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Filtering by Tag: Infinite Jest

Celebrating Patterns

Jayne English

21 Patterns “The patterns/Of any starry summer night might be identical/To the summer heavens circling inside the skull.”—Pattiann Rogers

I started reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest twice. Shortly into the second attempt I got distracted by some intriguing quotes from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. It’s far less dense than Jest (with the added bonus of making me feel less dense) so I’m now ankle deep in its rising waters. But before abandoning Infinite Jest again, in the hope of piecing together its mystifying puzzle, I spent some time reading about it and watching some video interviews of Wallace. Something Wallace said gives me a slight grasp of how to approach it (you know, the next time I try to read it). He said the structure of the book is based on a Sierpinski triangle, which is made up of many triangles, and in a static file looks like this:


You can see it animate here. This visual explained a lot about the shifting images in Jest, and why my more linear and 2-dimensional brain has trouble processing it. Before I waded into Karamazov, Jest had me thinking about patterns.

God’s fascination with patterns is seen in galaxies and in a mind that can build the structure of a book on an intricate series of triangles. The Sierpinski triangle is just one of an abundance of fractals that are found everywhere. Wikipedia defines fractal like this: “a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.”

The Sierpinski triangle is a geometric fractal. There are algebraic fractals which are simple equations calculated exponentially that yield infinitely complex, and breath taking, symmetrical designs (as in the cover photo). I was familiar with some nature fractals—sunflower centers and cabbage leaves, for instance—and the algebraic fractals. I hadn’t thought about trees and rivers as being fractals in the way they produce a continuous pattern of branching. But with all these patterns spiraling through my mind, what surprised me was the realization that the church has a fractal influence on our lives.

I used to think church was where we go to be refreshed for a new week. Where we lean into God through the teaching of someone better equipped than we are to see how the gospel is or isn’t permeating our lives. And where we praise and thank God, soul to soul, with others on a similar trajectory. But more than anything, now I see it shows us, by weekly repetition, that these are daily patterns for us to inhabit, no matter in what part of the intricacies of the design we find ourselves. The Wikipedia definition reveals our fractal relationship with the church as it establishes “a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” Church’s rhythms repeat themselves in our natures, at every scale of our lives: from our center, to our family, to our extended family, friends, coworkers, ad infinitum.

Fractals, when termed “self-similar,” also point to God having made us “self-similar” to him. He repeats the patterns of his nature in us, as Pattiann Rogers says in her poem “The Origin of Order”:

Flesh of the sky, child of the sky, the mind Has been obligated from the beginning To create an ordered universe As the only possible proof of its own inheritance.

Fractals, and the fact that someone can write a book that imitates this mathematical architecture, boggle the mind. What do these permeating and far-reaching patterns hint about the mind and heart of God? Can we contemplate the scope, the beauty of even one attribute of God fractalized in a never-ending exponential pattern?

A (Wo)Man of Infinite Jest

Chrysta Brown

phone flash_john-stanmeyer My friend and I are in one of those ironic restaurants where everyone wears dark-rimmed, nonprescription eyeglasses and the sommelier fills wine goblets to the rim. On our table is a steak served on thin, waxy cardboard accompanied by a fork and casually tossed chef’s knife; two sweet potatoes snuggled in a brown paper bag; a china bowl filled with an unidentified cream sauce; and a pile of rock salt that the waiter threw onto the table before strutting away to the beat of the techno remix that accompanies our meal.

“I don’t have any silverware,” I whisper to my friend. “I don’t know what to do here.”

He laughs, tears the bag open, and breaks off a corner chunk of the sweet potato. He dips it in salt, then the sauce, and hands it to me. “Eat it.” I replay lessons on dinner table etiquette as I comply.

“Good?” he asks. Warm, smokey-sweet sensations soothe my social anxieties. I’m in Israel with one of my favorite people eating one of my favorite foods. I am happy. I nod and enjoy another bite.

“I should Facebook this,” I think, but that timely process will take me away from what I really want to do, which in this case is eat. On the other hand, a part of me wants to let everyone know that while they were waiting for delivery, I was eating something that was probably a descendant of a sweet potato Jesus ate.

Sometimes my Facebook is this self-controlled paparazzi that transforms every detail, every opinion, every meal of my life into the news the people need, and I wanted those people to feel the twinge of self-loathing that comes with reading statuses like “I am doing amazing things with my life, have just been named ‘Most Amazing Person in the World,’ and had kale for breakfast. #humbledbyhowamazingiam” I realize how that sounds, but before you judge me, consider that the Ten Commandments condemn jealousy, and not gloating.

In Infinite Jest—which I might be mentioning so you’ll be impressed that I’ve read it—David Foster Wallace’s character confesses a similar obsession with fame to his teacher. “You burn for a hunger that does not exist,” his teacher warns. “To be envied and admired is not a feeling. Nor is fame a feeling. There are feelings associated with fame, but few of them are more enjoyable than the feelings associated with the envy of fame…Do not believe the photographs.” Photographs convince us that if something happens in a forest and no one liked it online, it didn’t happen, that the value of our experiences can be judged by likes and retweets, and that food never gets cold. However, no evidence proves that internet recognition changes the taste of a sweet potato, the way the sunset dances with the surface of the water, or the comforting company of a friend. The world was created without any thought to and without ever receiving a hashtag, and it was called good.

Just outside the restaurant, my friend and I prepare to wander the streets of Tel Aviv. “So did you like it?” He reaches out and takes the hand that would have held my phone if I could have found it in the black hole that is my purse.

“Yeah,” I answer.

“Me too.”

I smile with the feeling of this single, physical like far exceeding all the virtual likes in the world.