shot in the back-shot in the arm

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Not quite an Alpine vista, the world of rural western Sweden in mid-March was this time mostly sun-filled, a shot in the arm for getting things done. Pleasurable things. Okay, maybe hauling recyclables to the recycle station doesn’t count. Must be done, and there is some pleasure to be found in accomplishing the must-do stuff, too.

Conversation (so much laughing). Walking. Writing. Films, thanks to MUBI (Fogo – what a weird accent these islanders have, such breathtaking scenery; I’m All Yours – an unusual French film that had the makings of a really good story but was not sure what it wanted to be and suffered from trying to clumsily weave too many narrative threads into it; Catch Me Daddy – quite a grim and disturbing picture, mostly filmed in West Yorkshire with a bunch of foul-mouthed Scots in the mix). Music (mostly Elena Frolova – various things from her, inspired by digging out my CD of Frolova setting Marina Tsvetaeva poetry to music, but also Nippon Girls volumes 1 and 2).

Reading (First, I quickly devoured a basic and silly book on developing ‘psychic abilities’. Not because I think it will work or because I want to develop clairvoyance. I thought it might give more insight into developing deeper intuition.

The rest of my reading time was devoured – and I mean devoured; time is devoured by the book, not the other way around – by David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest. I’m still only halfway through. For a month I sat at about 2% completion, according to my Kindle, but in the last two days, I managed to chip away at it to reach the halfway mark. (It is, after all, well over 1,000 pages.) I don’t necessarily like it, but I marvel at it. I really like select parts of it, and others I can take or leave. I suppose this is symptomatic of the ‘bigger is better’ credo that seems to have propelled the book forward, which  Michiko Kakutani referred to in her original review:

“Perfect, however, “Infinite Jest” is not: this 1,079-page novel is a “loose baggy monster,” to use Henry James’s words, a vast, encyclopedic compendium of whatever seems to have crossed Mr. Wallace’s mind.”

“The book seems to have been written and edited (or not edited) on the principle that bigger is better, more means more important, and this results in a big psychedelic jumble of characters, anecdotes, jokes, soliloquies, reminiscences and footnotes, uproarious and mind-boggling, but also arbitrary and self-indulgent.”

Sometimes that “encyclopedic compendium of whatever seems to have crossed Mr. Wallace’s mind” is fascinating; sometimes it’s pages of mind-numbing, sleep-inducing quicksand. As a whole, the concept is fascinating but digging into the details isn’t always.

The language – both its volume and particular use – can be overwhelming – the breadth, depth, randomness – lack of narrative or plot-driven clarity while still somehow offering some other kind of clarity – is not something I can really explain or describe or review. It is exactly what it is unapologetically, with its sudden, pages-long description of the terror of suddenly moving from aural telephone to videophony or little statements like, “Son, you’re ten, and this is hard news for somebody ten, even if you’re almost five-eleven, a possible pituitary freak.” Haha. You never know whether to laugh, cry, be puzzled. Less story or narrative than a radical transformation of language and form that feels that it inadvertently (though this is quite deliberate) ends up telling many stories anyway.

It’s just so much, so complex, so full of digressions, but the kind you can get engrossed in, not distracted by. Random but not.

Long passages about addiction and AA “sobriety in Boston is regarded as less a gift than a sort of cosmic loan. You can’t pay the loan back but you can pay it forward, by spreading the message that despite all appearances AA works…” “The only way to hang onto sobriety is to give it away and even just 24 hours of sobriety is worth doing anything for, a sober day being nothing short of a daily miracle if you’ve got the Disease like he’s got the Disease…”.

Relatable, but at the same time so far out there, it’s not. You have to sit and wonder about the writer with the kind of mind who produced this tome much more than the content of the final product itself in some ways (and he was clearly tortured enough to take his own life).)

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