The Killing Joke: I read “Infinite Jest”

The Killing Joke: I read “Infinite Jest” November 8, 2014

Finished it and flipped back to the very first page. Hugely tempted to just go in for an immediate re-read. It’s an engrossing, brutal book.

I found the first 100 pages or so a really mixed bag–my one real criticism is that the book itself sometimes seems… bewildered and amused?… by the existence of people who aren’t white. There are definitely exceptions. The Hugs Not Drugs/”shit down your neck” scene is fantastic, and feels real, or rather feels exaggerated in the way both life and the rest of the novel are exaggerated. But other sections, like the treatment of the Muslim diplomatic medical guy, felt really exoticized in a pointless and off-putting way. However, 90% of that stuff is in the first 100 pp so you can push past it. And the dawning horror of the Canadian sci-fi subplot gives a really gripping portrayal of how political oppressors turn the defeated sufferers into a stigmatized class. (Man, I feel weird even saying that much about it, since a lot of its effectiveness for me came in the way you start out like, “LOL Canada, why is Canada all over this novel?”, and then slowly start to feel sick and soiled.)

Anyway Infinite Jest is funny and horrifying. Its themes and obsessions include:

* iconic womanhood in the Sister Death mold (Madam Psychosis)

* sublime recovery–there are portrayals of the excesses of AA spirituality, the Man Who Doesn’t Even Use His First Name and the naked lady in the empty room and the command to eat feldspar, but it’s all satire from within.

* total inability to communicate as chronic human condition (between this, The Book and the Brotherhood, and Lila, my whole reading year has basically been “Talking Past Each Other: A Book Club”)

* fantasy as the enemy of patience; entertainment as the loss of self

* what is depression? (“It’s more like horror”)

* sports as ecstasy: a way to live in the body while being released from the self; sports as institutionalized fantasy, disappointment, and regret

* institutional life: what it feels like not to get to make your own decisions, and how you make decisions anyway in the interstices.

This list is not exhaustive. I’m mostly throwing this out there to say a) I was really moved by this book, and I think changed by it; and b) push past the first 100 pp, if you’ve been getting stuck there.


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