And I Beheld an Infinite Map
Also: How do I get to The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House? What are the parameters of the Great Convexity? Is this one of the alleys in which Lenz kills a dog?
Ask, and ye shall receive answers – as rendered by infographic designer and Wikipedia ninja William Beutler in a poster-sized full-color map depicting the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.) from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
Note: This "Infinite Map" is only the smaller offline manifestation of Beutler's Infinite Atlas project, a Google Maps-based guide to more than 600 global locations described in Wallace's opus. (Well, "smaller," even though it's an impressive 24” x 36” and features 250 of the most interesting locations from the novel and includes inset maps of Territorially Reconfigured North America, New New England and Nouveau Quebec, Greater Boston, and Metro Boston.)
Of course, Infinite Jest, though set in a recognizable (albeit unflattering and futurish) version of the real world, is fiction. So how does …? I mean … ? Listen: The beautifully rendered map's locations are divided into four categories: Real, Fictional, Fictionalized, and Approximate. Listen: This man Beutler, he's not just messing around.
But why? Why create such a map in the first place?
"It wasn't a map originally," says Beutler from his home base in Washington, D.C. "Or should I say, a map was just one of the ideas I started with. After I read Infinite Jest for the second time, in 2009, I had the idea to treat the book as a data set and make an infographic of it. I wasn't the first to try to visualize aspects of this book – other folks had focused on character relationships, for example. The more research I did, the more I was surprised to find how many locations from the book were real, or very closely based on reality, including the halfway house at the center of the book, which was based on a real place in Boston where Wallace himself had stayed."
But … why do any of it, Mr. Beutler?
He shrugs. "I love the novel, I love infographics," he says, "and I wanted to make something that would help fans see it in a different way."
And has this dedicated designer created such maps for other works of literature?
"This is definitely the first of this sort I've tried," says Beutler, "and it was an obvious place to start. Considering that I know this book very well, geography actually turns out to be a more important aspect to it than might seem at first, and Wallace's fanbase made it seem a viable project. I had the focus on the book before the focus on geography, after all. I think there's a very good chance this is not the last, but I haven't committed to any particular project yet. I'm always open to good ideas."
Much of the action of Infinite Jest takes places in and around Boston, Massachussetts – thus the Greater Boston and Metro Boston insets in the Infinite Map. But did the details-oriented Beutler ever actually leave his den of industry in the nation's capital and personally visit the sites he's charted?
"Yeah," he says, nodding. "When I was developing this, it became apparent to me that I needed to visit Boston and better understand the spatial relationships between locations in order to make sure I was as accurate as possible. The fictional Enfield where most of the story takes place is a stand-in for Allston-Brighton, so I took a four-day trip to the area in July 2011, and spent most of my time there, and a lot of time in Cambridge, also. I visited about 100 places mentioned in the novel, and took photographs, and that became the Infinite Boston Tumblr that I started publishing in July."
And but so here's a part – this map we're discussing – of Beutler's overarching Infinite Atlas project that you can hang on your wall: As a chart to help guide you as you read (or re-read) the Jest, perhaps; or as souvenir of your time spent literarily among the inhabitants of the Organization of North American Nations. Or of course it's pretty much the perfect gift for any DFW junkie you know, isn't it? We're suggesting that because it's near Christmastime, but also because it's always somebody's birthday, and, well, damn, just look at the thing.