Turning David Foster Wallace's acclaimed novel into lasagna, eggs, and a cool outfit is better than reading it, writer Mira Gonzalez and comedian Jamie Loftus learned.
All photos by Callie Biggerstaff
Last year, I smoked weed out of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest after turning it into a pipe. Since documenting the experience in a blog post for Broadly, I've been made well aware that the world will remember me as "the girl who smoked weed out of Infinite Jest after turning it into a pipe" when I am old and dead. Am I okay with that? Not really. Have I entirely resigned to it? Yes, I have.
Being a writer known primarily for desecrating a classic work of literature can get pretty bizarre. I get a lot of emails from 20-something dudes angrily explaining to me why smoking weed out of Infinite Jest is "not journalism" and MFA students asking me how turning Infinite Jest, which specifically tackles the subject of marijuana addiction, into a bong has altered my "relationship with the work." I have no idea how to respond to either type of email. I didn't prepare an artist statement before I turned the book into a bong, and I will readily admit that I was not intending to produce a piece of serious journalism when I did it.
What I will say is this: David Foster Wallace seems fine, but I will not take time out of my only life to read a footnoted book that is 1,079 pages long. I refuse.
My immense lack of motivation to read Infinite Jest, and my subsequent desire to creatively destroy it, is perhaps only matched by comedian and performance artist, Jamie Loftus, who is currently in the midst of an ongoing project in which she eats the tome, page by page. Yes, you read that right. She is eating the entire book.
The project, which she has been documenting on Twitter, was inspired by her own experience working at a bookstore in LA. "I didn't know anything about Infinite Jest [prior to eating it], other than every chode who came into the bookstore I worked at would buy it and unhinge their jaw to scold me when I said I hadn't read it myself," she told me. "It appears to be a status symbol in the chode community."
Loftus' frustration is not necessarily with the content of the book (like me, she hasn't read it). She says she doesn't mind Wallace as an author, and has enjoyed what she has read of him. Though she qualifies that statement with a quote from the writer Mary Karr, who dated Wallace: "Everyone who reads Infinite Jest owes me a dollar." Loftus says that sentence alone makes her "laugh and feel more than anything I've ever read by David Foster Wallace." Loftus also thinks that Wallace's bandanas were a bad look. (I have to agree with her whole heartedly. I find men in bandanas to be very disturbing.)
It was rather the rabid, pseudo-intellectual (or in her words, "chode") fan base the book has developed that sparked her desire to physically consume Infinite Jest out of spite. After a long conversation with poison control, in which many employees expressed their disapproval of her plans, Loftus was able to confirm that the acid content of the pages would not permanently damage her insides, as long as she took it slow. She is one year into the venture and estimates she has eaten 25 percent of the book so far.
Though she has vowed to never read the book, Loftus says that eating Wallace's most highly regarded work has brought her closer to it, emotionally and intellectually. "Based on the few words I've caught before shoving it in my mouth, it has something to do with tennis and adult diapers!" she explained.
Inspired by her equal dedication to debasing what has been regarded as "the novel of its generation," Loftus and I met up on a sunny day in early July to brainstorm ways in which we could team up to ruin even more copies of Infinite Jest. Here is what we came up with:
Infinite Jest Lasagna
Although Loftus is no stranger to consuming strange things (In addition to Infinite Jest, she also regularly eats dog food and butt-chugs milk as part of her comedy routine), we did not eat the lasagna. Frankly, the main reason was not because there were book pages in it, but that that we cooked the noodles terribly. They were partly raw and ended up all stuck together. We had to delicately peel apart the noodles to lay them out flat on top of layers of tomato sauce and pages of Infinite Jest. Also, I don't have faith in my ability to eat pages of a book without vomiting, the way Loftus does.
Infinite Jest Eggs
During our brainstorming session we decided it would be fun to papier-mâché pages of Infinite Jest onto raw eggs. To be honest, we didn't have any idea what we were going to do with the eggs. We just sort of wanted them to exist.
In the end, we felt like it would make sense to crack the eggs on top of the lasagna. However, I significantly underestimated the strength of papier-mâché on an eggshell and significantly overestimated my own strength. It was, similar to Infinite Jest itself, a tough egg to crack.
After 15 minutes of struggling, I squeezed the egg as hard as I could and ended up exploding the yolk all over my "Legalize Four Loko" shirt. Loftus cracked the egg open on the side of the table before attempting to open it with her hands, effectively avoiding the egg explosion I endured. She is a genius, much like Wallace.
While we were having fun with the eggs, I began telling a story about how I went on a book tour with someone who drank three whole, raw eggs for breakfast every day. I mentioned that I tried raw eggs, too, and discovered they tasted bad and the feeling of a yolk sliding down my throat almost made me puke. Before I had gotten the word "puke" out, Loftus was already pouring raw egg into her own mouth. "Oh! I see why your friend likes this," she announced cheerfully. "It just tastes like eggs."
When we were finished, we walked outside and threw our lasagna creation into a public garbage can. Pieces of Infinite Jest flew away in the breeze, leaving a trail behind us. "This is the most normal thing I have ever done," Loftus exclaimed at no one in particular, as a family stared at us suspiciously.
Infinite Jest Slime
For the uninitiated, "slime" is currently all the rage on Instagram. "Slimers" are people who make their own slime, and post films of themselves poking their creations. Basic slime is made with borax and Elmers glue, but slimers will add a variety of ingredients to achieve different textures. Shaving cream, hand soap, lotion, and styrofoam are all common slime ingredients.
Slimers are always finding new ingredients to create interesting slime textures, but I have yet to see anyone add pages of Infinite Jest into their slime. I guess you could say that, like the book itself, Infinite Jest slime is also "groundbreaking."
This particular slime was very basic: a mixture of Elmers glue, water, and borax. I added food coloring to try to make it the same color as the top of the gradient on the cover of the book. While I mixed the slime and pretended to be a mad scientist, Loftus tore up pages of Infinite Jest and prepared to add them to the slime mixture.
The result was glossy and jiggly like jello that still maintained a stretchiness similar to bread dough. Added pages of the novel created a thicker consistency, allowing for a much denser, sturdier slime. Surprisingly, the ink on the pages bled very little. We were still able to read the bits of pages after we mixed them into the slime.
Infinite Jest Outfits
Turning Infinite Jest into clothing is just logical; you can call the result "Infinite Dress." Sadly, my boobs couldn't fit into the bra that Loftus covered with pages of the novel. She looked damn good in it, though.
To go along with the bra, she also made a grass skirt using page strips held together with a combination of elastic, safety pins, and staples. She told me that skirt was not very comfortable or practical—but it was stylish.
Loftus also papered over the lenses of a pair of glasses, which I wore. Despite the fact that they made me blind, I was a big fan of the glasses. They made me feel like intellectual RoboCop.
I also found the blinding aspect of the glasses very anxiety reducing. It reminded me of the way ostriches stick their heads in the sand because they think if they can't see you, then you can't see them. I felt like I wasn't responsible for my own life as long as I couldn't see it. All I could see while wearing the glasses was a slight reflection of my own eyeball and the words "depends adult diaper." I understand the appeal of novel now.