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.