7 Reasons Why You Should Read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest Before The New Year

By Hannah Pugh

“There are no choices without personal freedom, Buckeroo. It’s not us who are dead inside. These things you find so weak and contemptible in us—these are just the hazards of being free.” – A line from Infinite Jest

1.Reading Infinite Jest Will Enrich You Existentially

Infinite Jest is one of the greatest American novels ever written.

Infinite Jest is a near-future dystopian novel. It takes place in a fragmented America and deals with the themes of entertainment, addiction, loneliness, sobriety, boredom, and suicide. Being plentiful in length, characters and scenes, Infinite Jest is a complex novel. As a result, any reader in our modern era is likely to find themselves in it. It deals with entertainment, technologies which provide “infinite pleasure”. Accordingly, many critics have considered Wallace’s novel as prophetic of our times. 

A critic writes: “As a novel about an “entertainment” weaponized to enslave and destroy all who look upon it, “Infinite Jest” is the first great Internet novel…But “Infinite Jest” warned against the insidious virality of popular entertainment long before anyone but the most Delphic philosophers of technology. Sharing videos, binge-watching Netflix, the resultant neuro-pudding at the end of an epic gaming marathon, the perverse seduction of recording and devouring our most ordinary human thoughts on Facebook and Instagram — Wallace somehow knew all this was coming, and (as the man himself might have put it) it gave him the howling fantods.”

2. It is an American, Post-Post-Modern classic.

Photo courtesy of Book Patrol

Wallace performs a feat of 388 footnotes in the text. His unconventional structure and radical utilization of footnotes land Wallace either adoration or dismissiveness by readers and critics.

Additionally, the structure of the novel is imitating a mathematical object called a Sierpinski Gasket. Wallace explains in an interview: “This is a fractal structure created when you recursively subdivide an equilateral triangle into ever smaller equilateral triangles ad infinitum – so three triangles fit into the main triangle with their vertices at the midpoints of its sides, and in turn they subdivide into three more triangles, and so on. “Its chaos is more on the surface,” he said. “Its bones are its beauty.” (from The Guardian)

Although, at times the novel leaves you utterly confused, this is part of Wallace’s genius. After finishing the book in a group of other readers, many of us realized that we could not quickly identify its plot. Wallace leaves no bigger picture for readers to deal with, perhaps intentionally.

3. It is Well-written

Photo Courtesy of Business Insider

Ryan Compton calculates: Wallace used a vocabulary of 20,584 words in the 577,608-word text. The first 35,000 words of the novel, he added, contain 4,923 unique words. Consequentially, reading Infinite Jest will not only expand your vocabulary, but also your imagination.

4. You Will Find Yourself in the Family Dynamics and Characters in Infinite Jest

Diagram from Wake Up

Infinite Jest introduces a dysfunctional family narrative that many Americans will find their own family in.

5. It Builds Character

Infinite Jest is nearly 1100 pages and at times very slow. This is part of the masterpiece. In this novel, Wallace is attempting to challenge the entertainment industry and our capacity to break free of it. Accordingly, his novel attempts to provide a form of art, rather than entertainment. As a result, he invites the reader to bear with excruciatingly long passages, as part of the engagement. The device which kills characters in the novel is a device of infinite entertainment, and Wallace seeks to challenge that.

6. You Will Be a Little Less Lonely

Hear what Wallace himself said about his readers. “You can expect that someone who’s willing to read and read hard a thousand-page book is gonna be someone with some loneliness issues. Or somebody who’s looking, somebody like me or perhaps like you, who isn’t always able to get the sense of intimacy they need…I think it was really more that they were lookin’ for a friend, and I don’t mind being somebody’s friend.” – David Foster Wallace

7. A Glimpse into a Genius Mind

Photo Courtesy of Vulture

David Foster Wallace is being deemed one of the greatest writers of the century. His ideas and his life were tightly intertwined. To read his novel is to have the special privilege of engaging with a brilliant mind, whose work is now being called some of the greatest of the 20th century.