Why I’m Drawing Every Page from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
For the past month I have begun each day by reading one new page from Infinite Jest and drawing something inspired by what I’ve read. I have 1,049 more pages before I finish the book. That sounds like an enormous challenge. It’s nearly three years after all — the length of time it would take to actually get an art degree.
Clocking in at a hair south of 400,000 words (this is as many metaphors as I can mix), Infinite Jest is no stranger to being a test of readers’ commitments: I will finish this book in a month, three months, I will read ten pages a day. I will read this book, full stop.
Still, I have never heard of anyone committing to reading the book over three whole years: one page per day. I find it nearly impossible to conceive of someone consuming less than one thousandth of something at a time. It’d be the equivalent of watching 9 seconds of Inception per day. There’s no way you’d be able to extract the slightest bit of sense out of the film at that rate.
Just as Newtonian physics goes a bit fruity at the sub-atomic level (from my high school-level understanding of it), I’m interested in how the “physics of reading” (a term Wallace liked to use, and possibly coined) starts to break down at such a ridiculously slow pace. What happens to plot, pacing and structure when each page is isolated, the next cloistered behind the wall of night? What happens to the connections between different characters and story arcs? The whole complex plotting of a text against the axis of time.
This curiosity is one of the reasons, but it’s not exactly the reason. I don’t think I really knew what the reason was for most of the first month.
I’ve always been envious of people who could draw and I’ve always wanted to learn. Taking a page from a favourite book as a daily prompt seemed like a good way to practice and — maybe — even improve a little. But that’s not quite it either. Because neither of these reasons consider the reading and the drawing as linked practices.
Reading is transformative. The word growth comes to mind. Through reading we can learn more about our world and what it means to be a fucking human being. We can learn to see the world differently, or to see through someone else’s eyes. What I’m talking about is how we change through the act of reading and what I’m most interested in, throughout Drawing on the Infinite, is charting that process of change over a significant period of time. If there’s any shred of art to what I’m doing, this is it.
So, sure. I’ll get to see whether my drawings improve. Whether my figures become any less crude, my perspective any more accurate, or my lines and forms any surer. But I’ll also get to see whether I can get any deeper into Infinite Jest’s characters’ worlds and heads. I’ll get to actually see how that affects me, and what I learn from it. How I feel.
I guess the other question is: why Infinite Jest? Because it’s a long book. A complicated book. One of my all-time absolute favourite books. Because I feel like I already know it so well: I could talk to you for hours about Wallace’s structural, philosophical and linguistic games, or the ways Derrida rears his prolix head (Spontaneous Dissemination anyone?). Because it’s painted so vividly. Because I’m probably dead wrong about how well I think I know it.
I’m 30 days in and the only thing I’m confident I’ve learned, the only question I can answer, is why I’m doing it. The good news is I’ve still got 1,049 days to figure it all out.