THOUGHTS ON INFINITE JEST 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION AND DAVID FOSTER WALLACE’S LEGACY
It’s been 20 years since the publication of David Foster Wallace’s (DFW) magnum opus Infinite Jest (IJ), a book I can heartily say changed my life, and took one paranoid and emotionally vast month from it, yet overall left me with a sense of satisfaction on the same level as that I gained whilst graduating. This may seem like a fanboy-ish bromide the likes of which are often attached to IJ (and Wallace’s work in general) I believe however they are deserved.
The book itself a 1079 page post-modern epic covering addiction, families, tennis, entertainment and advertising, to name a few of its recurrent themes. No other book has ever left me with a literary hangover as lengthy and harsh as IJ did. I can’t actually remember ordering it, or how I even came to hear about it, let alone believe I would finish such a text. I do however remember starting it and within days becoming simply, perhaps even romantically engrossed in its linguistic mastery and hysterically real digressions and details. No characters and scenarios have ever seemed as vividly real as the ones Wallace describes and creates, characters that are so well written one feels as if they’re only really reading a section of their life and that they really have lived, and that Wallace has allowed you to be an observer for a short time and then you just, well, return your own life, and it feels quite blunt, even though the ending of the book calmly sends you on your way.
DFW; who committed suicide in 2008, has become a cult literary figure of late, this could be due to the rise in irony and post-modernism in mainstream entertainment, perhaps people were a little late to the party of a writer who at the time had to battle the Brat Pack for popularity; not that popularity was something DFW was concerned with by any means. Or it could be that IJ in a way prophesized many aspects of the entertainment and stimulant saturated society we live in. From our reliance on entertainment as a supposedly harmless escape, to our disconnect and eventual dissatisfaction as a generation. The book gives a certain amount of comfort to those who find themselves overwhelmed by the pressures of over-stimulation and entertainment-based anaesthesia.
The fact it’s been 20 years since publication most likely wouldn’t be something that would concern Wallace if he was here today, other than perhaps the fear he may have to do ‘After Infinite Jest’ interview of Charlie Rose. It is however, unsurprisingly something concerns advertisers and publishers. There is currently in production a 20th anniversary edition of Infinite Jest in the works. If one is to look at the Amazon Page for this item, one will realise (at current at least) there is no new additions to the text, not that I expected there to be any new editions to DFW’s original text as he was not one for alterations to his manuscripts, however there doesn’t seem to be anything to ‘add’, I have heard there may be an introductory essay from Dave Eggers which I for one do not agree with.
This isn’t really what I want to talk about, it’s the fact there is at current a certain amount of cashing in on a legacy that is very quickly getting a little tarred. Not tarred by publishers dragging out old works DFW would never want to see the light of day (if they exist), but by publishers and marketers rebranding DFW and his ideas; not to mention the James Ponsoldt film The End of the Tour (which I’ll voice my opinions on once I’ve seen it, however I don’t feel too aggravated by the film as others seem to be, as it’s not really DFW’s work getting interpreted). Of course publishers are always going to cash in on events such anniversaries etc. and I imagine this could have been written about a various amount of authors, or artists etc. It just seems that a lot of the ideas and academic hooey DFW warned us about seems to be being brought to light via his work and his ideas, and that what DFW strived for in his work was a sense of sincerity that avoided clichés, overt-romanticism or anti-PoMo-preachiness and this is being ignored and thus the work becomes a simple form of entertainment as any other, not the piece of meta-entertainment it is/can be.
It’s very clear by this text that I’m a big fan of DFW and the majority (if not all) of his work, and that this is someway could be misconstrued as one long text as proof I’ve read IJ, if the reader intends to take it as such so be it, I just feel as if there’s more to be said about DFW than 20th Anniversary editions, a certain amount of what I once heard someone call the Warhol-effect is apparent, in which the viewer can no longer look at Warhol’s Soup Can’s as intended, but only as spectacle, and this I fear is what is going to happen to IJ. That this new found mainstream reverence of DFW as a martyr against irony, highfalutin and Post-post-modernity only leads us into buying into it even more.
Sadly, DFW will become a product as has Cobain and Hendrix, however small the niche someone will buy the bandana. My thoughts on the matter are only that it’s ironic to think of DFW’s work in this way due its content, and the current ‘idea’ of DFW is taking away from the fact DFW strived extremely hard to be just a regular guy and remain humble, especially whilst in the limelight.