Thursday, November 6, 2014

Infinite Jest vs. Technology

David Foster Wallace's magnus opus Infinite Jest is in many ways difficult for the sake of being difficult. It seems like a practical joke on the reader: 1,100 pages, 100 of which are small-point endnotes; jarring changes in writing style; non-linear narrative; dozens and dozens of characters; and jargon from myriad fields. One reader suggests to use three bookmarks or perhaps even tear the book in half for easier transport.

Reading has changed in subtle ways since the book's release in 1996, giving us new tools to eliminate some of the drudgery:

1) Newer Kindles can overlay the endnote right on top of the page you're reading, while older ones can seamlessly jump from endnote to main text in a tap
2) The Kindle can render the originally tiny endnote font into whatever size you'd like.
3) The Kindle can instantly define the tough words, though it can't help with the invented jargon or acronyms.
4) The web offers tons of guides. I have bookmarked chapter summaries, the chronology of Subsidized Time, and a list of characters. I can also Google random things I'm wondering about. It's easy to forget that not long ago, it was impossible to get this information instantly.

All of this has made Jest an easier task. Is that good or bad?