A Joke that Goes for 800+ pages

I am currently reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace,  and it is really impacting my life. I won’t say it’s changing my life, partially because that’s cliche, and partly because it’s not true. Rather, its confirming my life; supporting it, and making me laugh at it.

I have so many things I would like to write about this book, but I’ll start with my most profound.

Here’s an analogy. We have the Guinness book of world records, and in it are feats like people who rapped for 24 hours straight, or made 3000 free throws in a row, or whatever.

Infinite Jest, is nearly what it purports to be — a joke of infinite length, and the artistry behind this book in that respect is totally uplifting to me, especially since I think humor has a deep relationship to living a good life.

Let  me try to get across what I mean, which is that not only are their jokes writ small in the book that make me laugh out loud, but that each joke is an entry into another punchline and another larger joke, which in turn can be transmuted, molded and controverted to form a new punchline or a new premise from which to draw new jokes and realizations. In fact, the book could be understood as a single, complex, nearly infinite, joke expanding itself in fractal form, always splitting and rippling with other humorous bits. The idea that something like this could come from the brain of one person is mind-boggling.

When I’m done with this book, I will expect that my mind will have been given access to a single, enormous joke. In guinness, terms, the world’s LARGEST joke.

The joke of course, and this is cliche, but I hope to expand on it at another time, is life itself. The joke is that we are alive and given certain faculties that we find perverted and stunted by our attempt to use it. To coin a phrase that I think has not been really used before: humankind is the self-defeating animal, and in using our talents and celebrating them, we inevitably create new problems and sorrows for ourselves.


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