Thursday, September 18, 2008

In dreams

About six weeks ago, as the result of a tipsy promise to a friend, I read Infinite Jest for the first time, after years of pointedly avoiding it, having believed that no matter how much I admired David Foster Wallace's essays, his fiction was unlikely to appeal to my tastes. To some extent, I was right: Infinite Jest frustrated me (The Wheelchair Assassins) nearly as often--though not as deeply--as it stunned and moved me (the PGOAT, David Gately, Kate Gompert, Hal). Yet at the same time, I've not been able to shake the novel; ever since I turned the last page (and well before Wallace's death made it inescapable) it was hovering in the back of my mind.

Even so, when I woke this morning from two successive dreams about Infinite Jest, my first thought was that I had in no way deserved them--that I knew countless people, all bigger fans and better readers of Wallace, who should have gotten to dream these dreams instead of me. I suppose the best I can do is share them.

First, I dreamed that I was standing with Pemulis and Hal looking down on the courts at Enfield Tennis Academy from above as some people below shuffled the bleachers around. Suddenly, Pemulis and Hal noticed a pattern to the arrangement of the bleachers that replicated something they'd seen in a druggy vision--and they instantly lit out at top speed to execute some large-scale plan that up to that moment they hadn't quite understood. In the context of the dream, this obviously involved some of the later, unchronicled events that are hinted at or mentioned in the novel (like the night that David Gately helps Hal dig up Himself's head); it seemed instantly to open up new avenues for understanding all the ambiguities that Wallace scattered throughout the book.

Moments after that dream faded, I dreamed that Infinite Jest was actually a video game, and that by playing it long enough and well enough, I had been awarded a secret code that would unlock a whole slate of new characters. I entered the code, and as a list of dozens of names began scrolling down the screen, I shivered in awe, which woke me.

What left me so astonished on waking was how well these dreams seemed to fit with the expansive complexities of the novel. The emergence of patterns, the hope (or sometimes dangerous delusion) that there's more information, more knowledge, more something hidden somewhere, if only one can figure out how to get at it. And it seems right for a novel so concerned with how and what we throw away (or wish to throw away)--actual garbage, damaged people, poisonous memories, crippling desires--to crop up in dreams, which so often seem to serve as a combination of Norton Disk Doctor and small intestine for our weary minds. I thrilled to the memory of them all day.

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