"Infinite Jest: Reviews, Articles,
David Foster Wallace talks about writing "Infinite Jest"
"Infinite Jest" website
concocted by Little, Brown Publishing Co.
The best metaphor I know of for being a fiction-writer in the middle
of writing a long book is Don DeLillo's "Mao II," where he describes
the book-in-progress as a kind of hideously damaged infant that follows
the writer around, forever crawling after the writer (i.e. dragging itself
across the floor of restaurants where the writer's trying to eat, appearing
at the foot of the bed first thing in the morning, etc.), hideously defective,
hydrocephalic and noseless and flipper-armed and incontinent and retarded
and dribbling cerebro-spinal fluid out of its mouth as it mewls and blurbles
and cries out to the writer, wanting love, wanting the very thing its hideousness
guarantees it'll get: the writer's complete attention.
The damaged-infant trope is perfect because it captures the mix of repulsion
and love the fiction-writer feels for something he's working on. The fiction
always comes out so horrifically defective, so hideous a betrayal of all
your hopes for it -- a cruel and repellent caricature of the perfection
of its conception -- yes, understand: grotesque because imperfect. And yet
it's yours, the infant is, it's you, and you love it and dandle it and wipe
the cerebro-spinal fluid off its slack chin with the cuff of the only clean
shirt you have left (you have only one clean shirt left because you haven't
done laundry in like three weeks because finally this one chapter or character
seems like it's finally trembling on the edge of coming together and working
and you're terrified to spend any time on anything other than working on
it because if you look away for a second you'll lose it, dooming the whole
infant to continued hideousness). And but so you love the damaged infant
and pity it and care for it; but also you hate it -- hate it -- because
it's deformed, repellent, because something grotesque has happened to it
in the parturition from head to page; hate it because its deformity is your
deformity (since if you were a better fiction-writer your infant would of
course look like one of those babies in catalogue-ads for infantwear, perfect
and pink and cerebro-spinally continent) and its every hideous incontinent
breath is a devastating indictment of you,on all levels . . . and so you
want it dead, even as you dote and wipe it and dandle it and sometimes even
apply CPR when it seems like its own grotesqueness has blocked its breath
and it might die altogether.
The whole thing's all very messed up and sad, but simultaneously it's also
tender and moving and noble and cool -- it's a genuine relationship, of
a sort -- and even at the height of its hideousness the damaged infant somehow
touches and awakens what you suspect are some of the very best parts of
you: maternal parts, dark ones. You love your infant very much. And you
want others to love it, too, when the time finally comes for the damaged
infant to go out and face the world.
But wanting other people to love it, now, means hoping that others somehow
won't see the hideous infant as you see it -- as a grotesque, malformed
betrayal of the very possibilities that spawned it. You hope very much they'll
look at it and pick it up and dandle and coo and fall in love with something
they see as pink and whole, as the sort of transcendent miracle that only
whole babies and unwritten books are.
So you're in a bit of a dicey position: you love the infant and you want
others to love it, but that means that you hope others don't see it correctly.
You want to sort of fool people: you want them to see as perfect what you
in your heart know is a betrayal of all perfection.
Or else you don't want to fool these people; what you want is you want them
to see and love a lovely, miraculous, perfect, ad-ready infant and to be
right, correct, in what they see and feel. You want to be terribly wrong:
you want the damaged infant's hideousness to turn out to have been nothing
but your own weird delusion or hallucination. But that'd mean you were crazy:
you have been, been stalked by, and recoiled from hideous deformities that
in fact (others persuade you) aren't there at all. Meaning you're at least
a couple of fries short of a Happy Meal, surely. But worse: it'd also mean
you see and despise hideousness in a thing you made (and love), in your
spawn, in certain ways you. And this last, best hope -- this'd represent
something way worse than just very bad parenting; it'd be a terrible kind
of self-assault, almost self-torture. But that's still what you most want:
to be completely, insanely, suicidally wrong.
But it's still all a lot of fun. Don't get me wrong.