Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is Infinite Jest science fiction?

I'm enjoying the science fiction overtones so far in Infinite Jest (I'm on p. 36, slightly behind the Infinite Summer schedule).

References to teleputers, entertainment cartridges, the InterLace Subscription Pulse Matrix, the "Texaco Oil Company-sponsored opera" nature of entertainment, entertainment cartridges themselves (video cassette tapes?), spontaneous pulses (on-demand tv?), and InterLace TelEntertainment (essentially Blockbuster and Directv and Comcast and maybe all-other-companies-in-one), all feel reminiscent of Asimov's predictive short stories. Unlike Asimov though, it seems DFW had no intention of actually describing what a near future world could be like for any other reason than comic effect. So maybe in that respect he's more like Philip K. Dick.

I'm still unsure (again, I'm on p. 36) if DFW is trying to express something truly dystopian in the manner that PKD would. Passages in Infinite Jest concerning a certain medical attaché's search for entertainment which involved a "Mr. Bouncety-Bounce" reminded me of PKD's Buster Friendly character in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- a ubiquitous character who's the ultimate product of a single-corporate-entertainment-source world.

PKD is one of my absolute favorites, and even if his prose seems a polar opposite to DFW's prescriptive grammar, I would love to hear the conversation those two would be having right now.

I'm sure I'll revisit this subject frequently during the summer.


Crystal said...

Ooh, I'm also a big Philip K. Dick fan. Just wait until you reach the part in Infinite Jest about the fall of videophony!

Found your blog through the Infinite Summer project, by the way. I'm reading along as well. :)

WilliamKH said...

Thx Crystal. This is my first time reading IJ, so careful w/ the spoilers!

thomas tolleson said...

That image from Blade Runner made me happy.

Melissa Dominic said...

i'll be honest, i was really interested in reading IJ because someone said it had a lot of sci-fi tones in it. which pleased me. i love a huge, literary novel with my sort of interest jammed in here and there.

paris said...

I really like your take on this, and you got me intrigued to develop a post on this over at my blog: "Why IJ Doesn't Count as Science-Fiction" at

I hope you don't mind but I've also posted you as a link from the blog!

Joe Lahsin said...

I'm on page 27 of Inf Jest and googled images of a teleputer to find out what it was. Well, the joke's on me I guess. Glad to find your blog though.