8 Feb 2010, 3:16pm

infinite jest

i am reading infinite jest, which i bought sometime in high school when i got it into my head that the kind of person i wanted to be was the kind of person who read david foster wallace. i was very much involved in self-creation at the time. i stayed in my boarding school dorm room alone many nights trawling the internet for things i though i should be interested in. i listened to indie bands that no one at my tiny high school had heard of and everyone at my tiny college had been listening to for years (what a relief! what an embarrassment!); i did not read infinite jest but i did read girl with curious hair, and i read a lot of garcia marquez and kundera, who i somehow put in the same category as dfw, that category pretty much being “books by authors that the person i want to be should be able to reference.” in my senior year of high school, another girl and i both read of love and other demons and the book of laughter and forgetting and we sort of briefly had a little book club thing going, the two of us, but she was more enthusiastic about it than me–i copied out passages i found meaningful into my journal, but mostly i just wanted to Have Read those books, whereas she wanted to Read them… you know? and now, i am not sure i really wanted to Be a humanities major in college, or if i just wanted to Have Been a humanities major in college. i don’t know what i mean; i’ve just been thinking a lot about my undergrad thesis lately (about the bell jar and 4.48 psychosis and about me, dramatized and exaggerated and literally schizophrenized, separated into parts) and how i can’t tell where one thing ends and the other begins when it comes to Who I Am and What I’ve Done and hello i have a bachelor’s degree in literature (or, half a bachelor’s degree in literature? the other half is theatre) and i don’t know how to talk in any kind of sensible way about Literature; i still just copy passages that feel meaningful to me into my journal. i love to read, but sometimes i think i should Have Been a scientist instead. should Be a scientist? a. described me to an old friend like: “lit-theatre major who now wants to be an ecologist.” he also told his cousin that i am going to hawaii next year to “study sustainable agriculture.” when i tell people about my plans i say “i want to go back to hawaii because i feel like there’s something left there for me to learn,” or something, because i feel like pele isn’t done with me yet. and, i guess, to study sustainable agriculture. and to learn not to fear the ocean, and to swim a little longer in the liminal space between my childhood and whatever adulthood i finally, but not irrevocably, choose.

anyway, i am reading infinite jest and i expect it to be meaningful to me mostly because it is very meaningful to someone who is very meaningful to me, which i think is a better reason to be reading it than any reason i had to read it in high school, but there it was on my shelf, courtesy, i suppose, of the person i wanted to be in high school, and that is really why i’m reading it. i’m thankful for a lot of what that person has exposed me to over the years, though i’m not sure who or where she is. i know: there is no duality; there is no scientist OR literata; there is the ecology of me (a delicate balance of scientist, literata, baker, wild dancer, treehugger, and so on), and the understanding that understanding is many-faceted. there are a lot of sort of inane epiphanies that i have to have over and over and over and which may never sink in. i have no patience for the part of me that has no patience with the part of me that draws conclusions, like, strip clubs make me uncomfortable, and then much later has a pretty fabulous time getting drunk with beautiful women who have been my best friends and watching other women dance in their underwear. for example. it is okay to have opinions and words and then later have different opinions and words, and thank god for that, thank god for these inane epiphanies, thank god i am not stuck forever with the beliefs i held in high school and in college, thank god i am not stuck forever with the things i believe now.

in new mexico when a. and i were reacquainting ourselves with the guilty magic of highway driving, we found this great radio station that played all sorts of things, and one of the things they played–or maybe it was just npr we were listening to that day, i don’t know–was a discussion on arguments and beliefs. and the purpose arguments serve–like, let’s say you and a friend are going to a particular restaurant, and you’ve both been there before, and you know approximately but not exactly where it is. you think it’s a right at the next intersection and say so. your companion says, “no, i’m pretty sure it’s left.” you say, “no, i really think it’s right,” which tells your friend that you not only have a different opinion but hold it strongly enough that you’re willing to repeat it even after learning that your friend disagrees. if your friend then says “no way, i remember it’s left,” you’ve learned that not only do they hold that belief, they continue to hold it even though you’ve now reinforced your own belief again. you, upon learning that, might go, “oh yeah, i think maybe you’re right,” or you might repeat your opinion again and possibly sway your friend. the point of the radio item was that argumentation can solve this kind of problem! and that it works when things are really important, which is, sort of paradoxically perhaps, when your beliefs are more likely to be flexible. it’s really important that you turn the right way or you’ll never get where you’re going. it’s really important to know whether or not a plant you’re about to eat is edible, because if it’s poisonous, you’ll die. so arguing about these things is quite fruitful. this is why we are often really steadfast and inflexible in our beliefs and opinions about things like politics and religion… because these things don’t really matter! we can afford to be wrong. if heaven doesn’t exist, oh well, we’re dead anyway. if it does, isn’t that nice. if we vote for the wrong guy, oh well, one vote is a drop in the bucket anyway. i thought that was pretty interesting because politics and religion are the things we think of as So Important… i guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

i want to write here and get back in touch with the literata in me and with the People I Wanted to Be in high school and college, here amidst my permaculture notes and mandalas and love of the spring and my cat. i don’t want to make excuses about it and if you think i am oversharing i’m okay with that. i didn’t want to be a writer until i started writing on the internet and i’m okay with that, too. so, i dunno, i am starting slow, i will copy passages i find meaningful into my journal, here:

(pages 84-5)


my cat’s beautiful eyes:

(he’s yawning in the last photo. i like it better if you don’t know that, but i don’t want you to think that he’s a wild beast–he is only as wild and beastly as any of us–or that i’m pulling his tail or something. of course he’s yawning. mostly he sleeps. sometimes he’s a wild beast.)

“swim a little longer in the liminal space between my childhood and whatever adulthood i finally, but not irrevocably, choose”

What a lovely turn of phrase! And how smart you are to realize that your choices are not permanent. Opening one door may mean you ignore another one, but it does not mean that you can’t go back–although going back may be challenging.

Kepler is a wild beast at his inner soul.

Love you,

I absolutely love David Foster Wallace’s writing, so I want to hear what you think when you’re done.

For comparison, here’s my book review of all his books from the beginning of my blog: http://euasiahobos.blogspot.com/2008/11/david-foster-wallace-book-reviews.html

nice, thanks. i’m 200 pages in and loving it so far. as it’s been with many books i’ve bought that sat unread on my shelves for years before i finally picked them up, this feels like the right time to be reading it. it’s making me think about my thesis a lot, actually. i hope to write about it as i go…

also, what are you reading these days?

I’ve been reading a lot of Tolstoy, namely his big three novels. I’ll have a post on them when I finally catch up on my blog and finish the third one.



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