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One Man's Two-Year Quest to Meticulously Map 'Infinite Jest'

On top of the growing popularity of ebooks and the Orwellian end of the written word as we know it, Jonathan Franzen now has to deal with this. And he just lost self-proclaimed “Luddite” Thomas Pynchon "to the digital tide":

On top of the growing popularity of ebooks and the Orwellian end of the written word as we know it, Jonathan Franzen now has to deal with this. And he just lost self-proclaimed "Luddite" Thomas Pynchon to the digital tide.

Infinite Atlas is a new website that maps every location found in the late David Foster Wallace's tome Infinite Jest, on a worldwide Google map. It is fittingly and meticulously thorough, in spite of the fact that the novel takes place in an alternate reality without things like the USA (anymore).


No one can accuse William Beutler, the creator of "Infinite Atlas," of half-assing the project, whose map is littered with markers users can click for a note about how the location fits into the story, what pages make reference to the locale and a link to its Wikipedia page (when applicable). The website covers the both the actual places and the places of Wallace's invention, ranging from the obvious—locations in and around Boston, including Enfield Tennis Academy, and Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House (sic)—as well as the extremely obscure—like Brattleboro, VT., which the marker volunteers as: "[w[here C.T.'s father was 'killed in a freak accident playing competitive darts' in a tavern." Every hometown of every tennis player, every Don Gately arrest, is marked. Many of them make reference to characters that I have absolutely no recollection of, however now I know where they watched the last episode of M*A*S*H.

It's a tribute to Wallace's exhaustive work on his exhaustive work that the map can be so specific, down to the checkpoints along the adjusted Canadian border. The markers are occasionally—even rarely—marked as only "approximate" locations, though some of those locations are known only as "50 plus clicks out of Caillou Bay." (If I could put in a footnote, it would say, "This is the 'Location of "rickety-feeling" LA oil platform where Marathe and Steeply once "field-interfaced."'")


Here’s Bellow’s Falls, VT, pulled from the Infinite Atlas

It's such a labor of love and close reading that even Franzen-like technophobes would be hard-pressed to find too much fault with the "Infinite Atlas." Maps have spent many comfortable years tucked into the fronts of books (and come to think of it, it's amazing there aren't more maps in Infinite Jest. There's pretty much everything else). It's also not as though mapping out a labyrinthine work of fiction is unprecedented either.

There are many options for taking a "Ulysses Walk" in Dublin to recreate the 18 hours over which the novel takes place (with a few exceptions made). Each June 16, or Bloomsday, Dublin—among other places—erupts with performers and Joyce-themed pub-crawls.

Joe Nugent, professor of Irish Studies at Boston College, got the grant to map Ulysses for the web (with web app!). According to the site "the project is designed to tabulate and elucidate the sensory inputs presented by Joyce," although conceding that "the senses of smell and touch repeatedly invoked by Joyce to present the fullness of Dublin life, can be represented only textually," which is good to note, because Joyce spent an awfully long time describing smells and touches, to the point where Ulysses has a bit of a reputation for being a laborious read. Anyway, much like Ulysses as compared to Infinite Jest, the website feels older and isn't as much fun as IA.


Even less work-specific tours exist, like this one for a tour of Hemingway's life in Michigan, which somehow exists even though his only major work set in Michigan involves date rape on a dock. It might be weirder still that there's a Hemingway-bar-crawl/tour currently operating in Havana.

DFW on the future of fiction in the Information Age (via Charlie Rose)

Comparatively, the growing digital resources make much more sense. As Joshua Jelly-Schapiro pointed out in the September Harper's, the web browser and Google map are now how we make sense of the world around us, we're bound to approach literature the same way (Now that Gore Vidal is gone, people can say this as openly as they please without fear of a cutting rejoinder).

And Infinite Atlas really makes me want to pick up my copy of Infinite Jest back up, since obviously I've forgotten almost all of it. Unfortunately, I loaned my copy out and thus won't be plowing back into the Jest on an impulse.

Top via Steve Rhodes