A Supposedly Fun Blog

September 7, 2009

So I Lied…

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevincarey1 @ 4:55 am

…about waiting until the 21st to post, having finished the book yesterday. I enjoyed it to the end, although I started to resent it about three weeks ago, not because the quality flagged (it didn’t) but because my stack of unread books began to reach truly frightening heights. Getting through all 1,079 pages (1,096, really, because when you finish you have to then go back and re-read the first 17 pages, which are the last chronologically and contain several crucial bits of information vis as vis the fate of some important characters, in particular Don Gately) requires, psychologically, something akin to the “One Day at a Time” mentality that’s key to successfully navigating A.A., to wit Joelle Van Dyne on her previous failed attempts to kick crack cocaine:

“Did you ever hear of this fellow Evel Knievel? This motorcycle jumper? What I used to do, I’d throw away the pipe and shake my fist at the sky and say As God is my fucking witness NEVER AGAIN, as of this minute right here I QUIT FOR ALL TIME. And I’d bunker up all white-knuckled and stay straight. And count the days. I was proud of each day I stayed off. Each day seemed evidence of something, and I counted them. I’d add them up. Line them up end to end. You know? And soon it would get…improbable. As if each day was a car Knieval had to clear. One car, two cars. By the time I’d get up to say like maybe about 14 cars, it would begin to seem like this staggering number. Jumping over 14 cars. And the rest of the year, looking ahead, hundreds and hundreds of cars, me in the air trying to clear them. Who could do it? How did I ever think anyone could do it that way?

Think too much about how long it will take and you’ll never get there. 

The length raises obvious questions of “What’s the Point? and “Is it Worth It?” and “What Does it All Mean?” Wallace himself provides as satisfactory an answer as any, in this excellent interview conducted for Salon by Laura Miller. 

What do you think is uniquely magical about fiction?

 Oh, Lordy, that could take a whole day! Well, the first line of attack for that question is that there is this existential loneliness in the real world. I don’t know what you’re thinking or what it’s like inside you and you don’t know what it’s like inside me. In fiction I think we can leap over that wall itself in a certain way. But that’s just the first level, because the idea of mental or emotional intimacy with a character is a delusion or a contrivance that’s set up through art by the writer. There’s another level that a piece of fiction is a conversation. There’s a relationship set up between the reader and the writer that’s very strange and very complicated and hard to talk about. A really great piece of fiction for me may or may not take me away and make me forget that I’m sitting in a chair. There’s real commercial stuff can do that, and a riveting plot can do that, but it doesn’t make me feel less lonely.

There’s a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone — intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I’m in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don’t with other art.

Again there are parallels with the struggle against addiction, with A.A. members urged to Identify, to resist the temptation to obliterate their loneliness with Substances and do the hard work of genuine human contact instead. As Dave Eggers notes in the foreword, the act of writing Infinite Jest must itself have required a level of immersion and obsession not wholly dissimilar from the Substance-mania and single-minded drive for tennis greatness that occupies much of the novel. 

by Kevin Carey

17 Comments »

  1. I came to the same “screw the spoiler-line” conclusion earlier today and wrote about the end myself. Seemed silly to wait. If communal reading projects like this are to continue it seems to me that the weekly page-count should definitely increase as we go; it’s much more interesting to talk through the beginning of a book than 150-pages-from-the-end. Who can resist the urge to keep going when you’re that close? (I use the same strategy in making syllabi for my literature classes.)

    I reread the first 17 too. Some theories about putting together the fates of those characters, as well as a rejection of the need for that sort of closure, at the link.

    Comment by G C — September 7, 2009 @ 5:11 am | Reply

  2. i love it when people excerpt his interviews.

    Comment by girl — September 7, 2009 @ 6:27 am | Reply

  3. Devin, nicely put! What are you thinking of reading next?

    Comment by Colette — September 8, 2009 @ 12:14 am | Reply

  4. Kevin, forgive my bad typing.

    Comment by Colette — September 8, 2009 @ 12:15 am | Reply

  5. [...] Kevin Carey of A Supposedly Fun Blog, So I Lied. [...]

    Pingback by Infinite Summer » Blog Archive » Roundup — September 8, 2009 @ 5:31 am | Reply

  6. I agree. I was so relieved when I finally finished last weekend so that I could tackle my stack of “to read” books.

    Comment by ksteiger — September 8, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  7. “The Journalist and the Murderer” by Janet Malcolm. Only 163 (small ) pages — I read half of it last night! Then, I don’t know — Proust?

    Comment by kevincarey1 — September 8, 2009 @ 2:43 pm | Reply

  8. “As Dave Eggers notes in the foreword, the act of writing Infinite Jest must itself have required a level of immersion and obsession not wholly dissimilar from the Substance-mania and single-minded drive for tennis greatness that occupies much of the novel.”

    When I first read IJ, I was convinced DFW had to have been using speed to write it. I don’t know that I’d argue for that now, but I still think that the fact that endnote number 1 is what it is has to be seen as some kind of tip of the hat.

    Comment by jmb — September 8, 2009 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  9. also …

    “(1,096, really, because when you finish you have to then go back and re-read the first 17 pages, which are the last chronologically and contain several crucial bits of information [...])”

    As I conjectured earlier, I think Wallace wanted the structure of the book to reflect the compulsive-repeated-viewing aspect of the Entertainment. It’s not an accident that they have the same title.

    Comment by jmb — September 8, 2009 @ 4:32 pm | Reply

  10. Right on, again, jmb.

    I don’t care what anyone says, which puts me in the majority when it comes to our own opinions of High Art, it is a work of genius, full stop.

    Comment by John O — September 10, 2009 @ 3:46 am | Reply

  11. Good point, JMB, I confess that I had exactly the same reaction after getting through 17 — I wanted to keep reading! Then I was like, “wait, that’s f—ing insane…”

    Comment by kevincarey1 — September 11, 2009 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

  12. Occam’s Razor Approach: “Infinite Jest.” Personally, I doubt I’ll ever put it all the way down, because it is so dense and funny and strange and wonderful and insightful it is ultimately infinitely jestful, at least to me. Since I found this blog, I’ve been picking it up and opening to any page and taking out big chunks of it just for the fun of it, endnotes included. Pretty much random reading.

    He knew what he was doing.

    And I don’t think he cared what anyone thought. Can we safely and at a high correlation with other psych variables divide the world into those who like Wallace and those who don’t?

    I suspect we can.

    Comment by John O — September 12, 2009 @ 12:50 am | Reply

  13. I flew ahead to the finish too, and am glad I did. The book I read after I finished was Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman, and I really enjoyed it.

    Comment by Girl Detective — September 14, 2009 @ 1:44 am | Reply

  14. Mr. Carey is starting to look like the Usain Bolt of the Infinite Summer crowd.

    Comment by jmb — September 16, 2009 @ 12:50 am | Reply

  15. Thanks for sharing very nice post. I like your post “so i lied” very much and i like all comments about this post.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    Comment by Helenarosette — July 24, 2010 @ 3:26 am | Reply

  16. I was attracted to your blog because I’m all into writing about fun, and making fun happen. But, wow! You are an in-depth writer, one whom I feel successfully tackles expressing perceptions that I for one relate to but never tried to put into words. Good writing.

    Comment by Larry Green — April 12, 2011 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

  17. Thanks, Helped me a lot reading this article

    Comment by Jerome — May 8, 2012 @ 5:24 pm | Reply


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