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Dale Peck on Infinte Jest

"What makes the book’s success even more noteworthy [than it's size, popularity, critical success, etc.] is that it is, in a word, terrible. Other words I might use include bloated, boring, gratuitous, and — perhaps especially — uncontrolled. I would, in fact, go so far as to say that Infinite Jest is one of the very few novels for which the phrase "not worth the paper it’s printed on" has real meaning in at least an ecological sense; but to resort to such hyperbole would be to fall into the rut that characterizes many reviews of this novel. It seemed to me as I read through Infinite Jest’s press jacket that most of these reviewers didn’t merely want to like the novel, they wanted to write like it. I think, if I’m not mistaken, that the psychological term for this condition is mass hysteria.

As the preceding paragraph should make clear, I found Infinite Jest immensely unsatisfactory, which is a polite way of saying that I hated it."


Yes, but tell us what you really think Dale.

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15 Responses to “Dale Peck on Infinte Jest”

  1. Judith Fitzgerald Says:

    Your kindness never ceases to impress me, Nigel; the quote’s riddled and riven with errors; small wonder its maker didn’t get IJ; still, if you think this is offensive (and, I may be unfairly inflicting a state of blind on you), you will be surprised, I think, to learn there exists, always, an egregious low below low, one so below low, I had to swallow Gravol after first reading a wee excerpt from it on another ‘site.  I know, McLuhan said, Your enemies are your best promo-peeps and, yep, I’m aware of the irony implicit in the very fact I’m commenting on this at all; but, please, fasten your seat-bolts:

  2. Michael Dobson Says:

  3. Judith Fitzgerald Says:

    Heh, for the late-night caffeine-wired, a hit, a smash, an in-your-face inspired pied-sniper-viper retired.  Yum!  Yay!  A-Okay, eh?

  4. Tony Power Says:

    "The work of art is a pyramid which stands in the desert, uselessly;  jackals piss at the base of it…"  –  Flaubert by way of Julian Barnes

  5. Nigel Beale Says:

    Flaubert’s Parrot?

  6. Tony Power Says:

    Yup.  Completes as "… and bourgeois clamber to the top of it" – but Peck our preeminent lit’ry jackal – and provocative of you to revive his DFW sneer!  Speaking ill of the dead at the time of their death generally held to reflect badly on the ill-speaker, no? 

  7. Nigel Beale Says:

    Clearly an unkarmic move…

    I quote Peck here however because I suspect he is correct about DFW, as he is about many of the books he critiques. Problem is he lacks all sense of decorum. Later on in this same review he gets really vulgar and insulting…pity really, because, as I say, I think his writing, when it sticks to impersonal, disinterested exegesis, is insightful and clever.

  8. Tony Power Says:

    hmm.. but without reading DFW yourself you resuscitate The Hatchet Man on a ‘suspicion’ and sick him on IJ a couple weeks after the author’s  sad and premature death?  To what purpose? 

  9. Nigel Beale Says:

    Well, as much as anything to spur interest in DFW; prompt people to read him and form their own judgments. Just this evening I picked up a collection of his stories: Oblivion -  on sale right now at Chapters -  plan to given them a good read shortly.

    Do you have any thoughts on the man’s writing?

  10. Tony Power Says:

    Yes but there are ways and there are ways. Peck’s poison pen is a provocative one you must admit. Love or hate his writing, DFW died just two weeks ago in the most pitiable circumstances – see – and re-launching a Peck-bomb is questionable and ‘inappropriate’ (sorry – hate that word) IMHO.
    I have few cogent thoughts. There’s no doubt of his talent and brilliance but readability I dunno. Broom of System I found in a remainder place in ’88 and browsed it without knowing anything about it and could see it was the debut book of a brilliant young writer and am pleased to say bought a hardcover copy which I still have and haven’t read, having read Pynchon when young. Curious Hair I read most of when it came out and can remember little about except that it was funny, smart, imaginative and original and I realized I was reading an exceptionally talented and brilliant young writer. Infinite Jest ultimately defeated me, probably because I was trying to read it at a time when I had four kids between 6 and 18 – and also am less patient with maximalist novels than I used to be – but I made it to p. 600 or so and realized I was reading something pretty special – again it was funny, brilliant, at times boring at others wildly entertaining . Oblivion I couldn’t get traction on, will maybe try again. Walter Kirn reviewed it couple months back in NYTBR – a negative review but one that IMHO would been better choice than Peck to get the discussion going: “the ostentatiously elongated, curiously bureaucratic, stubbornly over-determined prose style that is either – depending on what you think about brevity being the soul of wit – the coolest thing going in high-quality lit these days or profoundly damning evidence that American fiction is almost bankrupt and, like a desperate central government, is printing up stacks of impressively engraved, stupendously high-denomination bank notes in a bid to delay for a while its utter collapse.”

  11. Nigel Beale Says:

    Wasn’t exactly looking for equivocal…

  12. ed Says:

    The problem with Dale Peck’s "reviews" is this: he lacks the acumen and the decency to offer specific examples from the text.  He opts for extraordinary generalizations and lazy modifiers in lieu of presenting us with some idea about the book or offering us hard syntax about what the book is.  He does, I confess, have a certain theatrical quality. But without the decency of even a casual exegesis, his reviewing comes across as amateurish.  To simply declare a book "terrible" without offering a point of view founded on specifics is indeed terrible.  It is no more intelligent than a frat boy throwing an empty beer can at the head of a fresh pledge.  Now that Dale Peck is earning large sums of money writing disposable commercial fiction, I suspect he has finally found his niche.

  13. ed Says:

    Sweet Jesus, Judith.  Were those amateurish items you linked to actually published?

  14. Pietro Says:

    I liked the review. And I’m sorry the college kiddies didn’t like it. That book is bloated. Someday soon (I hope) grieving over the death of Wallace will run its course and we can get back to seeing Infinite Jest for what it really is instead of using it as a stepping stone to laud the author. The best you can say for Wallace is he turned his mental illness into a literary aesthetic.

  15. Nigel Beale Says:

    In absolute agreement.

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