Last Updated on Monday, 14 July 2014 22:39
From Oxford Dictionaries: Language Matters, Infinite vocabulary: the language of David Foster Wallace:
Though the late David Foster Wallace was an internationally renowned author of fiction and non-fiction, many of his readers and even some of his most ardent fans may not know about Wallace’s love of language and the work he contributed to the modern American English lexicon. Wallace could take even the most unassuming or simple topic and turn it into something mind-blowing and entertaining, and the English language is no exception. Wallace not only wrote about language and usage, he brought strange and unknown words out of obscurity and even helped invent a few of his own.
Among the most well-known of these is the phrase the howling fantods, which refers to an intense feeling of fear of or repulsion for something. This is an extension of the original meaning of fantods as “a state of uneasiness or unreasonableness”. While Wallace did not coin the phrase entirely, as the term fantods already had a similar meaning, Wallace took the word and made it his own; indeed, the phrase “the howling fantods” is perhaps the closest thing Wallace has to a catchphrase.
Ironically, Wallace often used this phrase to describe members of the main characters’ family in Infinite Jest: one of the members of the fictional “Incandenza” family featured in the novel refuses to go to parts of the Boston Metro infested with bugs because roaches “give him the howling fantods”.
...continue reading here.
Jon Beasley-Murray, author of Posthegemony Political Theory and Latin America, has blogged his read of Infinite Jest over at Posthegemony.
Having the opportunity to experience anyone else's read of Infinite Jest is the closest one can get to that experience of reading it for the first time again. Jon Beasley-Murray's commentary is rewarding and well worth checking out:
For some time I have been wanting to teach a course on long books. In the first instance, this is a response to the common student complaint that the books I set are “too long.” I want them to think, then, about what it means for a book to be “too long.” I want them to reflect first on the irony that many of the books that are popular among people their age are long, and increasingly so: think of the ever-expanding length of the successive Harry Potter installments, for instance, though more generally much young adult fiction comes in weighty tomes, often a whole series of them. And yet they start to complain as soon as a novel set for class is more than a couple of hundred pages, grumbling that such longer books are “wordy” or boring. Is it really length then that is at issue? Why are some books too long, while others, no shorter, are not? Or to put this in more general terms: why are long books long? What can or does a long book do that a shorter one can’t?
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is undoubtedly a long book, one of the longest of its kind in recent times. Its title already raises the notion of boundlessness (though a book can never quite be “infinite,” can it?) as well as the possibility that its very length may be a joke, perhaps at the reader’s expense. Is this a long-form shaggy dog story? Does its effect then depend upon the extended build-up to a punchline that will never quite feel just reward for the patience its delayed arrival has enforced upon us? Perhaps the most famous such shaggy dog novel in twentieth-century US literature is Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, but that comes in at a breezy 275 pages, compared to Infinite Jest’s 1079 (footnotes included). At present, I’m only a hundred pages in, and whatever follows I can already attest to the playfulness of Wallace’s novel: it is often funny, sometimes quite absurd. And it is also clear that its author is playing with us, teasing his readers with allusions that are obscure at present but that will (we hope and expect) become clear in the future.
Continue reading the first post here.
Index to all the Posthegemony Infinite Jest posts.
Last Updated on Thursday, 10 July 2014 17:45
Ryan Compton finally finished reading Infinite Jest and decided to perform some neat analyses using NLTK (Natural Language Toolkit).
Infinite Jest by the Numbers:
“But and so and but so” is the longest uninterrupted chain of conjunctions
In Infinite Jest conjunctions often appear in chains of length three or greater. There is a length-six chain on page 379 of the .pdf. It’s due to a minor character, “old Mikey”, standing at the Boston AA podium and speaking to a crowd:
Wallace used a vocabulary of 20,584 words to write Infinite JestBy comparison, the Brown Corpus, which is roughly three times longer than Infinite Jest, contains only 26,126 unique words. To be precise, the Brown Corpus contains 9,964,284 characters and 2,074,513 (not necessarily unique) words, while Infinite Jest contains 3,204,159 characters and 577,608 words. If we restrict the Brown Corpus to its first 3,204,159 characters we find a vocabulary of only 15,771 unique words.
