Nathan Seppelt: Don’t Miss the House

Nathan Seppelt has been described – just once, and very generously – as an artist. When he’s not reading Infinite Jest as slowly as humanly possible for Drawing on the Infinite, drawing Infinite Jest, writing about Infinite Jest or boring his wife, his friends and strangers about Infinite Jest; he’s also trying his hand at writing his own fiction and literary criticism.


I’ve read Infinite Jest so many times and so many ways now. This isn’t a boast, I swear. I just don’t know where to begin.

The first time I read Wallace’s big book (that’s gotta be a no-brainer, right?) I think I severely underestimated it. I started reading it on a plane, if that gives you any idea.

Imagine yourself sitting squunched in one of those airline chairs built for approx. 0.8 people, your lowered tray table kneeward-bowed under the weight of the 10th anniversary ed.’s big blue brick. Almost all of the title, [I]NFINIT[E] JEST, floating above an unpromising-looking INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER.

Imagine trying to navigate the sheer volume of data in Hal’s opening Year of Glad interview (SEMI-SPOILERS: if you’re wondering if there’s any way all these arcane details could possibly be relevant, I’ve got some good/bad news for you) while trying to convince your brain to take the fact that you’re sitting in a 90,000kg+ metal tube determined to barrel down a runway so fast it actually hurls itself off it, as if by sheer force of will alone.

And then, oh my god, the Erdedy scene. Where was the woman who said she’d come. This is kinda one of my favourite scenes of the book, but it’s not an easy one.

Since that flight-from in the form of a plunging-into (so yeah – this and some other lines/unusual words I’ve lifted right from DFW), I’ve re-read Infinite Jest several times & ways including semi-academically, Derridean-ly, communally (with Infinite Winter) and, over the last 314 days, inchingly with my Drawing Infinite Jest project – which is exactly what it sounds like.

What I’ve learnt from these multiple readings – not to mention all the analysis, criticism, wanky thinkpieces (of which, I gotta admit, I’ve been guilty of writing too) and scholarship (oh! and not to mention all the literary theory that goes into the book) – is this.

It’s tempting to think of a book like a keyhole – a wee aperture that let’s you see into a tiny part of the author’s mind – but I don’t think that’s quite right. When you stick your face to the door and peer through the keyhole what you miss the most is the house.

I’m not even going to try to tell you just what that house might be this early in the game. But while you read and discuss and delve into some of the surrounding and paratexts and write and create yourselves is: don’t miss the house.

Happy reading. I wish you way more than luck.

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First Impressions

Although the title of my introductory post (hello, everyone!) is a totally deliberate allusion to Jane Austen’s original title for Pride and Prejudice, please know that it is not meant to:

  • Suggest that I, like the characters of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy to whom the title refers, have formed an unfavourable first impression of Infinite Jest; or
  • Imply in any way, shape, or form that the quality of my writing is comparable to (let alone even in the same league as) Austen’s.

I am simply a lifelong lover of all things Jane Austen (Nerd Alert: I actually just finished writing my MA thesis on Pride and Prejudice) and couldn’t resist. Also, this is my very first time reading Infinite Jest and so this post will truly relate exactly what it says on the tin: my first impressions!

Over the course of the last three days, you have had the privilege of hearing from Phil, Shazia, and Joe – all seasoned readers of IJ who have already formed a deep connection with the novel and its characters – and now you finish the week… with me. The inexperienced newcomer. Not only have I never read Infinite Jest before, but – before this Sunday – I had never even laid eyes on a single sentence written by David Foster Wallace. Needless to say, these past few days have felt like a kind of DFW Frosh Week for yours truly!

And, like Frosh Week, my IJ experience thus far has been one Hell of a ride: dizzying, disorienting, and disarmingly emotional. (Or was that just the way I experienced Frosh Week all those years ago? Nearly everything is emotional for me.)

Because that is what has struck me the most going into Infinite Jest: the emotion. Despite the fact that the novel is populated by characters who seek to affect or attain apathy by any means possible, they all feel too much to achieve this. From the addict who worries that he “might have sounded as if he didn’t care at all” to Hal who fears indifference so much that he begs the Deans: “Please don’t think I don’t care,” the men and women who make up the world of IJ are deeply emotional beings – whether they like it or not. And, due to the way in which Wallace imbues each of his creations with an exquisite realness that breaks my heart with the simplest phrases (“Is she still pretty, she cry,” anyone? God. Stab me in the soul)*, I am just completely in awe of these first sixtysome pages and so  very excited to embark on this journey with you all!

So, my first impressions? In short, basically this:

Excited

I am so excited about this book, so excited about Infinite Summer, and so excited to share this experience with my fellow guides and with you, dear reader – wherever you are, whomever you might be, and however many times you’ve read IJ. Are you ready to get emotional together? Because I sure am.

* (Also, someone please tell me that I’m not the only one who got teary-eyed when the old Québécois man with a cold dies as a result of the burglary-turned-robbery. Anyone? Anyone? Either way, it touched something in my lil’ French-Canadian coeur.) **

** (Look at me with my Infinite Jest-inspired endnotes. Are you impressed yet?)

Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)

Good morning/early afternoon/evening, sleepyheads.

