Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Infinite Summer

“Practical Uses for INFINITE JEST”

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So here’s what I found slipped under my office door this morning, as a kind of warning for the fall, or perhaps even as a threat…


Written by gerrycanavan

February 23, 2016 at 4:52 pm

Infinite Map

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Kottke and MetaFilter have your character map of Infinite Jest. I really wish the people behind Infinite Summer had been able to keep the momentum going, rather than vanishing into the night; splitting up into multiple groups all reading different books killed what was great about IS, and now the “online book group” thing seems to be over entirely.

Written by gerrycanavan

October 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Friday Night!

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* This year’s answers to Infinite Summer are here: Insurgent Summer on the one hand and Ulysses Summer on the other. If I weren’t traveling then I’d do at least one.

Rachel Maddow has been doing very good work on location at the oil spill. There’s more at her site.

* Will oil from Deepwater Horizon hit North Carolina beaches? Check back this July.

* Controversy at the Spelling Bee!

* And the World Cup reminds us why you should never take your eyes off the North Koreans, not even for a second.

Another Massive Wednesday Linkdump

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* Three-part interview at Hero Complex with Neill Blomkamp.

GB: There can be an interesting freedom in the restrictions, too, even though that sounds contradictory. If you look at “Jaws” and “Alien,” the limitations on the visual effects led to ingenuity and better films. And there are many films today that go wild with visual effects and it leads to entirely forgettable films.

NB: It’s so true. From a pure audience perspective, it may yield a more interesting result. Think of “Alien,” if they made it now you would probably get “Alien vs. Predator.”

Via MeFi, which also links to another Blomkamp short, Tempbot.

* Noah Sheldon photographs the degradation of Biosphere 2. Also via MeFi. More photos at BLDGBLOG.

* China Miéville is blogging a rejectamentalist manifesto.

* “The End of the Detroit Dream.”

* Infinite Summer 2 is coming: 2666 Spring.

* Democrats would gain 10 Senate seats by eliminating the filibuster.

* The Big Bang Theory vs. The Male Gaze.

* New Yorker fiction by the numbers.

The first thing we always look at is if the New Yorker is bringing new writers into the mix or sticking with its old standbys. Just 10 writers account for 82 (or 23%) of the 358 stories to appear over the last seven years. Just 18 writers account for 124 (or 35%) of the stories. The New Yorker is sometimes criticized for featuring the same writers again and again, but it appears to be getting better on this front. The 18 “standbys” noted above and listed below accounted for only 7 of the 49 stories published in 2009 (or 14%). On the flip side of this argument, 15 writers appeared in the New Yorker for the first time in 2009 (at least since 2003).

* Monkeys recognize bad grammar. But they still can’t spell.

* Andrew Sullivan has your charts of the day.

It looks as though traditional economists have a strong optimism bias, which I try to balance with my fervent belief that the economy will catastrophically collapse on any given day.

* io9 considers the inevitable Lost reboot.

* I’m starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation’s grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.

….This is a society in deep, deep trouble and the fixes currently in the works are in no way adequate to the enormous challenges we’re facing.

* All about Yemen.

So Yemen’s population has tripled since 1975 and will double again by 2035. Meanwhile, state revenue will decline to zero by 2017 and the capital city of Sanaa will run out of water by 2015 — partly because 40% of Sanaa’s water is pumped illegally in the outskirts to irrigate the qat crop.

* Goal of the week: Dempsey!

Infinite Jest #10: On Endings

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This post ditches the official spoiler-line and talks about the ending of Infinite Jest. If it’s important to you not to read such a post, please do not read this post.

I decided to read through to the end of Infinite Jest this morning, which means (1) this is post is off the spoiler-line and consequently deals with the text as a whole and (2) this may or may not be my last Infinite Summer post. In light of (2) I’d like to say that it’s been truly great, and while I’m not able to participate in the Gravity’s Rainbow followup due to my pending exams I hope to pick up again with whatever Book #3 turns out to be.

I think it’s natural to end Infinite Jest in the spirit of of anticlimax nicely captured by Infinite Detox:

…as a reader, who’s poured 1,000 pages of emotional investment into this novel and its characters, this rings hollow and false. Frankly, I’m pissed off.

