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The Infinite Jest Challenge: Week 1

Published in Blog Archive, Infinite Jest.

Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace

The first week has come and gone, and it feels good to get a little momentum behind me. For those just tuning in, this post is the second in a series documenting the process of completing a challenge of reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest while losing a whole buncha weight. My intentions are to read the entire book while on a stationary bike, and then continue with a full workout after each ride, with my eyes set on reading 1085 pages and losing 31.4 pounds in 100 days. (Well, that AND the 500 or so pages of Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity, “A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest“.)

Originally I’d figured that I’d have to read 11 pages to meet my goal of finishing the book in 100 days, but since I’m only really counting the pages of main text (of which there are 981), the average number needed per day is 10. No worries either way though, as this week’s average was just over 13 pages read per day (today I begin on page 120). As far as weight goes, I’m also on target. I experienced a big drop off early in the week and weighed in at 213.2 yesterday morning (this morning was 213.0, for what it’s worth). That’s a total weight loss of 3.2 pounds this week, well ahead of the 2.2 average needed to meet my goal. Also, I biked an average 16.83 miles per day this week, for a total of 117.8 miles.

The incorporation of Elegant Complexity has been invaluable thus far in keeping up with the story. For example, merely regarding James Incandenza’s lengthy filmography there are some references which are explained that I would have never otherwise understood. “Early in Y.T.M.P. Jim renamed his production company Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited. Poor Yorick was to Hamlet, ‘a fellow of infinite jest’ (Hamlet, V.i. 178-9).” “Like Molly’s ‘Met him pike hoses’ in Ulysses, Infinite Jest‘s Madame Psychosis is a play upon the word ‘metempsychosis,’ defined as the transmigration of souls (cf. Blamires, p. 26).” I currently stand at page 93 of EC.

Stray observations from the week’s reading:

