Saturday, August 01, 2009

Towards a post about reading "Infinite Jest"

I haven't been doing enough of this since getting back to Germany (in fact, not really since leaving Germany, I fell far behind schedule while at the wedding and elsewhere this summer), so this will not be that post. However, I want to state for the record that I am still reading "Infinite Jest" and am still enjoying almost all of it greatly.

Are there dull bits? Hell yes. Oddly enough, the bits that people complain most about in the forums are the among the parts that I most enjoyed. I am a sucker for arcana and apparently-trivial-but-well-written detail: I have read Proust twice, and every sentence of "The name of the rose" (yes, even the church-history bits).

But there is dissent in the ranks. In her latest post at Infinite Summer, Avery Edison said
I am not enjoying "Infinite Jest."

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not going to quit. I’m going to read the whole thing and talk about it over the summer because I said I would, but that doesn’t mean I have to lie and pretend I’m having a super-fun experience, right?

The forums immediately filled with people saying "Not liking it? so quit."

Wrong — in this context and community. Infinitedetox posted an excellent reply:
[H]ere’s the thing — is it ever really enough to dismiss a work of art on the grounds of taste-incompatibility? I’m going to say no, because look — there are certain things in life that transcend personal taste, and yes, goddamn it, art is one of them.

Let me give an example. I kind of hate Thomas Pynchon. I find his writing glib and moronic, and I can’t make heads or tails of "Gravity’s Rainbow." But I’ve come to recognize that this is my failure, not Pynchon’s. That there is a large group of reasonably intelligent people out there who have the highest opinion of Pynchon’s writing, and that rather than convincing myself that these people are all full of shit, my position is that I am somehow failing to do the work necessary to arrive at a robust understanding of Pynchon’s work. […]

The crowning irony of this entire discussion is that this notion of personal taste — personal happiness, if you will — elevated above all else is pretty much the intellectual crux of "Infinite Jest." And so we have people using personal happiness as the primary criterium for deciding whether or not to read a book about the dangers of using personal happiness as a primary criterium for deciding things.


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Blogger Zhoen said...

Eh. I'm not willing to assume that just because someone is published that they are smarter than I am, that they know more, are more clever. If they seem moronic, perhaps they are. Art is a matter of taste, fair enough. But who's to say what is and isn't art? Or literature?

Authors can be stupid and tasteless and bigoted and just plain bad. Life is too short and too full of wonderful books for me to waste it on shabby novels. If it doesn't speak to me, it hits the wall. It's never too late to shut it up and go on to the next.

August 1, 2009 at 11:14:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Dale said...

Agreed that being published doesn't mean a lot -- depending on the publisher, it can actually mean the book's not worth reading -- but with something that's achieved success, especially success with people I admire, I do assume that a failure to have a good reading experience is my failure. It's only after I fail repeatedly that I decide that I'm just not going to get it in this phase of my life. With some things (Robert Browning's poetry, for example) I've failed in three separate phases of my life, and I'm just not going to try any more :-)

But of course, I read mostly classics. Only rarely do I let anyone corral me into reading something that only a generation or two of clever readers has liked. When something's impressed people deeply for a couple hundred years, the odds of it being worth reading are lots, lots higher than for anything that came out last year and caused a buzz :-)

August 2, 2009 at 12:12:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

Well, yes and no. I too have put books down, and walked out of films etc, to be sure. I may rewrite this tomorrow, too tired to think it out again tonight.

August 2, 2009 at 12:13:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Anonymous antonia said...

good to see you're still in the world, old udge, pottering along. and you don't write about the darling macintosh computer once in a while. i don't like pynchon either and i wrote a paper on him. what the hell. too many books and life is too short anyway.

August 5, 2009 at 10:10:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Lioness said...

There are so many good books I will never read - read: books that are intrinsically and probably universally good and would give me great pleasure, and books that would give me pleasure regardless of their capacity to withstand the trial of time and the masses -, I do not try for very long. I know very soon whether the book and I will have a loving relationship and since, at this point, I cannot be arsed about personal edification, or rather, I choose to think that anything that makes me feel better is edifying me, regardless of who wrote it or how lauded it is, I just stop and move on to the next, better, one.

No offence, but it seems too daft to waste times on books that you have to brace yourself for rather than hardly being able to wait till you can continue reading them. Also, didn't Bachelard say something along the lines of public opinion doesn't think, and when it does it is usually wrong? The masses may all be very enlightened and sophisticated in their literary tastes but I live in my own skin, not the masses' so, honestly? Bugger the masses, not only is the book not pleasureable but I end up thinking something's wrong with me because I cannot enjoy it? Hell no! I also don't force myself to eat dill or drink beer just bcs so many love it that obviously something eludes me. Well, it does, but - drink for England and enjoy, I myself am not too fond of my gag reflex. And mind, from my very personal, very biased and highly self-involved perspective it clearly is the writer's fault. Too many books, too little time, best of luck and all that but - NO.

August 8, 2009 at 4:29:00 p.m. GMT+2  

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