David Foster Wallace’s biographer, D. T. Max , says Infinite Jest is the contemporary novel that has the best chance of being read fifty years from now. Sven Birkerts, a critic who knew Wallace, says the popularity of the book amounts to ”a whole generation saying, ‘We’re kind of crazy, but we’re also really smart. And D.F.W. is our man.’”
It may be a book of global significance, but today we explore the idea that Infinite Jest is fundamentally a Boston novel, that Infinite Jest is to Boston what Ulysses is to Dublin.
Last week the writer Bill Lattanzi led us on a tour of Infinite Boston, inspired partly by Bill Beutler’s website. The tour begins in the “seat of empire,” so to speak, Harvard Square — epicenter of the ivy-clad buildings, cobblestone streets, churches, libraries, museums, the ancient glory of Boston and New England — which is to say, everything that David Foster Wallace did not write about. We are looking at the Boston traversed by addicts, the homeless, the-down-on-their-luck. We stop at the Harvard Square Homeless Center and Cambridge City Hospital, and Wallace’s apartment on the Somerville edge of Inman Square. We walk his main drag, the stretch of Prospect Street connecting Inman and Central Square. We hop on the T moving across the Charles to Brighton, where Wallace spent time after leaving McLean Hospital and where he found some essential characters and atmosphere of Infinite Jest. As Bill says, we walk through “the Boston of Wallace’s imagination.”