...continue reading Infinite Jest by the Numbers to discover the code used and methodologies for these results. Interesting stuff.
There's also a link within Ryan's work pointing to Exploring Traditional Literature Electronically which looks at word cloud and word trend analysis using Infinite Jest. Worth a look.
Last Updated on Friday, 11 July 2014 11:35
Updated 11/6/14 See below for some updated impressions of a few more essays.
Robert K. Bulger and Scott Korb's Gesturing Toward Reality: David Foster Wallace and Philosophy is available now via Amazon.com ahead of its June 19 release date.
I spent part of the weekend past making my way through the first four essays in the collection and I've found much to enjoy and think about so far. Admittedly, I've never been a Wallace reader too interested in overt spiritual or religious angles of his work (which are the focus of a few of these early essays) but in this case there's some really interesting interpretations and cases put forward. Particularly interesting was Bulger's essay, 'A Less "Bullshitty" Way To Live: The Pragmatic Spirituality of David Foster Wallace', which includes numerous examples of Bulger's email correspondence with Wallace on this very topic. Fascinating.
There are more than a few essays in here about philosophy, and more specifically on Wallace's fatalism thesis found in, Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will. Durantaye's essay, 'The Subsurface Unity of All Things, or David Foster Wallace's Free Will', considers the parallels between ideas in Wallace's fatalism thesis and his This Is Water address.
So this collection has moved from the very interesting to must have.
Andrew Bennet's 'Inside David Foster Wallace's Head: Attention, Loneliness, Suicide, and the Other Side of Boredom' is an absolutely gripping essay about attention, loneliness and boredom throughout Wallace's work. For example, Bennet points out a likely connection between the Infinite Jest minor character, Zoltan Csikszentmihayli and Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihayli whose first book was titled, Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, and whose 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, was owned and annotated by Wallace. The collection is worth it for this essay alone.
In 'The Lobster Considered' Robert C. Jones packs an impressive body of research, detail and thought encompassing human understandings of pain and how we decide/determine if other creatures experience pain. Sentience and pain, what is pain?, insects, spiders, crustaceans, and objections to arguments about pain from multiple perspectives. A wonderful paper that drills deeply into the depths of Wallace's essay, 'Consider the Lobster'.
More as I make my way through the collection.
Available now, also from Bloomsbury, is David Foster Wallace and "The Long Thing": New Essays on the Novels. I can't wait to read this one. (I have it and have started reading, first impressions soon!)
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 11:38
Wow. Listen to this ASAP. Wonderful.
David Foster Wallace on The Connection with Chris Lydon, February 1996. Kunal Jasty and Max Larkin found an old radio interview in the WBUR archives:
In February 1996, David Foster Wallace came to Boston. He was the not-quite recognized writer of the massive book, Infinite Jest, which was just beginning to capture the attention of reviewers, readers and a generation of writers. Chris interviewed David Foster Wallace on The Connection on WBUR in Boston, and told him he seemed to be living in between a moment of cultish obscurity and international artistic celebrity, perhaps even immortality.
We went to the WBUR archives yesterday to see if we could find the tape. We found it in the dusty basement, nestled between shows about the 1996 presidential primaries and escalating violence in the Middle East. The conversation is almost heartbreaking to hear now in light of Wallace’s suicide in 2008. Back then he was attempting to explain the sadness he saw among the twenty- and thirty-somethings around him; he admitted to feeling lost and lonely himself. But he also spoke of his hope to have children and the prospect of a long career.
Read about the interview and listen to it here.
Apparently there'll be more David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest based content from Radio Open Source this week...
Read, listen and watch many more DFW interviews right here.