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  • Writer's pictureJudit Bekker

Infinite Jest: My biggest book challenge

Somewhere around March at the beginning of quarantine in Hungary, a friend and I started to read Infinite Jest. One of the social/political podcasts called Partizán, launched a Sunday book club with the translators and we’ve been following along since then. The book is the thickest and most complicated reads of my life so far, it’s 1100 pages long in a very big format (not only good for reading but weight lifting excercises too) written in 8pt font size. But hey, I like literary challenges!

What’s Infinite Jest?

A gargantuan, mind-altering comedy about the Pursuit of Happiness in America. Set in an addicts’ halfway house and a tennis academy, and featuring the most endearingly screwed-up family to come along in recent fiction, Infinite Jest explores essential questions about what entertainment is and why it has come to so dominate our lives; about how our desire for entertainment affects our need to connect with other people; and about what the pleasures we choose say about who we are. Equal parts philosophical quest and screwball comedy, Infinite Jest bends every rule of fiction without sacrificing for a moment its own entertainment value. It is an exuberant, uniquely American exploration of the passions that make us human—and one of those rare books that renew the idea of what a novel can do.

At this point, I’m around 70% and I don’t ever want this book to end. For people like me, who deal with mental health issues every day it’s comforting to see that others have the same problems, and everybody here has a way more fucked up life than mine. This is something that I have on my mind a lot lately, I get up with it, I sleep with it, I do my daily exercise listening to the podcast because it has so many aspects and layers. A year ago it wouldn’t have been a great time for me to read this novel, it would’ve made me feel worse, but this time it was a match made in heaven. I try to progress with it portion by portion, but I’m already 3 sections ahead of the weekly podcast.

I have 300 pages left, but I’m so rooting for all the characters (my biggest favorites are Mario, Hal, and Madame Psychosis) to leave their pathologies behind. However, I think it’s a false hope, as Wallace stated that he “wanted to do something sad“, and reading myself through the 2/3 of the book, I guess he accomplished this goal. I started reading in ebook format, which is convenient because of the excessive number of footnotes (there are 388 footnotes, and some of the footnotes have footnotes too), but I felt that I want this on my bookshelf, so I changed to the hard copy at around 400 pages in.

I had a lot of ideas to visualize based on the book, from subsidized time to how Escathon works, but I found the data of all the Incandenza films and the detailed analysis of the chapters on GitHub by Glenn Slotte. So it was destined to be this one. Check it out on Tableau Public for more details.

Important to note, that I found some great visualizations from the book on the net, one of my favorites is a network of the characters, the other is an Escathon related one.

The inspiration came from Pinterest, where I saw this poster below. I experimented with brushes and grains in Illustrator to achieve the same effect, but I ended up using clean vector shapes for my tennis court. This poster gives back the feeling of the book like nothing else, to me, it’s perfection.

There’s a very funny article on The New Yorker on How To Read Infinite Jest, and this is the 6th point:

Take selfie with book “accidentally” in background. Post on social media. Respond to dazzled commenters with “I guess size does matter. ;)”

So here I am, posing with the book. Some say a picture can tell a thousand words, but this only tells three: I’m an intellectual. 😀 This novel is said to be the flagship of Generation Y, while Ulysses is known to be the same for Generation X. So that might be my next big literary challenge for 2021.

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