Thursday, April 24, 2014

on finishing David Foster Wallace's INFINITE JEST

The first time I heard the word "defenestration" I was a four hour drive from the closest non-vehicular window. It was the final week of my first season as a tree planting foreman, and against his better judgment the supervisor of my planting camp had given me a thrown-together crew of fourteen planters to manage on a heli-block.

A heli-block, for the uninitiated, is an area of land that's been clear-cut with the aid of helicopters, and is (generally) accessible for reforestation only by helicopter, as well. So there I was, resting for a moment on a stump after having spent the better part of a day humping forty-pound boxes of trees straight up a mountainside.* I had in my hand this two-way radio with a range of pretty much forever, depending on the terrain, and so I says to the foreman over on this other cut-block I can see on this other mountainside, "Hey, Craig."

And he, being a friendly chap, says, "Hey, Josh."

So I says, "So, Craig. What would you say is the meaning of life?"

After a prolonged thought-break, Craig says, "Yes."

"Yes?"

"Yes," he says, "The meaning of life is Yes."

Then he says, "Hey, Josh. In case you were wondering, the word of the day is 'defenestration.'" Which, as everyone knows, comes from the French 'fenestre,' for window, and means to chuck an object or a person through said domicilic-appurtenance." Useful word, eh?

And but so anyways, my point is that just yesterday I finished reading David Foster Wallace's masterpiece of contemporary literary fiction/insanity, "Infinite Jest," and I'm going to have to go ahead and agree with David Eggers, who in his foreword to the novel suggested that by the time I'd finished it, I'd be a better person. I'm a better writer, I think - albeit a deeply humbled one - but I also believe I've had my concept of what it means to be a human and a creator and a lover and a screwup all expanded by a factor of awesome.

How does this relate to defenestration?

Well, DFW liked the word a fair bit, and used it several times. But then at the end, he did something great. He took this one character, a tennis player named Stice (a.k.a. "The Darkness") and got his forehead stuck to a window. Then he had some other guys peel Stice's forehead off (well, most of it). And then - get this - he referred to the peeling-off process as "defenestration."

You get it?

It's a cross-lingual word joke. It's a game with words. It's one of the things that makes the book so delightful for an ex-English major to read, and it's part of the reason why even though I think everybody (and I mean everybody) would probably benefit from devoting a month of their lives to reading this thousand-plus-page Monster-book, probably not too many people ever will. Because like most literary fiction, it isn't a totally easy read, and requires at least a passing knowledge of a whole lot of other fiction in order to be able to fully appreciate.

Then again, even the peasantry were capable of appreciating all the dirty genitalia-jokes and cetera in the Plays of Shakespeare. And like most other books that could probably fairly no-braineringly be referred to as "Works of Genius," DFW's INFINITE JEST is also super-duper multi-layered, and appreciable on a whole lot of levels. Even I - who'm not exactly the brightest banana of the bunch - quite enjoyed it.

My point (other than to pointlessly blabber on until you either think I'm super-smart or, like, decide to defenestrate me) is to say that I thought the novel was awesome, and I double-dog-biscuit dare you to read it now, as well.

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*Note: if you happen to be feeling like, "Dangit, I'm just too dang tall," I recommend spending the better part of a day humping forty-pound boxes of trees straight up a mountainside. Guaranteed to grind off a little spinal cartilage.

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A FINAL NOTE: Writing isn't magic. It's hard work, and the greatest reward for that work is to share it with others. So if you enjoyed this little (ad-free) piece of my brain... please share the love on your social internets. And pick up a copy of my Short Story Collection, whilst you're at it. You can even get it as an ebook for less than a fancy cuppa hot bean-water, and it'll last waaay longer.

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