Infinite Jest: I finished!

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I finished Infinite Jest, and I’m a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. I was supposed to finish by September 21, and I read the last page on September 8. I recorded my progress, so you can see how it went. Suck it, DFW!

Written by Lewis Marshall

September 12, 2011 at 6:30 am

Posted in Infinite Jest

Riot Reaction

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Via Violet Blue, a blog on the psychology behind rioting, in the context of the continued unrest in London. It draws on the work of psychologist Clifford Stott, who compiled a report on the science behind crowd psychology for the UK government.

The entire blog is well worth a read, and the Stott report looks interesting as well. The upshot is that police violence can escalate the situation.

If the police wade in with batons indiscriminately, lots of these riot wannabes suddenly start to feel like they’re part of the bigger group and feel justified in ripping the place apart, mostly to throw at the coppers.

Suddenly, it’s ‘them’ against ‘us’ and a small policing problem just got much much bigger – like attacking a beehive because you just got stung.

The part that really made me think, though, was how important legitimacy is to the function of the police.

The trick for the police is to make sure they’re perceived as a legitimate force. When they have to charge in, they’re doing so for a reason – to target specific criminals. The ‘them and us’ feeling doesn’t kick in because most individuals don’t feel that the police are targeting them. It’s the other idiots the police are after.

The authors at Mind Hacks go on to talk about how the proximate cause of this rioting is grievances with the police in the local community. This was all touched off by the death of a man named Mark Duggan at police hands.

Personally, I thought of the recent stories of police kettling peaceful demonstrators. In fall 2010, student protestors were detained for 9 hours on a bridge with no shelter. In spring 2011, peaceful anti-austerity protesters were arrested. Personally, when I heard these stories, they made me viscerally angry. I’m appalled that the UK, America’s mother country and supposed sister democracy, is suppressing dissent in its own citizens. As far as I can tell, the people of the UK aren’t thrilled either.

How much legitimacy can the police have when they are used as a tool against the people?

Written by Lewis Marshall

August 10, 2011 at 5:36 am

Posted in Politics

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Infinite Week VI(?): Stalled

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Well, I stalled on Infinite Jest for about 3 weeks. As a result, I’m back on the projected course, rather than getting ahead.

I’m pleased that I’m still on track to finish Infinite Jest by the end of summer. I’ll be keeping more careful track of my progress now, to make sure I don’t slip.

Coming back to the book, found myself enjoying it more than when I stalled. Before, I was looking forward in IJ Wiki and anticipating later parts of the book. Now, I’m taking more of a wait-and-see attitude. The AA sections still drag a bit, but I was pleasantly surprised by one of them.

Onward and upward.

Written by Lewis Marshall

August 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Posted in Infinite Jest

Infinite Week II

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At the end of my second week of Infinite Summer, I am on page 309, more than double the required 147.

By far the most impactful moment this week was the Joelle reveal. I have had trouble caring about the side stories until I see how they’re related to the Incandenza family. As soon as I knew who Joelle was in relation to the rest of the world, I cared much more about her.

I’ve gone from 2 bookmarks to 4 this week. I’ve chosen to use bookmarks made of construction paper. This is mostly due to availability. There is much to be said of their saturated color and distraction-free faces. I’ve taken to turning my main bookmark sideways to underscore whichever line I am currently reading. This serves the dual purposes of holding my place, should I break concentration, and preventing me from being distracted by upcoming lines.

Currently, my bookmarks are placed thus:

  1. Yellow: Page 223, chronology of subsidized time.
  2. Blue: Page 309 , current page.
  3. Black: Page 992, the filmography of James Incandenza.
  4. Red: Page 1004, current footnote.

The obtuse characterization of O.N.A.N is at once frustrating and satisfying. Frustrating because I want to know the details — about the Great Concavity, the waste disposal, the (involuntary?) annexation of Syracuse by Canada. Satisfying because the little hints scattered here and there do build up, and because it’s easy to feel smug for seeing the little hints.

I’ve discovered this week how useful the Infinite Summaries at Infinite Summer are. Having a biweekly recap of all the different plot-lines makes it all seem more manageable. I’m a little behind on reading the other Infinite summer blog posts, but I’ll catch up at the end if I have to.

