You should have heard the gasp I made when I saw this full-sized poster of a character map of Infinite Jest. (Maybe it’s best for both of us that you didn't.) Infinite Jest is one of my favorite books, but it is a massive novel in every sense of the word with hundreds of characters all orbiting different centers of gravity in the plot. Just reading through, no one would be able to keep all the characters straight in their heads, but one of the reasons I think Infinite Jest is such a great book is that you don’t need to keep all the characters straight to really enjoy the book. This poster handles the characters for you and provides a chronology of the sponsored years, a map of the Great Concavity and the Eschaton “board.” (And if you’ve read the book, you are probably very very excited.)
Not only is cool to look at, but I think it’s a pretty amazing work of literary criticism. Think of how long an essay (or book) would have to be to explain all of the relationships represented in the poster. Good criticism not only explains a work of literature, it also gives readers the tools they need to discover more of the book on their own. Along with being an exploration and explication, good criticism should be the start of or support a reader’s personal process of discovery. As printing and digital technology continues to improve, I hope we’ll see more work like this. And we are starting to see some. For example, check this interactive character map of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad There’s also Infinite Boston, a blog essay series about the real life locations that inspired the settings in Infinite Jest. I hope we start seeing more and stranger approaches to understanding literature. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend the night tracing the relationships that flow through Michael Pemulis.