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Infinite Jest

Updated on March 26, 2016

David Foster Wallace

Living through depression, Wallace sometimes found it difficult to write.
Living through depression, Wallace sometimes found it difficult to write.

Creating a Masterpiece

David Foster Wallace was one of the greatest writers and philosophers of the 21st century. He was tormented by deep depression throughout most of his life, spiraling towards his suicide at the age of forty-six.

Wallace’s masterpiece, Infinite Jest, took some time to create. He began in 1986 but early attempts to create the work fizzled out and the project was shelved for a number of years. He gave the work a more serious attempt in 1991 and the first draft was completed in 1992. The original draft of the book was over 1600 pages long. An associate of Wallace’s, Steven Moore was one of only three people to see the first draft, stating that it was a mess. He recalls that there were, “numerous handwritten corrections/additions on most pages, and paginated in a nesting pattern (e.g., p. 22 is followed by 22A-J before resuming with p. 23, which is followed by 23A-D, etc).”

After working through the mess and being convinced by his editor to cut out large sections, the final product was published in 1996. It is breathtaking. Still ringing in at just over 1100 pages (577,608 words), it is a lengthy read. That is more than five times the length of the average book. Wallace demonstrates a command of the English language, using 20,584 unique words (according to Ryan Compton’s, Infinite Jest by the Numbers). There are also 388 endnotes – that’s right, endnotes – in this work of fiction! And believe me, without the endnotes, understanding this book would be impossible.

A Work of Art is Born

Cover for Infinite Jest
Cover for Infinite Jest

About Infinite Jest

The book, which is as complex as it is long, deals with many themes that include addiction, recovery, entertainment, and advertising. To boil this work down to a few measly words, however, is unfair. There are so many fantastic elements that weave together in this novel that it’s hard to regard it as anything but magnificent. Infinite Jest has even been listed in Time’s 100 best books written in the English language since 1923. Of the books that I have read on the list, this one stands out.

My favorite part of Infinite Jest, the one that gets repeated the most by fans, is the use of “Subsidized Time”. In the novel, years are subsidized by corporations so that additional revenue can be generated. Examples include, “Year of the Whopper”, “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment”, and my favorite, “Year of Glad”. Hal’s grandfather in the novel played the glad man, which is delightfully hilarious.

I read this book nearly fifteen years ago and it sticks with me. Wallace provides great insights into the human mind with lines like, “Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.” It’s no wonder why this work will be regarded as one of the greats for a long, long time. As a writer, it’s from work like this that I draw inspiration.

Dylan Callens is a freelance correspondent and the author of “Operation Cosmic Teapot”, available at Amazon: Check out more of his work at


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