I will say this. Whatever you might think of Infinite Jest, you have to give DFW some credit for having prescience about where society was going. The book’s only sort-of future-oriented…it isn’t like sci-fi…but there are some things that landed pretty close to the mark in the prediction category. Perhaps the most obvious is the corporate sponsorship of individual years….as in the “Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.”
Here is the thing….there were some corporate sponsorships that existed about then…for example, we had been joking for more than a decade about M&M’s being the “Official Melts In Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand Candy of the of the 1984 Olympics.” But that’s not really the same thing. What came after was actual places named after companies…when DFW was writing only Busch Stadium in MLB had a Corporate name and they owned the team. In 1996, the Sugar Bowl was the Sugar Bowl presented by Nokia…which I remember because I had no idea what Nokia was and barely do now.
Anyway, that’s sort of the low-hanging fruit, prescience-wise.
DFW had other areas of prescience, one of which is obvious now in our body politic. Here is what he said at the time:
…there was no real Foreign Menace of any real unified potency to hate and fear, and the U.S. sort of turned on itself and its own philosophical fatigue and hideous redolent wastes with a spasm of panicked rage that in retrospect seems possible only in a time of geopolitical supremacy and consequent silence, the loss of any external Menace to hate and fear.
Of a new-era’d nation that looked out for Uno, of a one-time World Policeman that was now going to retire and have its blue uniform deep-dry-cleaned and placed in storage in triple-thick plastic dry-cleaning bags and hang up its cuffs to spend some quality domestic time raking its lawn and cleaning behind its refrigerator and dandling its freshly bathed kids on its neatly pressed mufti-pants’ knee.
I don’t think you could do better when describing the US between 1989 and 2001 (the end of the Cold War) and then since after the 9/11 attacks. Beyond that, the language is incredible. The words are clawing to get off the page, one clause climbing over the other, the crisp metaphor of the retiring (world) cop supported by the rich details of the uniform and domesticated life the US adopted when the Cold War ended. It is another example of the brilliant language that DFW serves with his prescience. Whether it is in the service of something larger….that remains to be seen.
The one thing I have noticed on Twitter is that Infinite Jest is apparently a boy thing…and by that, I mean a mansplaining boy-type thing. Like not in a good way. You can read the Electric Lit essay below for an example (and apparently the comments are pretty misogynistic, including dragging Lena Dunham into it). Another tweet was something like, if you go home with a man and he has Infinite Jest on his shelves, don’t date him.
There is a general sense that anyone who recommends this book is:
A: A man
B: A douchebag
Which makes me feel a little bad. I guess reading this was my idea, but I had no idea it had gender identity issues. I thought everybody couldn’t finish it. And to be clear, the predominant accusation appears to be that boys just pretend to have read it. So maybe everybody can’t finish it.
So what then is the final message? That douchey dissembling boys love prescience? Or are prescient? Seems unlikely.