Footnote on “self-helpy” that you probably have seen but others might not have: Maria’ Bustillos’s piece for the Awl on Wallace’s collection of self-help books.
“Wallace’s fiction combines rich investments in form, in ideas, and in emotion” — for me this is a simple but brilliant elucidation of the powerful and invitingly resonate synthesis at work in Wallace’s fiction. Very nice.
Potentially useless comment, but one touching on Infinite Jest‘s “vision” of the communications future: I didn’t really begin to understand the book (or apprehend its power) until I switched from reading it on paper to reading it on my iPhone. (A switch that was initially just a matter of convenience–wanting to carry the book around and have it available whenever I could dive into it.) For me, it is a completely different, vastly more accessible, more powerful book when read (and reread) on that device. It’s hard to believe that some (likely unconscious) vision or intention on the author’s part is not behind that circumstance. (Also hard to believe that I’m the only reader who has had this experience.)
I agree with Jim — you mention earlier that the occasion of Wallace’s death was clearly one of the motive forces behind Infinite Summer, and that’s worth repeating here. In other words, it’s not an outlier in terms of being a social online reading event, but it is in terms of its “rhetorical situation.”
Though it’s also worth noting that the technology behind Infinite Summer was quite different from that of GoodReads and LibraryThing. I liked your earlier point very much about how Infinite Summer was an occasion for writing, and for performing writing, as much as for reading — that’s certainly less true on the book networks. Though it’s worth mentioning that Infinite Summer had a bulletin board as well as the blog: probably part of the reason for its success is that it tried to enable as many forms of discussion as possible.
Did I ever tell you that when our Infinite Summer meetup group got to the end of the book and knew we wanted to keep meeting, I found it so hard to think of a new book that could measure up that I proposed we start a writing group instead? Everyone agreed, which I was suprised by. Of course, it didn’t last too long, maybe a few months, and then I moved away, and they began to read first Don Quixote and now The Instructions. Long, hard books being the key, still. And social reading. And drinking.
I feel just the hint of a question here about what E Unibus actually says about television’s effect on an audience’s ability to consume the long text-based narrative: I thought I did remember something to that effect in it, though you’re right that the anti-irony stance is more prominent. Perhaps a brief quotation is in order?
I just read Chuck Klosterman’s Eating the Dinosaur, in which there’s an essay drawing parallels between Kurt Cobain and David Koresh. A little infuriating, actually, but interesting.
I want to chime in on Daryl’s comment here. I suggested, on the IS main page, that this “second circle” of blogging was in fact more “sophisticated” than what took place on the IS site itself. Along with Daryl/Zombies, Detox, and myself, there were Gerry Canavan, Repat Blues, and Paul Debraski/I Just Read About That… Together, we were working not simply to respond to the text, but to move cooperatively inside it, look at its possibilities and in some cases analytical tools, and tracking down textual and philosophical complexities and references. (And we did it in such a way that it also served, spoiler free, as a read-along for new IJ readers, among which I counted myself.) The “archive” of this work remains unbalanced, though, between its specific temporal location in the transient blog medium, and its collectively generated, diachronic usefulness.
I wrote about 45,000 words over the summer in 25 or so mini-esays, collected at the link to my blog. Detox’s contributions included both exquisite Wallace-inspired humor but also serious consideration of Wittgenstein and other background materials. Gerry’s analyses were rock solid and influenced us all.
None of this obviates your larger points about the re-contextualization of both reading communities and potentially literary culture (though I think that these structural transformations might also be lined up against the insights in n+1’s recent “MFA vs. NYC”). I think this is an awesome bit of work, and can’t wait to see the book when it comes out!
I’m not sure I’d be willing to distinguish between books that are and aren’t worth caring about; that kind of divisiveness w/r/t “quality” is very much the kind of problem I’m trying to get at. What I’m interested in is less whether any given book is “good” in some objective sense than in how it matters to its users. “Worth” is very much in the eye of the beholder.
Oops. I didn’t emphasize the part I meant to emphasize.
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