…Here’s the irony: One of Wallace’s big projects in Infinite Jest was to champion the notion of sincerity, right? Of forging connections and telling the truth and dropping the anhedonic mask and opening yourself up to the emotional gooiness that may result. From an intellectual standpoint, Wallace is very much pro-sincerity. And definitely ambivalent about “hip irony”, if not downright hostile toward it. Wallace can talk the talk about sincerity and directness and forging connections, but it’s like when it comes to the point of enacting that sincerity, dramatizing it and building it into the very fabric of Infinite Jest, he can’t (or doesn’t want to) bring himself to do it.

This tension between sincerity and irony—the impossible yearning for an open, unmediated authenticity of the sort we’re smart enough to know can never be achieved—is productive of the melancholic tone that has characterized most of my reading of Infinite Jest this summer. In some essential, baseline sense I think it’s what the book is All About.™ So IJ is most assuredly not a failure, exactly, so much as a very pointed and frustrating framing of a particularly intractable problem—which is to say IJ is a (mostly) successful book on the subject of universal human failure. We are left at the end of Infinite Jest with a story that hasn’t even happened yet, much less capable of directing us towards some personal epiphany—but if we’ve been reading carefully all along we should have known it could never be otherwise. (See, for example, the conversation between Remy Marathe and Kate Gompert from 774-782, in which Marathe’s story repeatedly resists the narrative closures an increasingly desperate Gompert is desperate to assign to it. How this book would end has always been right in front of our faces.)

Now, you can allow yourself to be seduced by the teasing but doomed impulse towards closure, the fantasy that answers to all the mysteries exist somewhere inside the book. Wallace himself even points to this in an interview:

(DFW) There is an ending as far as I’m concerned. Certain kind of parallel lines are supposed to start converging in such a way that an “end” can be projected by the reader somewhere beyond the right frame. If no such convergence or projection occured to you, then the book’s failed for you.

(Wallace is, I think, being coy here. Of course there’s hints about what happens after pg. 981, but they are completely incomplete and even contradictory, as he well knows, and in any event beside the point.)

Over the years Wallace fans has struggled admirably to puzzle out these supposedly converging lines with varying levels of success, and that work goes on in the Infinite Summer forums as we speak. For what it’s worth: I think the DMZ/mushrooms theory makes a lot of sense, and definitely explains some of Hal’s strange behavior in the middle of the novel, but I remain committed to the partial-viewing-of-the-Entertainment hypothesis, the heroic partial overcoming of which in evidence during the “Year of Glad” chapter I think better matches DFW’s existential themes. I think they must have really dug up Himself’s head, even if that seems to introduce precognitive dreams into the world of the novel alongside “wraiths,” and I suspect a microwave-destroyed copy of the master was inside. There is no anti-Entertainment. I don’t think the Entertainment ends the world, a la Dollhouse‘s “Epitaph One”; what it does is both less and more apocalyptic than that. Whether or not John Wayne was a spy he was “on Hal’s side” by the grave and whatever came later, and I guess he probably died somewhere along the way, somehow. I don’t know if I think Hal gets better. I think things get worse for Pemulis. I think O.N.A.N. dissolves.

But the impulse to make this sort of over-interpretive effort is itself a kind of misreading of the novel, which is, we must recognize, explicitly anticonfluential along the theories of Himself’s own films. The displeasure of this sort of text is laid out unmistakably for us within the novel itself:

It was only after Himself’s death that critics and theorists started to treat this question as potentially important. A woman at U. Cal-Irvine had earned tenure with an essay arguing that the reason-versus-no-reason debate about what was unentertaining in Himself’s work illuminated the central conundra of millennial après-garde film, most of which, in the teleputer age of home-only entertainment, involved the question why so much aesthetically ambitious film was so boring and why so much shitty reductive commercial entertainment was so much fun. (947)

