You may remember the period wherein I blogged regularly on the experience of reading Infinite Jest. While I can't honestly say it was the revelation for me that it was for many other readers -- Wallace had some habits that I think kept his fiction from being all that it could have been, particularly in terms of his moral and intellectual anxieties re: fiction as a form -- it was one of the most rich and engaging experiences I've had with a book in some time. It was consistently alive, always making decisions, taking risks, and surprising me. Its wild swerves from paragraph to paragraph became a minor obsession. Like probably a lot of people, I decided to write a book that would incorporate some of its style and form for my next novel; when I have any free time at all again, I'll put some more time in (I have, I think, about 8,000 words -- a drop in the projected bucket).
I am not however reading The Pale King, and I don't plan to do so any time soon. It's not that I have any moral compunctions. I don't care if Wallace would have rather had us read it or not, honestly: I would strip a dead man of his riches, and a dead novelist is no different. He can't use it anymore, so I feel that it's rightfully mine. I don't mind either that it isn't finished. Most writers' unfinished drafts would not be worth reading. Wallace is not most writers. Nor am I worried about the process by which the book was stitched together. All novels should be collaborations. The author is a part of a process. I don't care for purity.
The trouble is that everywhere I go right now I see commentary about The Pale King or Wallace himself, as a person. I will admit that knowledge of him as a person has never been good for me in my reading -- his ideas, about which he was perhaps too forthcoming at times, are often irritating to me personally. So I am mostly avoiding the biography, insofar as I can do that. But then the literary commentary is often quite interesting. And so I get sucked in. I have ideas and opinions about the book in spite of never having read it. I may have already assessed it, may have determined how I feel about the whole project, from a position of total ignorance about its actual text. This is not a comfortable position for me. The object of the book is becoming something for me to use. Something for me to position myself with, adjacent to, against, beneath, above, etc. It is becoming a way for me to talk about myself, as I am doing here in this post. And you see this in others, also: people tweet about having The Pale King, about their excitement for The Pale King, about how they are tired of reading about The Pale King, about how they will never read The Pale King, about how they are suspicious of the text of The Pale King. It's exhausting.
Reading is inherently social, and it derives a great deal of its richness from one's awareness of the larger community's engagement with a book. But there comes a point where I can barely even see the words on the page for all the conversations and arguments I am having with the secondary materials I've read. This is why I've mostly stopped reading reviews of films I plan to see: more and more often, I spend too much time fighting with the critics on one point while conceding another to actually perceive the film itself. I'm at this point with The Pale King, and I haven't even read a significant portion of the commentary it's already spawned. I have a feeling it's going to be years before I can read the book. But I don't mind waiting.