Sunday, September 14, 2008


"Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set to table on a roar?"

- Hamlet Act 5 Scene I

There was a time, in the mid-90s, when every time I walked into a bookstore I would ask if they had a copy of Infinite Jest. At first this was because I actually wanted to get my hands on the book - I was going through an intense Joyce phase at the time, and from the reviews I'd read DFW sounded like the logical progression - but after a while it became my preferred way of testing how good the bookstore was.

I'm not sure that any bookstore in Delhi actually passed that test [1] (I have a feeling the Book Shop in Khan Market did) but I never did get around to buying a copy of the book back then, and even though I do have it sitting on my bookshelf now (having picked it up at a used book sale a year ago) I still haven't got around to reading it.

This may explain why, hearing about DFW's suicide last night [2], my first reaction was one not of shock, but of guilt - as though by being too lazy to read his opus I'd let him down. But that's not what I wanted to write about. I'm trying to explain (to you nominally, but mostly to myself) why it is that though I've read so little of Wallace's work - just a few essays here and there - the news of his death yesterday filled me with such a sense of loss. I think I mourn Wallace not for who he was but for what he represented - something large on the landscape, either giant or windmill. There are some books that are so ambitious, so massive, that they exercise upon us a kind of gravity, loom over our imagination, draw us into their shadow. War and Peace is like that, and Ulysses and A la recherche du temps perdu. And for me, growing up in college, trying to expand the horizons of what I was reading, Infinite Jest was like that too. So it's sad to have to say that it's taken Wallace's death to get me around to reading it. Though I suspect that's true for a lot of us.

All of which makes me wonder whether bookstores in Delhi (or elsewhere, for that matter) have begun stocking Infinite Jest yet. So do me a favor, will you? The next time you're in a bookstore, ask them if they have a copy. And if they don't, ask them to get one. It's the least we can do.


[1] It wasn't just a either-they-have-it-or-they-don't test, you understand. There were all sorts of subtle gradations. Like if they didn't have the book but had heard of it. Or they hadn't heard of the book but at least they didn't need me to spell infinite jest out for them, or didn't take me to the sports section to show me other books on chess [3] - something that happened more often than you'd think and always made me want to hit the salesperson on the head screaming "It's Shakespeare! you idiot".

[2] If I weren't so shocked I'd be tempted to make that old joke about how Post-modernists don't die, they deconstruct.

[3] I suppose I should be grateful they didn't think I was asking for Infinite Chest. I hate to think where that would have led.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't. I bought my copy in Delhi - or maybe Bombay.


Cheshire Cat said...

No need to feel guilty - after all, you've been paying him tribute all along with those footnotes, haven't you?

Desi Italiana said...

"This may explain why, hearing about DFW's suicide last night [2], my first reaction was one not of shock, but of guilt - as though by being too lazy to read his opus I'd let him down."

I bought the book in Italy years ago, like in 2002. When I saw one of my friends at the bookstore while I was purchasing it, his eyes bulged out and he asked, "You're going to read that?! It's freaking huge!" But I had read his "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," and I was in love with him. So I decided to read Infinite Jest.

I got around to page 600 something, but eventually, the book drifted off into my bookshelf.

His searing social criticism and footnotes will be missed :(

Icon-o-plastic said...

I need to find a copy of Girl with Curious Hair now.
It's remarkable that I had this conversation with a friend about how many people stocked DFW but never really got around to reading him except for occasional essays, articles, et al.

Falstaff said...

n!: Really? Interesting. You sure you actually found it? You didn't just dream that he came and gave it to you. Right after he made a pass at you?

cat: Good point. Does it still count as a tribute if you didn't mean to be doing it, though?

di: Awww! and you were more than half way through. I say you go back and finish.

icon: Yes, there's a lot of this I own him but haven't read him about.