David Foster Wallace contemplates infinity

I admired some of the stories in David Foster Wallace’s Girl with Curious Hair, but while I find Wallace’s work clever his tone is generally too detached and mean-spirited for my tastes. Also, legalese and intentionally difficult language didn’t do it for me in law school, so why would I want to encounter that kind of thing in fiction? (Let the hate mail commence.)

I started Infinite Jest, but lost patience with it about fifty pages in. I gave my copy away.

Many friends and writers I admire are DFW disciples, though, and will be thrilled to learn of a recent review of Everything and More: A Compact History of [Infinity]. The reviewer says the book “chronicles the mathematical concept of infinity, from the ancient Greeks to Georg Cantor, the 19th-century German mathematician who blew the subject wide open by showing not only that infinity exists but that there are an infinite number of infinites.”

Stephany Aulenback told me yesterday that Conjunctions has published an excerpt from Everything and More. It begins:

The cases of great mathematicians with mental illness have enormous resonance for modern pop writers and filmmakers. This has to do mostly with the writers’/directors’ own prejudices and receptivities, which in turn are functions of what you could call our era’s particular archetypal template. It goes without saying that these templates change over time. The Mentally Ill Mathematician seems now in some ways to be what the Knight Errant, Mortified Saint, Tortured Artist, and Mad Scientist have been for other eras: sort of our Prometheus, the one who goes to forbidden places and returns with gifts we all can use but he alone pays for.

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