first line friday – by request

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair. This is a cold room in University Administration, wood-walled, Remington-hung, double-windowed against the November heat, insulated from Administrative sounds by the reception area outside, at which Uncle Charles, Mr. deLint and I were lately received.

I am in here.

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace, 1996

I am obliged to confess before I go any further that I have not read Infinite Jest. Everything I know about the novel’s setting (a tennis academy and a drug-rehabilitation retreat in a near future in which years are no longer numbered but corporate-sponsored, eg “Year of the Trial-Sized Dove Bar,” “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” etc) and characters (eg the three Incandenza brothers: a tennis prodigy, a football punter and a fire-hydrant-size dwarf) I learned from either friends who are obsessed with this book or from the Washington Post ten minutes ago.

My reason for featuring Infinite Jest this week is four-fold. Put another way, I have four reasons for featuring Infinite Jest this week:

  1. 1. One of my said obsessed friends requested that I do so [1];
  2. 2. It’s just over a year since Wallace died, so it’s my equivalent to waving a cigarette lighter in Strawberry Fields a la Beetles fans on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death;
  3. 3. I am currently reading and loving one of Wallace’s other books, A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again: essays and arguments; and
  4. 4. I bought Infinite Jest just this afternoon, and intend to begin reading beyond the first line later tonight.

If I’ve piqued your interest I’ll warn you now – it’s massive. My copy comes to 1079 pages, and the type is small. Which is not surprising if you’ve ever read Wallace [2]. The world is his babushka doll. As soon as you think he’s unpacked the final doll, there he is, driving a fingernail into the guts of the baby doll, gutting it for another doll, and then the one inside that for yet another doll.

Wallace thinks hard, and deep, about everything. It makes him worth reading on pretty much any topic, including Balthazar Getty:

…about whom the less said the better, probably, except maybe to say that he looks sort of like Tom Hanks and John Cusack and Charlie Sheen all mashed together and then emptied of some vital essence…As a Young Hot Male Actor, Balthazar Getty is to Leonardo DiCaprio roughly what a Ford Escort is to a Lexus.

From the essay “David Lynch keeps his head, 1995”

I recognise that this is not necessarily the best example of Wallace thinking hard and deep, but I wanted to put it in anyway.

DFWSomething else I already knew but fact-checked with the Washington Post is that he was a ranked junior tennis player growing up in Illinois [3]. It can be no surprise then, that one of the topics Wallace writes about, and is worth reading on, is tennis. This is why I want you to navigate away from FLF right now, in the direction of this article that Wallace wrote in August 2006 for the New York Times. I’m tempted to say that you’ll dig it even if you’re a person who doesn’t like tennis. However, since I am in no position to judge the article from the perspective of such a person, I will give you a tiny taste of “Federer as Religious Experience” right here and you can decide whether to follow this second strategically-placed link for yourself:

Federer had to send that ball down a two-inch pipe of space in order to pass [Agassi], which he did, moving backwards, with no setup time and none of his weight behind the shot. It was impossible. It was like something out of “The Matrix.” […] That’s one example of a Federer Moment, and that was merely on TV — and the truth is that TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love.

[1] With thanks to the rad Rachey C for this rad First Line Friday request, and to Wallace for the inspiration w/r/t the footnotes.

[2] I am calling him Wallace on the assumption, but without actually really knowing, that Foster is his middle name, rather than part of his surname. It seems unlikely, but the Washington Post went with it, and I am presuming they did their research.

[3] Note: the interest in tennis does not explain the bandana (see pic). He wore the bandana because of sweat issues.

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