DFW seems in some ways, at least, to have failed. “Drinion is happy. Ability to pay attention. It turns out that bliss–a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious–lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom.” He had to put this into a work of fiction. There’s nowhere else to put it. And I mean that as literally and blandly as one can mean it. It is a fiction.
I would like to suggest that the reviews we have looked at together – and others – have been much too strongly influenced by Pietsch’s little “Notes and Asides” section at the end of the book. (Thanks, Wendel, for the warning.) DFW himself says the book is about boredom and paying attention and the happiness that gets achieved through really doing so! Sure, but that’s not the work that he’s written – and I don’t mean the novel assembled by Pietsch, I mean the individual pieces, the little parts that we have here all assembled together into a seeming whole. None of these pieces, nor their collection, nor any conceivable conjunction of them, really speaks to this simplistic vision.
“1. Paying attention, boredom, ADD, Machines vs. people at performing mindless jobs.
2. Being individual vs. being part of larger things–paying taxes, being “long [CORRECTION-lone] gun” in IRS vs. team player. […] It’s the ability to be immersed.”
What is? What is the ability to be immersed, the key to happiness? No wonder these reviewers are tempted to psychologize this novel. To posit some kind of depression-related sense of failure to finish this work. But that isn’t right, either, even if it’s true. Even if it was true for a moment in time. He’s not talking about meditation, he’s talking about focusing in on the Stat textbook you’re reading and taking careful notes without shifting your body a lot or breaking to sharpen your pencil and stare off into space. This is not happiness. DFW seems, in the notes, to want to posit these people he can’t imagine really existing. He wants Drinion to be a human rather than a robot. Drinion is in some ways the ideal Socratic interlocutor, too. But this does not a happy human make. This whole notion that Drinion is so close to being a machine in the ways his mind operates that he is like the ideal opponent for a machine at doing mindless tasks — what is the point of dramatizing this, or wanting to? We know that machines are better at mindless tasks when well designed. DFW actually wrote that, “Machines [capital M] vs. people at performing mindless jobs” some time around 2005-2008. Why?
I am not sure that these notes should be here, but nor am I necessarily upset to have read them. I’d prefer Pietsch to have included them any other way than this. To have put them on a website. To have made a note of them for people going to UT. I think he was actually quite wrong to include them here, and must’ve done so partly out of a sense of not feeling comfortable taking as much ownership of the material leaving them out might’ve indicated. “Midwest meditation semifinals.” What a terrible idea.
Imagine all the bad ideas that had to be sacrificed for Infinite Jest. Would Pietsch have us look at those, too? “The ultimate point” he writes “is the question whether humans or machines can do exams better, can maximize efficiency in spotting which returns might need auditing and will produce revenue.” If this is drama, it is because the task is not mindless. If it is mindless, there is no reason to root for the humans but out of an idiot fear of impotence. “Realism, monotony.” What he meant by realism I can only assume is a little different than what I did, a few weeks ago.
In the notes DFW asks himself whether Sylvanshine and Reynolds are, in a parenthetical: “lovers? roomies?” In the text as we have it he writes, “They weren’t homosexual; they just lived together and both worked closely with Dr. Lehrl at Systems” (7). Which I wish more: for Pietsch to have left these notes out, or for DFW to have finished the damn thing. That line had bugged me when I first read it. I didn’t know why. I never needed to. Now I do.