Sunday, June 28, 2009

Infinite Zest

Disclaimer: This is not a review. Probably a tribute.

Warning: Very long winded, meandering, totally unfunny post. Unintentional hilarity not ruled out though.


It's a book that's a thousand and seventy nine pages long, exhausting, engaging, irritating, funny, heavy, deep, casual, brilliant, non linear, madly extravagant and freakishly intelligent. But most importantly, it is genuine, sincere and does not suffer from cleveritis (David Foster Wallace's {henceforth referred to as DFW} own neologism for smart superficiality). Reading Infinite Jest is like falling in love with a difficult person - an experience that's frustrating, endearing, annoying, heart-tugging and so totally worth it.

The wide variety of topics it touches on include dysfunctional families, substance abuse, terrorism, depression, avant garde film theory, loneliness, game theory and mathematics, prodigies, pop culture, black humor and science fictional parody (among others that NF must've failed to notice). DFW was a former tennis prodigy who wrote an undergraduate thesis on Modal Logic, studied creative writing in grad school before enrolling in Harvard for a PhD in Philosophy (Mathematical Logic) only to drop out later (a later non fiction bit by him is called Everything and More: A Compact History of ∞ - apparently a highly technical piece not for the casual reader). Among those who know NF would've guessed by now that such a writer bio is sufficient for NF to go ga ga even before having read the book. But herein comes the important bit - even though it is somewhat easy (?) to write deep books which turn out to be great but are soul deadeningly boring, the truly non trivial task is to write a deep book that turns out to be great and is hugely entertaining - in fact is uproariously funny. DFW accomplishes that and more.

The word most used to describe DFW's style is maximalism - the exact opposite of minimalism - the use of multi-clause, page long (in fact sometimes 200 word long) sentences that use sesquipedalian (a NewsWagon 'in' joke; polysyllabic) jargon-laden words in the same breath as street slang, acronyms and plentiful word play [example: O.N.A.N. - Organization of North American Nations - a megastate described in the book and referred to by the abbreviation throughout. Onanism in English means masturbation.] with generous use of end notes and footnotes throughout the text (NB: this paragraph is made up of a single (multi-clause) sentence with multiple use of brackets making up for the effect of end/foot notes and pays tribute to DFW's preferred style of sentence formation - an example of maximalism in action).

In particular, the manner in which his highly erudite, bombastic linguistic calisthenics are interrupted by very lowbrow street language reminded NF of Manohar Shyam Joshi's idiosyncratic, cult book Kuru Kuru Swaahaa - another book that is great, deep and laugh-out-loud funny. Consider Wallace's description of his previous work The Broom of the System and its "covertly autobiographical" nature:

the sensitive tale of a sensitive young WASP who’s just had this midlife crisis that’s moved him from coldly cerebral analytic math to a coldly cerebral take on fiction . . . which also shifted his existential dread from a fear that he was just a 98.6°F calculating machine to a fear that he was nothing but a linguistic construct

A flip side, however, of this florid, lexically obsessed, often taxing flamboyance of style is that his one-time girlfriend gave up reading his 67 page break up letter (Caution: The Onion reports). There's irony for you, another of Wallace's themes.

The main concern for our Tarantino of fiction was to help readers “become less alone inside”. He was against the idea of smart, cold writers withholding themselves and wallowing in ironic, clever, superficial, detached cynicism. And this is what is so compelling about Infinite Jest - an immersion into storytelling that is totally committed and extremely passionate. The emphasis on the heart, more than the head is what finally won NF over. This is also evident in his praise of St Paul, Rousseau and Dostoyevsky - his favorite writers:

“what are envied and coveted here seem to me to be qualities of human beings—capacities of spirit—rather than technical abilities or special talents.”


"I’m not saying I’m able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love."

A more appropriate title of the book would've been A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - something that the book definitely is. Perhaps equally appropriately, Dave Eggers (the actual author of A Heartbreaking Work...) penned the Foreword to this book.

Nanga Fakir recommends his friends and readers of the blog to fall on their feet and mourn the passing away of this mental titan. For those who can tolerate a huge, fat, highbrow work of art - this is it - the most compelling, ultimate experience. The probability that you'll be changed by the time you end this book is high (including the possibility that it takes you years to finish the book abandoning it midway n number of times and coming out a changed person merely having been bludgeoned by Time).

For those who've been sufficiently intrigued, see the following:

Roger Federer as a religious experience

The Unfinished

The lost years and last days of David Foster Wallace


Wallace reading a passage from his book:

Let's end the post by reading a little something on assignment plagiarism from the endnotes of Infinite Jest:

...the congenital plagiarists put so much work into camouflaging their plagiarism than it would take just to write up an assignment from conceptual scratch. It usually seems like plagiarists aren't so much lazy as kind of navigationally insecure. They have trouble navigating without a detailed map's assurance that somebody has been this way before them. About this incredible painstaking care to hide and camouflage the plagiarism - whether it's dishonesty or a kind of kleptomaniacal thrill-seeking or what - Hal hasn't developed much of any sort of take.

