Infinite Jest and what it means to be human
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Infinite Jest and what it means to be human

This past summer I read Infinite Jest, and it made me think of questions that blew my mind

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Infinite Jest and what it means to be human
www.amazon.com

I’ve been a fan of David Foster Wallace ever since I got a book of his essays on tennis for my birthday last year. Ever since, I’ve been reading his essays and pretty much talking to anyone who will listen about the genius of DFW. One essay in particular, Consider the Lobster, talks about the Maine Lobster Festival… a benign enough topic. But, but by end, and I’m not even kidding, I was walking in circles screaming “OH MY GOD” in shock of the existential question of the morality of steaming lobsters alive. Can lobsters feel pain? What is pain even, and does perception of it matter? Is pain without the emotional trauma of pain even pain at all? Why are we even alive?

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of DFW and his essays; and I like to talk a lot about him. But, admittedly, a big part of my daily embarrassment was when the other person did know who DFW was, and would ask, “Oh! Have you read Infinite Jest?” The truth was, that I haven’t read it and didn’t plan to… especially after hearing from my sister’s writing tutor, Sam (who’s also a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University), that he’s read the first 200 pages 13 times. No thanks.

(The book Infinite Jest is DFW’s magnum opus, his greatest work, and the bible of DFW fan clubs. It’s also 1,079 pages of huge pages and microscopic print.)

But, after spending the summer doing practically nothing other than playing tennis, telling everyone about DFW, and lying awake at night thinking of meaning of life type of questions, I had enough. I needed to do something. I needed to read Infinite Jest. Perhaps DFW has the cure for my existential angst. So I started, on the night of July 11th.

Unfortunately, Infinite Jest did not prove to be the cure for my existential angst; at least not yet, I'm only 700 pages in. What did prove to be the cure was college and meeting new people, but I’ve learned a whole lot from reading Infinite Jest. Most importantly that flipping hundreds of times to the end of the book to find endnotes is extremely irritating, and that you can get a superb arm workout by holding a 2.5-pound book for hours. But on a more serious note, I gained a completely new perspective on substance addiction; and the heroism required to get clean. I learned that the most horrid and difficult thing about depression is not the depression itself but the inability to explain or describe the sensation. I’ve learned that depressed people don’t fear suicide any less than nondepressed people, but suicide is by far the more pleasant option than what’s on the other side -- DFW equates it to a person jumping out of a burning building. Ultimately, Infinite Jest has forced me to think about what it means to be truly human, and the peculiarity of the human condition: That we’re able to look up at the starry night, and ponder our existence and the meaning of life, but in the end as Hamlet puts it, “what is this quintessence of dust?” -- we’re just worm food after all.

I still feel very guilty about finishing Infinite Jest, and now that college has started, and I’m not bored out of my mind, I don’t know if I will ever get around to it. I hope I will, but for now, I leave you with this magnificent DFW quote for you all to ponder when you all are awake, suffering from insomnia, staring at the ceiling.

“Since to be really human… is to be unavoidably sentimental and naive and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull gooey drool.” --DFW

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