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It’s the question the late David Foster Wallace puts before every reader of his novel Infinite Jest, the Shakespearean book title that doubles as the name of a movie within the encyclopedic tale.
In the story, the movie Infinite Jest so captivates hearts and eyes that no other entertainment can compete — the McGuffin of the novel, the plot-trigger for bigger themes to center on. “A lot of the book is about an art film director who comes up with a film that’s so entertaining that anyone who watches it never wants to do anything else,” said Wallace in an interview. “Then the interesting question becomes: If such a thing exists, do you avail yourself of it or not?”
Novel - US - Government - Movie - Consequences
In the novel, even the U.S. government does its best to investigate the addictive movie and its consequences. Body strapped to chair, electrodes stuck to temple, a lab mouse of a man watches the movie, narrating to researchers in lab coats the opening scene, that is, “before the subject’s mental and spiritual energies abruptly decline to a point where even near-lethal voltages through the electrodes couldn’t divert his attention from the Entertainment.”
Having seen the film, and wanting nothing more than to watch it repeatedly, the “victims” are consigned to psychiatric wards. “The persons’ lives’ meanings had collapsed to such a narrow focus that no other activity or connection could hold their attention. Possessed of roughly the mental/spiritual energies of a moth.”
If a movie were fatally good and lethally entertaining, would you see it?
In Wallace’s 1996 interview with Judith Strasser on Wisconsin Public Radio, he developed his personal anxieties over our amusement culture. The book is “a kind of parodic exaggeration of people’s relationship to entertainment now,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s all that different.”
He was sounding an alarm.
In the novel, U.S....
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