<*Sigh*> So true!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Road (Part Four): Blues, Booze, Schmooze, Snooze

Being in Chicago and missing out on Blues is like being in Bihar and not getting kidnapped. From June 12-14th was the '09 Chicago Blues Festival. It was fun and it was free. And yes before I forget to mention, they allowed Nanga Fakir in!

Those who know him well, see through his carefully cultivated, fake, sophisticated exterior and smile (perhaps fondly?) at the country bumpkin that NF essentially is. They see a little kid from a sleepy B grade township who takes himself a bit too seriously for his own good (and has no sense of humour to boot) with fingers rammed deep in his nostrils observing carnivals, freak shows and big ass concerts with practised nonchalance. Don't let his noir-ish-Humphrey Bogartsy-sick-of-the-same-old-thing world weary attitude fool you though. The kid inside isn't dead yet. Sometimes he makes a sort of guest appearance. And each time this happens, he's snubbed hard and sternly told to go back to his room to study for the upcoming exams. Every now and then however, he sneaks out for an ice cream or something and has a blast. The Blues Festival is a case in point.

Grant Park overflowed with freeloaders and blues aficionados of all shapes and sizes. Just being in their midst and glancing at people whose names were stuffs of legends in wannabe lit circles back there in S'kal was reason enough for NF to wear a smug grin for the next few weeks and look down upon other normal people with the kind of patient disdain that benevolent Kung-fu masters reserve for their apprentices.

Usually NF is quiet, introspective, silent and keeps-to-himself kind of a guy. But then sometimes he gets pleased with himself for no apparent reason and if presented with a suitable opportunity, jumps on the beer-is-good-for-health bandwagon. And then those unfortunate enough to be around, witness what NF's roommate (henceforth referred to as Mota) refers to as "awakening of the inner mausi" phenomenon. There is an explosion of garrulousness and subsequent metamorphosis of NF into a pain-in-the-ass chatterbox.

And so it was that NF met AB (a closet smoker for 37 years), CD (a black dude who somehow reminded NF of Curtis Loew and kept muttering every few minutes or so "...the music man...the music" with an incredibly serious air that probably had more to do with ganja than with any serious guitar work), EF (a run-of-the-mill Obamaniac - they're so many of them!) among others.

He still thinks however, that Rudy Wallang and his Shillong based blues band Soulmate would've kicked some serious ass and are better than most of (nay, make that all) the local blues bands in the festival (which were a jarring note in an otherwise pleasant symphony). (For the uninitiated, Rudy Wallang's "Not Those Funking Blues Again" is the best Blues instrumental song NF's listened to...Okay, maybe not the best, but you should get the picture now.)

Other memorable encounters include the one with Lisa [the fat Blues singer in Bill's bar who so floored NF with her cover of Sinner's Prayer (Ray Charles original?) that he walked up to her (slightly tipsy one might add) and shamelessly announced that this was the best cover of the song he's heard {seriously, how many covers of the song had he heard?} and that she's better than many of those who performed at the Blues Festival a couple of days earlier. I think NF saw a slight amusement in her eyes as she smiled and took the compliment graciously.] and with the Unknown Philologist who was an expert in Indian languages and thought that Tams were a chauvinistic group. As someone with a good many close Tam friends, NF fought with the guy tooth and nail so much so that the Philologist asked "You don't seem to be a Tam. Or are you?"

The previous week has been spent listening to John Lee Hooker, Susan Tedeschi, Etta James, Duane Allman, Buddy Guy, Clapton and other serious badass musicians.

<*Wonders if all this Blues should make this post entitled to be labeled under 'Blues'*>
<*Nah, not really*>


The End

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Road (Part Three)

Good books cost money. Which people who have time don't have.

Good books cost time. Which people who have money don't have.

Nanga Fakir falls into the first category. That is why he has to resort to extreme measures in order to recover money invested in good books. Time - that's something he has in plenty.

Reading books in well mannered reading establishments on couches that ingest you partially, dragging you into quicksands of serious, hardcore comfort is Nanga Fakir's idea of bliss. Every time he walked the isles, the sexual tension in the atmosphere became unbearable and he felt that his balls would explode. And so NF prepared himself for some serious reading spread over the course of a week or two and finished the following:

1) 100% - Paul Pope
2) Ghost World - Daniel Clowes
3)-9) Sin City - Frank Miller
10) I Saw You - Edited by Julia Wertz
11) The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

Sin City has got to be the most awesome comic book ever. And yes, this includes giants like Watchmen and V for Vendetta. The neo-noir style, the exaggerated contrasts of black and white, the minimal, pithy text, the multiple POV manner of story telling and the absolutely killer story lines make it the most marvelous comic book NF has read. (In particular, That Yellow Bastard is hard to beat as the best comic ever.)

Somnath, you were so damn right.

I Saw You is an anthology of various strips drawn by many comic book writers with the common theme of missed connections - stories inspired from real life encounters between people who thought they caught brief glimpses of their true loves.

Overall, it was a nice, routinely good read. As again, Julia's strips were among the best. Example:

Some more can be seen here.

The White Tiger was a really fast, terrific read. Adiga's witty, smart, sometimes angst ridden sense of humour really comes out well and nothing seems forced or contrived. And yes, there is seriousness in the book too. Loads of it.


Another part and then he thinks he'll let go.