Book Review of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

James O. Incandenza created the film Infinite Jest, a.k.a. “the Entertainment,” so addictive that anyone watching it couldn’t take her eyes off it and eventually dies from lack of food and water. Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents (A.F.R.), or the Wheelchair Assassins, a Québécois separatist group seeking to have Canada secede from the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.), searches for the master copy and intends to distribute copies and use the film as a weapon of mass destruction. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a satire about our contemporary culture. Specifically, addiction. And not only to entertainment, i.e. the film Infinite Jest. The novel depicts the addicts in The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House trying, or not trying, to recover from cannabis, cocaine, Demerol and other drugs. And in nearby Enfield Tennis Academy, many students are on drugs. Wallace’s writing is humorous, but beneath the events, sadness flows.

Brighton, MA

While thinking about the power of entertainment in our culture, I recall Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, where he describes how TV, and more generally, visual entertainment, has transformed the way we think and process information. Whereas reading requires us to process the words and sentences and to imagine the scenes, we can “absorb” the information much quicker when we view a picture or watch a video. But just as taking too much easily digestible sugar rather than complex carbohydrates isn’t good for the body, watching too much TV may be harmful to the mind, from not exercising the muscles in the brain. We have the Internet and we don’t lack information, but what’s more important than information is the ability to analyze data, qualitatively and quantitatively, and to imagine new ideas and possibilities.

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