Thursday, August 26, 2010

Text Patterns: jest the third

Milch argues that "content tests and verifies the implicit assumptions of form." In other words, a book about a megalomaniac hunting a white whale will be written with the same fervor and obsessiveness in order to address and eliminate alternative arguments. A novel that seeks to recreate Dublin on June 16, 1904 will build the city brick by brick through the free play and history of language and literature. These strategies are not intended to frustrate readers, but stand as proof of the the initial premise.

In contrast, Alan Jacobs writes that David Foster Wallace fails to achieve this in Infinite Jest because his obsessive writing style - the endless sprawl of sentences, the doubling-back, and mining for deeper and deeper meanings - is an end in itself; it does not speak to the content of the story or the world of the characters, but to its own formation. Perhaps what people like about IJ is not the novel itself, but the force of Wallace's intelligence and the tragedy of his condition. His books are not novels, but a hedge against depression and the possibility that words are not enough.