So, we’re back. Nice little break.
So here was something interesting I found in this section….
The background is this…you cannot separate this book from the idea that its main fans are the types of people who are called hipsters….normally, I like to append the word “douchebag” to the phrase, but have it however you like. Anyway, here’s what happens when you google “Infinite Jest Hipster.”
And the graphic is an example of what you find….FROM GOODREADS, of all places. So, I’d say it is pretty well sunk into the consciousness that this is the book’s reputation. (Also, tightly linked with “mansplaining” but that’s another topic.)
So wasn’t I surprised when I found this:
Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool.
So, let’s take this little section in parts. The first is an absolutely accurate description of the so-called hipster mindset—“hip cynical transcendence of sentiment.” In the ambivalence over this book, you should never lose sight of the fact the DFW has an incredibly sharp and observant eye. He sees. Whether it gets turned into a good book…that’s another matter…but he sees everything.
And of course, the conclusion–banal but probably correct–is that they are afraid of the vulnerability of being human…vulnerability he then describes in terms that are as absurdly reductive as they can possibly be, in the second half of the quote.
I’m not sure where the hipsters fall on this paragraph. My guess is they focus on the second half of the section, glossing over the first. The whole purpose of being a hipster is to avoid true introspection, or so this line of thinking goes. (I personally believe most outward, projected behavior is a protective shell, but I’m no psychologist).
There are a couple other parts of this section where DFW flexes his descriptive muscles.
One is a mercifully brief passage where DFW turns his eye for detail on the story of a young boy being sodomized by his Father….starting with the door creeping open, how the light looks, etc, and ending with…well…lube. You cringe at every word. It is an effective piece of writing, for sure. We can be thankful that he didn’t accord it the space he accorded moving a mattress.
The other one is a description of what it feels like to be depressed. This largely functions as an essay in the middle of the story, much like Tolstoy did in War and Peace. It is also powerful stuff. He takes you right to the heart of what true depression is by comparing it to minor depression. Of course, we know something they didn’t know when the book came out, which is the end of the DFW story and the role of depression in it. With that in mind, how about this?
The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.
Note the capitalization of “Its”.
In all, the section between pages 600-700 was among the more narratively easy to read in the book so far. You have a few of long sections–a battle outside the rehab facility, a tennis match, and the younger boys in a tunnel under the tennis academy–all of which reads better than French-Canadian transvestites babbling endlessly.