Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Infinite Rant

Since my commitment to read more, I've found that I almost always have two books going: one audiobook and one of the more traditional papery type. I've also found that I really enjoy the way each tends to color my understanding of the other. This last go 'round, it was the massive, hard cover copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest paired with the wonderful ensemble cast reading of Recorded Book's version of Chuck Palahniuk's Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey.

I had never previously read anything by Wallace, though the Mrs. had him as a professor for one class at Emerson College lo, these many years ago. She recalls him as being most critical of "bullshit" in the papers and tests that he graded, marking through great swaths of academic puffery and writing in the margins, "If you don't know, just say 'I don't know.'" Interestingly, one of the characters in Jest has the Mrs.' maiden name. I can't help wonder if she made an impression on him during that time when she was making an impression on me. Anyway, that dislike of bullshit fits the interpretation favored by Matthew Baldwin of defective yeti on the Infinite Summer site that the book is at heart an endorsement of sincerity.

I have read other Palahniuk books, though, including Haunted (that I both hated and loved, and that was also a Recorded Books ensemble production) and (after I'd seen and was completely stunned by the movie) Fight Club.

What struck me as I consumed Jest and Rant simultaneously was how I blurred the distinctions between the two writers. As I read about Hal's visit to what he thinks is an AA meeting, I thought that DFW was sort of rehashing some of his Testicular Cancer Survivors' support group from Fight Club, and then realized that wasn't Wallace, that was Palahniuk. I think Wallace's AFR and that nut job Lenz in particular would also be right at home in Palahniuk's world.

In the end, though, I'm not sure what either really means. The difference between me as a reader now and me as a reader who was majoring in English and writing essays about what he read is, now I read only once and make no notes in the margins. I'm no longer studying literature; I'm just enjoying it. After I finished Jest, I browsed my bookshelf and picked up Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. It looked blessedly thin after the massive Jest, and the cover proclaimed Bellow as a Nobel Prize winner, so I figured I should read it. I was surprised to discover that I had already read it and filled its margins with notes that are unmistakably in my handwriting. I have no recollection of it at all.

So to really talk meaningfully about Jest, I'd have to read through it again, the thought of which only depresses me. I'd have to flip back through it and find specific passages to quote and refer to. Who has the time? I can only say that to me, it seemed mostly about isolation, the inevitability of isolation in a modern world. Everyone has their own neuroses or psychoses, addictions and insecurities, that leave them unable to really connect on a meaningful level with anyone else. Gately ends up in the hospital, maddeningly unable to communicate even his desire to communicate. Hal's unusual isolation is the opening focus of the book. Joelle wears a veil, with no one ever even seeing her face. Avril's carefully composed appearance is thoroughly calculated, and J.O.I., who is obsessed with lenses and optics and the manipulation of the image, is hopelessly unable to connect with either of his two elder sons. Everyone, except perhaps Mario, who seems to be the only genuine person (thus the sincerity themes that Baldwin discusses), is alone and addicted, with technology and addiction making him more alone and sobriety making him only marginally less so.

And Rant? Well, it was hugely entertaining, witty, funny, well-acted, and the most confusing novelization of the philosophy of time travel I've ever read. Or, uh, heard.

Anyway, my considered academic opinion is: read 'em both. They's wicked good.

1 comment:

Aerie said...

And I also won his coveted "Best Title of the Semester" award and an A- for my provocative poetry analysis entitled "Sir John Suckling Wore Lace Panties."

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