David Foster Wallace: What Did He Say About Infinite Jest? 23 Quotes.

While reading Infinite Jest, I really wanted to know–what was he thinking while writing this? The interviews and quotes provide some interesting background on the motivations and desires behind the creation of the book. A huge thanks to this website, where I found many of the interviews.

The following quotations are from David Foster Wallace describing Infinite Jest.

Note: Currently I don’t have anything below from Although You End Up Becoming Yourself, the book by David Lipsky that became the basis for the movie, End of Tour. I have read that book, but don’t currently have a copy to reference.

Addiction

“There’s a lot of addiction stuff in “Infinite Jest.” And it’s odd, I mean I went to a lot of open AA meetings, and I’ve read a lot of, um, sort of addictionology books. And it does become a kind of model or lattice through which you end up seeing a lot of stuff, particularly American stuff — advertising as seduction. I mean, the ultimate [garbled] demand is an addict, which is, you know, terrific for commercial interests. I think, um — I’m not sure about addiction so much.” Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt, 1997

“Some of my friends got into AA. I didn’t start out wanting to write a lot of AA stuff, but I knew I wanted to do drug addicts and I knew I wanted to have a halfway house. I went to a couple of meetings with these guys and thought that it was tremendously powerful. That part of the book is supposed to be living enough to be realistic, but it’s also supposed to stand for a response to lostness and what you do when the things you thought were going to make you OK, don’t. The bottoming out with drugs and the AA response to that was the starkest thing that I could find to talk about that.” Salon, 1996

“The characters have to struggle with the fact that the AA system is teaching them fairly deep things through these seemingly
simplistic cliches.” Salon, 1996

Editing & Length

“in fact even though “Infinite Jest” is really long, the thing I’m most proud of is that for once I did not reptilianly fight and hang on to every single page that I did. And I let — I allowed myself to have faith in a really smart editor and cut some of it — and like that, that for me was what was valuable about that process.” Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt, 1997

“I know it’s risky because it’s part of this equation of making demands on the reader — which start out financial. The other side of it is publishing houses hate it because they make less money. Paper is so expensive. If the length seems gratuitous, as it did to a very charming Japanese lady from the New York Times, then one arouses ire. And I’m aware of that. The manuscript that I delivered was 1700 manuscript pages, of which close to 500 were cut. So this editor didn’t just buy the book and shepherd it. He line-edited it twice. I flew to New York, and all that. If it looks chaotic, good, but everything that’s in there is in there on purpose. I’m in a good emotional position to take shit for the length because the length strikes people as gratuitous, then the book just fails. It’s not gratuitous because I didn’t feel like working on it or making the cuts.” Salon, 1996

“…some of [references] are real and some of them aren’t. In the first draft, which was longer, [I tried] to create something that would feel the way the culture would feel, which was a sort of tsunami of information. Most of the cuts were in the end notes; there used to be almost 400 pages of end notes, now there are 100.” STIM, 1996

Endnotes/Footnotes

On Infinite Jest & A Supposedly Fun Thing…:

“…footnotes get, um — they’re actually addictive, somehow — there’s a certain way that, um — a kind of call and response thing that’s set up in your head. They’re a terrific way, um, to sort of draw back a dimension, or do a meta-comment on the thing that you’re doing. In the essays — since I decided there was no way I could pass myself off as a journalist, and was in fact going to do these as kind of meta-essays and have part of the essay be about the anxiety of producing the essays — the footnotes were great places to do that.” Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt, 1997

Meaning

“My secret pretension…I mean, every writer wants his book to change the world, but I guess I would like to know if the book moved people. I assume that the future the book talks about, while it might be amusing, wouldn’t be a fun future to live in. I think it would be nice if the book could maybe make people think about some of the choices we are making, about what we pay attention to and give power to, so maybe the future won’t be quite that…glittery but cold.” STIM, 1996