  • “Byzantine erotica.” Is there any other kind? (29) 
  • I’ve no idea what a “pan-Canadian Resistance” might entail, but count me in. (30) 
  • In the history of mankind, I wonder if there will ever be a “bisexual bassoonist in the Albertan Secret Guard’s tactical-bands unit”? Despite having lived in Alberta until I was 18, I still have no idea where the smart money is on that bet. (30) 
  • Not entirely sure what “high-modulus-graphite-reinforced polycarbonate polybutylene resin” is, but if I ever need a replacement hip, I hope there’s some of that stuff in it. (31) 
  • What a life it must be, living as the “Minister of Home Entertainment.” (33) 
  • I’m not sure if Toblerone is my favorite candy, but I have no doubt it’s in my time five. (33) 
  • “She say she kill herself if me or Reginald tell our mommas.” Great, now there are multiple confusing narrators. (38) 
  • “God seems to have a kind of laid-back management style I’m not crazy about.” Ha! (40) 
  • “Remember the flag only halfway up the pole? Booboo, there are two ways to lower a flag to half-mast. … One way to lower the flag to half-mast is just to lower the flag. There’s another way though. You can also just raise the pole. You can raise the pole to twice its original height. You get me?” Perhaps the best description of how workaholics deal with grief I’ve ever read. (42) 
  • “Orin reads the note while he eats toast that’s mainly an excuse for the honey.” If there’s a better excuse for eating toast than simply “it lets me put honey in my mouth,” I’m unaware of it. (43) 
  • “Orin has them out monthly; he’s on like a subscription plan over at Terminex.” Because Orkin would have been too obvious. (45) 
  • “Wanting to twitter.” An idea ahead of its time. (46) 
  • “Co-designed by James Cameron and Fritz Lang.” A visual reference I get! (48) 
  • “Reopen that whole Pandora’s box of worms.” (49) 
  • “Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves.” Lines like this one have me interested in seeing where the addiction thread of this story goes. (54) 
  • “Carpal neuralgia, phosphenic migraine, gluteal hyperadiposity, lumbar stressae.” All I read there was “skip to next line.” (60) 
  • “You lie there, awake and almost twelve, believing with all your might.” I don’t know when I started over-thinking things, but when I was young I remember numerous times twisting the world so tight within my mind that I didn’t want to open my eyes for fear of seeing what the next day might bring. It’s better now, most days. (63) 
  • “Kate Gompert was on Specials, which meant Suicide-Watch, which meant that the girl had at some point betrayed both Ideation and Intent, which meant she had to be watched right up close by a staffer twenty-four hours a day until the supervising M.D. called off the Specials.” That’s probably the lowest I’ve ever felt, when I was in that situation myself. The only thing I could think of is that if one of the people sitting next to my bed would just leave for a minute I could pull the I.V. out of my arm and maybe, somehow, use the minuscule needle to cut my wrists or something. Even more depressing than being in that situation, defeated by your own inability to take your life, is the realization that you don’t have it in you to be crazy enough to try again. (69) 
  • “When people call it that I always get pissed off because I always think depression sounds like you just get really sad, you get quiet and melancholy and just sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around.” I’ve never really thought of it like that, but I’ve had similar thoughts surrounding what the word depression means to different people. Not too long ago someone, who I only really know in passing, tried to give me a shotgun diagnosis of why she feels I suffer from depression. She said something to the effect of “Why do you think you feel that way?” Immediately I wanted to walk away — depression doesn’t mean to her what it means to me. In that moment it was like depression was no more than a single I lost my puppy at age six and that’s when I started feeling down moment that’s stuck with me my entire life. Sure, you might sit quietly by the window sighing or just lying around, but when it hits me hard I absolutely hate myself. The voice of negative reasoning takes over in my head and nothing I can say or do is good enough, and at once the world becomes no larger than the narrow plane of existence that my mind allows. Depression… (73) 
  • “TE OCCIDERE POSSUNT SED TE EDERE NON POSSUNT NEFAS EST (Endnote: Roughly, ‘They Can Kill You, But the Legalities of Eating You Are Quite a Bit Dicier.’).” I love that. (81) 
  • “He is not the foe: he is more the partner in the dance” … “Life’s endless war against the self you cannot live without.” These two lines are separated by a paragraph, but they join together with precision in my mind. There are two very distinct people inside of me. There is a version of me who is very much open to the world, caring, giving, and considerate of both himself and others around him. There is another who suffocates friends and strangers alike, imposing a self-centered agenda with complete disregard for what consequence doing so might have on other people. Depending on the day — or more accurately what I’ve been drinking on that day — the latter can come out at some pretty unfortunate times. But the former, the version that I’d like to think more resembles who I really am, has been slowly starving the self-centered me, watching whatever that might have been lose more and more power. What I’d not thought of before writing this, though, is what happens when the angel on your shoulder murders the devil? While they are in constant battle, don’t they need each other? What is a hero without an evil nemesis to keep him in check? (84) Carlisle adds, “People become obsessed by their desires (substances, entertainment) and do not have the necessary discipline to wage ‘a war against the self’ to transcend those desires,” which adds a different meaning altogether to this section than what I first imagined. 
