The Infinite Jest // La Broma Infinita // By David Foster Wallace.

Infinite Jest is a labyrinthine mass of plot lines encompassing themes of addiction and recovery, popular entertainment, and tennis. It is a vast and sprawling novel whose challenge is not in the mere heft of 981 pages plus another 100 pages of endnotes. The challenge of reading Infinite Jest is in the linguistic complexities and stylistic experimentation for which David Foster Wallace is renowned, and more so in the intricacies of numerous narrative threads, the intersection of which don’t all become apparent until the novel’s end, and some not even then.

Set in a near future in which the U.S., Mexico, and Canada have become unified as one country known as the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.), Infinite Jest is concerned with the dissemination of a film cartridge that is so powerfully entertaining and addictive to watch that it renders its viewers incapable of any action other than repeated viewing, until eventually they die of dehydration. The film’s auteur, J.O. Incandenza is a key figure in the novel, as is his Canadian wife, Avril, and their three sons, Orin, Hal, and Mario, all of whom spend their formative years at the prestigious Enfield Tennis Academy (ETA), founded by the Incandenza’s themselves in Boston. Just down the hill from ETA, is the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, where other main characters in the novel, most notably Don Gately, a newly recovering narcotics addict and petty criminal, come together in their individual battles to overcome addictions to various substances.

In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace has rendered the most complete, accurate, and painful depiction of addiction that I’ve ever read. He assembles a vast and heartbreaking cast of addicts – drug addicts and alcoholics of every stripe appear on the streets of Boston, in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and at Ennet House. It’s not pretty. Many of these individuals, besides being hopelessly addicted to substances, suffer from clinical depression, a condition with which Wallace himself struggled, and many of the characters in Infinite Jest have gruesome backstories of agregious misuse at the hands of family members. Wallace is so painstakingly detailed and accurate in his depiction of the insanity of the disease of addiction as well as the white-knuckled, exposed-nerve roller coaster of early recovery as to make the experience transportive and visceral to the reader.Drugs and alcohol are not the only vehicles through which Wallace’s characters attempt escape. Sex, love, success and entertainment offer alternative routes. This notion of escape from life is in fact a central theme in the novel. Even the tennis prodigies at ETA are seen as delaying their own lives in the pursuit of athletic prowess whose ultimate goal is “the show,” the professional tennis circuit. Towards the novel’s end, Hal Incandenza, ETA founding family member and one of the most promising among the young athletes at the academy, searingly questions the motives of any such pursuit:
“It now lately sometimes seemed like a kind of black miracle to me that people could actually care deeply about a subject or pursuit, and could go ono caring this way for years on end. Could dedicate their entire lives to it. It seemed admirable and at the same time pathetic. We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately -the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging into.”Yes – addiction, abuse, escape, depression – Infinite Jest is chock full of heavy themes into which David Foster Wallace digs relentlessly. That’s not to say that Infinite Jest is not, however, a fun novel. In fact I am quite certain, that despite all of this novel’s thematic truth and intensity, I wouldn’t have made it past the first couple of hundred pages were it not for the fact that it is frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious in the comic nature of its characters, in some of the absurd parody it sets forth, and in its incisively accurate satire of our own ridiculous human condition.
Infinite Jest is a book which readers often characterize at having to struggle through, and there is no doubt that there were huge passages (Eschaton, anyone?) during which I had to refrain from defenestrating David Foster Wallace’s book and moving on to something that provided more immediate gratification. Wallace is not easy on his readers, and he takes us down rat holes that themselves have rat holes off into which he further veers. The endnotes in Infinite Jest are the stuff of legend – pages upon pages of endnotes that vary between discursive minutiae and whole sections of story, without which the novel would be incomplete.Infinite Jest is labeled “post-modern.” I don’t know what that means, but I do know that David Foster Wallace employs a complex, intricate, and non-linear form of world-building, the process and the product of which is extensive and which asks of the reader no small amount of patience and tenacity. Fortunately Wallace swaddles us along the way in the aforementioned humor, elaborately-rendered characters, highly individualized dialogue, and line after line of prose wrought with famously deft turn-of-phrase and powers of description. It is my experience that if you’re willing to put aside your expectations of how fiction should work and trust this author, Infinite Jest is a powerful and life-changing ride that is well worth the price of admission.

Desde que en 1996 la Little, Brown & Company publicara “La broma infinita” (The Infinite Jest),  la crítica norteamericana ha querido ver en ella un icono de la nueva sensibilidad.

Innovadora, desmesurada, inteligente, eran los adjetivos más utilizados para calificar su más de un millar de páginas. Considerada como un clásico de nuestros días, se veía en ella una forma de homenaje y profanación de los postulados postmodernistas, y una forma de superación de la herencia de Pynchon, de William Gaddis o de Burroughs.

Novela compleja, con esa complejidad que reclamaba Don DeLillo para expresar el oleaje rico y denso de la experiencia actual, novela crítica sobre nuestro modelo presente de cultura, es además una novela soberbiamente escrita. El despliegue de recursos, la portentosa imaginación, el retrato de los personajes, la misma trama argumentativa están encaminados a describir un mundo occidental y el futuro devorado por sus propios mitos, que tienen en el placer y el consumo una nueva modalidad de vida y donde el tono melancólico de dejación es el mismo que de una y otra manera ha tratado de narrar la generación a la que Wallace pertenece.

David Foster Wallace ha creado para ello una sociedad futurista donde el calendario está regido por marcas comerciales, los cambios políticos han llevado a instaurar un totalitarismo ecológico y los grupos terroristas campan a sus anchas. Todo esto para crear una compleja red de elementos satíricos que se centran en los dos grandes temas narrativos de nuestro tiempo: el de la identidad personal y el del derrumbe de la institución de la familia. Por sus páginas desfilan seres atenazados por la droga y la farmacología, desequilibrados por las normas sociales y por una personalidad en crisis.

Se puede achacar a la novela el dar lugar a un revoltijo psicodélico de caracteres, anécdotas, bromas, monólogos… Se puede achacar también también la profusión de tramas secundarias, la sospecha de encontrarnos ante algo no sufientemente reposado, pero Wallace cuando recorre a la erudición, cuando disecciona toda la cultura pop de nuestra época es magistral. Su vanguardismo tiene razón de ser en tanto nace ciertamente de querer contemplar la realidad en toda su complejidad icónica y simbólica, y a la vez el dar una vuelta de tuerca a la tradición de la narrativa norteamericana. Esta galería de personajes adictos al escapismo, en constante rehabilitación dibujan una consecuencia de nuestras peores pesadillas.

Jonathan Franzen dijo de la novela de Foster Wallace que era una crítica de la cultura de la hospitalidad pasiva. La ironía y la sátira son los elementos básicos de su sentido del humor. D. F. Wallace representa en nuestro imaginario literario esa creencia de que la gran literatura es tan peligrosa como el fuego, pero nadie puede quitarnos la belleza de su peligro. Aunque a Wallace se le podría decir lo que Nietzsche opinó de Kant: que era un cerebro fino y un alma pedantesca.

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