mrs. Reed? How dare I? Because it is the truth. You think I have no feelings, and that I can live without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so, and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back–roughly and violently thrust me back into the red-room, and locked me up there–to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress… people think you are a good woman; but you are bad–hard-hearted. You are deceitful!”

Jane Eyre

The above monologue, at least in my read-through of the book, was the moment where it ‘clicked’ for me. Jane Eyre’s rage is certainly merited, that’s clear to see. But it’s ineffective, or used poorly. However, before we can get into this subject, we need to discuss Brontë’s focus on anger and vengeance that she puts thematically into the entirety of her novel, not just with Jane.

For instance, later in the story (Jane is now nineteen), Mrs. Reed suffers a stroke and is put on her deathbed. Jane has long moved away, but summoned back by her adopted mother nine years after she last saw her, Miss Eyre (a now changed and more forgiving self) returns back to her dying “aunt”.

The exchanges between these two characters in this section is extraordinary, and highlights the character change Jane has shifted into from the beginning of the story. Jane, in contrast of what she said when she was young, indeed calls Mrs. Reed her “aunt”, and is genuinely caring and nice to the perishing woman, even when it is revealed that Mrs. Reed has kept a life-changing secret from Jane for years.

We readers would then expect Mrs. Reed to be forgiving back to her child–but that is the not case. Mrs. Reed still berates her “niece” until the moment she dies, unwilling to let go of the personal rage and vengeance she feels toward the girl that she never wanted to adopt. When the dying woman finally does perish, Jane Eyre states that not a tear was shed throughout the house.

Brontë in this brief part of the novel, which only takes place across a few chapters, is revealing a theme to her readers: Uncontrolled out lashes of anger , and the consequences of it. It’s easy, in response to this, to immediately push this theme onto Mrs. Reed, and perhaps Mr. Rochester, and move on with the story, but to do this would be untruthful. For, if we were to take an honest and close look at the protagonist, we can observe that Jane Eyre is at fault too.

To return back to the quote and example from above: Eyre was wrongfully considered a bad and unruly child by Mrs. Reed. Eyre, thereby, began to fight back with a vengeance, as we would expect her to. And while Reed may certainly be worthy of such attacks by her niece, what did these attacks accomplish? They only served to prove Mrs. Reed correct in her assumptions of character and these attacks also quickly deteriorated Jane Eyre’s relationship with her aunt, ending up with Eyre sent to a horrible boarding school.

And, later in the novel, after Jane figures out Mr. Rochester’s horrible secret, she lashes out in uncontrolled anger again. What does this temporary outburst accomplish? Jane Eyre leaves Thronfield Estate and ends up begging for crumbs in an unknown small town and camping out in English wilderness.

In all three instances (Mrs. Reed’s death plus both of Eyre’s outbursts) Brontë is defining the important theme that if anger is not controlled, not sustained, but rather pushed out in temporary moments of vexation, there are severe consequences whether or not such exasperation is justified.

In the 21st century, this theme is by far the important and vital to everyday communications. With the presence of social media interactions, as well as a heated political climate with parties that seem to grow further apart everyday, it’s easy to sensualize your position and attack the other party with a heated vigor.

Unfortunately, many people (including myself), have found ourselves grow into the habit of debating/arguing with others not in an attempt to change their minds but rather in an attempt to “intellectually” beat someone else publicly, using political and moral motives as a cover-up of a much simpler purpose: to increase our self-confidence. We wrongly take any challenges to our beliefs or standards as attacks to our character, and thereby precipitate a more vengeful debate/conversation.

These are not themes made in Jane Eyre, I admit, but Brontë even in her time has something to say about a frustrated temper that has no control. Jane in the end of the story does not achieve “victory” because of a wild outburst or sudden change in temper, but rather a controlled fear of forgiveness and stolid knowledge of what’s right; knowing that the best way to fight for what you believe in is to calm down, and in doing so, let your opponent off guard. If we did this more, we would experience a beautiful truth: there is nothing more amazing than two different people coming together.

Jane Eyre‘s main themes are not focused on this rage-filled spirit, but I think that perhaps in modern times it’s the theme that counts the most. If a wild temper results in severe consequences as Brontë supposes in her best-known novel, we must ask ourselves: are we a Mrs. Reed or a Jane Eyre?


Did you like this post? Are you a fan of books, movies, video games and weird interpretations of each? Then consider checking me out!

Also, I’d like to apologize for the slow publish. After finishing Infinite Jest, I reread Hamlet in an attempt to find some interesting topic of discussion from that novel, but to no avail, and I wished not to force myself to upload when I had nothing to say.

Finally, I know this is sort of a weird interpretation of Jane Eyre but across the novel the hints of this theme spoke the loudest. Once again, if you think it’s a stretch, or if I didn’t explain something as well as you’d like, feel free to comment and I’ll start a discussion.

Thank you!