Hello, dear readers, and happy Thursday from me to you!
Why that particular Beatles gif, you ask?
Well, first off, I personally think it’s exquisite; everything from their outfits to their awkward faux-strip-tease dancing brings me immense joy every time I see it. Second of all (and slightly more on-topic), this rare footage is from one of the three promotional clips they filmed for their 1967 “Hello, Goodbye” music video – hence tying this gif in nicely with the title of this week’s blog post.
Which brings me to this: my last contribution to Infinite Summer. Fourteen weeks ago, I said “hello” in my first blog post that talked about my first impressions of Infinite Jest. Now, I will come full circle to say “goodbye” in my final blog post and talk about my final impressions of Infinite Jest.
So… here it goes!
If you’ve been following my posts these past few weeks, you’ll know that – despite my best efforts – I ended up not really clicking with IJ. Back in August, I confessed to my struggle with liking the novel and have continued to chronicle my inability to fully connect with DFW’s magnum opus.
While it was immensely satisfying to hear that heavy thunk of the book closing one last time, I am sad to report that the conclusion did nothing to change my feelings. That being said, I would really like to end my run on a positive note and dedicate my last post to all of the things that I enjoyed and appreciated about Infinite Jest.
So, in no particular order, I give you…
Allie’s Top Ten Things She Liked About IJ
# 1. The Prose
Even if I didn’t always love his modernist digressions and stream-of-consciousness style, Wallace truly was a master of language and knew how to pack a punch in just a few words. As I flip through my copy of Infinite Jest, I see lots of underlined bits with stuff like ‘Gorgeous’ and ‘Nice’ scribbled in the margins. A few of my favourite little passages:
- “the no-sound of falling snow” (342)
- “its black has the bottomless quality of water at night” (461)
- “so quiet Hal can hear the squeak of blood in his head” (798)
- “a long-tailed comet of flour on her cheek” (954)
DFW’s writing is so evocative and these are just a few examples from the text that gave me a mad case of writerly admiration/envy. His descriptions are so on-points that they make whatever he’s talking about burst into your mind in technicolour, leaving you wondering, “How did I never think of putting it that way?”
# 2. Mario and Joelle
These two emerged as my favourites early on and secured a special place in my heart as the story went along. Mario gave me all of the genuine emotion and earnestness that was lacking in the other characters and I always felt warm and fuzzy inside whenever the narrative returned to him. Joelle was a fascinating character from the beginning and only became more so as Wallace continued to flesh her out. I was always hungry to learn more about her and only wish that I could have spent more time with her.
All I can say is that I hope these two are doing well in their post-Infinite Jest lives and that Mario goes on to become the greatest filmmaker of his time while Joelle finds whatever brings her joy and does just that. (But if ever she wants to back to her radio gig, then that would be great because it would make Mario very happy, which would, in turn, make me very happy.)
# 3. All. The. Work.
As an aspiring novel writer, it truly was humbling to read a piece of fiction of this magnitude. The intricacy of the plotting, the long list of characters, the world-building, the footnotes… Even if it wasn’t my cup of tea, it’s impossible to remain unimpressed with just how much work went into Infinite Jest and I just have to applaud Wallace for bringing his vision to life because it would have not only taken guts to be such a trailblazer, but also a ton of determination. You don’t just write a one thousand page novel (plus footnotes) on a whim and I respect the hell out our friend David for the sheer will it must have taken to put this all down on paper.
4. How It Made Me Step Outside My Literary Comfort Zone
One of my favourite professors once told me that we never learn anything if we stay in our comfort zone because we don’t push ourselves when we feel at ease. That thought clearly resonated with me and has stuck with me to this day. That’s why when things force me to step outside of my comfort zone, I like to welcome the challenge and open myself up to the learning something new. IJ was most definitely a step outside of my literary comfort zone – I tend to gravitate more toward nineteenth-century British women’s lit – and so it was definitely a good way for me to widen my horizons.
Besides, I don’t think there’s ever a downside to having read a new book.
5. The French-Canadiana
As I’ve mentioned a few times over the course of Infinite Summer, I am French-Canadian. And while it’s Acadian rather than Québécois blood that flows through my veins, there are a lot of overlaps between the two branches of francophone culture. Therefore, it was a thrill to spot the French expressions Wallace would throw in from time to time. He really succeeded in writing Marathe’s stilted English – just the way DFW restructured his sentences to make him sound more French was spot-on it. It was exactly like hearing my relatives who live on the North Shore (the French part of New Brunswick) speak English! Unbelievably impressive.
