'And your tits, they have become cock-eyed, I will tell you. Services Without Specificity, they have given you ridiculous tits, and now they point differently.'

I do love the way that the narrator’s voice takes on a “English as second language after Québécois French” accent during the scene with Marathe and Steeply, but especially how it makes the descriptions of Steeply’s cross-dressing even more tragic and hilarious.

oddnumbered said: I wish you would post more on this! I would love to hear about your theories on the book. I'm currently rereading it and about 600 pages in. It's way better the 2nd time!

Thank you for the encouragement! And I agree - it really is better the second time - although I keep finding myself over-analyzing, and I have to remind myself to relax and enjoy.

As a side note, I’m actually on a vacation roadtrip up the U.S. East Coast (and yes I may do a impromptu IJ tour of Boston/Cambridge), so my internet access is somewhat spotty. But fear not: I still have Theories and Observations that I will share when I can.

Ebonics in the Year Of The Trial-Size Dove Bar

So yes, The Wardine Section. In retrospect I think the thing that used to put me off about that isn’t so much the writing itself (althouth, seriously, any attempt at rendering any sort of dialect in text is going to come out stilted at best). It’s more about the uncomfortable whiff of racism around the whole thing, like: oh god how much of the book is going to be like this, and am I going to hate him and/or myself for reading this? But: 

  1. There really isn’t much (if any) more of this sort of thing in the book, and
  2. Having read some of DFW’s nonfiction stuff that addresses race and usage, I think the dude was reasonably well-informed and Knew What He Was Doing.

DFW wrote this essay, Authority and American Usage (a “book review” of a dictionary, kind of), which I love. And in it he talks a lot about various dialects and sub-dialects of English. There’s a section about having to argue in favor of the utility of Standard Written English (SWE), partly because he teaches college English and college professors basically all expect SWE:

These arguments are hard to make — not intellectually but emotionally, politically. Because they are baldly elitist. The real truth, of course, is that SWE is the dialect of the American elite. That it was invented, codified, and promulgated by Privileged WASP Males and is perpetuated as “Standard” by same. That it is the shibboleth of the Establishment and an instrument of political power and class division and racial discrimination and all manner of social inequity.

And, well, basically read the whole thing because it’s brilliant, but the point is that he was keenly aware of the problems involved in attempting (as a Privileged WASP Male) to write in some variant of Black English - both in terms of readability and the whiff of racism it would present to readers.

And so I assume it wasn’t just a “hell let’s throw this in” sort of decision, but a well-considered “this had better add something important to be worth the trouble it’ll cause” thing.

So, reading it with that in mind, it comes off more like a transcription - like the author is doing his best to keep up with Clenette as she’s telling the story. I can deal with that.

'The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir.'


Hal will not be getting into this prestigious Arizona university, it seems.

How To Read Infinite Jest

If you’re Doing This Thing, I definitely recommend this helpful guide from Infinite Summer: How To Read Infinite Jest.

One problem for me: “Brush up on your Hamlet”. I’ve.. uh.. never read Hamlet. (*ashamed*)

But I’m hoping that some of my Shakespeare-lovin’ internet friends will be reading along and can explain this stuff for the Benefit of Others (by which I mean: explain things to me! I’m just a dumb jerk who likes books, I don’t, like, know stuff about them!)


A bit of background:

Sometime around 2000, I got a copy of Infinite Jest. There were a lot of people I respected and admired (or wanted to make out with) who really, really liked it; they spoke in varyingly hushed and glowing tones about this mammoth and ridiculous book. I was game.

I tried many, many times to read it. I would carry it around for a few weeks and manage to sneak in a few pages here and there between all the other things I was doing, but I never made it past the first hundred pages before getting distracted or losing interest. (Usually it was the bit about Wardine that starts around page 37, with the godawful faux-ebonics, that made me give up and/or hurl the book aside.)

But I’ll echo one of the Infinite Summer tips here: persevere to page 200. Somewhere around there is where I finally, really got hooked, and then there was no stopping me from reading it.

And so I finally finished it, and (I hesitate to admit, but) it was kind of life-changing and now Infinite Jest is my favorite book of all time. I know that might me sound like a pretentious douche, and I give Not. One. Fuck.

So anyway. I’m excited. Ten pages (plus or minus) per day, 92 days. No sweat.

Here is one reason reading Infinite Jest is easier in the Year of Our Lord 2012.