Here’s to another week.

Written by Lewis Marshall

July 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Infinite Jest

Infinite Week I

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One week into Infinite Summer, I’m glad I’ve picked up Infinite Jest. I’m a little hooked. I’m scheduled to have read through page 94, but I’ve already made it to page 198 (despite a busy weekend at Pride.) At this rate, I’ll be finished within about 5 weeks, instead of the planned 12.

I also made it through a brief re-read of Hamlet. As the book opens, it’s fairly clear how the relationships between the Incandenza family mirror those in Hamlet. There are still some pieces missing, though. (Who’s Ophelia?) I don’t know if every character will be faithfully recapitulated, or if it’s just the inner circle. There is also a parallel, I think, between the structure of the story. In Hamlet, there is a personal drama unfolding among the family. At the same time, an external force is threatening in the form of the Fortinbras of Norway. In IJ, that external force could be seen as either the Entertainment or the Wheelchair Assassins.

At 200 pages in, it’s tempting to think that I know how the story has been set up, and start speculating about the conclusion. In most novels, I would be nearing the end. However, I am still about 1/5 of the way through the book, and new plots are still being introduced. I look forward to seeing what else DFW has in store.

Written by Lewis Marshall

June 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Infinite Jest

Preparing for #InfiniteSummer

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I’ve made the possibly disastrous decision to undertake Infinite Summer, the task of reading the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace between June 21 and September 21. The book is notably long at 1079 pages, which comes out to about 11 pages per day. I was put up to this task by on Joseph Foley, who has a bit of a crush on the author in question. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the book:

Infinite Jest is a 1996 novel by David Foster Wallace that presents a dystopian vision of North America in the near future. The intricate narrative treats elements as diverse as junior tennis, substance abuse and recovery programs, depression, child abuse, family relationships, advertising and popular entertainment, film theory, and Quebec separatism.

In 2005 Time magazine included the book in its list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923.

The novel includes several hundred endnotes which explain or expound upon points in the story. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Wallace characterized their use as a method of disrupting the linearity of the text while maintaining some sense of narrative cohesion.

Since I still have 5 days before the race begins, I’m using the time to prepare. The book supposedly has a lot of allusions to Hamlet, so I thought a re-read through that would be a good prelude. The “How To Read Infinite Jest” page on Infinite Summer also suggests getting at least 2 bookmarks (one for the main text and one for the endnotes) and using a reading guide. I’ve never prepared so much to read a book.

Wish me luck.

Written by Lewis Marshall

June 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Infinite Jest

Time for a (Voluntary) American One-Child Policy

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For some reason, people want you to have more babies. Rick Santorum is blaming abortion for the (fake) demise of Social Security, saying “We don’t have enough workers to support the retirees. Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion.” At the same time, Republicans across the country are trying to reshape America in this image, by limiting access to  abortion and contraception.

Americans clearly value limiting their fertility.  The birth rate is down (in part due to the recession.) More than 99% of sexually active women have used at least one contraceptive method, and 62% of child-bearing age women are currently using one. Under the control of the American people, the fertility rate has settled down to just more than 2 births per woman.

US, euro area, and world fertility rate, 1960-2009. Data source: World Bank, World Development Indicators

There are ideological reasons behind the desire for more US births. Anti-abortion activists who believe that life starts at the moment of conception are clearly part of the equation. “Nativist” concerns about the declining percentage of white americans may also be a factor, but such concerns are frequently framed in the negative.

Birth rate is a powerful tool for shaping a society. On a personal level, deciding whether and when to accept responsibility for raising a child makes a profound difference on a career, disposable income, and social interaction. On a societal level, the size of the next cohort of children affects how much we pay for elementary education today and collage tomorrow. But what makes this tool most powerful its perfect democratization tool. There is no bureaucracy in control of the national birth rate, and there are no special interests lobbying your fertility. The production of children is a lever of control directly in the hands of the people.

To be continued…

Written by Lewis Marshall

June 9, 2011 at 8:14 am

Posted in Politics


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