There is something somehow right about finishing Infinite Jest on the same night as the Oscars and the NBA All-Star Game. The night of February 26th was a confluence of information and stimulation, and the TV’s background noise seemed like a perfectly fitting environment for finishing the greatest book we have on Everything.
For what it’s worth, I’m still not really ready to write about IJ in any sort of deep, informed way, and I’m not sure I ever will be unless I reread it. But for what it’s worth, the hierarchy of last night’s Entertainments looks like this:
Infinite Jest > NBA All-Star Game > The Oscars
That much I’m sure of.
I started out last night thinking I was going to do a sort of running blog, because somehow the serendipity of having 40 pages left in a book about stimulation, information, and, well, everything seemed like it should be documented alongside exposure to two of the year’s bigger spectacles–especially for this writer, for whom books, movies, and basketball represent three top personal interests, up there with milkshakes and English Bulldogs.
So I put my chair right up in front of my TP and prepared for some good old O.N.A.N. spontaneous dissemination.
The All-Star game started at 7:30 and the Oscars at 8:30. I had planned for a constant flicker between the two channels while reading the last 40 pages during commercials and every time Billy Crystal was on screen. The player introductions at the All-Star Game were interesting enough, if only because Nikki Minaj, backlit by a epilepsy-causing strobe show, pranced around in a spacesuit alongside a group of silver leotarded men, singing a song with a chorus that sounded like “Boombedoom boom boom be doom bembey.” I saw how when Carmelo Anthony’s name was announced, everyone in the building knew he didn’t deserve to be there, including Carmelo Anthony. I saw how LeBron James, for all his inhuman talent, only wants to be liked. (You can see it in the way he interacts with other players, the way he looks around at all times, including during the National Anthem and after every basket he scores, running back up the court. He has the face of a boy asking his mom to watch him do a cannonball, doing the cannonball, and then looking to see if she saw it.)
But somewhere around the second quarter and the flip to Tim Gunn creeping out Brad Pitt, something happened. I stopped taking notes on how Blake Griffin is probably the most exciting basketball player in the world; I stopped taking notes on how routine the Oscars are. I didn’t even make it to the actual ceremony itself–Billy Crystal’s dull opening, in which he impersonated Sammy Davis Jr. and Justin Bieber made an appearance, was the nail in the coffin. My excitement to chronicle three hyper-energized events took a nosedive. I put the TV on mute and started in on IJ.
The TV stayed on mute. With the exception of refreshing IMDb’s homepage as the awards were announced, and watching a few minutes at a time of the game, all my attention went to the book. I suppose a vanilla awards show with no special intrigue this year and a basketball exhibition never stood a chance against something I’d committed two months to. But I was amazed at how passive the TV shows were (the Oscars more so than the All-Star Game), and how active I felt as soon as I turned my head away and returned to IJ. Around 10:30, I took my only real break from the book to watch the last 4 minutes of what ended up being a highly entertaining All-Star Game. And that’s what is so interesting about these three things–Infinite Jest, the All-Star Game, the Oscars–they’re all meant to entertain. It just turned out that one was far more successful at its goal than the others–to the point where it blocked out the others.
And this is what’s really interesting (HERE COME SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T READ INFINITE JEST). Much has been made of what IJ is, and what it’s about: addiction, stimulation, etc. But the “Infinite Jest” in Infinite Jest is an unintentionally lethal piece of entertainment, created by James Incandenza with this goal: to be so entertaining that it blocks out everything else, namely, yourself, as a passive, womb-dwelling, solipsistic vessel that just Takes In but doesn’t Give Back (Incandenza succeeds in some of these goals, and actually does the opposite in others). Incandenza wants to create “a magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy, to make its eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh.”
Page 839 has maybe the book’s baldest statement of its goal(s): “The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.” So, for all the book’s pomp and circumstance, for all its endless criticism and interpretations, David Foster Wallace’s book is, to me, his closest attempt at creating a real-life “Infinite Jest.” That is to say, Infinite Jest the book is meant to give the reader the same thrilled feelings as “Infinite Jest” the movie, as Incandenza best intentioned it. That’s why the book is so involved, why it’s so long: it’s meant to be the antidote to the noise of information and the addiction of more (it’s “Infinite Jest” the film’s failure at the latter that makes the book a tragedy)–it’s meant to block out everything else. Infinite Jest shows that all Entertainments are not created equal. It shows that the most profound and satisfying entertainment is to make you think. Otherwise this post wouldn’t exist and in its place would be another recap of the best outfits from the Oscars.