A Supposedly Fun Blog

July 17, 2009

The Illusory Nature of Plot

Filed under: Uncategorized — myglesias @ 8:54 pm

By Matthew Yglesias

Bloggers live to criticize, so I feel the tone on this blog has been pretty negative. And perhaps that reflects folks’ actual sentiments about Infinite Jest. But I, for one, would like to say that I’m really enjoying this book. And in particular I’m not at all bothered by the alleged lack (thus far) of forward momentum in the story. Presumably all decent people have already read the hilarious IO9 article that tongue-in-cheek pronounced Transformers 2: The Rise of the Fallen to be “a brilliant art movie about the illusory nature of plot.” Well, that was just a joke. But Infinite Jest is in part the real deal.

Something that’s always bothered me as I hover around the margins of magazine journalism is the constant pressure to take facts and analysis and contort them into fairly pat narratives that fit certain conceits. Sometimes the results are brilliant, but I often feel that it’s the equivalent of movies proclaiming themselves to be “inspired by actual events.” The yarns sometimes turn out to be good ones, but they’re just that: good yarns inspired by reality rather than the best possible efforts to explain the world.

Infinite Jest is not nearly so naive as to purport to offer a ding an sich or anything (“Things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar”) but it presents the unfolding of events as fragmentary, confusing, and different-looking depending on perspective. Characters, narrators, and audiences are drifting through their lives uncertain of what points are worthy of focus and of where the turning points are.

That said, I think we’re beginning to see the beginnings of the outline of a story. Inside the Enfield Tennis Academy we have Canadian expatriates (Avril Incandenzaand John Wayne), we have a working class drug dealer (Pemulis), ties to Arizona (via Orin Incandenza), and a mad filmmaker (James Incandenza). Outside we have a lot of stuff about down-and-out Boston-area addicts, Canadian separatist politics, a mysterious film cartridge, and a meeting in Arizona. What does that really add up to? Well, it’s hard to say at the moment. But the stage seems well set for these various strange to converge in Enfield.


  1. LOL.

    Matt, you’re terrific, really, but you’ll laugh with me when you’re “done.”

    I don’t think it is much of a spoiler to say y’all need to keep your sense of infinite jest handy. I would also suggest that James Incandenza is not “mad” at all, from a certain perspective. By my take JOI is David Lynch X infinity in DFW’s head.

    I dunno. Helps to read DFW in the context of trying to understand who he was, I suppose.

    Comment by John O — July 18, 2009 @ 3:52 am | Reply

  2. “But the stage seems well set for these various strange to converge in Enfield. ”

    Boy, are you in for a surprise …

    Comment by Knemon — August 1, 2009 @ 12:40 am | Reply

  3. wrt the transformers review, anthony lane reviewed ´the saint´ in the same manner a long time ago, more elegantly and with less wordage. an irrelevant aside, but worth checking out, i promise.

    Comment by kid charlemagne — August 5, 2009 @ 8:55 pm | Reply

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