Written by – PIETRO SCARPA
Translation by – NICOLE BOURIS
I’ve read this book during the last 3 months, and I can say, without any doubt, that it has been the main reading experience of my life. Probably the most challenging: 1400 pages, of which about 200 are notes, full of David Foster Wallace’s extraordinary and intense inventiveness of always creating new images, which only apparently are disconnected from each other.
The Plot of Infinite Jest is very difficult to describe and telling it wouldn’t be fair. This book is in fact a collection of different characters and scenes, with different stories and the connection among these is hardly mentioned. The story is set in Boston, Massachusetts in an era, which is an alternative future, bore from Wallace’s imagination in 1996. Amusement is the rule: the United States gives up some of its territories to Canada and the garbage problem is out of control. Terrorism, espionage, severe malformations, drug addiction, mental pathologies, depression, disturbed familiar relationships, alcoholism, agonistic sports: this is the list of themes that DFW uses in his book.
The gravitational centre of the microcosm in Infinite Jest is the Enfield Tennis Academy hill, ETA: the tennis academy owned by the Incadenza family: Hall, Orin and Mario are the three brothers, sons of Mami, Avril and mad Stork, Dott. James Orin Incadenza, a genius of ophthalmology, enterprising funder of the academy and avant-garde director.
The Ennet House, a rehabilitation centre, is down the hill. DFW tells about addiction problems, to cocaine for instance, alcoholism, rehabilitation, which he describes as a journey in which the drug addict moves blinded, dragged by desperation.
The title, Infinite Jest, is also the title of the movie created and directed by James Orin Incadenza, father of the three Incadenza brothers, who dies as a suicide by sticking his head in the microwave. Hal, young boy, is the first to find his dad, actually what was left of him. Hal is the main character of the story, or rather the one around which most of the scenes are carried out. Hal is 17 and he is a little tennis champion and member of the family academy, he plays in a brainy way and for this reason some experts describe him as a genius. He is a drug addict, just like his alcoholic dad, Don Gately, and many others of his fellow friends. He is addicted to marijuana and usually smokes it alone in the pump room of the academy. At a certain point of the story he is compelled to stop because of doping rules and this will be dreadful for him. Paradoxically, his collapse happens during the first scene of the book: a flash-forward of what happens later on.
James Incadenza’s creation, Infinite Jest, the infinite joke, is a video that is able to transmit, to whoever watches it, a lethal dependency: whatever natural necessity, such as sleep and hunger, is substituted by the immoderate need of watching the video to infinity, until death. The mother tape, the Master, is the only one that can be played: this is what connects all of the characters, Marathe also, who is the corrupted agent of the Afr, les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents, the assassins in carriages, a group of pitiless terrorists who fight for the separation of Quebec.
All of this seems not to make any sense, and this is what one asks himself more than once during the reading: does all of this make sense? Most of all when you get to the umpteenth reference to a useless note (notes are often necessary, but some of them are so useless that you may think they are written to make the you loose your forbearance), you may ask yourself if the author is shamelessly teasing you. In a way he probably is. The real entertainment is the book itself, with no beginning or ending, potentially infinite, just like the creation of J. O. Incadenza; without a real goal or a reason to exist, if not the vibrant images, the acute meditations that strike you, the intense and suffered pages, the author’s fervid imagination that creates a continuous flow of images: scenes.
Infinite Jest makes no sense. It is only purely beautiful and creates addiction. To read it, to finish it, to really enjoy it, you will need steadiness and determination, because many times you will want to throw it through the window and get rid of this burden. Do not, though. Get to the last sentence of the last page. You will put it down for one second, maybe for some minutes, and images will run through your mind. Your experience in Wallace’s great entertainment ends. But you will not feel free, because the joke is endless. You will open the book again at the first page, and you will read. There will be something new in every scene, it will never be enough.