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Reading Infinite Jest Again: David Foster Wallace on Not Caring What People Think

I am reading Infinite Jest again. I can’t seem to stay away from it, despite its 1000+ pages and profound sadness.

I may turn this page into a David Foster Wallace quotes pages, but today I really just want to share one thing I’ve picked out of the book. It may be my favorite thing that DFW ever wrote.

You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do

I love that.

I’d be surprised if the sentence always made Wallace feel better. Everything I’ve read about him suggest that he truly did care what people thought about him, but I can still believe that he believed it was true.

The age of social media makes it easy for me to think that everyone spends their day doing nothing but wondering what I’m up to/thinking/eating/writing/reading.

Of course it’s not true. If someone truly spends all their time thinking about you, there’s a good chance they’re peering in your window right now, unbeknownst to you, savoring some unholy fantasy. Don’t turn around!

I hope your Tuesday is going well. I’m already annoyed by  mine.




Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Spencer February 21, 2012, 10:15 am

    That is a good quote. And I think it’s true. And I can also see how it wouldn’t necessarily be comforting to think about.

    It surprises me how self-centered some people’s lives are. I know we are all, by necessity, the central figure in our own stories and we see the world from our own personal perspective. But some people act like they are the only being in the universe, the rest of us just anonymous extras in the movie that is their life.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 21, 2012, 10:35 am

      It can feel good for me to know that I’m on someone’s mind at times. I hope that I don’t need that to feel validated, but I certainly do like it sometimes.

      • Spencer February 21, 2012, 12:30 pm

        Oh, it absolutely feels good. I hope to always be on someone’s mind. I don’t think it’s a question of validation necessarily; not in a negative sense, anyway. It just feels good to be thought of and appreciated.

  • Simon February 22, 2012, 4:42 am

    My favourite quote from Infinite Jest – the one that hit me like a freight train – is this conversation between Lyle and LaMont Chu:

    “The first photograph, the first magazine, the gratified surge, the seeing themselves as others see them, the hagiography of image, perhaps. Perhaps the first time: enjoyment. After that, do you trust me, trust me: they do not feel what you burn for… After the first photograph has been in a magazine, the famous men do not enjoy their photographs in magazines so much as they fear that their photographs will cease to appear in magazines. They are trapped, just as you are… LaMont, the world is very old. You have been snared by something untrue. You are deluded. But this is good news. You have been snared by the delusion that envy has a reciprocal. You assume that there is a flip-side to your painful envy of Michael Chang: namely Michael Chang’s enjoyable feeling of being-envied-by-LaMont-Chu. No such animal.’ ‘Animal?’ ‘You burn with hunger for food that does not exist.’ “

    • Spencer February 22, 2012, 8:50 am

      Dang! I need to read this book. But I’m also scared about what I will uncover. I don’t know if I’m ready for these thoughts.

  • SusanGarvey February 22, 2012, 10:48 am

    Josh: I hope your day is going better… Believe it or not, I started with Infinite Jest as my first DFW read and absolutely devoured it. Your quote today gave me a pang of sorrow only because of knowing how DFW suffered from depression and of course how he ultimately ended up. That need for validation and the fear of being judged constantly is a terrible mental trap and very hard to set aside, even when you say you don’t care or know that you shouldn’t care. Knowing that intellectually and really KNOWING that, I’ve found is very hard to integrate.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 22, 2012, 11:06 am

      Now that I know how he suffered, it’s hard for me to read his work and not project that onto every single page, or read it for clues as to what could have saved him, or what doomed him. Even the funny stuff in his work is sad to me now; it’s hard for me not to see it as a defense mechanism against what was consuming him.

      • SusanGarvey February 22, 2012, 2:14 pm

        I know what you mean. When I read Infinite Jest, it was so apparent to me that he suffered from depression at least sometime in his life. (I didn’t know much about him at the time I first read it.) As a person who has been there, when I read his descriptions of anything relating to depression and sadness, they ring so true. His short story “Good Old Neon” in Oblivion, deals very much with your subject today, too. About creating the outward persona as a hedge, buffer or defense against what people will think of you. Very powerful stuff.

  • Eric Hill February 24, 2012, 9:10 am

    I’m post crazy today.
    Was interested in DFW but could only wade about 75 pages into Infinite Jest before I put it down for a rest.
    The theme of Grey’s Anatomy last night (for which I am embarrassed to say I watch on occasion) was the same theme as your post. Thinking about how others think of you and seeing things that may just be in your own mind. Anyway, that is usually a depressing show that gets me in a DFW state of mind. I feel the same way about Hemingway…it’s hard to read his books and prose without thinking about his suicide.