Infinite Jest – a bit too infinite

Infinite JestInfinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I’m quitting this in the middle of the endless, mindboggling description of the silly, pointless Eschaton game the tennis students play. Honestly, there could be a good novel in here somwhere, but this just takes far too long, and yes I guessed long ago who’s the target of the inifite jest, it’s the poor reader (there’s no wise-cracking here, I think it really is the point of the novel). Not sure I’m giving this any more time. As they say in Hollywood “if nothing has happened by the end of the first reel, nothing will”. I’m one-third through, and nothing has happened. Nothing will.

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What can we learn from Argentina?

That’s the question in this week’s The Economist: What went wrong with Argentina, a hundred years ago one of the world’s richest countries, today an economic basket case. Argentina suffered no big catastrophes or experiments with extremism, it just took a gradual, ever so gradual, nose dive due to a bad political culture and economic management. Here’s from the leader:

Why dwell on a single national tragedy? When people consider the worst that could happen to their country, they think of totalitarianism. Given communism’s failure, that fate no longer seems likely. If Indonesia were to boil over, its citizens would hardly turn to North Korea as a model; the governments in Madrid or Athens are not citing Lenin as the answer to their euro travails. The real danger is inadvertently becoming the Argentina of the 21st century. Slipping casually into steady decline would not be hard. Extremism is not a necessary ingredient, at least not much of it: weak institutions, nativist politicians, lazy dependence on a few assets and a persistent refusal to confront reality will do the trick.

Talking Heads: “Remain in Light”

My friend Torben recommended me this: Talking Heads – Remain in Light. It’s really good.

I’ve listened a lot to Talking Heads, but only rarely to full albums. Of course I knew the single “Once In A Lifetime” (which is awesome), but there’s a lot of good stuff on this album, produced by Brian Eno – who else? – who helped so many stars, but never became one himself. I think his importance will only grow over time (for example, check out the ambient sonics on “Seen and Not Seen” on Remain and compare with with the textures on U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire“).

Can’t say I’ve listened to it enough yet. Will do, and luckily it is also on the list of 1001albums I’m going through to expand my horizon (ever expanding, never ending, quite exhausting).

Surprisingly, it took a lot of work finding the video for “Once In A Lifetime”, but I finally found a bad quality version on Dailymotion. It made a big impression on me when I saw it first, a long, long time ago. David Byrne at his finest, both as a songwriter and performer. Actually I think you can see an bespectacled echo of him in Familjen’s “Det Snurrar I Min Skalle“, another tune about spiritual dislocation.

Byrne in a suit

How to find your calling – Macau edition

From The Economist’s obituary of Lancelote Miguel Rodrigues, priest of Macau’s refugees:

When he began he was not an ordained priest, just a young man, originally from Malacca, who had spent 13 years in St Joseph’s seminary furtively smoking, pining for girls and suffering Jesuit discipline. He wanted to give it up, but working with the Shanghai refugees changed his mind. These people, once wealthy but now with nothing, were mostly housed in the Canidrome, a decaying greyhound-racing stadium, sometimes in the dogs’ own kennels. Comforting them convinced Lancelote that if he was to be sufficiently loving and useful, he should be a priest. And so a priest he became.

The masterpiece that killed George Orwell

George Orwell. Photograph: Public Domain

The Guardian writes about Orwell writing “1984”:

On Jura he would be liberated from these distractions but the promise of creative freedom on an island in the Hebrides came with its own price. Years before, in the essay “Why I Write”, he had described the struggle to complete a book: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist or [sic] understand. For all one knows that demon is the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s personality.” Then that famous Orwellian coda. “Good prose is like a window pane.”