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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Bump on a log

Infinite Jest is perhaps the most exasperating novel I've ever read, along with being the most chronically overrated in contemporary fiction. It may be argued that he novel is about the digressions he favors, and that such digressions place him in line as being the latest "systems novelist", taking up where Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo and Barth (John) have led the way, to which I'd say fine, and what of it? The AA and recovery material is potential good fun, and the aspect of powerlessness over a movie ought to be enough for a writer to mold a sure satire, but Wallace seems far too eager to surpass "Gravity's Rainbow" and
"The Recognitions" in his long, rhythm less sentences. The aforementioned editor I proposed would have handed the manuscript back with the observation that this set of multi-channeled satires has already been done by the previously mentioned authors whose works are not likely to be matched. Said editor would then advise that over-writing isn't the sure means to break with your influences, but that developing one's own style is.

There is a well argued rationale for the lack of editing in Infinite Jest, that David Foster Wallace was in the tradition of testing the limits of a what a sentence, a paragraph, a page can contain before the onset of the concluding period, the test being that a sentence can drift, digress, take long turns and circuitous routes to the finish a series of ideas,but even digressions have to be pared down to the ones that will have an effect, even a diffuse one that. Wallace really isn't in control of his digressions. Every so-called postmodern writer has to decide , and finally know what effect and point, or drift, they are getting at. 
Even in an style whose hall marks are pastiche, parody and high-minded satire, craft still counts for something, and a sense of the form a book is taking, it's architecture, has to come under control, or else the eventual point of the writing, to study, in an imaginative terrain, some aspects of the human experience, lost entirely. Any working novelist, whether a genre-hack , a royalist, avant-gardes of most any hue, ought to be in control of their materials, where Wallace, with IJ, clearly isn't. 

That control is more instinctual than mechanical, and the ability to know when to stop and allow the fictional incidents resonate in all their overlapping parts. Wallace doesn't trust his instincts, or his readers powers to interpret his material, I guess. There is always one more paragraph, one more digression, one more bit of undigested research for him to add. It's like watching a guy empty his pockets into a plastic tray at an airport metal detector. White Noise is written, of course, in a spare and professorial style that some might find maybe too much so. I didn't have that problem, and thought the style perfect for the comedy he wrote. It's a college satire, and was a remarkable choice on his part to convey the distorted elements of the story line, from the lush descriptions of the sun sets , et al. It's a prose style that is brilliant and alive to idea and incident: DeLillo has the rare genius to combine the abstract elements of a philosophical debate with imagery - rich writing that manages several narrative movements at once. His digressions meet and merge with his descriptions, and the result is a true and brooding fiction that aligns the comic with the horrific in a series of novels where the pure chase for meaning within systems of absolute certainty are chipped away at, eroded with many layers of a dead metaphor , slamming up against an unknowable reality that these systems , including literature itself, have claimed entree into. Heady, compulsively readable, vibrantly poetic.Mao ll, Underworld are among the best American novels written in the 20th century.

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