The book—which, centered as it is around a mind-consuming MacGuffin called “the Entertainment” that destroys your ability to think, and therefore live, refuses to entertain us—is an object lesson in the fact that literature is about something other, and we can hope more, than mere pleasure. Infinite Jest is extremely fun at times and incredibly tedious at others—but in its mammoth scale, sprawling scope, and discontinuous presentation it could only ever leave us with a kind of unfulfilled, anti-entertained sense of disappointment at its end. To see the missing Year of Glad or to know X, Y, and Z about it would not change that inevitable anticlimax; in all likelihood it would only bring the discomforting divide between literature and Entertainment into even sharper relief while in the process sacrificing the calculated denial of easy pleasure that is at the core of the novel’s claims to aesthetic worth. To try to close a narrative like this one is a readerly impulse that is almost impossible to avoid—it was, I’ll admit, essentially the first thing I embarked on when I put down the book—but we should only attempt to do so with the understanding that we can’t, and knowing that if we were better readers of Wallace we wouldn’t even try. The ending was never and could never have been what Infinite Jest is about; that’s why it comes first.


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* I’ll be posting this year as a HASTAC Scholar at the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboatory. My first post is about status update activism of the sort that is all over your Facebook newsfeed today.

* Speaking of health care, Olympia Snowe now runs your health care.

* LRB makes an impressively desperate bid for my attention with Fredric Jameson’s review of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood alongside reviews of Inglourious Basterds and Inherent Vice.

* Madoff-mania: The SEC—which he claims he was shortlisted to chair (!)— now admits it badly mishandled multiple investigations of his company. Still more here.

* Kevin Carey nicely notes the difficulty inherent to blogging about a book you’re two-thirds through with. Another post or two on Infinite Jest soon. The total collapse of blogging at A Supposedly Fun Blog is one of the great disappointments of Infinite Summer, I think.

* Hiding adjuncts so the U.S. News rankings can’t find them. Meanwhile, this year’s Washington Monthly undergraduate rankings leave Duke out of the Top 25.

* So you’ve invented a board game. (via)

* 68 Sci-Fi Sites to See in the U.S.

* And Gawker declares the Michael Cera backlash has officially begun.

Infinite Summer #9: A Brief Comment on the Narcissism of Grad Students and My Own Arrested Adolescence

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The salience of this particular moment fades a bit as we get further and further from Friday’s spoiler-line, but I feel compelled to comment briefly on the conversation between Marathe and Steeply that begins on page 638. How can I, or anyone who has chosen a life in academia, read this week’s material without feeling interpolated by it? How could any academic, would-be or otherwise, avoid asking him- or herself more than once just what it is that separates us from Steeply’s M*A*S*H-obsessed father beyond the razor-thin veneer of professional legitimacy? It’s my job, allegedly, to develop intricate and sometimes bizarre readings of pop-culture artifacts, which means it’s perfectly okay for me to (still) spend all my time reading science-fiction novels and watching science-fiction movies just like I did when I was twelve. Heck, I wouldn’t be doing my work if I didn’t! And if I can just trick somebody into paying me to do it I’ll never have to stop.

Herman Blume:What’s the secret, Max?
Max Fischer: The secret?
Herman Blume: Yeah, you seem to have it pretty figured out.
Max Fischer: The secret, I don’t know… I guess you’ve just gotta find something you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life. For me, it’s going to Rushmore.

Intellectually, of course, I’ve always been able to recognize the tragic irony of this exchange—Rushmore, you’ll remember, doesn’t offer a post-graduate year—but I wonder sometimes whether deep down I’ve ever really come to terms with it.

Is this addiction? Does pursuing a academic career studying literature and pop culture—a preoccupation which over the years has diverted me from any number of more financially lucrative pursuits—mark me as the writerly equivalent of a functional alcoholic? Do I even qualify as functional? And it occurs to me now, reading this section against not only my own life and those of my grad student associates but against the life of anyone who has ever been a “fan” of anything—anyone, that is, who can recognize themselves in the way Steeply’s father looked at M*A*S*H—that the danger DFW is highlighting is central to the construction of modern subjectivity. If everything is at least potentially bad for us—even/especially the things that give us pleasure, the things that make life appear to be worth living—just what is it we’re supposed to be doing? Where is the authentic, healthy, free life, if there was ever such a thing to begin with? When even the things we love conspire to destroy us, what is left?