  • “Steeply, who had made his early career with Unspecified Services conducting technical interviews (Endnote: ‘Professional euphemism for involuntary interrogation, either w/ or w/o physical inducement.’).” I love P.C.ing things up like this. (108) 
  • Endnote 15: “The United States Office of Unspecified Services.” How long before that becomes the biggest office in the nation? (985) 
  • Endnote 24: “James O. Incandenza: A Filmography.” What I was initially dreading (a single note which spans eight and one-thirds pages) actually turned into the most enjoyable section of the book to this point… Or, at least, the most humorous section of the book to this point.
    • Cage II, in which “Sadistic penal authorities place a blind convict and a deaf-mute together in ‘solitary confinement,’ and the two men attempt to devise ways of communicating with each other.”
    • Fun with Teeth, “black and white; silent w/ non-human screams and howls,” in which “a dentist performs sixteen unanesthetized root-canal procedures on an academic he suspects of involvement with his wife.”
    • Homo Duplex, “Parody of Woititz and Shuglin’s ‘poststructural antidocumentaries,’ interviews with fourteen Americans who are named John Wayne but are not the legendary 20th-century film actor John Wayne.”
    • Pre-Nuptial Agreement of Heaven and Hell, “God and Satan play poker with Tarot cards for the soul of an alcoholic sandwich-bag salesman obsessed with Bernini’s ‘The Ecstacy of St. Teresa.’”
    • Found Drama VI: “Conceptual, conceptually unfilmable. UNRELEASED.”
    • As of Yore, “A middle-aged tennis instructor, preparing to instruct his son in tennis, becomes intoxicated in the family’s garage and subjects his son to a rambling monologue while the song weeps and perspires.” (181 minutes)
    • Infinite Jest (I) “Incandenza’s unfinished and unseen first attempt at commercial entertainment,” Infinite Jest (II) “Unfinished unseen attempt at remake of Infinite Jest (I),” Infinite Jest (III) “Unfinished unseen remake of Infinite Jest (I), (II),” Infinite Jest (IV) “Unfinished, unseen attempt at completion of Infinite Jest (III),” and Infinite Jest (V) which is unclear as to whether it was attempted or completed, with “two short essays” actually being printed despite no report of anyone ever actually seeing the film, championing it as “extraordinary,” and “far and away [James O. Incandenza’s] most entertaining and compelling work.” (985) 
  • Endnote 35: The discussion of Cantor is something I’ve had before, or maybe reflects something I watched on The History Channel. Either way I got a feeling of déjà vu when reading “the man who proved some infinities were bigger than other infinities.” (994) 
  • Endnote 39: “Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents, a.k.a. Wheelchair Assassins.” Comically menacing. (994) 
  • Monday’s unfamiliar words: “Etymology,” “anaplastic,” “prostatectomy,” “phalluctomy,” “Mondragonoid,” “oral-lyrologist,” “legation,” “maxillofacial,” “monilial sinusitis,” “ad valorem,” “sufism promulgated,” “kif,” “detritus,” “nystatin,” “stiptics,” “dyspeptic,” “febrile thrushive pique,” “actinomycete-class antibiotics,” “unlibidinous,” “portcullis,” and “Convocation.” 
  • Tuesday’s unfamiliar words: “Blattaria implacblus,” “phylacteryish bind,” “commensurately,” “spherocubular,” and “dendriurethane.” 
  • Wednesday’s unfamiliar words: “Lividity,” “comme-il-faut,” “expectorants,” “megaspansules,” “protectorates,” and “homolosine-cartography.” 
  • Thursday’s unfamiliar words: “Mordantly,” “Annular hyperfloration,” “hypocapnia,” and that’s about where I called it quits. The terminology homework was beginning to get in the way of just reading through and enjoying the words. I looked back on the first two days, where I’d gone through and defined terms I was unfamiliar with, and looked forward to this week’s, and I recognized that I was unlikely to remember their meanings mere moments after reading their definitions, anyways. So why put myself through all that? Joe, one of my reading partners, is looking the words up on his phone as he goes. Maybe I’ll try that. 
Infinite Jest Challenge Data
Pages Read: Monday 16, Tuesday 12, Wednesday 8, Thursday 12, Friday 14, Saturday 14, Sunday 16.
Infinite Jest Challenge Data
Miles on Bike: Monday 15.98, Tuesday 16.57, Wednesday 16.85, Thursday 17.17, Friday 16.16, Saturday 16.45, Sunday 18.62.

Calories Burned (Reading on Bike/Other Cardio): Monday 426/1057, Tuesday 450/1123, Wednesday 454/1131, Thursday 461/1162, Friday 427/1185, Saturday 457/551, Sunday 501/1246.

Infinite Jest Challenge Data

Weight: Monday 216.4, Tuesday 214, Wednesday 213.6, Thursday 214, Friday 213.6, Saturday 213.8, Sunday 213.2.