Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
Infinite Jest at 20
“Fiction’s about what it is to be a f■■■ing human being.”
- David Foster Wallace

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest – which I believe is, and can give my reasons why, the best and most important novel of the 20th century. I wrote about the experience of reading it for the first time on the occasion of Wallace’s death in (oh my God) 1998:

The Light Dims
The Loss of David Foster Wallace

It was probably [in the New York Times Book Review] that I read a notice for Infinite Jest, and something about it must have grabbed me – I don't really know what, nothing in any conceivable description of the novel, and there's no real way to describe the novel, sounds like anything I'd be interested in – and but so nonetheless I ended up with a doorstop paperback edition of this 1,079-page novel, David Foster Wallace's second. That must have been 1997.

And I remember vividly going home every night for months thereafter and poring over those thousand-plus pages, savouring each line of this seemingly endless story. I also remember vividly the night I finished it – and feeling distinctly sad that I would no longer be going home and spending my evenings with it. Sad.

It was then, and remains now, my favourite novel of all time.

This new, happier occasion – the anniversary – has been nicely noted in The New York Times Book Review:

Everything About Everything: David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest’ at 20
by TOM BISSELL

How is it, then, that “Infinite Jest” still feels so transcendentally, electrically alive? Theory 1: As a novel about an “entertainment” weaponized to enslave and destroy all who look upon it, “Infinite Jest” is the first great Internet novel.

To fully understand what Wallace was up to, the book bears being read, and reread, with Talmudic focus and devotion… That 20 years have gone by and we still do not agree what this novel means, or what exactly it was trying to say, despite saying (seemingly) everything about everything, is yet another perfect analogy for the Internet. Both are too big. Both contain too much. Both welcome you in. Both push you away.

Theory 2: “Infinite Jest” is a genuinely groundbreaking novel of language. Not even the masters of the high/low rhetorical register go higher more panoramically or lower more exuberantly than Wallace – not Joyce, not Bellow, not Amis. Wallace spelunked the O.E.D. and fearlessly neologized, nouning verbs, verbing nouns, creating less a novel of language than a brand-new lexicographic reality.

“Infinite Jest” surpasses almost every novel written in the last century, maintaining a consistent and mind-boggling descriptive mastery. As John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote after Wallace’s death, “Here’s a thing that is hard to imagine: being so inventive a writer that when you die, the language is impoverished.”

Theory 4: “Infinite Jest” is unquestionably the novel of its generation. [Later] I realized how completely the book had rewired me… Most great prose writers make the real world seem realer – it’s why we read great prose writers. But Wallace does something weirder, something more astounding: Even when you’re not reading him, he trains you to study the real world through the lens of his prose.

[Wallace]’d given us one novel of generational significance; surely he’d write the novel that helped us define what the next century would feel like. Our great loss is that he didn’t. His great gift is that the world remains as Wallaceian as ever… and now we’re all reading his unwritten books in our heads. You have borne us on your back a thousand times. For you, and the joyful, despairing “Infinite Jest,” we will roar forever amazed, forever sorrowful, forever grateful.

And D.T. Max, Wallace biographer (and road trip buddy), has this piece in The New Yorker.

Beyond “Infinite Jest”
by D. T. MAX

“Infinite Jest” is a novel about the narcotic power of language – a power so overwhelming that Wallace has to shred narrative into tiny strips to keep it under control. Stories nest within stories; experiences are fragmented and regroup; there are bad jokes and goofy science fiction (giant feral hamsters are marauding through Vermont). What he understood – and what we understand – as his plan was a revival of a kind of novel that had gone out of fashion, one in which the writer hugs his characters to himself, closing the ironic distance that writers like Salinger had carved into fiction’s bedrock.

What really propelled “Infinite Jest” into the culture were not the critics but a cohort of readers, many of them in their twenties. The first wave of enthusiasts were bewitched by the book’s pyrotechnics – “It was DFW’s lexical genius; no one had really seen it since Pynchon,” Matt Bucher, who runs the Wallace-l Listserv, remembers – more than Wallace’s ideas about redemption. But soon a different kind of reader emerged to spread the word, the intense celebrants who carried it like a totem, aided in their interpretation of a crafty, complex story by Wallace’s promise of deliverance. “Infinite Jest” owes its diffusion through the culture most of all to this group.


  david foster wallace  
about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
DON'T SHOOT ME IN THE ASS, AND OTHER STORIES by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs

ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Seven - Death of Empires, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eight - Empire of the Dead by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : NEMESIS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Nine - Cataclysm by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Ten - The Flood by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Eleven - Deathmatch by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Twelve - Carnage by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Thirteen - The Siege by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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