Sunday, July 5, 2009

Infinite Jest and all the rest

It feels a little weird to have exactly designated page readings for the collective read of Infinite Jest marked out to the day. Though it has got me to read the book in small bites here and there, mostly in the few minutes before I should be asleep. That way I aim for a zen aproach of non-judgement, which never totally works 'cause Wallace is so damn entertaining. Still, I can clear my mind on it at the end of the day, which sounds a little crazy when you think about the material as 'material for a book', as in the kind of material that would in general make a good novel all things being equal. In that sense, the material would not make for a light read before bed book, but he makes it work. Sure, it's huge and complicated, but it's also hugely engaging and full of humour, and he eases you in so smoothly that you barely even notice how weird and complicated things've gotten. I can see just now in the past few days why there has been talk of getting past the first 200 pages. There is a slight lag toward the 120-35 mark, and the Wardine stuff is written in a way that could be obnoxious to some.

'Course after the Sheep Man's dialogue in both Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance, which was all caps without spacing between the words (which was itself the translator's idea to signify some linguistic eccentricity Murakami used in the original Japanese), I can handle just about any level of linguistic weirdness. That stuff was obnoxious. Of course, those two books were so good otherwise that I could tolerate the sheep man stuff. In comparison the Wardine stuff so far is easy, and I feel like Wardine's story is absolutely necessary to balance out the novel and a pretty interesting one ta' boot.

So I read Jest in small bites, and I don't think about it and go to sleep. It's seems like I remember the book really well that way (either that or it's Wallace's shorter sectioning in the early chapters, which fits the modern attention span better) because I do seem to have a pretty good sense of what's going on where. The problem is more what hasn't been discovered in just the first 10% of the entire book when including the end notes, which are seemingly both important for the story and quite funny. The M.I.T. language riots set off by a debate between Steven Pinker and some made up person, I believe. Buried in the infamous endnote 24. That made me happy all day and glad I stuck it out through 24 to the end.

If I read 15 pages today, then I'll be at the 75 per week mark at 150 (second week). (editor's note [as this post was started yesterday] I'm actually ten pages behind in Jest). And this whole setting exact page and chapter designations has crept into the rest of my reading, which has actually been not too frenetic but more disciplined and therefore more successful. I've been, at least, reading, if not fully processing some heavier stuff. 'Course Saul Bellow has got to be one of the more directly philosophical successful novel writers of all time. His fiction has substantial weight, although in the existential direction which is a field both madly important and of so little practical use to the moneygrabbers of this world (in fact, it's a downright hindrance to have to think about the very thing [mortality] that you are grabbing all this money to avoid thinking about [probably]) and probably ultimately a bit on the tautological side. Okay, that was a set of bald speculative generalizations, but, well, if economists are allowed to make wild philosophical assumptions, then why not I.

Just a brief record for myself of my progress up to July 6th: half way thru W. James, One chpter Joe Campbell's Creative Mythology, two chptrs Macroeconomics (the fallacious assumptions in the field are worse than I suspected), finished Dangling Man, 1/3 thru Herzog. Going to the library today for a biography on Bellow and possibly Ravelstein. That one's gotten some interesting praise and was his last book finished at age 85 (the same year his wife gave birth to his last kid!). Anyway, this is how I'm processing the progress thru various reading this summer mainly because of the collective read. This idea of exactly scheduled reads has really got into my head, and frankly it's pretty helpful when trying to juggle multiple books.

A quick word on macroeconomics. My neighbor gave me his textbook after he took the class, and I've been reading it slowly in bits and pieces in the mornings with breakfast. Already, the clear lack of philosophic rigor is soooo apparent it's almost painful in its obviousness. I said this about behavior economics, but it's even more so true of econ proper. There were several small little assumptive choices that I picked up on but didn't register enough to remember exactly other than the writer's poor explanation of the use and value of behavior econ, but the fundamental assumption of scarcity as existing everywhere at all times because human beings can't satisfy every possible desire they might ever possibly have at every moment of their lives...You guys don't see why having that as the fundamental assumption of yr field might result in some freaked out outcomes? If you really can't see the problem here, then I really don't think there's a whole lot anybody can do about it? I mean, that is astoundingly asinine. Just astoundingly.

I can't even be bothered to deconstruct it again. I ran it in my head in a frustrated half-muttered yelling at the book while pounding the text with my finger, but I'm really not going there again. So, this next few years of intensive econ study is gonna be a slog on some levels, but necessary. Alternative economics producing a practical system and the philosophical reformation of the field proper (opening it to the social sciences [and not letting jerk-off intro writers cop to 'that's not part of the field of economics' as an excuse for ignoring the wider ranges and mountaintops of knowledge]) is work that needs to be done, and maybe I can do something useful in that direction.

So, there's all of that. Otherwise, things're good. Beautiful day, don't have to work. Going to spend some time wandering the city today and writing descriptive stuff for the real places for my novel. That'll also be good. Life is good. I feel good. Going running now.

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