6. The Intertextual References
If you’ve been following my blog posts, this is probably a very obvious one on my list, but I seriously loved all of the intertextuality in Infinite Jest. The references to Wagner, Greek myth, Tosca, William Blake, and – above all – Hamlet were all lovely to spot and I find that they really added a lot of texture to the narrative. I always feel a kind of rush when I notice these little nods to other pieces of culture (like I’ve been let in on the joke) and so it was fun to play this little game of “I Spy” with our friend David along the way.
7. The Reflections On Art and Form
One of my favourite threads woven throughout the novel that I didn’t really touch on much in my posts was JOI’s film career. I really enjoyed the in-world critical discourse surrounding it and particularly loved reading about everyone’s different opinions on his work. Getting a glimpse into Hal’s thoughts on Himself’s filmic fixation near the end of IJ was especially interesting: “One way of looking at the film-obsession’s endurance is that Himself was never really successful or accomplished at filmmaking. This was something else on which Mario and I had agreed to disagree” (949).
Not only does this give the reader some cool insight into Hal and Mario’s dynamic – especially in relation to their father – but it also seems to speak to some kind of writerly self-reflection. Do we persist with things because we are unsuccessful at them rather than the reverse? It’s an interesting notion. And I find that Wallace uses JOI throughout the narrative to drop all kinds of self-aware musings about what it means to create art. The amount of parallels between Himself and DFW’s work are too numerous to be insignificant (both use footnotes, both are criticized for a lack of plot, etc.) and so it was cool to read JOI as a sort of stand-in for Wallace as a writer.
8. How I Learned New Things
This may sound kind of lame, but I actually learned a lot of new things while reading Infinite Jest. It’s a very random assortment of things, but still.
I could rhyme off a ton of new things that I learned about in IJ, I’ll narrow it down to just my top three:
- Tennis (I didn’t even know that there was that much more one could learn about tennis);
- Drugs (I have learned so much about addiction from this book that D.A.R.E. never taught me); and
- Wild Turkey is a kind of alcohol that actually exists (I thought it was a brand that DFW made up for the book, but I saw it when buying a bottle of wine the other day in the liquor store and was weirdly delighted that it was real).
Also, I just realized that I made a list within a list. List-ception!
9. The Soft Moments™
These are what kept me going even when times got rough, my friends. For every section that focused on scum like Randy Lenz, there were glimpses of gentleness to counterbalance those – for example, anything having to do with my sweet Mario. I’ve dedicated a lot of digital ink to my favourite soft moments throughout IJ, but I’ll focus here on one near the end of the book that touched me.
On page 956, Hal recounts one of Orin’s most moving memories of his father in which Himself talks to Orin about sex: “He said he’d personally prefer that Orin wait until he’d found someone he loved enough to want to have sex with and had had sex with this person, that he’d wait until he’d experienced for himself what a profound and really quite moving thing sex could be, before he watched a film where sex was presented as nothing more than organs going in and out of other organs, emotionless, terribly lonely” (956).
Like, how beautiful is it to read about a father figure being vulnerable and open with his son about the emotional side of sex? This was so lovely and really made me care about JOI for the first time in the whole book.
(I also love/hate Hal’s comment later on the page where he says that Himself “wasted” this moment of openness with Orin of all people – love it because it’s such a sick burn toward his brother, but hate it because it’s a it’s a very sad truth. Poor Hal.)
Now, I know this is kind of sappy, but you all made this crazy ride so worthwhile – you, the readers, the commenters, and my fellow guides. It has been an honour to write for you, hear from you, and get to know you all over the course of the past three months. To all those who followed this blog, but never commented – thank you. To all those who read along and took the time to leave comments – thank you. To the three other guides who have made me think, made me laugh, and inspired me week after week – thank you. (Also, to all of those to whom I didn’t find the time to reply, I apologize. Between a new job that keeps me super busy and other commitments, life often got in the way of being more present on here. Please know, though, that I have appreciated hearing from all of you!)
So, hello… and goodbye for now. Thank you – from the bottom of my heart – for including me in your Infinite Summer.