I have a length problem. No, it’s not that. It is, rather, an explanation for why I’ve never read Infinite Jest.
David Foster Wallace was, by all accounts, a genius. And Infinite Jestis, many agree, a masterpiece. But, it is a long masterpiece. It is, in fact, a long masterpiece with footnotes.
It’s not that I never read long books. Of course, I do. Generally, though, that’s not my favorite type of reading. I favor the brief. Perhaps I’m lazy. Perhaps I haven’t been reading the right books. Perhaps, as a Gen Xer, I have the limited attention span that is the supposed symptom of life in today’s commercial-saturated America. (I doubt that though. I‘ve spent afternoons watching the play of light on water, the billow of clouds.) Whatever the reason, I’m not compelled to readInfinite Jest.
David Foster Wallace the person, however, I do find compelling. He said some quite profound things. There is, of course, This Is Water, which, frankly, I don’t entirely understand, but which I take to be a call to compassion through empathy – a wise, if (one should hope) obvious, sentiment. (And even if it is obvious, he certainly said it in a beautiful, non-obvious way.)
And then there are the notes that he wrote to himself and others. On a draft page for The Pale King, for example, he wrote this encouraging gem: “Need not be stingy about time – not everything has to be perfect to justify the time/pain spent. First Things First. Easy Does It – But Do It.”
And this: “Not every line must sing.” (Thank god!)
And then, today, I read this: “Lots of us don’t publish – it doesn’t mean we’re wasting our time.”
This is good news. It’s news that I suspect you already knew, but still, it’s reassuring to hear it from a luminary, don’t you think? Writing is its own justification.
So, even if this doesn’t turn out to be a success in the internet traffic sense. Even if we don’t end up co-hosting NPR’s The Splendid Sonnet on Sunday mornings, that’s okay – it doesn’t mean we’re wasting our time.