So this summer I read Infinit Jest. I did this before Wallace killed himself by hanging. I thouroughly enjoyed the book, but I had my problems with it as well. It was long, maybe unneccesarrily so, and at times it was a bit too slow. Still, it was impressive in scope, depth, and feeling. Reading it, one feels like Wallace really understood the human condition, and beyond that, he knew how to relate it.
The novel deals with addiciton in all forms and levels: entertainment addiction, drug addicition, sex addiciton, alcholism, addiction to addiction. It’s all there, and it’s hilarious a lot of the time. It’s tragic too, a lot of the time, but that just makes it all the more humorous and heartwarming.
The novel does not have a conventional ending (in fact it denies most conventions of literature–novel or not) but ot me that is part of its appeal. We are left wondering, not so much what the point is (though there is that) but what really happened, and when? Is the Entertainment buried with Himself? Does Gately end up being okay? What really happened to the PGOAT (because the explanation the book gives is too convenient and trite for the book and my tastes)? None of these questions will make sense if you haven’t read the book. If you have, please share your thoughts with me. I have a friends reading it right now, but I don’t know anyone else who has read it and I am curious.
When I read that Wallace hung himself I was so angry. I had no real reason to be. After all, I had never met the man, and Infinite Jest was the only work by him that I had read. I had no personal investment in him, nor him in me. But I was totally pissed nonetheless. Why? I do not rightly know, but I think it has something to do with the fact that Infinite Jest is truly a work of genius. It gets in there and forces its readers to confront some of the harder and harsher aspects of life. It pulls no punches, and at times it really makes the skin crawl with revuslion, and the heart cry out in agony. And yet, through all of this it offers hope. Hope, even with all the shit and tragedy in the book, is, to me, the book’s final statement. It offers us hope that people are not as bad as we think. It offers us hope that life can be okay, and good even. It offers hope that life is worth living, and even if everything does not work out all roses and horses, at least it can be bearable and tolerable and livable.
Then he hung himself, which in keeping with the title is the biggest joke he could play. I do not mean to sound heartless. I grieve for his family who lost a brother, a father, and a husband; I grieve for the literary world who lost a powerful voice with many thoughtful and deep insights (but still knew the value of potty humor). But it is a jest nonetheless because, whether or not he intended it that way, through the act of hanging himself Wallace demonstrated that he thought everything I found in Infinite Jest was worhtless (maybe I’m putting words into his mouth here, but to me this act of suicide completely invalidated a lot of the lessons to be found in the novel). Maybe it’s just that I would like to think that after writing something this massive and insightful that he would have been able to deal with the pain and depression he was feeling.
I know that an artist’s life is separated from his work, but he seemed to have put so much of himself into this one, that it seems like he could have overcome the thoughts and feelings that drove him to end his life. That was not the case, though, and that fact has killed some of the hope that I’ve harbored inside me. Maybe that’s why I’m so angry; the death of hope is not a happy thought.