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Category Archives: DFW

Ha! I love the internet. A bunch of my favorite political bloggers (Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and Julian Sanchez, among others [I love that they’re all friends, by the way]) are partaking in Infinite Summer and group-bogging about it.

The title of the blog, of course, comes from a collection of Wallace’s essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.


The endnotes are clever, but in the aggregate, they’re hedges. They’re the product of a writer who’s never sure if he’s said enough.

Now here’s a tall claim that falls flat. There’s loads of really, really important stuff in the endnotes that just wouldn’t fit in the main text. J.O.I.’s filmography and drug clarifications are the two big examples that come to mind. More than likely, you’ll get through the book wishing he’d said more, but only because you didn’t know what he was talking about the first time around. This is significant.

Matthew Dylan:


Or is Québecois? As in, something of or relating to Québec? Wikipedia shows Québecois as the secondary option, but it makes more sense to me. I forgot how he spelled it in the book.

Matt Yglesias:

Presumably the point here is to get across not only the text of the notes, but something about the tactile experience of flipping back and forth and constantly losing your place. Except I’m reading the book on a Kindle, so the experience is actually different—you click on a little thingy and jump to the note, then click again and you jump right back. This is, I think, less convenient than a footnote in a conventional book, but more convenient than an endnote. So, internet, am I actually missing something important by having this greater convenience?

I don’t think Wallace was that shallow. It might have amused him to have readers flipping around through time and space and pages. But the endnotes are still there because they matter, so their primary function is to assist in telling the story, and maybe the secondary function is to illustrate how silly a process this is, storytelling. The footnotes to the endnotes are a different matter. They’re are mostly jokes, if I remember correctly. He liked the idea of fitting print in unconventional ways on a page, so I think he’d be fine with the way the kindle renders his book (that’s how the Atlantic piece was written, after all), and more importantly, Mr. Yglesias won’t be missing out on much, besides the obvious signaling of lugging that sucker around on the DC metro.

So while I finished the book a few weeks ago, I’m really happy that so many people are going to be going through it this summer for the first time. I have some thoughts on the themes in the book that are less-than-half-baked that might be ready by September.


I’m getting close to the end, so I’ll be careful not to reveal any crucial plot twists.

The essay was turgid to the point of being unreadable, besides using reference as a verb and pluralizing conundrum as conundra.

Infinite Jest, Page 947

Cue visit to The Guardian‘s Notes and Queries on the topic:

Conundrums. Contrary to what one might think, it is not a Latin word, and is described in my dictionary as ‘Ety. dub.’ If it was Latin it would be conundra. But it ain’t, so it isn’t.

–R Tanner, St Monans, Scotland

However, the questioner requested the correct plural, rather than the one which has come into common usage (through the evolution of the language, laziness, and the decline of the teaching of classics in schools). I wonder if Mr Harthill also refers to hippopotamuses, octopuses, or referendums…

–Philip Moreland, Durham, England

I hope that Philip Moreland says octopodes not octopi, given that octopus is 3rd declension Greek not 2nd declension Latin. Actually I am sure he does, but for anyone to whom this is news, the word octopodes has four syllables.

–Pelham Barton, Birmingham, UK

Wrong, all of you. The correct plural of ‘conundrum’ is, of course, ‘Notes and Queries’. Now, would anyone care to provide me with the plural of ‘overbearing pedants’…?

–Garrick Alder, London

Would there were more overbearing pedants here in the states.

From Infinite Jest, page 869:

Stice automatically tried to shake his head and then gave a small cry of pain. ‘Not that. None of that. Long fucking story. I’m not even sure I’d want anybody to believe it. Forget that part. The point’s I’m up there — I’m lying there real sweaty and hot and jittered. I jump on down and got a chair an brang it out here to set where it’s cool.’

‘And where you don’t have to lie there and contemplate Coyle’s sheet slowly ripening under his bunk,’ I said, shuddering a little.

‘And it’s just starting to snow, then, out. It’s about maybe like 0100. I thought how I’d just set and watch the snow a little and settle on down and then go grab some sack down in the V.R.’ He scratched at the reddening back of his scalp again.

‘And as you watched, you rested your head pensively against the glass for just a second.’

‘And that was all she wrote. Forgot the forehead was sweated up. Whammo. Kertwanged my own self. Just like remember when Rader and them got Ingersoll to touch his tongue on that net-post last New Year’s? Stuck here fucking tight as that tongue, Hal. Hell of a lot more total stuck area, too, than Ingersoll. He only did lose that smidgeon off the tip, Inc. I tried to pull her off about 0230, and there was this fucking… sound. This sound and a feeling like the skin’ll give before the bind will, sure. Frozen stuck. And this here’s more skin than I care to say goodbye to, buddy-ruff.’ He was speaking just above a whisper.

This definitely has to do with watching too much TV.

Hal Incandenza, though he has no idea yet of why his father really put his head in a specially-dickied microwave in the Year of the Trial-Sized Dove Bar, is pretty sure that it wasn’t because of standard U.S. anhedonia. Hal himself hasn’t had a bona fide intensity-of-interior-life-type emotion since he was tiny; he finds terms like joie and value to be like so many variables in rarified equations, and he can manipulate them well enough to satisfy everyone but himself that he’s in there, inside his own hull, as a human being — but in fact he’s far more robotic than John Wayne. One of his troubles with the Moms is the fact that Avril Incandenza believes she knows him inside and out as a human being, and an internally worthy one at that, when in fact inside Hal there’s pretty much nothing at all, he knows. His Moms Avril hears her own echoes inside him and thinks what she hears is him, and this makes Hal feel the one thing he feels to the limit, lately: he is lonely.

Infinite Jest, Page 694.

Infinite Jest, page 322.

Eschaton takes eight to twelve to play, w/ 400 tennis balls so dead and bald they can’t even be used for service drills anymore, plus an open expanse equal to the area of four contiguous tennis courts, plus a head for data-retrieval and coldly logical cognition, along with at least 40 megabytes of available RAM and wide array of tennis paraphernalia. The vade mecumish rulebook that Pemulis in Y.P.W. got Hal Incandenza to write — with appendices and sample c:\Pink2\Mathpak\Endstat-path Decision-Tree applied game thearoy — is about as long and interesting as J. Bunyan’s stupefying Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, and a pretty tough nut to compress into anything lively (although every year a dozen or more E.T.A. kids memorize the thing at such a fanatical depth that they sometimes report reciting mumbled passages under light dental or cosmetic anesthesia, years later). But if Hal had a Luger pointed at him and were under compulsion to try, he’d probably start by explaining that each of the 400 dead tennis balls in the game’s global arsenal represents a 5-megaton thermonuclear warhead. Of the total number of a given day’s players, three compose a theoretical Anschluss designated AMNAT, another three SOVWAR, one or two REDCHI, another one or two wacko but always pesky LIBSYR or more formidable IRLIBSYR, and that the day’s remaining players, depending on involved random considerations, can form anything from SOUTHAF to INDPAK to like an independent cell of Nuck insurgents with a 50-click Howitzer and big ideas.

From Infinite Jest, Page 541.

Randy Lenz found that if he could get an urban cat up close enough with some outstretched tuna he could pop the Hefty bag over it and scoop up from the bottom so the cat was in the air in the bottom of the bag, and then he could tie the bag shut with the complimentary wire twist-tie that comes with each bag. He could put the closed bag down next to the vicinity’s northernmost wall or fence or dumpster and light a gasper and hunker down up next to the wall to watch the wide variety of changing shapes the bag would assume as the agitated cat got lower on air. The shapes got more and more violent and twisted and mid-air with the passage of a minute. After it stopped assuming shapes Lenz would dab his butt with a spitty finger to save the rest for later and get up nad untie the twist-tie and look inside the bag and go: ‘There.‘ The ‘There‘ turned out to be crucial for the sense of brisance and closure and resolving issues of impotent rage and powerless fear that like accrued in Lenz all day being trapped in the northeastern portions of a squalid halfway house all day fearing for his life, Lenz felt.

This is required reading for everyone.

From Infinite Jest, page 551 (of the hardcover edition).

… [Pemulis] was wearing the most insolent ensemble he could throw together. He wore maroon paratrooper’s pants with green stovepipe stripes down the sides. The pants’ cuffs were tucked into fuchsia socks above ancient and radically uncool Clark’s Wallabies with dirty soles of eraserish gum. He wore an orange fake-silk turtleneck under an English-cut sportcoat in a purple-and-tan windowpane check. He wore naval shoulder-braid at the level of ensign. He wore his yachting cap, but with the bll bent up at a bumpkinish angle. He looked less insolent than extremely poorly dressed, really.