Have you ever read Infinite Jest? You know, David Foster Wallace's 1,000-plus page masterpiece about... dystopia, or masculinity, or something. OK, clearly I have not read this mammoth of a novel, and neither has LA-based comedian Jamie Loftus, but that hasn't stopped her from being roped into pretentious conversation after pretentious conversation about it.
As a former book store employee, Loftus, 24, told VICE she would frequently sell copies of Infinite Jest "to people who were objectively chodes."
"People are like 'Well it's a really good book' and that may be true, I have no idea. I've never read it and I've never attempted to read it."
But she did start to resent having to hear about it from people who were clearly looking for any excuse to boast about the fact that they'd read something really fucking long. So, a little over a year ago, Loftus staged her own little form of protest and began eating Infinite Jest. Literally. She's ripped out pages and put them into sandwiches, and even blended parts of it into a sauce that she then butt chugged, documenting her experiences all the while. We asked Loftus about the inspiration behind her project and how well its been received.
VICE: So what inspired you to do this?
Jamie Loftus: I'd worked in bookstores before and you sell a lot of copies of Infinite Jest to chodes, it's just a thing that happens. And then a little bit before that, a guy at a party who had gone to a little Ivy (league school) and needed you to know he went to a little Ivy and needed you to think he was extremely smart was talking at me and for what felt like the bajillionth time was like 'Oh you've really gotta give it a chance' and basically told me if I tried to read it and didn't like it, it was because I didn't understand it. It's not a possibility to anyone that it just might not be for you. It was after I had that same conversation with that same kind of person for the 10th time and was also moving all theses copies of Infinite Jest at the bookstore that I threatened to saw off my own leg if someone tried to talk to me about Infinite Jest again. I'm a comedian and I eat dog food on stage so I decided to do it as a joke and post it on Twitter after that. I butt chugged Infinite Jest actually, that was later.
What do you mean you butt chugged it? How do you butt chug a book?
A friend was making a video and was like 'Oh can you do a cooking segment?' and I was like let's kill two birds with one stone. I blended together five pages of Infinite Jest and a bunch of apples and made this thick sauce and then I put it into a turkey baster that I bought and then I put a turkey baster into my asshole and did a handstand and had someone squeeze the turkey baster until it was empty and that was how I butt chugged Infinite Jest.
How did your butt react to it?
Fine, weirdly. I feel like I should have received more bodily punishment. I've used butt chugging in other performances now just cause I know i can do it without getting sick. What a gift.
I actually have eaten paper, when I was in high school I ate quite few books myself. But for the layman, how do books taste? How does the paper taste?
It's extremely dry. You're going to find ways to disguise the taste to lube 'em up a little bit. Only when I'm doing it onstage will I eat a page and swallow it and have that be totally dry. But with the videos I'll usually create some sort of topping or moisten the page or it's just gonna be 10 miles of bad road for your body.
Are you worried it might be bad for you?
Maybe a week or two in I called a representative at poison control and was like 'Hey I'm doing this, will I die?' They were sort of like 'we can't sanction you doing this' but there's a way to do it. I couldn't be doing it too often, like I wanted to do a page a day but that's just not feasible to do that and stay alive.
How many pages have you eaten?
I think around 150 at this point. I think I started last April.
Do you feel smarter having eaten it?
I feel extremely cultured. I feel more comfortable talking to chodes at parties 'cause I can say I've experienced it. I dunno, it's a silly thing but I think there's a lot of people that have had that experience of someone talking at them about something that I'm not convinced they fully understand. Like there are very few people who have tried to convince me to read Infinite Jest that I could give me a cohesive summary of what it's actually about.
Do you bring this up with "chodes"?
I don't really bring the project up to them but now instead of nodding and being like 'Uh huh, talk to me about this book that I don't wanna hear about it' I'll just be like 'I don't think it's for me and let's talk about something else.' I think the chode community, there's potential, they can learn. I believe in the chodes' ability to grow as people.
How have people reacted to the project?
Generally it's been very nice. Even the people who enjoy it, it's nice to get comments from people who are like 'Yeah I've read the book and I like the book but I also understand.' It's not about the book itself it's more about the arrogant way that people present it to you because I think it's more of them trying to boost their own self-esteem.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.