Reading Infinite Jest

This project is done. It was a memorable experience!

Here is a proposal: Let us read David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest together this autumn. Read 100 pages per week and the entire book will be done in ten weeks. The prize that awaits us is best expressed in Dave Eggers's foreword to Infinite Jest: 'When you exit these pages after that month of reading, you are a better person. It's insane, but also hard to deny.'

Why read Infinite Jest together? We all know the picture: Our lives become more and more hectic every day; we check messages at night, keep up with the latest tv series by watching double speed, all while doing jobs that demand ever more attention. There is quite possibly some truth in this dreary picture, perhaps even for university, supposedly the place of thought and reflection. Students are fixed on gathering as many easy points as possible, while teachers are faced with all the grading and ever greater numbers of students. With the space and the capacity to engage in the big questions thus shrinking, who still finds the time and patience to read the books that matter in the larger scheme of things?

Infinite Jest is certainly one such book. Yet, 'Reading Infinite Jest' is not merely an exercise in escaping the daily rush in order to broaden our horizons. (Nor is it another Dead Poets Society). It is also a collective attempt to come to grips with a novel that is said to be difficult – a novel that you might have heard of before and perhaps even have wanted to read for some time, but have not gotten around to. Most importantly though, the journey 'Reading Infinite Jest' invites you to embark upon will be loaded with fun and good humor. Plenty of giggling and laughing out loud will be involved, along with some head scratching and bewilderment.

How is it going to work? We divide the book into 9 tranches, each including about 100 pages. After each tranche, there is the opportunity to discuss the pages read in a 45 minutes online message chat taking place on Tuesday at 19.00h. In addition, we gather for a kick-off, a half-way and a final meeting. Those who cannot attend these meetings can dial up (most likely via Skype, perhaps Google Hangout); maybe we can also record the meeting for the absent. Here is our schedule:

15 September: 1 hour max. kick-off meeting;

By 22 September: pp. 1-121;

By 29 September: 121-219;

By 6 October: 219-321;

By 13 October: 321-442;

By 20 October: 442-548 (half-way meeting);

(20 days break – time to catch up, if behind)

By 10 November: 548-648;

By 17 November: 648-755;

By 24 November: 755-851;

By 1 December: 851- the End (final meeting).

The edition the pages above refer to is the following:

http://www.amazon.de/Infinite-Jest-David-Foster-Wallace/dp/0316066524

The online chat will be limited to 45 minutes, which seems reasonable to discuss any important point. During the week, (mail) contact should be kept to a minimum, for we all have jobs to do.

Who is 'we'? The idea of 'Reading Infinite Jest' is to make the book accessible to a circle of interested readers. This circle should only include newcomers, i. e. those who have never read it before. In the interests of avoiding spoilers and encouraging free discussion, the many aficionados out there who have read the book, sometimes multiple times, are respectfully invited to join one of the many online forums rather than 'Reading Infinite Jest'. (I disclose that I have read the book multiple times, but I pledge to exercise restraint and not spoil the reading.) Apart from that, basically anyone is invited. (Those who are at the University of St. Gallen are obviously very welcome, but so are others elsewhere.) While a large group is basically in order, discussions in a group with a lot more than 20 persons would probably be hard. To join just send me an e-mail before we start (see 'contact me' in the side bar on the left). While there is obviously no commitment or anything, please, do not join without the serious intention to follow through.

Any advice if I want to begin reading right now? No. In fact, my only piece of advice is that you disregard any advice available on the web. David Foster Wallace intended the book to be as it is and it should be thus read, without any outside information. Part of the fun the book offers lies in discovering it on your own. The ideal time to clear things up through web search comes after having finished the book – should that still prove necessary. Any reasonably interested, academically educated person has, in my view, the capacity to read Infinite Jest. (And any academically educated person should know that footnotes are a part of the text that should positively be read.)

Can I read it in German? Yes. The book is called Unendlicher Spass in German. I encourage you to read it in English though, the original language. We will discuss in English, unless no non-German speaker at all participates.

Should I use the audio book? No. While listening to the unabridged audio version in English, read by Sean Pratt (available on audible.com), is a truly amazing experience, it is not recommended for a first reading. The reason is that the footnotes are not included in the audio book. Whether you want to use a combination of audio book and hard copy is obviously your call.

(Do I get credits for this? No.)

So go ahead, drop me an e-mail, and buy the book!