Infinite Jest and Attempts on Her Life

David Foster Wallace in San Francisco, 2006. Photo by Steve Rhodes
David Foster Wallace in San Francisco, 2006. Photo by Steve Rhodes

I’ve taken the plunge and started reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, using the Infinite Summer blog as a handy pacemaker and reading aide to what I am beginning to understand is a supremely complex book.

It’s only annoying if you look at the novel as a code to crack, if you see everything as a clue.
Marcus Sakey: ‘Decoding Infinite Jest; or, Don’t’

The first similarity I’ve noticed is between Infinite Jest, and Attempts on Her Life by Martin Crimp, a play I know intimiately after working on it at the National Theatre back in the ’07.  The chapter beginning on page 27 of the book is written in a style highly reminiscent of several of scenes in Crimp’s play.  I noticed it when the phrase “quote-unquote” popped up in the dialogue.  It is utilised in a similar manner in both pieces, to convey a certain official or professional manner, a style of speaking that prentends to be disinterested, but it actually quite hostile.  From there, it was pleasing to see that the chapter follows a similar structure to a couple of scenes from Attempts.  The characters actually present describe another by means of a list that becomes an incantation of sorts, who said x or who did y:

“Who requires only daily evidence that you speak…
“Who used to pray daily for the day his own dear late father would sit, cough, open that bloody issue of the Tuscon Citizen, and not turn that newspaper into the room’s fifth wall. “

Compared with Attempts on Her Life:

Is this the same little Anne who now has witnesses breaking down in tears? …
Who screwed tiny mechanisms and mercury tilt switches to a mercury circuit board, with a mouth of deep pan pizza?

Another major parallel is in the structure.  Like Infinite Jest, Crimp’s Attempts is not a code to be cracked.  The seventeen or so ‘attempts’ are not related to each other, plotwise, although certain refrains and themes return more than once.  It remains to be seen whether this happens with Foster Wallace’s book, but from what I have read (no spoilers, I’ve made sure of that) I am assuming this will be a feature, to some degree.   Marcus Sakey confirms its not a code to be cracked, at least.
And finally, I sense several themes emerging in Infinite Jest that are shared with Attempts:  A satire on commercialism and product placement; pretensiousness in modern art; women attempting suicide;  and above all, an attempt to describe a dissociation brought about by modern society.

Martin Crimp. Photo by Graeme Robertson
Martin Crimp. Photo by Graeme Robertson

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