Narrators

“And “Infinite Jest” is the first thing that I wrote where the narrator — it’s supposed to sound like the narrator’s talking to you.” Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt, 1997

Style

“It’s really designed more like a piece of music than like a book, so a lot of it consists of leitmotifs and things that curve back. And there’s all this stuff about movement within limits and whether you can puncture the limits or not.” Boston Phoenix, 1996

“Plot-wise, the book doesn’t come to a resolution. But if the readers perceive it as me giving them the finger, then I haven’t done my job. On the surface, it might seem like it just stops. But it’s supposed to stop and then kind of hum and project. Musically and emotionally, it’s a pitch that seemed right.” Boston Phoenix, 1996

“And I wanted it not to have a single main character. The other banality would be: I wanted to do something real American, about what it’s like to live in America around the millennium.” Salon, 1996

It’s a weird book. It doesn’t move the way normal books do. It’s got a whole bunch of characters. I think it makes at least an
in-good-faith attempt to be fun and riveting enough on a page-by-page level so I don’t feel like I’m hitting the reader with a mallet, you know, “Hey, here’s this really hard impossibly smart thing. Fuck you. See if you can read it.” I know books like that and they piss me off.” Salon, 1996

“I wanted there to be this enormous amount of information, some of which meant something, some of which didn’t. Theoretically this is very interesting. And for one reader out of 1000 who had nothing else to do, that would be very interesting. But some sort of balance had to be struck. There had to be some way to get that point across without making the book impossible to read.” STIM, 1996

“The project of the book — the reason why I’m kinda proud of it — is [that] I was trying to [do] something very hard: to write a book that’s hard [but still] fun enough, so that someone is willing to do the work. [Also, I wanted to write fiction] that’s about entertainment and the culture…there’s academic stuff that talks about how analytic we are when it comes to entertainment but a lot of it’s not very entertaining [itself]. It’s usually boring and dry. The idea of being able to do that and be entertaining at the same time — now, this is going to start sounding like an acid trip but you have to indulge me — so that the entertainingness of the book, and the entertainingness of the stuff that the book talks about, enter into a kind of intercourse. The writer has all his little schemes. I know it works theoretically, and I know it’s [difficult], but the best part of the fuss for me is that it makes me feel like I pulled it off; that I made something hard, fun.” STIM, 1996

Technology

“To do a comprehensive picture of what the technology of that era would be like, would take 3500 pages, number one. In the book, what I was most interested in was people’s relation to filmed entertainment. There were other things, too. This is one of the ways that the cuts hurt. There was some more stuff that would have explained, for instance, the allusions to a virtual reality fad.

My guess is that what’s going to happen is that these things are going to be real exciting for a while, but the sheer amount of information on them is going to be overwhelming. What is going to become particularly valuable are various nodes and filters and sites that help you lock in and specify sorts of things that you want. In the book, “Interlace TelEntertainment” has become one of those sites.” STIM, 1996

Tone

“I wanted to do a book that was sad,” he said. “That was really the only idea that was in my head.” Chicago Tribune, 1996

“The image in my mind — and I actually had dreams about it all the time — was that this book was really a very pretty pane of glass that had been dropped off the 20th story of a building.” Chicago Tribune, 1996

Writing Process

“It made it difficult to be a good friend and to get really immersed in other people’s problems because I was trying to remember whether somebody was left-handed from 350 pages ago or something like that…” Chicago Tribune, 1996

“I wanted to do something that was really hard but was also really fun and made it worthwhile to spend the effort and the attention to read the thing.” Chicago Tribune, 1996

“It may be a mess, but it’s a very careful mess…A lot of work went into making it look like that. That might sound like a pathetic lie, but it’s not. Now, as you can see, my dander’s getting up.” Boston Phoenix, 1996

“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.” Little Brown Website, 1996



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I’m Josh Spilker, a writer and author. I blog about the writing process at Create, Make, Write and write about everyday life at Vaguely Feel. For more like this, follow this publication: