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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Doorstops

I haven't read Infinite Jest, but I do know a little something about dual-purpose book/doorstops. My Labyrinth bag broke in the middle of the semester because I was carrying three 1000-page books at once: the Major Works of John Milton, Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, and Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, the Infinite Jest for the Restoration cool kids.

My dad read Infinite Jest while he was on a dig in Portugal this summer. Every week or so I'd get an e-mail about his progress. He was sharing the book with a grad student on the dig, and the two of them apparently became intolerable in their DFW worship. First they were banned from talking about the book at the campfire. Then the ban was extended to daytime hours. My dad's correspondence also included such comments as, "Have you seen Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle? It's awesome! I also liked Old School." Infinite Jest? Old School? I was suspicious: it seemed entirely possible that he had farmed out his father-daughter e-mail correspondence to one of his grad students.

Before I started it, I had figured that reading Richardson's epistolary novel Clarissa would be a supposedly fun thing I'd never do again. The eighteenth-centuryists at Columbia formed a Clarissa reading/support group this fall. Three of us were reading Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy at the same time, so we spent a lot of time discussing how authors of epistolary novels manipulate the technological gap between the hand-written correspondence that makes up the story and the printed text in which the story appears to the reader. Adela wrote about it here. Anyway, it was fun and I think I'll have to do it again next year for my oral exams.

Graham and I have formed a Quicksilver reading group so that we both might finish the Baroque Cycle. I finished Quicksilver and half of The Confusion this summer, but I'm starting over again because I've become obsessed with the philosophical language projects in the Royal Society during the seventeenth century. If I could understand a little more about programming code in Cryptonomicon (the future version of the Baroque Cycle; the ancestors of the seventeenth-century natural philosophers become twentieth-century Enigma coders and programmers), I'd be all set. Quicksilver is both awesome and frustrating. For example, I don't believe that this sentence ever should have been written: "Word arrived that Fermat had died, leaving behind a theorem or two that still needed proving."

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Blogger Jeff'y on Wed Dec 28, 06:09:00 PM:
Being a huge Infinite Jester I have had more or less the same conversation with Alice already: I asked her if she'd ever read, or would consider reading, IJ, she dodged the question by bringing up her dad and then her Baroque project, as if IJ were readable via proxy (it isn't) or Stephenson were a substitute for Foster Wallace (he isn't).

But yeah, IJ is highly recommended. It's a lot more enjoyable if you know other people who have read it as well so that you can share theories about the plot. (My friend Scott called me from his car in Seattle late the other night solely to run a theory about chapter one by me, and this is two years after we both read it.) So it's that kind of book.
 
Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Dec 28, 11:17:00 PM:
my favorite theory, at least from senior year, was that jonathan franzen was really just wallace in disguise. i don't remember the details, but i remain convinced of this.

so yeah, read it already fer chrissakes.

btw, i made a surprising discovery today--did anybody else know that espn has an ombudsman? it does: http://search.espn.go.com/keyword/search?searchString=george_solomon. not sure what he does to keep himself busy.

ross