Joey Joe Joe gigolo junior jerk here with your Wednesday wisecracks (and other miscellany).

How great it is to have a project like this to work through, with others, together. It’s been a while since I’ve had a discussion about any books, or written anything dealing with ideas (most of my writing I do now has to do with medical reporting, so this will be a welcome change of pace).

Fun personal fact #1: The “Luca” of my last name is actually spelled with a capital L and not a lowercase one, but at some point along the way in school, I started writing it with a lowercase L because it was faster and easier not to interrupt the flow of my pencil/pen. I think I was also into bands that ran words together and placed periods at both ends of their band names. In short, I was an emo kid. In some ways, I still am. That shit gets into your soul and never seems to seep out (except in the form of ice cold tears, or the like—you know…).

Something else that seems to have gotten into my soul was this book: Infinite Jest. It’s a book that I can’t forget and one that I am now coming back to for the third time. Shazia have already stated that this book was “incredibly personal” and Phil mentioned that the opening was “a pretty good summation of [HIM]self.” So it is with me as well.

So, if the book is personal, and I am an emo kid (at heart) does it follow that Infinite Jest could be an emo book?

Probably.

That is, if I am defining“emo” as simply emotional (putting the mascara, tight fitting black clothing, Taking Back Sunday records, and asymmetrical haircuts aside). If you are a first timer, this may or may not come as a surprise: Infinite Jest is a very emotional book (it hurts). This may have been the most surprising aspect of the thing when I first picked it up (straining my biceps and wrist flexors, of course) back in (I think) 2009. How was it that an author known for his dazzling intelligence and technical prowess produced something with so much heart? I was stunned and pleasantly surprised. I found many characters that I came to identify with and care about. I suspect you will as well.

Personal history tidbit #2: I picked up Infinite Jest at a time when I still had little to no idea what I should do with my life (there are days when I am still unsure). I was 26 or 27, out of school, with no real employment prospects, having vanquished my undergrad, and then nearly finishing (but ultimately dropping out of) another post-grad course at Mohawk College (who the fuck wants to do a clinical placement in Timmins, by the way?—[laugh track here]—Sorry to any of you from Timmins…I’m sure it’s very lovely there this time of year). The point here is that I was coming out of a dark-ish time where I felt this overwhelming sense of doom, uselessness, and despair as to where best to direct my energies. You could say that I was feeling lost. No wonder then that I connected with this book.

I would say Infinite Jest helped me to locate the source some of those unsettling feelings and to better contextualize the doom I had been living in (i.e- what was the real reason I had felt that way? IJ offers a few possibilities that, I suspect, will still ring true to many—they do for me–even now.)

So, I’ll carry a flashlight with some spare batteries. Phil: you got a lighter? Shazia, Allie: the light of a smartphone/computer monitor/tablet, maybe?

Now, let’s get on with it. I know we can find our way through the tunnels if we just stick together.

^And this for all my fellow emos

Getting Personal (avec Socks)

I drafted this post about three times trying to tell you about yrs truly and Infinite Jest without being too personal, but the fact of it remains: reading Infinite Jest is incredibly personal.

When I first began reading Infinite Jest around 2011, I was going through some heavy crap. I had refused to talk, for starters. Imagine when I read the first few pages of IJ — the narrator (arguably Hal) articulating: “I cannot make myself understood,” and then a few sentences later, Hal saying: “I cannot make myself understood, now.” I finally felt understood, of course.

I came to Infinite Jest after reading “Good Old Neon” from Oblivion. I remember being stunned by the intricacy of each shift in the narrator’s and the character’s perception, the way “David Wallace” is brought into the story, and the unbelievable patience it must have taken to think it through, and to write with such attention – despite the harrowing content. I’d never read anything like it.

It’s this quality of patience and attention I sense in DFW’s work that makes me want to read Infinite Jest (six years later, in a much less depressed state) for the fourth time.

These qualities also have very much to do with what makes me want to talk to other humans like you.

Just now, I thought about ending this post by dismissing my comments as sentimental, and self-helpy. But I won’t do that, because on some level — that I can’t articulate right now for many reasons, but which I understand — I know that these are reductive words and categories, and I know that talking with other people, trying to get to know them, being open, sharing what I love, and changing in the process, is what matters.

Speaking of changing, I just changed my socks. Did you all see one of the very first tweets that Phil made?! He has special IJ socks! I find this very funny.

Here are mine (so Phil doesn’t stink alone. Syke!):

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I look forward to getting confused and excited with all of you as we read IJ together! Feel free to post your socks on our Reddit, and please do intro. yourself! We’ve just made the discussion threads for week one of our poor summer!

To begin again at the beginning

The guides have started reading, but this week we are all going to introduce ourselves just a little bit more than our brief bios.

A couple of weeks ago, almost a month now, I was in Calgary and I met Shazia in person for the very first time. Fate had somehow brought us to the same city at the same time so soon after meeting through the DFW list-serv. And I remember a part of our conversation being about the beginning of this book, how it instantly grabbed me and why.  I half-joked and was half-serious when I said to Shazia that the opening to this book was pretty much a good summation of myself. I think we both chimed in with “Hal is me!” at some point. Continue reading “To begin again at the beginning”