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Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster…

Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

by Greg Carlisle

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994180,639 (3.83)1 / 11



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Great companion to "Infinite Jest" -- really helps one get a handle on the scope, themes and layout of the book. Of course, given that DFW hanged himself almost exactly a week ago today, I'm feeling a little subdued/depressed on all matters DFW.

Infinite Jest, which I read last year, is for me one of those "life-changing" books. Elegant Complexity helps elucidate the book's goings-on, most of which registered for me on an emotional level as opposed to intellectual-. IJ is about a tennis academy, drug-rehab house, multi-international terrorist cabal known as the "A.F.R." (an acronym of the French words for "Wheelchair Assassins"), the mass corporate subsidization of western-calender time (following the collapse of network television), avant-garde film theory, societal waste disposal, and hyper-sized, feral babies who roam certain parts of this land, to name its (i.e., IJ's) central themes.

More importantly, IJ is hauntingly human. That's really the service Elegant Complexity performs best, in giving the reader a guide to the utterly astounding interdependencies in the story.

"Infinite Jest" is divided into "chapters marked by 28 centered, shadowed circles [they appear to be phases of the moon] that appear in the main text of the novel (pp. 3-981). Another centered, shadowed circle is placed before the notes and errata (pp. 983-1079).....Within each chapter of the novel, a triple line-space designates division of the text into "subchapters" or "sections," of which there are 192, frequently introduced by a heading." ("Elegant Complexity," pg 17)

To make matters more confusing, "Infinite Jest," which was published in 1996, purports to take place in a future where time isn't kept numerically but is instead "sponsored" by a corporation that pays to have its name serve as the marker for that year. Thus, Chapter One opens in "Year of Glad" (yes, that "Glad" corp, the "flaccid receptacle" company whose shill, Tom Bosley, was the same actor who Dad on "Happy Days" [Get it? Glad = Happy Days? Who said corporate ad people don't have a sense of humor?]), but most of the novel's action takes place in November of "Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment."

There is also Year of the Whopper (2002), Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar (2004), Year of the Perdue Wonderchicken (2005), and I could go on but I won't.

Let me just say that "Elegant Complexity" did a fine job of helping this reader organize the hilarious and hilariously sad scenes of "Infinite Jest," and now that of its author, too (I'm very sad to report), into something like a story, with a beginning, a middle and (now) an end. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
IJ just about did me in. I had so much trouble with the chronology, I gave up several times. (Gee, what a surprise; I bet I'm the first reader ever, to have had his problem).

Greg Carlisle's book is mostly a dry, emotionless re-hashing of some key passages (He reminds us a couple times that his guide is, LOL, "spoiler free"), followed by some very useful but very terse, reminders of character/plot/theme.

The real value of this guide, is its structure. Mr. Carlisle has painstakingly broken down DFW's book into actual chapters AND sub-chapters. At the end are about a dozen of pages of chronologies, character relationships, institutional staffing lists, literary criticism references. These are alone worth the purchase of this book.

My anterior singulate cortex will be forever grateful to Greg Carlisle. ( )
2 vote Sandydog1 | Jul 6, 2013 |
I was disappointed in this book. The disappointment was in how it was positioned more than its content.

It was self-positioned as "the first critical work to provide detailed and thorough commentary on...Infinite Jest." By that statement, I thought this was a work that — read after I finished Infinite Jest — would provide, well, a study. I thought it would be something that discussed and, perhaps, explained a lot of what I had just read.

Not so much. It's neither a study nor much of a commentary, in my opinion.

What this really is is a guide to be read simultaneously with Infinite Jest. It's primarily a note-taking service that keeps track of the characters for you, calls your attention to thematic references you may have missed (though most of them hit you over the head so soundly that you didn't miss them), and provides a lifeline in terms of the book's twisted chronology.

It's seems rather good at this. If you were to alternate reading a chapter of Infinite Jest with one of Elegant Complexity, I think your brain will hurt less. It's even nicely structured so that each chapter is divided two sections: one devoted purely to documentation and one that notes themes and educates you on external references. By skipping the latter, you could avoid any hint of outside information...although Carlisle is very careful not to spoil things anyway.

However, calling the latter commentary is stretching the definition of that word a bit, in my opinion. A brief paragraph to say, "Note that we've got more of the color blue theme in XXX" or "Note the similarity to Hamlet here" isn't really commentary so much as attention-getting and educating. There's no interpretation.

Only at the end is there some real discussion about What Happened and What It All Meant...Maybe. And this was relatively brief.

So, for me, it wasn't very satisfying. I can see how this would be a recommended read for concurrent reading but is not recommended for retrospective reading. Change the blurb and advertising and I'd rate this higher. ( )
1 vote TadAD | Mar 21, 2013 |
TBD ( )
  Montague | Dec 6, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0976146533, Paperback)

Elegant Complexity is the first critical work to provide detailed and thorough commentary on each of the 192 sections of David Foster Wallace's masterful Infinite Jest. No other commentary on Infinite Jest recognizes that Wallace clearly divided the book into 28 chapters that are thematically unified. A chronology at the end of the study reorders each section of the novel into a sequential timeline that orients the reader and that could be used to support a chronological reading of the novel. Other helpful reference materials include a thematic outline, more chronologies, a map of one the novel's settings, lists of characters grouped by association, and an indexed list of references. Elegant Complexity orients the reader at the beginning of each section and keeps commentary separate for those readers who only want orientation. The researcher looking for specific characters or themes is provided a key at the beginning of each commentary. Carlisle explains the novel's complex plot threads (and discrepancies) with expert insight and clear commentary. The book is 99% spoiler-free for first-time readers of Infinite Jest.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:46 -0400)

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