Friday, May 25, 2012
The "Off" Season and David Foster Wallace
In my absent time, I've been paying attention to things that might possess the ability to take my mind off the disappointing - or better, devastating - start to my tri season: reading, working, not logging into Facebook, reading, listening to music, working, reading, gardening, working... and mostly, just reading. For those of you I've not told, I've been reading ONE book. And I've been reading it for about two years. The same book. Did I mention it's been TWO years? I'm a slow reader.
The book is Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I'm reading it because, time and again, THIS website analyzed my writing and said I write like David Foster Wallace.
Infinite Jest has almost one thousand pages and more than two hundred pages of footnotes.. oops, I mean "endnotes." The endnotes have footnotes. There are sentences that go on for six pages. Some go on for ten. Many chapters have the same title. Reading the physical book requires more than one bookmark. It barely fits in my carry-on luggage (in fact, ironically, it renders my carry-on luggage too heavy to carry on). For a while, I carried it around just to be able to say I was weight training.
Then I got the electronic version of the book. And I was able to finish almost 40 percent of it before the first year-and-a-half passed. Mostly because I didn't get lost or confused or tired from flipping back and forth.
I'm now on page 811. I have less than 200 pages to go and only two pages of footnotes - oops, I mean endnotes - left. And I fear that I'm beginning to know why David Foster Wallace "erased his own map" (so to speak). He was depressed. I can tell because he describes one of his character's depression better than any self-help book I've ever read (and I've read a lot of them). In Infinite Jest - ironically, a novel - D.F.W. nails the unexplainable better than non-fiction writers who try specifically to explain it. He clarifies the thing I find myself describing as: "something I can't explain, that you cannot possibly hope to understand unless you've been there."
Although that's not what the book is about.
Despite the fact that I'm enjoying Infinite Jest, part of my brain is worrying that this book has become a surrogate for all those things I've failed to finish. Like Ironman St. George. Is finishing this book the monumental task that I can use to prove to myself that I'm still tough? Still capable of suffering? (Did I mention it's already taken me two years?) The other part of my brain just wants a release from the suffering and beating myself up.
In the end, the one thing I'm sure of is that Infinite Jest is a book of irony. Not only within, the irony extends beyond its pages and spills out into my own realm. In fact, (spoiler alert) the book's title refers to a fictional film that renders the viewer catatonic with pleasure... which is, hilariously - and coincidentally, ironically - the exact reason why I've been reading it these past few weeks. To escape from myself. Infinite jest, indeed - because now the book, ironically, has brought me full circle - right back to what it feels like to be depressed.
Well played, D.F.W., well played.