Sunday, May 3, 2009

David Foster Wallace And Hypertext

David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest just might be one of the most popular things on the internet. There are so many websites devoted to reading and re-reading IJ that I am refraining, right now, from linking to any of them, because it would just take too much time. There's a small irony here, because DFW's serpentine, infinity-recursive prose is just about the exact opposite of what you'd want you polished blog prose to be like, which is clean and concise. Anyway. I apologise if you've never read IJ; I encourage you to, and I also encourage you to join us here again tomorrow, when we might--MIGHT--talk about something interesting. Because if you haven't read IJ you just probably should stop reading this post right now, because it is inside baseball, at best.

My argument is that IJ is the first great novel of the internet age, even though it somewhat preceded it. Now. There's something interesting you can say about Infinite Jest's take on mass media, something very interesting, especially in the hypertrophied entertainment culture of O.N.A.N.ite USA. But that's not what I'm going to be talking about today.

I think that the densely allusive, footnoted prose of IJ is an almost perfect hypertext, in that original sense of hypertext which was an infinitely referenced network of texts, the ideal of the internet before the internet became real. I will show you what I mean. Here's just one paragraph, taken pretty much at random, which I have gone about and annotated as best as I could. It's from the brochure for the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed, as read by Madame Psychosis on page 187 of my book, for those of you at home, following along:

'Those with saddle sores. Those with atrophic limbs. And yes chemists and pure-math majors also those with atrophic necks. Scleredema adultorum. Them that seep, the serodermatotic,. Come one come all, this circular says. The hydrocephalic. The tabescent and chachetic and anorexic. The Brag's-Diseased, in their heavy red rinds of flesh. The dermally wine-stained or carbuncular or steatocryptoic or God forbid all three. Marin-Amat Syndrome, you say? Come on down. The psoriatic. The exzematically shunned. And the scrofulodermic. Bell-shaped steatopygiacs, in your special slacks. Afflictees of Pityriasis Rosea. It says here Come all ye hateful. Blessed are the poor in body, for they.'


Infinite Jest has the sort of hyper-referenced information overload that swamps all of us these days in 2009, those of us who read lots on the internet. Though Wallace wrote before the wide-spread popularity of the internet, he expressed well the information overload of us blog-seeped netizens. I see a fully-referenced hypertexted version of IJ as entirely possible, and I could encourage anyone with connections in the publishing industry to pitch this idea. Hard. Just give me some props if it ever comes true.

1 comment:

nimbemon said...

i've just read that bit myself... interesting coincidence...
n.